Heathcote Williams, who’s death was announced today, was best known for his socio-political poetry, searing indictments of the state of the nations that tore into everything from Brexit and Trump to cars and the tabloids. He was also an accomplished painter, scultpor, playwright and actor. But for us, his crowning achievement is Why’d Ya Do It?, the closing track on Marianne Faithfull‘s senimal 1979 album, Broken English.
Broken English was Faithfull’s comeback album after a decade of heroin addiction, homelessness and broken relationships. The latter probably inspired her bitter performance on this track.
Williams had written the song – rather naively, you might think – for Tina Turner. Faithfull convinced him that Turner would never perform a song that included lyrics like “every time I see your dick, I see her cunt in my bed” and “had my balls and my brains put into a vice / And twisted around for a whole fucking week” – and she was probably right, as Turner has yet to perform her own version of the song.
In any case, Faithfull’s once-sweet voice had deepend and become more cracked after years of smoking and drug abuse, and so was ideal for this number. She and her band wrote the grinding, riffy, reggae-flavoured backing track to Williams’ lyrics that open from a male viewpoint before giving way to the intense, almost psychotic fury of a betrayed woman.
Even today, Why’d ya Do It? still seems powerful, shocking and far more authentic than many a more cynically / illiterately expletive-laden number.
And here’s a live version from 2005: