English (song) – 1979

“Broken English” is a song recorded by English singer Marianne Faithfull for her seventh studio album Broken English (1979). It was released as the second single from the album on 25 January 1980 by Island Records. Written by Faithfull, Barry Reynolds, Joe Mavety, Steve York and Terry Stannard, the song’s lyrical theme revolves around terrorism. The inspiration behind the song was Ulrike Meinhof, a co-founder of the terrorist group Baader-Meinhof Gang. Faithfull allegedly got the idea for the song after watching a documentary about the group and was intrigued by its subtitle “broken English… spoken English”.

Musically, “Broken English” is a mid-tempo rock song with a strong influence of new wave music. It is built around a simple rhythm guitar beat with synthesizer sound effects. It shows Faithfull’s vocals cracked and lower in pitch compared to her earlier work as a result of severe laryngitis coupled with heavy smoking and drug abuse during the 1970s. “Broken English” received positive reviews from music critics who praised Faithfull’s new musical direction as well as the political theme of the song. Despite the positive reception, it failed to chart in both United Kingdom and the United States. However, it managed to peak inside the top forty in other countries, such as Germany, New Zealand and Sweden.

No accompanying music video was filmed for “Broken English”, although it was used along with the songs “Witches’ Song” and “The Ballad of Lucy Jordan” in a promotional short film for the album directed by Derek Jarman. Faithfull performed the song on Saturday Night Live in February 1980. During the infamous performance her voice cracked and she seemingly strained to even vocalize at times. The song was featured in the film The Outsider (1980) and was covered by a number of artists, such as English band Sunscreem and Japanese group Schaft.

Track listings and formats

UK 12″ vinyl

A. “Broken English” (Long Version) – 5:54
B. “Why D’Ya Do It” – 6:35

UK 7″ vinyl

A. “Broken English”
B. “What’s the Hurry”

US 7″ vinyl

A. “Broken English” (Edit) – 3:00
B. “Brain Drain” – 4:12
European 12″ vinyl (1982 re-release)[6]
A. “Broken English” (Long Version)
B. “Sister Morphine”

Credits and personnel

Marianne Faithfull – lead vocals, songwriting
Mark Miller Mundy – producer,
Barry Reynolds – songwriting
Joe Mavety – songwriting
Steve York – songwriting
Terry Stannard – songwriting
Bob Potter – engineer
Ed Thacker – mixer
Credits adapted from the album liner notes.[7]