What Have I Done to Deserve This?
This song has an unusual history, its origins dating back to Neil's time as a pop music journalist with Smash Hits. While returning home from work one day on the bus, he came up with a "rap" that would eventually evolve into "What Have I Done to Deserve This?" But the "song proper," so to speak, was written in three separate parts by Neil, Chris, and songwriter/multimedia artist Allee Willis. Chris wrote the recurring melodic motif that opens the track and recurs throughout (the one that always accompanies "What have I, what have I, what have I done to deserve this?"), Neil wrote the verses and most of the lyrics, and Ms. Willis wrote the "Since you went away " part and possibly—at least according to her own recollections—contributed to the music of the verses as well.
The song had been written early enough to have been included on Please, but the Boys were unable to arrange Dusty Springfield's participation in time to record it for that album. (They in fact recorded an early demo of it with Allee singing the part that eventually went to Dusty.) Neil had long been a fan of the legendary and reclusive 'sixties singer—whose 1969 album Dusty in Memphis frequently appears in lists of pop music's all-time greatest discs—and she was very much his and Chris's first choice for the duet. Their record company lobbied hard for Tina Turner, then at her commercial peak of popularity, but our musical heroes stuck to their guns and were rewarded when Dusty came onboard.
The song takes the form of a dialogue between the two characters portrayed by Neil and Dusty. "I imagined the two people as an older woman who's in charge of a building site and a man who works for her," Neil once wrote. "They have an affair, they break up, and then they both regret it." One of the most poignant lines is nearly buried in the mix toward the end of the song, but is more readily discernable when it was performed live during the "Performance" tour: "We don't have to fall apart, we don't have to fight, we don't need to go to hell and back every night."
- It's possible—though by no means certain—that the title may have been inspired by Spanish director/screenwriter Pedro Almodóvar's 1984 film ¿Qué he hecho yo para merecer esto?, the title of which translates quite literally to What Have I Done to Deserve This? Indeed, certain aspects of the song's apparent storyline do seem to parallel elements of the movie's plot, such as the fact that the husband of the film's main character pines for a woman he once worked for as a chauffeur. (Consider the part of the lyric that goes "I only wanted a job.")
- "How'm I gonna get through?" – Before I had actually read the printed lyrics of this song, it never occurred to me that Neil was using a contraction, "How'm." Rather, it sounded to me like a mere pronunciation elision of the words "How am." In fact, I never realized that there might even be such a contraction as "How'm." Yet I've found that, while somewhat unusual compared to much more commonplace English-language contractions as "can't," "I'll," and "wouldn't" (not to mention my own Southern dialectal "y'all," which I'll never surrender, two degrees in English notwithstanding), it's hardly unique to this song. For example, in 1981 former New York mayor Ed Koch co-authored a book titled How'm I Doing?: The Wit and Wisdom of Ed Koch. Even earlier, Billy Preston's 1973 hit "Will It Go 'Round in Circles?" includes the line, "How'm I gonna sing it with my friends?" Undoubtedly there are many more examples as well.
- Mixer: Julian
- Available on Actually
- Album/single version (4:23)
- Extended Mix
- Available on the Further Listening bonus disc with the Actually reissue
- Mixer: Shep Pettibone
- Disco Mix (8:08)
- Available on the bonus third disc ("Mix") with the "Special Edition" of PopArt
- Shep Pettibone Mix (8:32)
- Dub (6:56)
- Mixer: unknown
- Reprise (from the film It Couldn't Happen Here) (1:07)
Official but unreleased
- Demo with Allee Willis (timing unknown)
- Acapella - Dusty Springfield (4:13)
- Acapella - Neil Tennant (4:13)
- Acapella - Mixed Vocals (4:13)
- Nightlife Tour studio arrangement for rehearsal (4:54)
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