Sometimes a song can be rescued from its own mediocrity by a well-chosen singer. Marianne Faithfull did this with "The Ballad of Lucy Jordan" from her 1981 album Broken English.
Shel Silverstein — the prolific American poet, cartoonist, and musician — was known for his children’s books and his satirical songs. He wrote several notable pop hits for Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show, including "Sylvia’s Mother," "The Cover of a Rolling Stone," and “A Boy Named Sue.”
Faithfull’s version, which was released as a single in November 1979, quickly became one of her biggest-charting hits. It also figured prominently in the soundtracks to films such as Montenegro, Tarnation, and Thelma & Louise.
It’s a finely crafted piece of work, with a lot going on under the surface. There’s the awe-inspiring lyrics (“At the age of thirty-seven she knew she’d found forever”) and the eerie synthesizer music.
However, it’s the vocal performance by Faithfull that really wowed me. Her low-key approach backed by the lone synthesizer makes her vocals stand out as being the most enthralling in the entire song.
Her rendition is a touch sexier than Silverstein’s, which was apt since the singer herself was an object of desire. She also deserved to be recognized for her efforts as a singer who mastered the genres of folk, rock, and punk. In Broken English, Faithfull took her career in a new direction that won her acclaim from critics and listeners alike.