The Infinite Jukebox: Iggy Pop and Deborah Harry’s ‘Well, Did You Evah?’


Sometimes, as they grow older, rockers choose to opt for respectability. They cut back on the guitars and call up the strings, they mute their holler into something approximating a croon, and they record albums of ‘standards’. Rod Stewart, I am looking at you, or I would be if you weren’t conspicuously taller than me, and don’t live in Stockport either.

However you want to describe it, it’s a hell of a betrayal. After making the music of their life, after being as aggressive, raucous and exciting as their times have driven them to be, they want suddenly to sing the songs their parents enjoyed, they want to ‘prove’ that they can sing, really ‘sing’, the way they were never supposed to when they did the things of their life.

If you click on the video below, for its first minute it will take you back to old Hollywood. It will show you crowds gathering for the premiere of High Society, a musical starring such old style singers as Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly and Frank Sinatra. Two musical giants, two absolutely mammoth singers, and one actress who… well, let’s say she was blonde and fit.

And there’s footage of Cole Porter, the composer, one of the giants of the great era of American musical songwriting.

And there’s a clip from the film, of Sinatra and Crosby trading lines in a relaxed, gentle, easy-going performance of Porter’s ‘Well, Did You Evah!’ (actually, an existing song, adapted for the film and thrown in at the last minute when someone realised that they would otherwise have to go without a duet).

Which is all very well until along come Iggy and Debbie, aging rockers in 1990 (when they were 43 and 45 respectively), and the remainder of the video is this poor, unsuspecting, innocent song, a song of an earlier era, being bloodily beaten to death with disdainfully ironic vocals from a pair who cannot conceal their contempt for a song that lacks any connection to any world real to you or me.

It’s silly, acidic, pounding, aggressive, full of asides and sneers and laughter. If my mother had lived to hear it, she would have covered her ears and begged me to switch it off. If my father had lived to hear it, he would have bellowed at me to switch it off even before Ms Harry sings the opening line. Yet it’s a glorious, irreverent, explosive version of the song, and a minor work of genius that deserves to be played every hour, on the hour, as a reminder that some people take themselves far too bloody seriously. Mr Stewart, I am once again looking (upwards) at you.

Start the weekend here!

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