What Have I Done To Deserve This?

Album: Actually (1987)
Charted: 2 2
  • Allee Willis, who wrote this song with the Pet Shop Boys, told us what it's about: "Someone who's in this relationship that they know they shouldn't be in. It's this dysfunctional relationship, and they don't have the strength to get out. And 'what have I, what have I, what have I done to deserve this?' - there's a real sense that they shouldn't be there, but they're basically a slave to this obsessive love. It's one of the few songs of mine that is about that but doesn't turn itself around and go, 'I'm leaving here, screw you, go make someone else miserable.' Usually I don't just leave it at 'what have I done to deserve this,' but it felt right for the group, so that's what it was."
  • This had been penned three years previously by Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe together with Willis. Tennant had wanted to collaborate with Dusty Springfield, who had been one of his childhood heroes for several years, but Dusty's management only became interested after the worldwide success of their debut album Please. The song's success revived the blue-eyed soul singer's career after years in the wilderness. Tennant and Lowe would go on to write and produce four songs on Springfield's 1990 album Reputation, including the UK hit singles "Nothing Has Been Proved" and "In Private."
  • The song's co-writer Allee Willis was later responsible for the Friends theme, "I'll Be There For You." Among her other songwriting credits are "September" and "Boogie Wonderland" by Earth, Wind & Fire and "Neutron Dance" by the Pointer Sisters. Willis is also an accomplished artist, which is how she hooked up with the Pet Shop Boys. In her Songfacts interview, Willis said: "That was one of my favorite music publishers I was with at that point, Kathleen Carey, who now runs Sony, but at that point was at a small boutique company at MCA called Unicity. She loved this group named Pet Shop Boys who had this hit in Europe called 'West End Girls.' And their manager was coming to L.A. to get them a publishing deal. She felt that because they were really interesting guys - one was an architect, one was a writer - and they were much more intelligent than many musicians were at that point in terms of knowing something outside of the world of music. So she thought it was a great personality match.

    She was also a very big collector of my artwork, and I'd started painting just that year. And it was all around her office. And she said to me, 'I'm gonna try and get this guy (Tom Watson, their manager), because I know he collects art, and once he comes over, I'm telling you, you're going to be on a plane to England to write with them.' So he loved the artwork, he bought some stuff, he came over, and he said, 'Can I fly you to England, and would you do the Pet Shop Boys' portrait? We need the portrait done for fan club stationery.' So I went there as a painter, and as they were posing for me, they said, 'Why haven't we seen your art before?' And I said, 'Well, I'm mainly a songwriter. I just started painting,' and you know, 'What kind of music do you like?' And I didn't tell them what I had written. But we talked enough, and then Neil, the lead singer, went, 'Oh, my god, you're not the "A. Willis" on all those Earth, Wind & Fire albums, are you?' And so that night we started 'What Have I Done To Deserve This?'

    So I stayed like an extra week. And then it still took a couple of years because of their confusion at the structure of the record, and then convincing Dusty Springfield to sing, which from the very beginning they said they wanted to do it as a duet with her. I had written several things for her before and knew her, so I started on my end, and they started on their end, and eventually she said yes. And it became her second largest-selling single next to 'Son Of A Preacher Man.' So I was real happy about that." (Read more in the Allee Willis interview, and at her website: alleewillis.com.)
  • Julian Mendelsohn produced this, along with most of the tracks on the album. He spoke about his exhausting, yet rewarding, experience with Springfield in a Sound on Sound interview. "[Mixer] Stephen Hague had been working on the track for a week or two and was bored with it, and my fresh ears did the trick. You see, even though Dusty was a great singer, she was very long-winded when it came to getting the vocals right to her own satisfaction," he said. "She actually had a plan as to how she was going to sing the song from beginning to end - it wasn't random - but she'd only make it so far and, if she didn't get the last couple of words right, she'd say, 'No, I've got to start again,' because she wanted to do it all in one go."

    "That's how it was every step of the way, and I remember Neil and I looking at each other as if to say, 'Christ, this is going to take forever.' And it did take forever. We ended up having to sift our way through 20 tracks of vocals, but we got a fantastic result in the end, at which point we looked at each other as if to say, 'Well, that's why she took so long.' I had already worked with Paul Rodgers, who was one of the greatest rock singers in the world, and Dusty Springfield was another one. She was incredible."

Comments: 3

  • Hannah from Hopkinton, MaIn the UK, the #1 song at that time was Rick Astley’s smash hit (and meme) “Never Gonna Give You Up”. In the US, for the song’s first week, Exposé’s “Seasons Change”. For its second and final week, George Michael’s “Father Figure”.
  • Camille from Toronto, OhPet Shop Boys have a wonderful, warm, sensual sound. Dusty Springfield's voice is the perfect duet companion to accompany them. Hearing this song instantly takes me back to those wonderful late 80s.....and it's a song that needs to be played more often on the radio.
  • Adam from Boyce, VaGreat Song.......Dusty is spectacular
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