The story behind the song: Dear Prudence by Siouxsie And The Banshees
A lesser-known Beatles song on the White Album, the Banshees’ version passed that important cover acid-test: “Quite a lot of people thought Dear Prudence was our original,” says Siouxsie
It was the autumn of 1983, and things around Siouxsie And The Banshees were so frantic that they almost didn’t notice what was happening with their latest single, Dear Prudence, a standalone release.
Guitarist John McGeogh had just crashed out of the band amid rumours of alcohol problems, and the Banshees were on tour in Europe with Cure supremo Robert Smith as his temporary replacement. At the same time, Siouxsie and drummer Budgie had just launched The Creatures, while Smith and bassist Steve Severin had set up The Glove.
“It was an insane period for us, extremely busy,” Siouxsie Sioux recalls. “We were just being totally hyperactive.
I think it took its toll maybe a year or so later. John had been hospitalised for stress and overworking, so he was suffering a bit. Robert stepped in, for the second time, as he did in ’79, so the show was still going on, and the touring was all pretty intense and crazy. We went on to record Hyaena together, and then he imploded as well. He just couldn’t cope with it.”
Unsurprisingly, then, the Banshees had their eye off the ball when Dear Prudence shot up into the UK Top 3, giving them what still remains the highest-charting record of their career.
“It was a surprise, but it didn’t really sink in until we’d finished the touring and we were back home for the winter,” says Siouxsie. “Then we thought, ‘Blimey! We got to number three!’ Dear Prudence got played a lot on the radio, and of course we did the Christmas/New Year Top Of The Pops. I don’t remember much about doing it except for I was wearing a new leather dress that a friend had made for me, and stripy tights.” (That performance, the leather dress and the stripy tights are immortalised on the DVD included in the glorious 84-track box set Siouxsie And The Banshees At The BBC, which also contains three audio CDs.)
Dear Prudence was a Beatles song, and the second one that the Banshees had covered from the great double White Album. Previously, the Banshees’ take on Paul McCartney’s rabid Helter Skelter – grotesquely linked to the Charles Manson murders – was included on their 1978 album The Scream. By contrast, Dear Prudence was a gentle John Lennon song written during The Beatles’ Indian retreat with the Maharishi.
“From Manson to meditation...” muses Siouxsie, adding: “Helter Skelter was very much part of our live show before we recorded it. The great thing was that the two Beatles songs we chose – Helter Skelter and Dear Prudence – were not originally singles by The Beatles, so it wasn’t necessarily a sure-fire: ‘Oh, they’re doing a Beatles song.’ And it was also a bit irreverent as well, I suppose. A good test of doing a cover version is when people think that you’ve written it. Quite a lot of people thought Dear Prudence was an original.”
Siouxsie remembers approaching The Beatles’ music with a mixture of respect, and Sid Vicious-inspired mischief dating back some years earlier: “When we did the 100 Club Punk Festival , we were wondering: ‘What shall we do?’ And we ended up doing the thing based around the Lord’s Prayer. And Sid and I were laughing, ‘Oh, we should really mess up a Beatles song!’ And that attitude was still there. I remember growing up with the White Album. I loved it for their experimenting. And then it gets fucked up? Much better!”
In truth, few would accuse the Banshees of fucking up Dear Prudence, the simplicity of which lends itself perfectly to Siouxsie’s velvety detachment and the band’s swirling atmospherics. “It was kind of an undeveloped song on the White Album,” she says. “and so there was a lot of scope to put in your own stuff, really. What did I want to bring? Oh, some psychedelic transformation there [laughing].
“No, I think that actual track’s fairly restrained, simple and understated on the White Album. I was listening to singles like Itchycoo Park by the Small Faces, so I think it was wanting to capture the 60s, and all that kind of phasing. Also, it was where we were at at the time.”
Organised to fit in with the band’s travels around Europe, Dear Prudence was recorded in Sweden and mixed in London, while the video was filmed – memorably for everyone concerned – in Venice. “We thought: ‘We’ve never been to Venice so let’s go there,’ cos we were on tour.
“You weren’t supposed to film in Venice without getting permission and paying money, which of course we ignored. If you get caught, you either get stopped or you have to pay. The video shows Severin getting escorted by some police.
“And, of course, because we were trying to get in as much as possible we were there until very late, all day. By then the wine was flowing a bit, for some more than others, and everyone was running around by the end of the evening. It goes from day shots to night shots.
“The evening ended with Budgie trying to climb a wall and falling off and damaging his foot and being in agony. He then decided to drink a bottle of brandy to take away the pain. He was carted off in a Venice ambulance – which is a wheelbarrow. I always remember him with this silk-like top and pants, and he had his make-up on and he was totally legless in this wheelbarrow with his balls hanging out.
“I think he woke up in an amputees’ hospital. I think they put him on a drip and gave him some painkillers and a bandage for his foot. Oh, it was so funny. He was wheelbarrowed and then taken on a boat, because the transport is all by canal there. Sadly I think the cameras had packed up by then. It should have been the finalé.”