My Record Collection 106 – Marianne Faithfull

Well, this again is a strange one.  She was, famously, the girlfriend of Mick Jagger (and according to some also of Keith Richards).  Whatever the truth, in the late Sixties, either through her connections or because of a real talent, she made a record.  ‘As Tears Go By’ was a charming little song, and her voice was deep and sultry.  But would she have made any impact on the charts without the Stones?  Anyway, of course she did make it big in later years, but after her early chart success, she released a few albums of cover versions.  I never saw them then but later they were re-released and ever the completist I bought them.  The first is It’s All Over Now Baby Blue.   Well, it is pleasant and the song choice is good, but these are hardly great interpretations; they are fairly low-key arrangements and her singing is more spoken word than real singing; which is a feature of Marianne anyway.  From the song choice these must have been recorded in the early Seventies after she had split from Mick and Keith (Just discovered that some tracks were released in 1976 on an album Faithless, also known as Dreamin my Dreams – lots of tracks I don’t have so just ordered it).  The best songs are the ones I know the originals of least – ‘Chords of Fame’. ‘Sad Lisa’ and ‘Madeleine’.  A strange collection – and reading her discography on Wikipedia These songs never appear to have been released at the time, but only as she later re-established her career in the late 70’s.  The next is a double of maybe even earlier provenance.  She apparently released 5 albums in the mid-sixties which are completely unavailable now in any format.  These seem to have been collated as ‘The Collection’ and released again in the Eighties.  A curio of sorts, a little time capsule of naivety, it is sweet and sugary – but for me it completes the picture.

Poor Marianne – after her brief flirtation with fame, the Stones and drugs – descended into a spiral of cocaine and the heroin.  Most of her wealthy friends deserted her.  She had made a couple of films, most notably ‘Girl On A Motorbike’ but seems to have lost or been cheated out of her money.  At one point she was reduced to sleeping on friend’s floors with all her possessions in a couple of carrier bags.  For most of the Seventies she struggled to get clean, and I, like almost everyone else forgot all about her.   She had a small hit with Dreaming my Dreams (which I have ordered but won’t get for a while) but she was still trying to sing sweet versions of other people’s songs.  She could write, and was eventually credited with the lyrics of The Stones; Sister Morphine’.  But it was 1979 when she finally broke through with the brilliant Broken English album.  Her voice was now ravaged by drugs and severe laryngitis, but the desperate pleading edge gave her a new dimension and a new audience.  She was signed to Island Records by owner Chris Blackwell, who wisely gave her complete artistic freedem.  Marianne blossomed with great songs like ‘Broken English’ and ‘Witches Songs’; a superb version of Lennon’s ‘Working Class Hero’ and my favourite ‘The Ballad Of Lucy Jordan’ with its great use of throbbing synths (originally by Dr. Hook).  But the album is notorious for the final track ‘Why D’Ya Do It’ a caustic and expletive ridden rant from a lover to an unfaithful partner.  Rarely has a song contained such anger and hit such a raw nerve.  The whole record brims with searing guitars and great pulsing synths. A wonderful creation.  The follow-up Dangerous Acquaintances was a slightly disappointing affair.  A new producer wanted a more conventional ‘rock sound’ which ended up being a bit bland.  Still – some good songs ‘Sweetheart’, ‘Intrigue’ and ‘For Beauty Sake’, quite a few written or co-written by Marianne herself.  Her next record ‘A Child’s Adventure’ is hard to find and even on youtube is not complete. I will still look out for it.  Unfortunately, her recording career was constantly interrupted by her addiction and only got back on track in 1986 with Strange Weather.   This was produced by Hal Wilner who seemed to find songs in a slower, more tragic and sad vein for Marianne.  Fave tracks ‘Boulevard of Broken Dreams’ Dylan’s ‘I’ll Keep it With Mine’ and ‘Penthouse Serenade’…also a new recording of her old hit ‘As tears Go By’.  A strange album that still leaves me a bit unsatisfied.  Much better was 1990’s live album ‘Blazing Away’, which is a triumph; great versions of her best songs to date – a few from Broken English but also a cracking version of ‘Sister Morphine’ which knocks spots off The Stones.  But then she had a five year break from recording, but she returned with A Secret Life.  A departure from her rock style, as the accompaniment is almost all orchestral and produced by Angelo Badalamenti.  But Marianne loved to confound her critics and chose to record in all sorts of styles as she progressed. But not my favourite album really. 

Then came 2 live albums “Twentieth Century Blues” with a few Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht songs, best of which is ‘Pirate Jenny’ and ‘Surabaya Johnny’ – a nice album and a great version of the song she co-wrote with Keith ‘Sister Morphine’ and a new version of ‘As Tears Go By’.  Then we had the full version of ‘Seven Deadly Sins’ by Weill and Brecht.  I love this mini opera, but not for everyone I suppose.  Great singing though from Marianne. 

Then back to her more regular sound with Vagabond Ways 1999.  I think that this is my favourite Marianne album, of the many you can see I have.  She seems to have just the right mix of songs and just the right band behind her.  And her lyrics again slip into the explicit with the title track and it’s follow-up ‘Incarceration of a Flower Child’ a song by Syd Barrett which foresaw his own mental confinement – Marianne sings it with such a tragic voice. There isn’t a poor track on it – I especially love her version of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Tower Of Song’, and the spoken word final track ‘After The Ceasefire’ is simply awe-inspiring.   She followed this in 2002 with ‘Kissin Time’ a collaboration with the likes of Beck and Jarvis Cocker and Blur, with I think mixed results.  I like some of it but in a way, she seems to be trying a bit too hard to be modern and relevant.  However some tracks are great – ‘Song for Nico’ and ‘Sliding Through Life on Charm’ – which is pretty autobiographical.

Only two other original albums in my collection  – Easy Come, Easy Go – a double from 2008.  Not her best I think, a lot of slow almost dirge-like songs and no real cohesion – as is often the way with double albums. But now on another couple of listens it comes back to life and isn’t so bad at all.  Best songs – ‘In Germany before The War’ (a Randy Newman classic (See N), The Pheonix ( Judee Sill – see S) and ‘Black Coffee’  The final studio album I have (though she has made 2 more since is the rather excellent Horses and High Heels (2014) This is again a lovely collection of songs; two great covers – ‘Long Song’, originally by Lesley Duncan, and ‘Goin Back’ the Carole King classic.  A lovely feel to the record too, great arrangements, my favourite track is the closer ‘The Old House’ but really an accomplished record.  Of course, as you must know I can never resist collections.  I have 2 – a simple one disc called Faithfull, which is strong on Broken English and the couple that followed it.  But I also have A Perfect Stranger which is a double from her years on island Records.  I have about half of these tracks on albums but a lot of newer stuff I somehow missed – ‘The Blue Millionaire’, and ‘Isolation’ (the John Lennon classic) are my favourites.  And that is it for dear Marianne, she is currently ill with Covid-19.  Hope she survives.