Marianne Faithfull has really tested the limits of her body and mind. When I read her auto-biography I really couldn’t believe she was still alive- she had verged on death so many times. Broken English was her first album I listened to, when she was already in the third incarnation of her career. I had no idea at the time that she had once been a sweet songbird, and that drugs and a particularly nasty bout with laryngitis had forever changed her voice. It became crackling, deep-timbred, weathered. Though her music had always been tinged with sadness, on Broken English she was sad and really angry. Full of regrets. She was only 33.
She was discovered at age 17 by Andrew Loog Oldham, the Rolling Stones’ producer, who put out her first records, which were pop-folk affairs. After that she tried out acting and became Mick Jagger’s girlfriend, in the process becoming a serious cokehead, and later, heroin-abuser. By the time she and Mick split in 1970, heroin had become her muse. A producer found her on the streets and she recorded the album Rich Kid Blues (1971), but it was not released until 1985. This is a great lost album. I have a real penchant for pedal-steel guitar. The lyrics really make you feel like you’re mired in some deep, dark heroin-haze. Here’s two great cuts off Rich Kid Blues.
Marianne was missing in action for a lot of the early-seventies, but here she is in 1973 with David Bowie in a television special, singing “I Got You, Babe” while wearing a nun’s habit.
Here’s Marianne looking pretty spent in 1974.
The next album, the country-tinged Dreamin’ My Dreams (1975), was released to some fanfare, though she was still going through relationship and drug hell, living in a cold-water squat. Here’s two great tracks off it (this album was tweaked and re-released a couple of years later as Faithless).
It wasn’t until Broken English in 1979 that she caught up with the mainstream again. The album’s punk and reggae influences, as well as her sexually-charged lyrics brought her new fans. Here’s a video of her in 1980 singing (lip-syncing?) “The Eyes of Lucy Jordan,” certainly the sunniest song on Broken English.
Also off of Broken English, her singing John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero.”
The synthesizer-heavy album A Child’s Adventure (1984) is probably my favorite. Many of these songs were co-written or written by Barry Reynolds, who she’d also collaborated with on Broken English. The top track off this record has got to be Reynolds’ Times Square. Might this be the most depressing song ever? This must be what it’s like to be a total drunk who’s given up on life in a derelict hotel in Times Square before Guiliani cleaned it up for the tourists. The last line is about dying while you’re gaining your senses, waking up in a hotel room staring at the ceiling.
Barry Reynolds did a version of “Times Square” for his solo album I Scare Myself first in 1982. I prefer Marianne’s, but here’s his.
I guess this is sort of a “Marianne Faithfull: The Drugs Years” posting.
Beware of darkness.