English Songbird in a Gilded Cage
Although she had four Top-40 Billboard hits in 1964 and 1965, Marianne Faithfull’s early years as a singer are largely remembered in the U.S. for her original version of “As Tears Go By.” She gained worldwide fame with her 1979 comeback, Broken English, but her early years as a UK hitmaker have remained relatively unknown in the States. More surprisingly, Faithfull herself doesn’t reflect with great fondness on these early records, suggesting at the time of her late-70s re-emergence, “I’ve never had to try very hard. I’ve never really been expected to try at all. I’ve always been treated as somebody who not only can’t even sing but doesn’t really write or anything, just something you can make into something.” She continued, “I was just cheesecake really, terribly depressing. It wasn’t depressing when I was 18, but it got depressing when I got older because you’re a person just like anyone else, even if you are a woman.”
The truth of her early works lays somewhere between her own negative reaction and the positive commercial success bestowed upon her. After debuting with “As Time Goes By,” Faithfull tackled Dylan’s well-covered “Blowin’ in the Wind,” and B-sides – “Greensleeves” and “House of the Rising Sun” – drawn from the trad catalog. Her fragile tremolo seems overmatched by the ornate arrangements, but her shy delivery is bolstered by a sense of determination. It’s that balance between introversion and steadfastness that makes these singles so intriguing. Her third single, Jackie DeShannon’s “Come and Stay With Me,” demonstrates Faithfull’s growing confidence, as does the anguished questioning of “What Have I Done Wrong.” The harp and strings of her next single, John D. Loudermilk’s “Little Bird,” leave more room for her voice, and she takes flight with the Tennessee Williams-inspired lyrics.
Faithfull’s catalog includes titles by Goffin & King (“Is This What I Get For Loving You?”) and Donovan (“The Most of What is Least”), and a sprinkle of original material (“Oh Look Around You” and “I’d Like to Dial Your Number”). Her final single for Decca was 1969’s “Something Better,” written by Gerry Goffin and Barry Mann, and performed by Faithfull in the Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus. The B-side featured the rare, original recording of “Sister Morphine,” released two years before the Stones included it on Sticky Fingers. Her transformation from English songbird to ravaged chanteuse is foreshadowed in the desperate lyrics and vocal, and despite Jagger’s dramatic performance on the album, it’s Faithfull’s original that resounds with the personal truth that reclaimed her songwriting credit for the lyrics.
These early sides don’t reflect the lived life of Broken English, but you can hear Faithfull gaining experience at light speed. Her 1965 cover of “Yesterday” and the following year’s “Tomorrow’s Calling” are filled with melancholy, and her 1967 cover of the Ronettes’ “Is This What I Get For Loving You?” might not have been an expression of doubt about Mick Jagger’s fidelity, but seems to bely a fundamental insecurity. The collection pulls together the mono A’s and B’s of her eleven singles and a three-song EP, as released by Decca between 1964 and 1969. The 24-page booklet includes liner notes from journalist and longtime Marianne Faithfull fan Kris Needs, as well as numerous period photos, sheet music, label reproductions, and song credits. With the concurrent release of Faithfull’s new album Negative Capability, and its newly struck version of “As Time Goes By,” this is a timely spin for fans who’ve never taken the opportunity to enjoy Faithfull’s early work. [©2018 Hyperbolium]