Marianne Faithfull in the sixties
She was modern, but timeless, so perfect as to seem improbable, an invention.
Marianne Faithfull—let’s begin with that name, which was her own, but could have easily been given to her by a wily manager, the way English singers were dubbed Adam Faith and Billy Fury—looked like a character in a Jane Austen novel or a Jean-Luc Godard film (she played herself in a cameo in his Made in U.S.A.). And let’s be candid about it (because she was): her beauty was not an insignificant thing. When she was introduced to American television viewers on Hullaballoo in January 1965, Brian Epstein asked her about her origin story, and she said she was discovered at a party in London by Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham, who told her she had a face that could sell. “Perhaps I have,” she recalled telling Oldham. “Let’s sell it.”
It began, then, as a whim. A lovely girl approached with the oldest line in the show-biz book: I can make you a star. You can imagine her shrugging and thinking, “Why not?” Could she sing? It turned out that she could; her voice had a kind of youthful melancholy typical among female folk-pop singers of the early ’60s. Think of Gale Garnett singing “We’ll Sing in the Sunshine,” that sort of thing, or Jackie De Shannon doing a bunch of Dylan covers on her Liberty debut album. You could walk into any coffeehouse or makeshift folk club in London or New York and see earnest women with acoustic guitars, singing songs that Faithfull recorded early on: “Greensleeves,” “The House of the Rising Sun,” “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Four Strong Winds.” It was fortunate, then, that Oldham knew Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, and together the three of them came up with a wistful ballad, “As Tears Go By,” which sounds as though the notion was to turn Faithfull into the British edition of Françoise Hardy (its mood is a bit like “Le premier bonheur du jour” and “J’aurais voulu”). It’s a young man’s idea of a grown-up song (McCartney’s “Yesterday,” which Faithfull also recorded, is like that as well), premature nostalgia, and Faithfull sings it as though she’s on a park bench, scribbling in a journal, feeling old and disillusioned.
“As Tears Go By” leads off, as it must, the new Marianne Faithfull compilation, Come and Stay with Me—The UK 45s 1964-1969, with 22 tracks in their original mono, in chronological order. It’s a lovingly assembled collection, including a number of songs that are essential in telling her story: the charming Jackie De Shannon title cut, John D. Loudermilk’s “This Little Bird,” Gerry Goffin & Barry Mann’s “Something Better,” which she performed on The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus, the harrowing “Sister Morphine,” the psych-folk of Bob Lind’s “Counting.” But the A-and-B-side premise, while it makes room for nice rarities like Donovan’s “The Most of What Is Least” and the jazzy “That’s Right Baby,” means that there are many gaps, including album cuts and foreign language records (there is an album’s worth of Faithfull singing songs in French scattered around, which would be one of the sexiest albums ever, and would include Serge Gainsbourg’s “Hier ou Demain”). And a definitive anthology would have her versions of Ray Davies’ “Rosie Won’t You Please Come Home” (called “Rosie, Rosie”), Tim Hardin’s “Hang on to a Dream,” the Beatles’ “I’m a Loser,” Donovan’s “Young Girl Blues,” and “In My Time of Sorrow” by De Shannon and Jimmy Page.
Her musical vocabulary was broad, and even in the ’60s it pointed toward the beyond-category excursions of her later career. She did the standard “Some Other Spring,” associated with Billie Holiday, and “I Have a Love” from West Side Story. Like Dusty Springfield, Sandie Shaw, and Cilla Black, she dipped into Bacharach & David (“If I Never Get to Love You”) and, like Dusty and Sandie, she recorded Jacques Brel’s “Ne Me Quitte Pas” (“If You Go Away”). It’s difficult to get a fix on Faithfull’s first chapter, because, as was the case with most U.K. artists, her albums came out in scrambled form in the U.S., with tracks from her more “folky” LPs thrown together with ones from her “pop” projects. And whatever she was up to musically was overshadowed by her celebrity. She was the girl at Mick Jagger’s side, the girl tainted by scandal and innuendo. There were drugs, and a suicide attempt. She was literally the Convent Girl Gone Bad. Faithfull could play Ophelia in Hamlet and Irina in The Cherry Orchard, but she was also the star of The Girl on a Motorcycle (also known, more on-the-nose, as Naked Under Leather). It seemed, as the ’60s ended, that she would be forever the girl at the center of the decade’s biggest party, the British Invasion. Swinging London.
“The sixties,” she writes in her second book, Memories, Dreams and Reflections, “was a great motley cast of characters in an ongoing operetta with multi-hued costumes to match. What I remember most is how beautiful everybody was, and, of course, the beautiful clothes.” Look at any photo of Marianne Faithfull from that decade, by David Bailey, Gered Mankowitz, Jean-Marie Perier, Michael Cooper; she freezes that glorious moment. The British Invasion gave Marianne Faithfull cultural context, but also threatened to trap her. Oh, she hung out with the Rolling Stones…Graham Nash wrote “Carrie-Anne” about her…she had flings with other pop stars…Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones played on her records…she’s in that Godard movie. Would anyone have predicted that the same month as the release of Come and Stay with Me, a snapshot of her singles from that five-year period in the swing of things, she would be putting out a new album as riveting as Negative Capability, which faces grief and mortality (and re-revisits—she also cut it on 1987’s Strange Weather—“As Tears Go By” in a third-act-curtain version)? Who’d have thought she’d make more good albums in the 21st century than the Rolling Stones? The only honor left is for the Queen to make her Dame Marianne Faithfull. It would be a last laugh, and it would suit her.