So folks, in your possession at this very moment is a classic, a record surely to have been overlooked by even some of the most avid 70’s rock enthusiasts. In 1971 a barely-breathing Marianne Faithfull picked herself off the pavement and produced one of rock & roll’s most heartbreaking records.
Personally, I have always sporadically enjoyed this record, being a fan of basically everything Ms. Faithfull’s voice graces. But I’d never really thought of it as much more than a collection of lost, or rather, unfinished recordings from an unsuccessful attempt at producing an album in a fragile time of Ms. Faithfull’s life. However, after spending years together on-and-off, today we we’re on and it all fell together.
Many have often dreamed of what a record from the Stones-era Faithfull would have sounded like. Unfortunately, Marianne only produced one album during this period, 1967’s “Love in a Mist”. While I don’t contest that “Love in a Mist” has it’s place in Faithfull’s catalogue and it’s certainly not to be entirely dismissed as Folk-Pop fodder, it isn’t exactly “Exile on Main Street”. The only other output from Faithfull between 1967 and 1976 was a 7″ feating a track called “Something Better” as the A-Side and the now legendary “Sister Morphine” on the B-side. This is where our story begins.
In 1968 Marianne headed to the studio with then boyfriend Mick Jagger, whom she had just miscarried a baby with after seven months of pregnancy (the baby was to be called Corrina). From these sessions the “Something Better/Sister Morphine” 7” emerged. The single was far from earth shattering, reportedly being removed from the shops after only three days in the UK due it its “unladylike” content. You may have seen Marianne perform “Something Better” at the now infamous Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus. However, the Rock and Roll Circus wasn’t released until nearly thirty years later and this was the only real promotional activity surrounding the single’s release, and as such it went largely unnoticed. These two tracks signal something incredible brewing in Ms. Faithfull and it proved to be her first real attempt at taking the bull by the horns creatively. At first glance, it seems a great shame that Faithfull didn’t follow through and record an album following the single’s release. However, this record exists, and it’s as remarkable as you’d hoped.
Three years had passed since the release of “Sister Morphine” and Marianne Faithfull was now a junkie living on the streets of London, this is when Mike Leander found her to produce the sessions that would become “Masques”. Leander had worked with Faithfull on her 60’s Decca records and, after learning of her current situation, sought her out to have her come try her hand at some Folk-Rock compositions. The album was recorded in 1971 at Trident Studios but was shelved following it’s completion and wouldn’t see the light of day until thirteen years later when it was released as “Rich Kid Blues” (with a new track-order) following Marianne’s resurgence after the release of Broken English.
There is something very desirable about this point in the evolution of Ms. Faithfull’s voice. It’s something that was only hinted at in earlier recordings like “Is This What I Get for Loving You?” and “In My Time of Sorrow” and realized during those “Sister Morphine” sessions. The fragile delicate quality of her voice on those early records is sunken, slightly, and the fragility has turned to something of desperation, maybe even unabashed loneliness, but she has yet to turn. The bile of Broken English is still brewing somewhere deep and has yet to spew out the surface. This, unfortunately, is the only album Ms. Faithfull completed with this particular voice.
A spare acoustic guitar strums almost inaudibly on Terry Reid’s “Rich Kid Blues” as Marianne enters with “Having bad times, now I’m paying dues, got shoes and money, good friends too. Always play to win, always seem to lose. That’s why I think I got a rich kid’s blues.” It’s a hell of an introduction, and Ms. Faithfull is clear that she’s here to remind us of the cross that she bears. It’s a lonely track, something of a kid singing softly in their room at night. From her first utterance you can’t help but feel the intense emotional situation surrounding her. She sings of the perils of stardom in Phil Ochs’ “Chords of Fame” (“They will rob you of your innocence, they will put you up for sale. The more that you will find success, the more that you will fail”), and presumably the loss of her daughter with Jagger in “Corrine, Corrina”, a traditional song interpreted by way of Dylan (“I got a bird that whistles, I got a bird that sings, but if I ain’t got Corrina, life don’t mean a thing”). This collection of tracks is easily Faithfull’s most vulnerable performance on record as well as one of her most rewarding. It can easily be held in such high regard as records like Vashti Bunyan’s “Just Another Diamond Day”, Sibylle Baier’s “Colour Green”, and Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon”.
Faithfull herself has at times dismissed the record as something of a failure, implying that because she was in such a raw state at the time the record proved to be flawed and ultimately weak. It’s not difficult to imagine Ms. Faithfull feeling this way about the record, as it is something so distant from her, even at the time of its recording. It’s a photograph of sorts, a moment captured when she wasn’t looking. It can be embarrassing, being permanently captured in a frame not of your choosing. But this is something beautiful, something to admire. Marianne’s readings of selections from Bob Dylan, Sandy Denny, Cat Stevens, James Taylor, and George Harrison, among others, are not only thoroughly enjoyable on a sonic level but they register on a gut level. This is what one hopes for when they listen to a record, that there will be something visible below the surface, something reflected back. When Faithfull sings “Leave your stepping stones behind you, something calls for you. Forget the dead you’ve left, they will not follow you.” on Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” we know she’s looking herself dead in the eye.
Produced by Mike Leander
Recorded at Trident Studios in 1971
1. Chords of Fame
2. Beware of Darkness
3. It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry
4. Long Black Veil
5. Sad Lisa
6. It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue
7. Mud Slide Slim
8. Corrine, Corrina
9. Southern Butterfly
10. Visions of Johanna
11. Rich Kid Blues
12. Crazy Lady Blues