In 1965, Marianne Faithfull released two albums: a self-titled, mainstream "pop" album, and this record, "Come My Way" which focused on traditional folk songs.
It took a while for this record to grow on me-- perhaps because it launches into an experimental and somewhat disconcerting reading of "Jaberwoc" (from Through The Looking-Glass) on only the second track! Soon enough, her public would tar and feather her for being a "bad girl", but in 1965, Marianne still had to prove to the world that there was a whole different side to the "pretty, harmless little blond girl singing lilting pop songs" that was her official image in the U.K.
Though she has penned a few famous songs (1969's "Sister Morphine" is included on the 2006 vinyl reissue of this album) Marianne's greatest strength is in her interpretation of other's work.
It was far more common in the 1960s for an artist to win over new listeners by covering and improving upon popular or traditional material-- a marketing ploy used very little these days, probably because of rising cost of licensing other people's music. When men of this era cover traditional ballads, they often sound plodding and wooden to my modern ears, but Marianne... well, she was a bit of the drama queen, and she understood that there was someone's true story behind these songs, and she was intent on Taking You There.
Her version of "House of the Rising Sun" gives me chills-- and honestly, when has that song last really moved you? "Portland Town" is the old story of the wasted life of a mother and wife who has raised her children only to send them to war; "Spanish Is A Loving Tongue" a bittersweet remembrance of a forbidden love; "Black Girl" a haunting drama of mistrust, violence, and poverty in the Deep South that would thrill any modern goth to the core; "Down in the Salley Garden" a heartbreaking warning from an old poet not to take true love for granted.
My favorite of all is the ballad "Four Strong Winds". It doesn't have the vocal acrobatics of some of the other songs on the album, so you could miss it the first few times through, but once you tune into to the words-- matched with the perfectly bittersweet delivery-- you will probably join me in turning on the waterworks.
It is sung from the perspective of a man who has loved a woman during the easy days of summer, and is now moving on to find work with the harvest. His casual "our good times are all gone, and I must be moving on... I'll look for you if you're ever back this way" plays against the aching "I wish you'd change your mind, if I asked you one more time... but we've been through this a hundred times or more". Later in the song he is strangely ambivalent: if he sends her the fare and she joins him, what will she do in the middle of winter anyway, he argues? Each lover seems to be waiting for the other one to prove their love first before making a move, and in the process, their love is being carelessly thrown to the winds of fate. We've probably all been there at some point in our lives. Stupid humans.... sigh.
In 1966, the year after this album was made, Marianne would begin her much-publicized affair with Mick Jagger. Imagine trying to outdress Mick in this era when he was the king of the male Peacocks! She seems almost a little lost beside him and his "optical illusion plaid" suit.
This same year, she was splashed across the headlines in a famous drug raid in Keith Richard's house, where she was found wearing nothing but a fur rug. Though no one these days would bat an eye at such an incident, to be found "partying with the boys" when you were not just a woman but the mother of a toddler was the kiss of death for Marianne's career.
Marianne was homeless, drug-addicted, and sick off and on for decades in the 1970s and 1980s, and her voice was all but destroyed in the process. She is one of our great Survivor stories, however, rising from obscurity to resurrect her career in the late 1980s. Today she is a respected and revered actress and performer, and has collaborated with everyone from PJ Harvey to Jarvis Cocker. I can't say I know much about this modern Marianne, as my relationship with her was forged in the vintage vinyl bins, but it is cool that even young women know her name these days.
You can find loads of Marianne Faithfull in the used bins at any good record store (remember always to shop local or shop small, and avoid Amazon whenever possible!). I recommend all of her 1960s work, but obviously "Come My Way" is a personal favorite. I hope you love her as much as I do!