One of the most underrated singers of the rock era is Marianne Faithfull. Sure, she got lots of props in the late 1970s when her voice, scratchy and scary from years of hard living put the fear of God into many (she came off liked THE last woman you’d ever want to pick up in a bar). But her earlier career … pre-hard living … doesn’t get nearly enough respect. As much as I love Faithfull with that late 1970s and beyond whiskey and cigarettes-voice, her earlier stuff is damn good. The fact that critics don’t have much use for it is why I’ve given up on rock critics. They can lead you to some good stuff you wouldn’t otherwise hear of, but ultimately, you need to trust your own ears and heart. While I prefer the Animals’ more famous cover, Faithfull’s version of “House of the Rising Sun” is particularly good.
For some perspective, I’ve posted Faithfull’s late 1990s cover of Harry Nilsson’s “Don’t Forget Me.” I love this cover, but it’s VERY different in style and tone to her material more than 30 years prior.
Most people know this by the terrific pop cover the Animals did in 1965. However, this was originally composed for jazz vocalist Nina Simone by Bennie Benjamin, Gloria Caldwell and Sol Marcus and Simone’s version … which is slower, bluesier, and more tortured-sounding … is a marvel to behold if you’ve never heard it before. The accompanying video that someone made on YouTube showing pivotal scenes of the American Civil Rights struggle during the 1950s and 1960s is particularly powerful in the context of the lyrics.
Here’s David Johansen’s famous Animals medley from the stellar 1982 live album “Live it Up.” This is a medley of the Animals’ “We’ve Gotta Get Out of this Place,” “Don’t Bring Me Down,” and “It’s My Life” and Johansen and his band pulls it off damn well.
Trivia note: I remember going to a (now-defunct) used record store in Norfolk, VA in 1989 and discussing the New York Dolls with a clerk or the owner (I can’t remember). The guy admitted a disdain for Johansen because of this Animals medley, because allegedly, his band did an Animals medley before Johansen did it, Johansen saw his band perform it when his band opened for Johansen, and then Johansen did the same thing and gained notoriety for it. OK, maybe this guy at the record store deserves a cheeseburger for Johansen’s alleged steal … but even then I thought, really? Your entire reason for “not making it” was because Johansen stole some idea of doing a medley of covers of some other band from you? Sweet lord, that’s THEE most single pathetic celebrity grudge I’ve ever witnessed. Johansen, God bless you for turning a medley of covers into a minor hit. Even if you allegedly stole the “original” idea of doing covers from another band.
This acid-rock cover of “House of the Rising Sun” reached the Top 10 on the Billboard Pop Charts in 1970 and sold over a million copies … and then went into oblivion. Why this hasn’t been resurrected in some indie crime film is the hipster God’s private mystery … Immensely cool s–t!