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.
From her 1997 album “20th Century Blues,” Marianne Faithfull performs a moving cover of one of Harry Nilsson’s best (and least-known) songs. Faithfull gives a nice tribute to Nilsson at the beginning of this. I can’t think of any one better to cover this song, except (maybe) for Tom Waits.
Nilsson’s original version is from his album “Pussy Cats,” credited to both Nilsson and John Lennon and recorded during Lennon’s infamous “lost weekend” period in the early-mid 1970s. You can find Nilsson’s original version of this elsewhere on Dave’s Strange World.
Like Johnny Cash’s cover of Nine Inch Nails’s “Hurt,” this is a case where a cover transcends the original by a tremendous degree based solely on the pathos of the singer’s life experience. Faithfull covered this song (written by Shel Silverstein, but originally recorded by Dr. Hook ?!?) at roughly the same age of the song’s protagonist. It’s a tremendous performance, especially given Faithfull’s troubled life prior to covering this song. Used to great effect in the film “Thelma and Louise.”
I find that this version of “Sister Morphine,” sung at the time when Marianne Faithfull was actually going through the hell of what she’s singing about, is more compelling than the version she did at the end of the 1970s. Yes, the Stones’ version on “Sticky Fingers” is damn good, but this version is better in my opinion.
Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned … especially when she’s in her late 30s, has lived a very hard life, and sounds like she could literally tear your head off with her bare hands. You thought Alanis Morisette’s “You Oughta Know” sounded angry? You thought Glenn Close in “Fatal Attraction” was nuts? Hell, you thought Trent Reznor sounded pissed off against the female race on NIN’s first two-three albums? Faithfull could easily kick all their asses without breaking a sweat and then go after the “bad boyfriend” in this song with a knife and fork. Yikes. A really, really angry song with a lot of bad language, so you know the drill.