A chance meeting with producer Andrew Loog Oldham launched Marianne Faithfull as Britain’s top pop/folk singer of the 1960s. She enjoyed a string of successes, but her relationship with Mick Jagger came to overshadow her music career. In later decades, after sleeping rough and battling heroin addiction, she rebuilt her career, gaining recognition as both a singer and actress.
She was born Marian Faithfull on 29 December 1946 in Hampstead, north London. Her British father was an intelligence officer and psychology professor and her mother Hungarian-born Eva von Sacher-Massoch, the Baroness Erisso (a title that Marianne later inherited but has never used). Her great uncle, Léopold von Sacher-Massoch, was the author responsible for the term ‘masochist’.
She grew up first in Lancashire and then, after her parents’ separation in 1952, in Reading. As a child, she learned to play the piano and also took acting and singing lessons.
By the age of 15, she was performing folk songs in local coffee bars and clubs. French jazz and German cabaret songs were her other major musical influences and it is understood that these may have prompted her to change the spelling of her name to Marianne.
At a Cambridge ball, she met the man she would later marry, John Dunbar. Through him, she would meet celebrities such as Peter Asher and Paul McCartney.
In 1964, at a party to launch the pop career of Adrienne Poster, she met the man with whom she is indelibly linked in the public mind, Mick Jagger.
Both Adrienne and the Rolling Stones were managed by Andrew Loog Oldham, who liked the look of Marianne and began planning her debut release within hours of meeting her. A week later, with a contract from the Decca label, Marianne went into the recording studio to cut the first original composition by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, As tears go by. (The title had originally been As time goes by, but Oldham changed ‘time’ to ‘tears’ and earned himself a co-writing credit in the process.)
Though Marianne didn’t care much for the song, the public lapped it up. Released in June 1964, it climbed to number nine in the UK and in Ireland and became a top 30 hit in the US.
That autumn she undertook her first tour, as part of a package that included The Hollies and Freddie and The Dreamers. She also issued her follow-up single. To assuage the singer, Decca allowed her to choose the song – but, despite frequent airplay and TV promotion, the record-buying public gave the thumbs down to her version of Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ in the wind.
Its failure led her to split from Oldham, and Tony Calder took over her management, albeit briefly. It was Calder who encouraged Jackie DeShannon and her boyfriend Jimmy Page – of The Yardbirds and, later, Led Zeppelin – to pen a song for his new signing. The result was the delightful Come and stay with me, which peaked at number four in the UK charts in early 1965 and proved another US top 30 hit.
By this time, Decca bosses were keen to have Marianne release an LP. However, Decca wanted a pop album, while Marianne wanted a folk one. In the end, both the singer and the record company got their way – in the form of two LPs released on the same day in April 1965.
Both albums, Marianne Faithfull (the pop one) and Come my way (the folk one), made the UK top 20. Aside from the singles, highlights of the former include the Bacharach and David-penned If I never get to love you, another DeShannon-Page composition In my time of sorrow, and a version of The Searchers’ What have they done to the rain. Among the high points of the latter are Spanish is a loving tongue, Fare thee well and the title track.
Despite her preference for the folk LP, the Marianne Faithfull album demonstrates Marianne’s interest in French music more clearly. It contains He’ll come back to me (a cover of France Gall’s A bientôt nous deux) and They will never leave you (a version of Jean-Jacques Debout’s Emporte avec toi), plus the French-sung Plaisir d’amour. She would go on to record further material in French, with linguistic coaching from fellow singer Louise Cordet. (Marianne would also record a few tracks in Italian.)
After marrying John Dunbar in May 1965, Marianne took part in the Brighton song festival, competing against the likes of Lulu and Elkie Brooks. Though her Go away from my world finished in second place, its sheer quality deemed it worthy of release as a single, though only in the US. In the UK, it was issued on an EP.
Instead, This little bird gave the singer her third top ten UK hit. The song was also re-recorded and issued in Italian as Un piccolo cuore as the B-side to Quando ballai con lui, a version of Morning sun. The UK release saw off a rather maliciously timed rival version by The Nashville Teens produced by Andrew Loog Oldham.
The exquisite Summer nights continued her run of success, reaching number ten in the UK in August 1965. She also cut the song in French as Nuit d’été, and, interestingly, the B-side of the UK release, the catchy The sha la la song, became more popular in France as A demain my darling, thanks to a great cover version by Marie LaForêt.
A take on The Beatles’ Yesterday rounded off Marianne’s singles for the year, though the song managed only to scrape into the UK top 40. No matter – the birth of a son kept the singer too occupied to pay much attention.
She was quick to return to work, and the folk North country maid LP hit the shops in April 1966. The first time ever I saw your face, Cockleshells and the title track are the highlights of the release. Although a critical success, the album proved a commercial flop.
Two excellent singles, Tomorrow’s calling and Counting, released that summer, also failed to chart. (The former was re-recorded as Si demain for the French market and issued as the lead track on an EP that also included a translation of Cockleshells, retitled Coquillages.)
Marianne, who had always been a bit ambivalent about her recording career, brushed off these failures and began branching out into acting. She appeared in two films by renowned French producer Jean-Luc Godard, Made in USA and Anna. The latter also saw her record the terrific Hier ou demain, a song which had been penned by bad boy singer-songwriter Serge Gainsbourg and which became popular in France.
Her relationship with Mick Jagger also proved a distraction from her music career. It began in October 1966 and had enough sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll to fill many a newspaper. Even the suicide of Italian singer Luigi Tenco at the 1967 San Remo song festival – at which Marianne performed C'è chi spera – came second to the couple’s affair, at least in the British press.
Indeed, the media fascination with the couple overshadowed Marianne’s work. Her fourth LP, Love in a mist, a mix of pop and folk, with great tracks such as Reason to believe and In the night time, was completely overlooked.
However, worse was to come. In February 1967, police raided Keith Richards’ Redlands home in West Sussex. The drugs bust became the stuff of legend when it was alleged that Mick Jagger had been found eating a Mars bar out of Marianne’s vagina. She refutes the claim to this day. However, the damage was done. Although her name was kept out of the papers initially, interest in her appearance in a Royal Court production of Checkov’s The three sisters was eclipsed by the forthcoming trial.
Similarly, her superlative version of The Ronettes’ Is this what I get for loving you? stalled outside the UK top 40 as the singer had little opportunity to promote it.
With her pop career – and her reputation – in tatters, Marianne accepted roles in two films she might have done better to decline: I’ll never forget what’s ’isname and Girl on a motorcycle. Both have become kitsch classics but did little to help Marianne take her career in a new direction. The closure after just one night of the Royal Court play Early morning in which she played a lesbian Florence Nightingale didn’t help either.
By now, Marianne was addicted to cocaine and marijuana, and a miscarriage in November 1968 took her to a new low.
An attempt to revive her career with the release in February 1969 of Something better, penned by Phil Spector, Gerry Goffin and Carole King, went badly wrong. Decca bosses pulled the record after listening to the B-side, Sister Morphine. With lyrics by Marianne, the song told the story of an injured man who wants a nurse to ease his pain by giving him morphine. Decca felt the words were unsuitable for a singer with Marianne’s recent history. She was furious that Jagger used none of his sway to prevent Decca from deleting the record and his and Marianne’s relationship would never fully recover.
In 1970, the combination of the death of Brian Jones, her divorce from John Dunbar, her break-up with Mick Jagger and a drug-induced six-day coma saw Marianne fall apart. She would go on to live on the streets in London’s Soho, suffering from heroin addiction and anorexia.
Rescued by her former producer Mike Leander, she returned to the studio in 1971 to cut the album Rich kid blues (which remained unreleased for over a decade). Dreamin’ my dreams, released in 1975, provided something of a comeback, particularly in Ireland, but it was 1979’s punk-influenced Broken English LP that really re-established the singer. On it, her voice takes on a deeper, huskier quality, arguably as a result of her years of smoking and drug abuse. The single The ballad of Lucy Jordan, taken from the album, hit the top five in Germany, the top 20 in France and saw the singer return to the top 50 of the UK charts.
That year she married Ben Brierly, bass guitarist with punk band The Vibrators, though the marriage wouldn’t last. (She wed again in 1988, to Italian actor Giorgio della Terza.)
Further albums followed and Marianne also returned to acting, most notably taking the award-nominated lead in the 2007 film Irina Palm.
In 2006, she was diagnosed with breast cancer but made a full recovery. A year later, she revealed that she had been diagnosed with hepatitis C.
In 2011, she issued the album Horses and high heels.