Marianne Faithfull debuted in 1964 as one of the more promising voices of the British Invasion. The Rolling Stones’ manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, discovered her, which lead to Mick Jagger (eventually her romantic partner) and Keith Richards co-penning her debut single “As Tears Go By.” Musically, however, she was a far cry from the Stones, possessing an effortlessly quivering soprano that imbued her string-laden baroque pop with a nebulous, folky mysticism.
In the late ’60s, her commercial output came to a virtual stop. The next decade would see laryngitis, drug abuse and depression take their toll on the nascent talent. After a well-documented rough patch, she returned with the most thematically weighty and artistically influential material of her career, Broken English. That 1979 masterpiece took cues from the burgeoning post-punk and synth-pop movements to create a sardonic portrayal of a world-worn survivor too savvy to ask for pity and too jaded to think she’s the only one who got burned by ’60s optimism.
It was that edge, directness and wit (reminiscent of a tart-tongued cabaret MC) that endeared Faithfull to a whole new generation of fans, and undoubtedly led to her being cast as God in a few episodes of the British hit series Absolutely Fabulous. In honor of her distinct, eclectic voice (literally and artistically) and her impact on pop music, here are Marianne Faithfull’s 10 best songs.
10. “With You In Mind”
On her final album from the ’60s (i.e., her last one with her upper registry soprano fully intact), Faithfull turned out this chilly, brisk and mysterious meditation on romantic separation — from the pen of Jackie DeShannon, no less. Like Joan Baez singing “Silver Dagger,” Faithfull subtly drapes “With You In Mind” with a sense of libidinous temporality and impermanence; in this song, it seems she’s drifting away from caring even as she does her best not to.
9. “In My Own Particular Way”
Mid-career Faithfull could occasionally sound despondent in her world-weariness, but on 2018’s late-career triumph Negative Capability (co-produced by the Bad Seeds’ Warren Ellis), she sounds strangely at peace even on a haunting, brooding plea like “In My Own Particular Way” — she’d like someone to love her on her own terms, but if it doesn’t happen, she’ll still be standing as resilient and impassive as ever. “I know I’m not young and I’m damaged/ But I’m still pretty, kind and funny” would seem melancholy coming from most, but from Faithfull’s lips, it’s purely a statement of fact.
8. “Strange Weather”
On the 1987 album of the same name, Faithfull takes this Tom Waits composition and casts it in the skin of a warped, wry Weimar cabaret; at first, Garth Hudson’s accordion seems to waft in and out, but before long, the entire recording seems like a half-remembered tune pieced together in the midst of a morning-after hangover, presided over by a raspy chanteuse existing just outside the boundaries of time.
7. “Go Away From My World”
Opening innocently enough with the radio-friendly 1965 triple-threat of a harpsichord riff, tambourine rhythm and pillowy strings, Faithfull takes what could be a benign slice of baroque pop and turns it into a quietly confident ode to embracing solitude instead of settling for someone. Thanks to her unwavering control over that tremulous croon, she manages to convey authority and regret at the same time.
6. “Tomorrow’s Calling”
Faithfull’s voice, at this point capable of tossing out a tremulous trill without batting a lash, turns from introspection to siren seduction on this beguiling piece of ethereal folk-pop: “Silver petals of porcelain rose/ Cobwebs of filigree/ Where I get them from nobody knows/ No one but you can see.” On 1979’s Broken English, she would sing a “Witches’ Song,” but she started gathering the ingredients for that intoxicating cauldron with this 1966 gem.
5. “Why’d Ya Do It?”
Broken English is a dark, harrowing affair, but the final track — “Why’d Ya Do It” — makes most breakup songs look like Kidz Bop. After Faithfull convinced English poet Heathcote Williams to let her turn his lyrical rant against an unfaithful partner into a spiky new-wave odyssey detailing the foaming-at-the-mouth fury of a betrayed lover, she dug into the material with relish. Most songs quietly guilt a cheater; this one rips the balls off. When Faithfull says, “Every time I see your d–k I see her c–t in my bed,” it’s not even angry — it’s just jaw-dropping bluntness most are too afraid to approach in their wildest dreams.
4. “As Tears Go By”
Faithfull’s debut single — from the pen of Jagger, Richards and their manager Andrew Loog Oldham — is unfortunately her best-known recording in America. That’s not unfortunate because it’s bad — actually, it’s an essential piece of ’60s folk-pop that she elevated from treacly production to wistful sublimity — but simply because she’s reached greater heights. In fact, she’s even done better with this song, as on the 1987 re-recording for her Strange Weather album. More than 20 years after this song rocketed her to fame, Faithfull — now wizened enough to sing “my riches can’t buy everything” and mean it — trades the pristine soprano of the original for a painfully heartfelt, booze-soaked delivery that simply tells the story instead of selling the story. Perfectly complemented by Hal Willner’s spacious production, this is the version to return to. (Her version on Negative Capability is also worthwhile.)
3. “Sister Morphine”
A Faithfull co-write with Jagger/Richards (although she had to fight to make sure it was credited that way), her 1969 version preceded the one they placed on Sticky Fingers by two years — and even though that’s one of their stronger albums, her take (which features Jagger on acoustic and Charlie Watts on drums) easily blows theirs out of the water. “Why does the darkness have no face?” sounds a bit like a pseudo-poetic ’60s leftover when Mick sings it, but in the context of Faithfull’s harrowing delivery, it sounds like a gutter-consigned junkie with an intellectual bent (think William S. Burroughs) pleading/conning their way up to that last fix. Few artists have conveyed the self-annihilating desperation of addiction quite like her on this recording. (Her 1979 re-recording is worthwhile but not as affecting.)
2. “Ballad of Lucy Jordan”
On Faithfull’s stunning interpretation of this 1974 Shel Silverstein (yeah, The Giving Tree guy) composition, her voice takes on an empathetic desperation as tentative, transient synths emphasize the nervous breakdown of the titular disillusioned housewife. Most ’60s survivors flat-out embarrassed themselves when they flirted with new wave; Faithfull, however, didn’t just adapt — she set a new bar for depth and inventiveness that few practitioners of the nascent genre would reach.
1. “Broken English”
The opening notes of Faithfull’s unexpected comeback masterpiece are almost too perfect: chirping “who me?” synths that are quickly bulldozed by a chugging, relentless bass line that sets up Faithfull’s exhausted, pissed protest against not just the Cold War, but the entire human tendency to fight, scheme, conquer and one-up. There are countless anti-war songs, many of them deeply heartfelt, but few are as brutally dismissive as this one: “Cold lonely, Puritan/ What are you fighting for?/ It’s not my security.” Similarly, her voice doesn’t bother with the familiar mournful trappings of most protest singers — listening to her curt, firm delivery is more likely to elicit exasperation with the entire human endeavor than a desire to reform it. And yet, “Broken English” is hardly a white flag on life — it’s a low-key banger that tips to the fact that in order to start looking at the stars, you gotta realize you’re stuck in the gutter.