Sunday, 25 April 2010

Quality of Life Improvement 14: "As Tears Go By"

"As Tears Go By" may have been written by her future boyfriend, Mick Jagger, together with fellow Rolling Stone Keith Richards and her manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, but to us, the song will always belong to Marianne Faithfull.

Marianne Faithfull originally recorded "As Tears Go By" as a B-side in 1964 when she was 17 years old. Decca, her record company, realized that they had a major hit in "As Tears Go By" and switched the it to an A-side, and the track became hugely popular, both in the UK and the US and in so dong, made Marianne Faithfull a huge star.

In the years following "As Tears Go By," Faithfull's formerly angelic persona shifted to one more associated with her fraught and now finished relationship with Mick Jagger, the unborn child that she miscarried, the overdose and resulting coma that nearly killed her, her subsequent sordid and desperate affairs and, especially, her magnetic attraction to drugs.

Faithfull lived in London and on the streets of New York in the late 1970s, addicted to cocaine and heroin, with her career and personal lives in shambles.

The years of drugs and chronic, untreated laryngitis had, as one journalist wrote at the time, "permanently vulgarized her voice." The once-pure, almost fragile, high soprano had cracked and fallen two octaves into that rarest of female vocal quantities—a genuine contralto.

In 1979, still in the depths of opiate addiction, Faithfull released "Broken English." The listening public hadn't heard from Marianne Faithfull in a decade, and when the album started to spin, the voice knocking at their eardrums was dark, deepened, ragged and altogether different than the wistful innocence of Marianne Faithfull, ca. 1964. What's more, the ablum's lyrics stood in extraordinary contrast to that contained in her previous recordings—explicit tales of infidelity, oral sex, terrorism, aging female angst—which scandalized and polarized public opinion.

However, the album was a supreme critical success and is considered one of the greatest of all time, and certainly the greatest of her career; Faithfull herself simply describes it as "the masterpiece."

A version of "As Tears Go By" was recorded for the 1987 album "Strange Weather," and the dissonance between the voice of 1965's Marianne Faithfull and the Marianne Faithfull of 22 years later shifted the tone of the song from cool longing to world-weary wisdom.

Just last year, Faithfull appeared on an installment of the BBC4 Sessions program with the realease of her latest album "Easy Come, Easy Go." For the first time since the 1960s, she sang "As Tears Go By" to it's full, original arrangement.

Marianne Faithfull's albums are available from iTunes, and are available in both mp3 and CD format from

Additional stockists include:

Barnes & Noble Booksellers Ala Moana Mall, 1450 Ala Moana Blvd. Suite 1272, Honolulu Hawaiʻi, (808) 949-7307.

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