In February Marianne Faithfull discussed her thirteen favorite albums with The Quietus’ Joel McIver. Her list was eclectic: folk, jazz, rock, blues, and country, including Dolly Parton’s The Fairest of Them All, The Band’s The Band, and Johnny Cash’s American IV.
In her description of Jack White’s Blunderbuss Marianne said:
I love everything about Americana, which is why you’ve got albums by The Band and Dolly Parton on this list, and I work it myself. Would I go that route myself? Well, I think doing a whole country album wouldn’t suit me. It wouldn’t be Marianne Faithfull.
Except that she kind of did one.
In the mid-‘70s Marianne recorded the country song “Dreamin’ My Dreams,” written by Allen Reynolds and made famous by Waylon Jennings in 1975. The success of this song inspired her to record a country album with members of The Grease Band. Although she had recorded an album’s worth of songs with producer Mike Leander in 1971, they were rejected by Bell Records and not released until 1985, on Rich Kid Blues. So in 1976 Marianne hadn’t had a new release on the market since 1967’s Love in a Mist. A lot had happened in the interim, not the least of which were health problems, drug addiction, eight months in rehab, and disastrous personal relationships. Dreamin’ My Dreams was to be a comeback album and because of this opportunity she began writing songs again, something she hadn’t done in years.
Marianne wrote in her autobiography, Faithfull:
The first incarnation of the New Marianne was a sort of country-western Marlene Dietrich on “Dreaming My Dreams.” Marlene singing torch songs at the Dodge City Saloon. Probably my German blood coming through… “Dreaming My Dreams” is Middle European weltschmerz and country melancholy; a swooning country ballad in waltz time. Perfect, dribbling piano music for crying in your beer. (The band used to call it “Creaming My Jeans.”) I wanted to have a lingering, smoky quality as if time was suspended while you listened to it.
“Dreaming My Dreams” was released in Britain to a resounding silence. And then, out of the blue, a deejay in Ireland by the name of Patrick Kenny started to play it on his show and it went to number one on the Irish charts for seven weeks. (The Irish love a waltz.) Okay, it was a fluke, but it gave me hope. Getting on the charts was a kind of forgiveness. We don’t care what you did, we like it anyway. I don’t know whether it’s the Church in Ireland or the drinking, but these people do know how to forgive.
Now I had a chance to make an album and what I wanted was to do a country album. At the cottage I’d been listening not only to James Brown and Otis Redding but also to an awful lot of Hank Williams and Jimmy Rodgers. During the sixties everyone had been trying to emulate black music, but I had now begun to wonder what white blues would be. I came to the conclusion that it would sound like Hank Williams. After that revelation I felt I wanted to do a new kind of country album, not imitating Waylon or Willy and not recorded in Nashville or Austin but done in England, a sort of country roots album with Celtic vibes. I’ve got loads of old Druidic longing and melancholy in my bones, on account of my Welsh blood.
When I began making Faithless this was my plan: an English country album. It would have been an interesting experiment to come at country music from such an elliptical angle, and it would have worked. I still plan to make that album someday, because Faithless certainly wasn’t it. Faithless wasn’t exactly what NEMS had in mind. I found myself in the compromising position of having to include a lot of material on the album because they were songs NEMS happened to publish in Europe. Typical music-biz crap.
NEMS re-packaged all the tracks from Dreamin’ My Dreams with four new country songs – “Wait for Me Down by the River,” “That Was the Day (Coke Came to Nashville),” Dylan’s “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight,” and a cover of the Kitty Wells classic “(It Wasn’t God Who Made) Honky-Tonk Angels”— and released it as Faithless in 1978. She called this move “yet another seamy bit of NEMS monkey business.”
She might not have made an entire album of the English country music she envisioned (I once heard someone describe Lindisfarne’s music that way), but the sampling of songs she did record succeed in conveying that feeling. After all, “Lady Madelaine” is about her friend Madeleine D’Arcy, the doomed lover of “Spanish Tony,” The Rolling Stones’ friend and drug dealer (also mentioned in the song), and “That Was the Day (Coke Came to Nashville)” must be the only country song referencing the M1 motorway.
Marianne performing “Dreaming My Dreams” on Supersonic, circa 1976, below: