Hear Marianne Faithfull’s Three Versions of “As Tears Go By,” Each Recorded at a Different Stage of Life (1965, 1987 & 2018)

When a 17-year-old Mar­i­anne Faith­full fin­ished the final take of her 1965 hit “As Tears Go By” — penned by a young duo of Mick Jag­ger and Kei­th Richards as one of their first orig­i­nal songs — Rolling Stones man­ag­er Andrew Loog Old­ham “came and gave me a big hug,” she recalled “‘Con­grat­u­la­tions dar­ling. You’ve got your­self a num­ber six,’ he said.”

Richards remem­bered the song in his auto­bi­og­ra­phy as “a ter­ri­ble piece of tripe” and “mon­ey for old rope,” but it actu­al­ly peaked at num­ber 22 on the Bill­board Hot 100, where it stayed for nine weeks, no small thing. So pop­u­lar was “As Tears Go By” that the Stones them­selves record­ed a ver­sion the fol­low­ing year. Their take also entered the Hot 100, where it peaked at num­ber six.

The sto­ry of the song rep­re­sents in brief the evo­lu­tion of its orig­i­nal singer. Fat­ed in her ear­ly years to be known as lit­tle more than Jagger’s muse, an image she grew to hate, Faith­full went from hang­er-on in the six­ties, “an essen­tial com­po­nent of the Swing­ing Lon­don scene,” writes review­er alrockchick; to a home­less hero­in addict; to a leg­end revived, her “whiskey-soaked” croak of a voice the per­fect vehi­cle for deliv­er­ing smoke-filled tales of weari­ness and betray­al.

Along the way, there was “As Tears Go By,” a song Faith­full came to embody, though she didn’t think much of it as a teenag­er. (See Bri­an Epstein intro­duce her on Hula­baloo, above, in 1965.)

She was “nev­er that crazy” about it, she said. “God knows how Mick and Kei­th wrote it or where it came from…. In any case, it’s an absolute­ly aston­ish­ing thing for a boy of 20 to have writ­ten a song about a woman look­ing back nos­tal­gi­cal­ly on her life.”

The “boys” had help — at first they cribbed the title “As Time Goes By” from the famous tear­jerk­er in Casablan­ca. Accord­ing to Loog Old­ham, he locked the two Stones in a room togeth­er and said, “I want a song with brick walls all around it, high win­dows and no sex.” How that became a Mar­i­anne Faith­full sig­na­ture is some­thing of a mys­tery. At times she claimed Jag­ger wrote the song for her; at oth­ers, she emphat­i­cal­ly denied it. But as the con­trast between her voice and the song’s sac­cha­rine, maudlin nature changed, so too did the pow­er of her deliv­ery, which is not to say her first record­ing didn’t war­rant the atten­tion.

“The voice on ‘As Tears Go By’ and ‘Sum­mer Nights,’” altrockchick writes, “has an airy, sur­re­al qual­i­ty; the voice on Bro­ken Eng­lish,” her 1979 come­back (which does not include “As Tears Go By”), “is as real as it gets” and only got more real with time. In a Nico-esque monot­o­ne drone, she revis­it­ed the song she made famous in the mid-six­ties in the 1987 take above for the album Strange Weath­er. She had just recent­ly got­ten clean and lost a lover to sui­cide.

The weath­ered vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty she projects is worlds away from the dreamy melan­choly of the past, her voice “a far cry from the 60s sweet­ness,” The Music Afi­ciona­do blog notes. “Years of sub­stance abuse and con­stant smok­ing dropped her pitch and made it raspy.” These qual­i­ties are even more pro­nounced in a 2018 ver­sion of the song from the album Neg­a­tive Capa­bil­i­ty. It func­tions almost as a coda for a career as an inter­preter of the songs of oth­ers, though she’s writ­ten no few of her own (and may yet release anoth­er ver­sion of “As Time Goes By.”)

She is remem­bered for much more than her first hit, but Faithfull’s revis­i­ta­tion of “As Tears Go By” over the years seems to speak to an ambiva­lent accep­tance of Mick Jagger’s con­stant pres­ence in her sto­ry — and a grace­ful, if not exact­ly uplift­ing, accep­tance of the inevitable rav­ages of age and fame.

You can hear her very recent inter­view on the Bro­ken Record pod­cast below:

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Jean-Luc Godard Shoots Mar­i­anne Faith­full Singing “As Tears Go By” (1966)

David Bowie Sings ‘I Got You Babe’ with Mar­i­anne Faith­full in His Very Last Per­for­mance As Zig­gy Star­dust (1973)

Watch the Rolling Stones Write “Sym­pa­thy for the Dev­il”: Scenes from Jean-Luc Godard’s ’68 Film One Plus One

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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