Tox Tunes #2: “Sister Morphine” (Marianne Faithfull)

January 10, 2010, 1:03 pm

Marianne Faithfull’s live version of “Sister Morphine” is more raw and much more harrowing than the Rolling Stones’  beautiful but studio-polished rendition on Sticky Fingers. Faithfull wrote the lyrics to the song in the late 1960s; Mick Jagger wrote the music. As Faithfull recounts in her fascinating autobiography  (titled, aptly enough, Faithfull: An Autobiography):

“People tend to assume that ‘Sister Morphine’ comes from an incident in my life, that it is a parable of a junkie’s last hours.  But at the time I wrote it I’d only taken smack once. I was still far from becoming a junkie. ‘Sister Morphine’ was in my head — my feelings about what it might be like to be an addict.

“‘Sister Morphine’ is the story of man who has had a terrible car accident.  He’s dying and he’s in tremendous pain and the lyrics of the song are addressed to the nurse.”

(Yes, I know those last two paragraphs are somewhat contradictory.)

Fatihfull recorded the song, but at the last minute Decca refused to release it because they thought it was pro-drug. (Obviously the executives there didn’t pay attention to the lyrics.)  When the song came out on Sticky Fingers in 1971,  it was credited to Jagger and Richards.  After a prolonged battle, Faithfull finally reclaimed her credit as the song’s lyricist.

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