Friday, April 17, 2009

Things Are Not What They Seem

The Rolling Stones' "Sister Morphine" had its origins back in 1968, when Mick Jagger was fooling around with some chords on an acoustic guitar, and his then-girlfriend, Marianne Faithfull, had the idea for a story about a man in a car accident who was taken to the hospital and given morphine. The song was finished shortly thereafter, and Faithfull released it as the B-side to a single in 1969. Her version had Jagger on acoustic guitar, Ry Cooder on slide guitar, Charlie Watts on drums and Jack Nitzsche on piano.

The Stones recorded their version around the same time (reports differ on whether it was March or May of 1969); in fact, I suspect it was at exactly the same time, since theirs also features Ry Cooder on slide and Nitzsche on piano. For whatever reasons, the track didn't show up on Let It Bleed, but hung around for two years before Sticky Fingers came out in April 1971.

By then, Mick and Marianne had broken up, and Faithfull had started having serious drug issues of her own. She claims the song has nothing to do with her own drug use, which might sound slightly dubious, but I believe her. It's about a man developing an addiction after being given morphine in a hospital, so it's the good, Rush Limbaugh kind of addiction rather than the bad David Crosby kind.

Of course, the Stones being the Stones, by the time they released their version, the song was credited to Jagger-Richards. I would love to know what the songwriting credits were on Faithfull's 1969 single. When it appeared on her 1987 Marianne Faithfull's Greatest Hits, it was credited to Faithfull-Jagger-Richards.

According to Faithfull, at some point along the line, it was Keith Richards who told Stones manager Allen Klein that she deserved a songwriting credit. "This story I heard from Allen Klein, it might not be true," she said in February. "Keith Richard told him that I did write the words and I needed the money. So now and again, I get a royalty cheque for 'Sister Morphine'. I've been living off 'Sister Morphine' for years. I just got one today. £485!" Apparently, the first time she got any credit for a Stones version was when it appeared on the 1994 re-release of Sticky Fingers.

Mick, naturally, is still whining about giving up a few pounds to his old squeeze. "[Marianne Faithfull] wrote a couple of lines; she always she wrote everything, though," he said in 1995. "She's always complaining she doesn't get enough money from it."

10 comments:

Repoz said...

Tom...I'm pretty sure the original Faithfull copy I have only lists Jagger-Richards.

Don't make me go digging it out. I hate stepping over dead bodies!

Here's a pic link I came across...

http://www.flickr.com/photos/scarlatti2004_images/1355583792/

T. Nawrocki said...

You don't need to dig out your single. That photo is clear as a bell.

That certainly undercuts her claim to have written all the lyrics, doesn't it?

Rob said...

I have a 1972 book “The Rolling Stones: An Unauthorized Biography in Words, Photographs, Music” (ed. David Dalton, Music Sales Corporation, New York: 1972) that has sheet music for all Stones songs through their current LP, *Sticky Fingers*. “Sister Morphine” is written by “Mick Jagger, Keith Richard, Marianne Faithfull, copyright 1969, 1971 Abkco Music, Inc.”

I wouldn't say it means anything special, given how little input the Stones had into their "official" sheet music or lyric transcriptions, and given that none of these people can plausibly claim clear memories of 1971, 1969, or the spelling of Keith's surname. But what a great song.

T. Nawrocki said...

That's awesome. Thanks for filling us in.

You must have a tremendous library, because I've never even seen that book. I bet I could get, like, ten posts out of it.

Kinky Paprika said...

I have a copy of that one too. You're welcome to borrow mine if you want, though it's not in great shape (it's missing both the covers.)

Marshall said...

I am doomed never to be quite clear on how Keith Richard became Keith Richards, and why using either surname can get you mocked.

T. Nawrocki said...

Are you a little late to the party here?

http://onepoorcorrespondent.blogspot.com/2007/05/looking-for-richard.html

Marshall said...

I'm always late to the party.

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