When Metallica found an unlikely partner for ‘The Memory Remains’

When Metallica met Marianne: It has a ring to it.

But it was still strange bedfellows when the thrash kings combined with the British chanteuse Marianne Faithful for “The Memory Remains”, the lead single from Metallica’s 1997 album Reload.

They were literally worlds apart, and the quartet had no idea such an eyebrow-raising collaboration lay ahead when they began working on the track with producer Bob Rock. “‘Memory Remains’ was a song we were messing around with for a while,” James Hetfield – who co-wrote the dark, brooding number with the co-founding drummer Lars Ulrich – told this writer when Reload was released. “I didn’t really have any lyrics, and this melody part—la la la la la‘ a little – that’s what I sang.

“Randy Staub, our engineer, said, ‘You know what? It sounds pretty cool when there are no lyrics there. I’m sure you have a vision of writing lyrics for that part one day, but “la-la“bit sounds pretty cool.” I thought about it a little bit.” Hetfield agreed with Staub, but he didn’t feel he was necessarily the one to sing the part.

“The song was developing into this Sunset Blvd. kind of character … kind of a lost soul trying to remember this melody,” he explained. “With me singing, it just didn’t go as far as we wanted. I heard an older woman’s voice in there, kind of a Sunset Blvd. thing.

“Bob suggested Marianne Faithfull. I wasn’t that familiar with her work at all and he gave me this 20th Century Blues [1996 Faithfull live] album. It had this real barroom vibe; you could just really feel the vibe there and her voice was exactly what we needed there. It was weathered in a cool way; you could just smell cigarettes coming from the CD. So we thought, ‘Oh, we’re going to find her and get her to do it.’ One of those challenges – the Metallica challenges.”

Watch Metallica’s ‘The Memory Remains’ video

It was Ulrich who ended up talking to Faithfull, then 50, on the phone. The drummer “got a good vibe out of it,” according to Hetfield, and the band arranged to meet Faithfull in Ireland during Metallica’s European summer tour. “We just went to Dublin with two-inch tape on our way to Germany,” Hetfield recalled, “stopped at a studio there and she showed up and we got a vibe for each other. She went out there. and she sang the part , and so be it.

“You know,” he added, “she’s quite a character, and I loved that. She could sit and tell stories for days. But she’s a very, very elegant and pleasant woman, very ‘been there, done that.’ “You can learn a lot from that.”

Hetfield admitted that the band fished for a few stories from Faithfull’s days with The Rolling Stones, whose manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, discovered her in 1964 and helped kick-start her music career. She also had a much talked about romance with Mick Jagger for several years, all the while pushing forward as both a singer and an actress. “She volunteered for a couple of” Stones stories, Hetfield recalled. “I’m sure everyone was trying to get the crap out of her. But I didn’t know too much about the old Stones days, so I wasn’t going to get much satisfaction out of any dirt.”

In addition to the studio session, Faithfull also appeared in the music video for “The Memory Remains” and performed the song with Metallica during their Dec. 6, 1997 appearance on Saturday Night Live. The single reached No. 28 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 3 on the Mainstream Rock chart, one of Reloads three Top 10 singles on the latter. The unlikely partners resumed their collaboration in December 2011, when Faithfull joined Metallica on stage at the Fillmore in San Francisco for their 30th anniversary extravaganza.

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