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

But it was still a case of strange bedfellows when the thrash kings combined with British chanteuse Marianne Faithfull for "The Memory Remains," the lead single off Metallica's 1997 album Reload.

They were worlds apart, literally, 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 goofed with for a while," James Hetfield — who co-wrote the dark, grinding track with co-founding drummer Lars Ulrich — told this writer when Reload was released. "I didn't really have any lyrics, and this melody part — the 'la la la la la' bit — that's what I was singing.

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"Randy Staub, our engineer, said, 'You know what? It sounds pretty cool when there's no lyrics there. I'm sure you have a vision of writing lyrics for that part one day, but the "la-la" bit sounds pretty cool.' I kinda thought about that for a while." Hetfield came to agree with Staub, but he didn't feel he was necessarily the one to sing the part.

"The song was evolving 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 take it as far as we wanted. I heard an older woman's voice in there, kind of this Sunset Blvd. thing.

"Bob suggested Marianne Faithfull. I wasn't too 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 on there, and her voice was exactly what we needed there. It was weathered in a cool way; you could just smell cigarettes coming off the CD. So we were like, 'Ah, we gotta 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 wound up speaking with Faithfull, then 50, on the phone. The drummer "got a good vibe from it," according to Hetfield, and the band arranged to meet with Faithfull in Ireland during Metallica's summer tour of Europe. "We just, with two-inch tape under hand, went over to Dublin on the way to Germany," Hetfield recalled, "stopped by 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 could learn a lot from that."

Hetfield admitted the band did fish 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 highly publicized romance with Mick Jagger for several years, all while pushing forward as both a singer and actress. "She volunteered a few" Stones stories, Hetfield recalled. "I'm sure everyone tried to get 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."

Besides 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 Reload's three Top 10 singles on the latter. The unlikely partners reprised their collaboration in December 2011, when Faithfull joined Metallica onstage at the Fillmore in San Francisco for their 30th-anniversary extravaganza. 

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