Tag Archives: Mick Jagger

15th Favorite: Exile on Main St., by The Rolling Stones

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Exile on Main St.. The Rolling Stones.
1972, Rolling Stones Records. Producer: Jimmy Miller.
Purchased, 1995.

IN A NUTSHELL: Exile on Main St., by The Rolling Stones, is a double-album’s worth of straight ahead blues, uplifting gospel, dirty boogie and good ol’ rock n roll.  Mick Jagger’s vocals are top-notch, as are Keith Richards’ harmonies, and the dueling guitar work by Richards and Mick Taylor warrants repeated listens.  It’s a ragged, fun, human collection of songs revealing a great band at their shabby best.

NOTE: The setup – below the line ↓ – might be the best part … Or skip right to the album discussion.
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The author and his pet work on the first post ever on this blog.

On the first few posts ever on this website, 280 years ago in 1979, I rambled on and on about “Greatest Albums” lists. Back in those days I was under the misapprehension that readers the world over would be flocking to a website to read 7,000-word posts about rock albums – the good, the bad and the obscure – fancied by some random, middle-aged, white guy. I’d still like to live in that world – where one can begin to approach a real, human connection through written words and ideas – as long as I don’t have to read someone else’s boring blathering in return.

I now understand that a) multitudes aren’t coming; and b) I might as well honor those who do come by keeping things as short as possible, never more than 6,800 words. So I’ll now briefly recap those first three posts: Greatest Album Lists are very annoying.

Art is not a contest. No scores are kept. No statistics are available, except dollars, a measurement by which Spy Kids 3D is a better movie than Doctor Zhivago. “Greatest” will always be a subjective term.

In 2013, NME named The Smiths’ The Queen Is Dead the greatest album ever. A year earlier, Rolling Stone magazine gave the honor to a record at #87 on NME‘s list The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. On their list at #216 was The Queen Is Dead. NME‘s 7th greatest album was the debut album by The Stone Roses, which was #497 on Rolling Stone‘s list. So, the notion of “Greatest” in the arts has a little, shall we say, flexibility to it.

Calling something “The Greatest” in the arts to me smacks of a kind of arrogant presumptuousness that I’ve tried to eliminate from my personality. Who am I to say what’s “Great?” This is why I’m counting down “favorites.” A Favorite Album may, or may not, be great. Very often what makes a record a favorite is a connection to it that is separate from the music – who you were with when you heard it, or a time in life that it represents. Conversely, an album that you can tell is “Great” might not really resonate with you. For me, The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds is such an album. I listened, thought, “Wow, that’s really good!” but never listened to it a whole lot afterwards. And I recognize that Bob Dylan is exceptional, the Nobel Prize, etc. etc., but he just doesn’t do much for me.

And these examples don’t even get into the issue of genre preferences. Metallica may well be the greatest metal band ever. Tupac Shakur may be the greatest rapper, Bach the greatest classical composer, and Barbra Streisand the greatest musical theater singer ever. I’m just not moved. I can recognize talent in all of them, but as to their greatness, I’ll have to take your word for it.

Those “Greatest Album” lists are assembled at magazines by “experts” who get together and decide for everyone else what is great and what isn’t. Then they write about the records, saying stuff like “the most pro­phetic rock album ever made,” and “[goes] deep inside himself, without a net or fear,” and speak of “the rustic beauty of the … music and the drama of their own reflections,” and a “declaration of committed mutiny, a statement of faith in the transfigurative powers of rock & roll.” Words like these are pretty, but I often find them more interesting than the music they describe.

To compile my list, I drove around listening to all my CDs, then I ranked them by “favoriteness.” This is a difficult-to-measure, impossible-to-quantify characteristic that involves several sub-categories, such as: good feelings elicited, great memories associated, reflexive urge to call old friend to discuss, cool-sounding music making me want to sing/play along, verklemptiness, excitement-at-hearing-subsequent-song-even-after-the-song-just-played-made-me-way-more-excited-than-the-previous-song, and “greatness.” There has to be some consideration of greatness.

The reason “greatness” was important in compiling my list is that while listening to all the records that I had in my collection, every so often I’d come across one that I hadn’t listened to very much but that really blew me away. These were records that didn’t have many of those first few aspects of my “favoriteness” determination, but whose undeniable … well, greatness had to be accounted for! A few that come to mind – and that, by revealing them here I am admitting that they will not be on my list – include Paul’s Boutique, by The Beastie Boys, The Hour of Bewilderbeast, by Badly Drawn Boy, and Electric Ladyland, by The Jimi Hendrix Experience.

All such records with lots of “greatness” were given high marks during my initial assessment phase. After all my records were assessed, I went back over the highly-rated records and considered how much personal connection I had to the records and adjusted accordingly. Records like Paul’s Boutique dropped. Others moved higher. And one record stayed very high because in the time between my initial assessment and my final assessment, I’d been listening to it regularly and it had become one of my favorites: Exile on Main St., by The Rolling Stones.

Of course I’d heard of Exile on Main St. for many years. As a teen rock music fan in the 80s, it was one of those touchstone albums that you’d hear old people in their 20s mention all the time. Along with records like Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Dark Side of the Moon and Hotel California, it was part of The Canon. Still, as I’ve written about before, I was a latecomer to The Rolling Stones, and I never felt compelled to rush out and buy it. And the reason I finally DID buy it might offend the sensibilities of all those Stones fans out there …

I bought it because of Liz Phair. In 1993 her debut album Exile in Guyville came out, and I bought it and I loved it. One of the well-publicized stories about the record was that her 18-song effort was a song-by-song response to the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main St. Since I loved her record, I went out and bought theirs. I played them song-by-song and, to tell the truth, I never really got the connection.

Both albums faded a bit from my regular playlist. Then in the early 2010s, I started playing in a band with some friends. We called ourselves Tequila Mockingbird and played at some friends’ parties. Our setlist featured a big helping of Stones’ songs, and many from Exile on Main St., in particular. Between the band and my 100 Favorite Album project, I began listening to the record more often. And I fell in love with it.

Right from the albums’s first sounds – a classic riff and Mick purring “Oooohh, yeeaaahh” – the album is fantastic.

The first twenty seconds of “Rocks Off” encompasses much of what will follow: great riffs, Mick Jagger’s strong vocals, and the band’s subtle brilliance – in this case, the second guitar harmonizing on that opening riff.  Charlie Watts’s drumming is very strong. His pace is perfect and his short, snappy fills keep the song moving from line to line.  “Rocks Off” also showcases perhaps my favorite unheralded aspect of the Stones:  Keith Richards’s (Keef!) harmony vocals!  They’re reedy and raw and always on the money.  The song’s lyrics describe the fast and loose lifestyle of a young man on the prowl.  But there’s a tragic aspect to the life, a heroin addiction. “I’m zipping through the days at lightning speed/
Plug in, flush out and fire the fucking feed.”  The drug influence is also felt in the trippy section, beginning about 2:11.  Also featured on the song, and the entire album, is the horn section of Bobby Keys on sax and Jim Price on trumpet.

“Rocks Off” is one of my all-time favorite songs, and the band kind of duplicates the feat on the rocker “All Down the Line.”  It’s got a strong, simple riff, this time supporting Mick Taylor’s sweet slide guitar.  The song’s three-note riff becomes the framework for terrific horn parts, about 2:55. Jagger’s vocals are very strong on lyrics about having a good time after a hard day.  Jagger has become such an icon, famous for decades simply for being Mick Jagger, that it’s easy to forget what a supremely talented singer and musician the man is.

The album’s slow songs are some of the best vehicles for his talents, for example “Let it Loose.”

He’s got terrific phrasing, and easily ranges between the soft charm heard in the first verse to the barely-contained anguish in the second (1:26).  The song starts with Keef’s watery guitar, and nice piano from longtime Stones keyboardist Nicky Hopkins.  A chorus joins in as the song builds, and their “ooo”s at 2:00, as Keef and Hopkins rise from the background, always give me chills.  Then Watts and the horns come in to lead the song back to Mick wailing with the choir about his lost love until its bittersweet conclusion.

Many of the songs on Exile on Main St. are quite moving. “I Just Want to See His Face,” a gospel groove that almost makes me a believer, is particularly affecting through earphones.  “Loving Cup” demonstrates how brilliantly Mick and Keef work together, both using a Southern accent, with Keef’s harmony vocals particularly strong here. It’s a love song, with a great outro, starting at 3:21, featuring the horns.

But my favorite of the softer pieces is the protest song “Sweet Black Angel.”

Its lyrics are about 60s activist and intellectual Angela Davis, and her alleged involvement in a courthouse shooting, for which she was later acquitted.  The clattering percussion and acoustic guitar give the song a front-porch feel, and Mick and Keef’s harmonies are fantastic.  The song also features Mick’s harmonica playing, which Richards has always raved about.  Mick’s harp is also featured on the honky-tonk “Sweet Virginia,” Robert Johnson’s blues standard “Stop Breaking Down,” and the fun rave-up “Turd on the Run.”  The album has some of Mick’s most brilliant overall work.

I’ve tried to avoid taking sides in arguments that are pointless, but I will say that if pressed to choose in the Mick/Keith dichotomy, I’d come down fully on the side of Keef.  Nothing makes me happier on Exile on Main St. than the Richards standout “Happy.”

Keith played guitar and bass  and cut the song in a matter of minutes with producer Jimmy Miller on drums and Bobby Keys on maracas.  His voice strains and whines perfectly on lead vocals about the type of love he needs, and he plays a nice lead guitar and bass line throughout.  The rest of the band’s parts were added later.  Keith’s harmonizing, I’ll say again, is also phenomenal on the album.  On “Casino Boogie,” he provides the bass line and the harmonies.  “Casino Boogie” is one of the simple, bluesy gems on the record, along with “Shake Your Hips” and “Ventilator Blues.”  They’re songs that, along with the rip-roarin’ stomper “Rip This Joint,” remind you that The Rolling Stones started out as a full-on blues act.

Keith and Mick are perhaps at their best on the popular radio hit “Tumbling Dice,” in which Mick complains about the lowdown ladies in his life.

Mick Taylor plays bass on this song, as regular bassist Bill Wyman was frequently absent from recording sessions.  (Read up on the recording of this album sometime if you want to marvel that such a masterwork ever made it onto tape.)  It’s a terrific bass line, meshing perfectly with Watts’s breezy drumming and the bluesy guitars.  The vocal performance by the backing singers is tremendous, as are (I’ll say it again) Keef’s harmony vocals.

His harmonies are also a pleasure on the Country-tinged “Torn and Frayed,” which describes a band coming apart at the seams.  Literally.

It begins with an acoustic guitar and is filled in with a honky-tonk piano, and Mick again uses his best Country/Western twang on the vocals.  The bass line is terrific, another instance of Mick Taylor filling in for Bill Wyman.  The performance sounds as torn and frayed as the band in the lyrics, creating a sense of wobbly-yet-satisfactory production that provides a charm to many of the songs.  There’s a great pedal steel guitar solo from guest Al Perkins about 1:45, and a subtle organ throughout played by trumpet man Jim Price.

The album ends with two great songs that really bring the entire piece to a  brilliant conclusion.  My only complaint is that I’d have put the closing song, “Soul Survivor,” second-to-last.  It’s a great song, in which current Stones Jagger, Richards and Watts are the only band members to play. The lyrics profess Jagger’s desire to remain with his loved one regardless of the peril.  And it’s got great backing vocals, just like the song I wish was the album closer:  “Shine a Light.”

The song opens with piano by Billy Preston and Jagger’s inspired vocals.  His voice shines on this one, as does Preston’s organ.  Mick’s really good on these gospel-inspired songs.  Given the well-known problems Richards had with heroin, and the imagery in the song, I wonder if this is a song that Mick wrote about Keith.  The bass line rolls along, and there’s dispute as to whether Wyman or Taylor played it.  It’s a moving song, with a great guitar by Taylor running throughout.  As voices and instruments are added, the song turns from a song of concern for a friend to a a song of inspiration. I love the breakdown about 3:00, and how it picks back up.  It’s truly a great one.

And this album is truly a great one.  Look, I don’t try to pick unknown or unloved albums to be on my list. I just pick what I like, and sometimes I like the greats.  Exile on Main St. is a great.

Track Listing:
“Rocks Off”
“Rip This Joint”
“Shake Your Hips”
“Casino Boogie”
“Tumbling Dice”
“Sweet Virginia”
“Torn and Frayed”
“Sweet Black Angel”
“Loving Cup”
“Happy”
“Turd on the Run”
“Ventilator Blues”
“I Just Want to See His Face”
“Let It Loose”
“All Down the Line”
“Stop Breaking Down”
“Shine a Light”
“Soul Survivor”

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91st Favorite: Some Girls, by The Rolling Stones

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Some Girls. The Rolling Stones.
1978, Rolling Stones Records. Producer: The Glimmer Twins
Purchased ca. 1988.

album some girls

squirrelIN A NUTSHELL – The Stones prove they can play most any style of 70s rock you want: disco, country, new wave, blues, punk … it’s all in there, and they do it all amazingly well. An awesome guitar record that bears repeated listening from a band at the peak of its abilities and confidence. WOULD BE HIGHER IF – I had an emotional connection to more of the songs.

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In 1991 I was playing bass in a band called The April Skies, and we got booked to play a few shows at the CMJ Music Marathon in Manhattan. manhattanThe CMJ Music Marathon is sponsored by what used to be called the “College Music Journal,” an organization for college radio stations to introduce new music and bands, and help aspiring music industry collegians learn about the business. The Marathon was 3 or 4 days of music industry seminars and discussions, and 3 or 4 nights of concerts throughout Manhattan – some of which I was sober enough to completely recall 25 years later. We saw great concerts by just-beginning-to-break, early 90s alternative big-wigs like Blur, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Matthew Sweet. bandsWe saw even better concerts by unknown bands, like the fabulous Berserk, out of Baltimore, whose song “Giant Robots” remains one of my all time favorites.

I also got to meet, and speak briefly with, guitarist Vernon Reid, reid of Living Colour, who asked our band if we’d “heard the new Nirvana album [Nevermind] yet?” We said we liked it, and he said, “It’s like …” and he paused for a bit, slowly extending his fist to nearly-arm’s-length, and then extending it fully with a jerk, “… BOOM!!” (There have been worse ways to describe it, I guess.)

Also, Deee-Lite’s Lady Miss Kier – who looked like she must have been 45 years old, I swear – signed an autograph for me. To give to my sister. I swear!kier

It was a lot of fun, and – even though the Dean of American Rock Critic Assholes, Robert Christgau, didn’t think so – a great experience. But strangely, of all the memories that stick with me from the experience, one of the most-enduring was a poster I saw plastered onto walls and fences all over lower Manhattan advertising the new album by a rapper named MC Lyte. The album was called Act Like You Know.mc lyte

I was not much of a rap fan then, and aside from a single album by De La Soul, I didn’t own any hip hop. What attracted me to the poster was the name of the album. It stopped me in my tracks: Act Like You Know. It struck me, like a slap in the face, that here was some advice that I had been searching for for 24 years. The title was a revelation; in the words of Evan Dando, “the puzzle piece behind the couch that makes the sky complete…” MC Lyte was at the Marathon, too, and drummer Mark and I stood in line to get her autograph. I didn’t know anything about her music, I just wanted to see her up close. She was short.

The phrase “Act Like You Know” was a revelation to me. Like all humans, I had been in a number of uncomfortable, unfamiliar, and unfortunate situations throughout my life. My response to all of these, regardless of the circumstances, chiefhad been to stand as still as possible, making as little sound as possible, staring as straight ahead as possible, trying to blend in to any background possible. I was like “The Chief,” from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I didn’t know any other way to act. But here was a suggestion that sounded like it just might work …

See, my parents themselves didn’t know how to “Act Like They Knew.” If presented with an uncomfortable social situation – which for them could encompass watership downanything from getting the wrong order from the pizza shop, to being asked if they liked their kids’ elementary school – they never considered acting like they knew what to do, or how to respond. They had no trouble simply standing there, looking confused, smiling a little, and making the situation logarithmically more awkward by the second for everyone involved. My parents basically taught me to freeze at any inkling of trouble. They may as well have been cottontail rabbits. I guess it could have been worse – they could have been opossums, and I could have spent my adolescence falling to the floor to play dead whenever a girl talked to me. (To be fair, they taught me all kinds of other useful stuff, like how to be polite and how to take a fish off the hook without being stabbed by the outstretched, spiky dorsal fin.)

crappie

“Act Like You Know” is a simple idea, and actually not difficult to master. Whenever you find yourself in a situation in which you feel like you have NO FRIGGING IDEA what you should do, or how you should act, Act Like You Know what you should do, and do it. It’s a childhood game – we all loved to play “Let’s Pretend” when we were little, and most of us didn’t need help from others to learn it, and “Act Like You Know” is just an extension of that.

A pretty girl asks you if you’re going to the dance this Friday night? Pretend you’re a suave, worldly bondJames Bond-type gentleman, smile a little bit and say, “I think I am. Are you?” It beats saying, “Uh … I get really sweaty at dances,” which may or may not have been a response I uttered in high school when I found myself in such a situation. (Whether I did or not is beside the point.)

Your boss asks you if you can write up a report on flange-modulation in the thermal duct industry? Pretend you wrote your Master’s Thesis on flange-modulation, and tell him he’ll have the report in a week. (Then get to the library REAL QUICK and figure out something to say!)

airplaneA flight attendant tells you the pilot and co-pilot are incapacitated due to food poisoning and asks you if you can land the plane? Pretend you don’t speak English and babble some gibberish until she asks someone else. (Let’s not go overboard – Acting Like You Know doesn’t give you superpowers.)

I’ve come to believe that one of the key attributes of successful people – and you can define success however you want – is their ability to Act Like They Know. The instances where “Act Like You Know” could have helped me in my early life are multitudinous. Here are a few examples:

When L., an attractive 11th grade feature jugheadmajorette, who had asked a friend to ask me – a freshman trombone player – to ask her out, ended our miniature golf date in her car by saying, “You can kiss me goodnight,” and I grinned and said, “Uh, goodnight!” and ran out of the car. Without kissing her. Somehow – and I remember this plainly – I wasn’t sure she really wanted me to kiss her goodnight, and instead of Acting Like I Knew what the words “You can kiss me goodnight” meant, I ran away like a bunny.

When Dr. Dave’s warm, friendly South Philly family would greet me with a hug or – heavens above! – his mom or grandma leaned in for a kiss on the cheek, I – being from a place where folks barely say hello to people they know, let alone move their faces within a foot of near-strangers – stood there like Hymie, from Get Smart!, hymiegenerating endless comments from Dr. Dave’s mom such as, “Boy, he’s a shy one, isn’t he!” and “Look at him just stand there like that!” Instead of Acting Like I Knew where to land a greeting kiss, or how long and tight to hug, or what to do with my hands … I just stood there.

Of course, the danger in Act Like You Know is that you can overdo it, or use it in situations where it’s not warranted, and find yourself becoming a dreaded Bullshit Artist. tarlekBut as often as not, you’ll find the people in any given situation with you are Acting Like They Know at the same time you’re Acting Like You Know, and you are all simply figuring out the situation as you go along. The bottom line is this: in a society, there are only basic guidelines to follow on how to interact with others, and very, very few hard-and-fast rules; and even these – don’t breathe on other people, don’t squeeze other people, keep your clothes on – are so basic that if you are either mentally healthy or properly medicated, you don’t have to worry about breaking them. So relax, pretend, engage.

friendly

Although it’s true, as I’ve written before, that almost all rock music is based on what came before it, it is also true that popular musical styles are always changing. Since the 50s, teens have been the main consumers of popular music, and if there’s one thing teens want more than anything, it’s to be different than the old fuddy-duddies who came before them.

So while popular music since the 50s may have kept the typical structure of 4/4 time, strong backbeat, repetitious melody and standard instrumentation (drums, bass, guitars, keyboards), it also changed dramatically to include rock and roll, folk rock, guitar pop, music evolvespsychedelic rock, R&B, blues rock, funk, heavy metal, disco, prog rock, punk rock, new wave, noise rock, hip-hop, electronic music, and a million other sub-genres that meld any or all of the above.

Within this changing landscape, it can be difficult for a band to sustain a career. One day your sound is cutting edge, the next day you sound and look like somebody’s prank. It may be even more difficult for an established band to navigate the changing musical landscape. Some bands hop on every trend and try to meld themselves with the latest sound – a situation perfectly satirized in the brilliant film This Is Spinal Tap.

ac aeroSome bands, like AC/DC, just keep doing the same thing they always did and ignore the changes around them, whether it’s 1976, 1990, or 2008.

Some bands, like Aerosmith, do a weird thing where they try to act like they’re doing the same thing they always did, but actually completely change everything about themselves from, say, 1973 to 1998. Styles change, tastes change, and it’s not easy for a band to Act Like They Know what to do in any given environment.

70s

The 1970s was a decade of wild diversity and change in the popular music industry. Singer/songwriter folk, funk, glam rock, Philly soul, punk rock, disco, blues rock, progressive rock … they all simmered together in the 70s musical stew. Right now, in 2014, it’s difficult to remember, but there was a time when not only a) people listened to music on the radio, but also, b) that radio station might play a song by Gloria Gaynor, followed by John Denver, followed by Bad Company!

In that era of the musical buffet, The Rolling Stones – an aging dinosaur of 60s blues rock – hit the studio in 1977 and emerged with a record that demonstrated perfectly how a band can Act Like You Know. Some Girls is ten tracks of The Stones playing disco, new wave and punk – along with their usual country and blues – and they manage it all with a nonchalance and ease that says, “Don’t worry, folks. We know what we’re doing.”

1978

Throughout the Stones’ history, they’ve Pretended several times, and the results didn’t always fool anybody. (See the psychedelia of Their Satanic Majesties Request) But they get it right on Some Girls.

I’ve written before about my history with The Rolling Stones and how I had heard so much of their music on the radio over the years that I rarely felt compelled to buy their albums. I also didn’t have many friends who were Stones aficionados. I knew many Beatles maniacs, some U2 crazies, and a few Doors Fans but none of my friends were really Stones people.

In 1987, I transferred from one college to another, and one of the first friends I made at the new school was a smart, funny guy named Dean Z. Dean and I were both education majors, and we’d spend our time laughing, arguing politics (at the time I was a Conservative prick; hard to believe, considering that now I’m such a Liberal prick) and talking about music. Dean was the first big Stones fan friend I had. He did an AWESOME Mick Jagger impression, and I have vague memories of being at parties with him, and the two of us performing – typically at the very end of the night, when only the most drunken, keith 2014depressed, socially-inept audience remained – a Mick/Keith pantomime to “Start Me Up,” or “Gimme Shelter,” or “Sympathy for the Devil.” He was a great Mick; I did a mediocre Keith impression, but come to think of it, so does Keith these days. Dean’s friendship inspired me to finally buy an album, and so the next summer – having a love for the song “Shattered,” and a memory of being frightened by the album cover as a 10 year old – I went out and purchased Some Girls.

When I listen to Some Girls, the first thing I notice is all the guitars!! Mick is credited with playing the guitar on five of the ten songs, and the third guitar (in addition to stalwarts Keith Richards and Ron Wood) provides a solid frame onto which Keith and Ron can hang their cool, dueling licks and solos.

The guitar layers are particularly well-displayed in their cover of The Temptations’ “Just My Imagination.” mick guitar The Temptations’ version of the song is remembered (obviously, I guess, as they were a vocal group) for the vocal harmonies, and beautiful falsetto of lead singer Eddie Kendricks. The Stones, however, Act Like They Know how to play a harmony-laden soul song, turn it into a guitar song, and make it work as such. I feel like with every repeated listen I hear another guitar riff that I hadn’t noticed before. The song itself is a masterpiece of lyrics and longing, and Mick does a great job interpreting it in his unmistakable “Mick” manner. The vocal harmonies from Keith are excellent, as always, and – in what is a constant throughout Some Girls – drummer Charlie Watts smashes 8th notes on his kick drum repeatedly. By the end of the record, I start to think of it as “Charlie’s kick drum record,” as he works those 8ths frequently, throughout. Here, the Stones play it live – and Mick does a lot of guitar-holding:

The most famous song on Some Girls is no doubt “Miss You,” which turned out to be the last of the Stones’ 8 number 1 hits on the US Billboard Hot 100 pop chart. miss you On this song, the Stones Act Like They Know how to play disco music, and once again they pull it off amazingly well. The song reached number one in the summer of 1978, sandwiched between #1 hits “Shadow Dancing,” by Andy Gibb, and The Commodores’ “Three Times a Lady,” and surrounded by such 70s fare as Donna Summer’s “Last Dance,” Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana,” and Frankie Valli’s “Grease.”

{Side note on 70s Awesome-osity: holding down the #19 and 20 spots were Steve Martin’s “King Tut,” and Heat Wave’s “Grooveline“!}

I find it impressive that a rock and roll band from the 60s could hit number one in this environment, not by offering a nostalgic piece of recycled British Invasion, but by embracing the style of the day and making it their own. Many acts have tried this tactic over the years and failed miserably (Fairly recent example: Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell). keith ron 2The song itself has been heard so often in the past 36 years that you might think you never have to hear it again. But as with “Just My Imagination,” it has lots of cool guitar flourishes and riffs from Wood and Richards that are easy to miss without paying close attention. When you listen again, pay attention to their dueling guitars – you’ll hear the song differently. Out in the front of the song is Bill Wyman’s disco bass line. Just as Charlie Watts’s kick drum is featured throughout the album, so is Wyman’s bass. wyman He plays interesting lines, and adds flourishes to all his parts. In “Miss You,” the bass is one of the signature parts in the song, hopping around Mick’s vocals like a playful puppy.

Since I’m focusing so much on the guitars, I should mention two songs that for some reason in my head always get lumped together: “Respectable” and “Lies.” On these two, The Stones take on punk rock. Both songs have a breakneck pace, driving guitars, and Mick shouting and garbling his vocals. And again, the third guitar of Mick’s provides a foundation for Ron and Mick’s leads and fills. What I really find interesting about both songs, and what makes the song – to me- really feel like a Stones Take on punk rock is Charlie Watts’s drumming.

wattsIn many punk and new wave songs the drummer plays “ahead of the beat,” smacking the snare just a millisecond before the beat, giving the song a propulsive feel. A good example is Pete Thomas’s drumming in Elvis Costello’s “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” However, in the Stones’ version of punk and new wave, Watts hits the snare just a bit behind the beat, in a bluesy fashion. The songs remain aggressive and driving, but continue to have that Stones-Thing happening. And Watts’s kick drum is on display again – pounding out eighth notes like a hammer, especially furiously on “Lies.” Just for fun, here are the Stones on Saturday Night Live in 1978 playing “Respectable.” (Added bonus: the Russian commercial that plays before it.)

Other highlights of these punk songs are Keith’s harmony vocals on “Respectable,” and Mick’s strong vocal performance on “Lies.” Wyman’s bass parts roll along nicely as well.

Speaking of Keith’s singing, I have to mention my favorite song on the album, “Before They Make Me Run” sung by Keith.

I love Keith’s barely passable (and at times barely audible) vocals, and the loose feel of the song. And most anyone can relate to the sentiment keith ronof the lyrics – in jobs, relationships, or any scenario: “I’m gonna walk before they make me run.” Mick isn’t credited with guitar on this one, but Keith and Ronnie again do their dueling thing beautifully.

Other songs on Some Girls include the slow, raunchy blues of the title track, in which Mick describes the pros and cons of various types of women in lyrics that raised quite a controversy at the time, and for which he later apologized. It’s got great electric guitar and harmonica throughout, and nice acoustic guitar layered deep in the mix.

Beast of Burden” is another slow blues, and probably the second most recognizable song on the album. It’s got one of my favorite Bill Wyman bass lines, and an outstanding harmony vocal performance by Keith. tour t shirt

When the Whip Comes Down” is a rocker with my all my favorite parts of the album thrown in: lots of guitars, cool bass line and Charlie’s hammer kick drum. (Also worth mentioning is the song’s lyric couplet “When the shit hit the fan/I was sittin’ on the can.”)

Far Away Eyes” is a great Stones country song, with kind of a jokey vocal performance by Mick.

The song that got me into this album in the first place is “Shattered,” which closes the album. On this driving song, with it’s loopy bass line (played by Ronnie Wood) and Mick’s shouted, hiccupping vocals, the Stones demonstrate their mastery over the angular New Wave style of music that bands like XTC and The Cars were pumping out in the late 70s. Charlie’s drums again lag just a bit behind the beat, giving the song a definite “Stones Sound.” It’s a song about the stress of living in New York City (“To live in this town/You must be tough tough tough tough tough!!!) complete with Yiddish lyrics and descriptions of late 70s urban decay. This video fits the song perfectly:

The entire album – from “Miss You” to “Shattered” – has a grubby, dirty 70s New York City feeling.

70s subway

Many of the songs make reference to NYC, and as the Cultural Capital of the World it is the city where the disco and punk explosions were the biggest and loudest. The Stones were Acting Like They Knew in the place where it was most difficult to pull it off, and the result is an album that doesn’t sound like they were Acting at all. They Knew all along

TRACK LISTING
Miss You
When The Whip Comes Down
Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)
Some Girls
Lies
Far Away Eyes
Respectable
Before They Make Me Run
Beast of Burden
Shattered

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95th Favorite: Sticky Fingers, by The Rolling Stones

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Sticky Fingers. The Rolling Stones.
1971, Rolling Stones Records. Producer: Jimmy Miller.
Purchased ca. 1996.

sticky album

95 nutIN A NUTSHELL: (Whoa! No pun intended!) If you ever wondered, “So, what’s the big deal about The Rolling Stones?”, listening to this album will provide the answer. It has rockers, blues, hit singles, country, and sounds like a rock and roll band at the peak of its powers. Plus, the songs and lyrics and performances are excellent. WOULD BE HIGHER IF – I would have listened to it more over the years and really connected with it; it would certainly be higher on a list of “Best Records.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

daffyEver since I was a small boy, I’ve known in my heart that I was destined to become … Hmm … Let’s start over.

porkyWhen I graduated from Cedar Crest High School in 1985, I had my whole life ahead of me and I knew my future held … um, my future held … Okay, hold on. Give me one more chance. I will nail this opening.

I graduated from Millersville University of Pennsylvania in 1989 with a degree in Biology Education and big plans to … well, I planned to …

daffy porkyGod damn it.

When I was a kid, me and lesterthe only thing I really ever imagined myself doing as a grown-up was exactly what I’d been doing since kindergarten: trying to make people laugh. To the right is an early picture of me trying to make people laugh with a “Lester” ventriloquist dummy (of Willie Tyler and Lester fame) that my mom truly believed was my ticket to stardom, I guess, because she has frequently brought up over the years her disappointment with the fact that even though she bought me that dummy, I never learned to throw my voice. (Not a joke, by the way.)

I’ve written before about my comedic ambitions, and I won’t rehash it all. But I will say that when I was 16 and told my parents that I wanted to be a comedian when I grew up, my dad freaked out to such an extent that it took almost 15 years for me to get over it and consider it seriously again.

With my only plan (vague as it was) squashed, I had no idea what I was going to do with my life. I had a few thoughts, and a couple deeply suppressed dreams, but basically, I went with the flent. (The phrase “Go with the Flow” is so hard to conjugate.) areermanagement.com/tools-resources/career-articles/why-is-it-important-to-have-a-career-development-plan/” target=”_blank”>I’m not a bum out on the street.

I’ve traveled a wandering path, but I’ve taken away valuable life-lessons at each stop. Since 1985, I have held the following jobs and/or pursued the following careers:

melSandwich maker/ice cream scooper – worked at a family run restaurant. Learned to appreciate the hard work required to properly clean a commercial grade grill. Learned to hate both customers and preparing their damn food.

Gym attendant – made money at college refereeing intramural sports (the rules of which I was iffy on, at best) and counting assists for the basketball team. Learned to hate seemingly subjective volleyball rules, and shoot-first point guards.

Night-shift chocolate factory candy packager – living near Hershey, PA, had its advantages. We were allowed to eat as much on the job as we wanted, but would be fired for taking any out of the building. Learned to appreciate the value of a college education. Learned to hate the night-shift and all-you-can-eat chocolate.
chocolate

Grounds-crew worker – otismade money in college mowing lawns, spreading mulch and collecting garbage. Learned to appreciate garbage collectors. Learned to hate going to work drunk/hung-over. (In truth, I kind of learned that at the chocolate factory, too.)

Corn sex therapist – worked for corn seed company walking around corn fields and facilitating reproduction between specific plants with the use of corn condoms (i.e. paper bags.) dekalb Not too different from the popular Midwestern profession of corn-detasseler. Learned to appreciate punk rock and thoughtful punk-rockers (Eric V! One of the most important people ever in my life!)

High school substitute teacher – pretty much what it sounds like. Learned to appreciate substitute teachers. Learned to hate adolescents.

kotter

archie 2Landscaper – spread mulch, planted trees, laid sod while working for the most racist, sexist, hateful bigot I have ever encountered. Learned to hate other races, sexes. (Just kidding! Learned to hate that asshole Gary who was my boss.)

Waiter (drinks only)/Doorman – Learned to appreciate good tippers. Learned to hate drunks.

Bassist in original rock band – spent 2 years in The April Skies chasing that elusive record deal. Learned to appreciate the meaning of the word “dedication” and having a job at which I COULD show up drunk.

the april skies

QC technician, aspirin factory – worked in the analytical chemistry lab making sure that what Bayer said they put into their aspirin was really what was in there. Learned to appreciate that chemistry is actually pretty cool. scienceLearned to hate showing up at work on time after driving 3 hours from Manhattan in a gasoline vapor and cigarette smoke clouded VW bus at 2 in the morning.

Local tabloid stringer – wrote the “Cook of the Week” column for The Hershey Chronicle. Learned to hate bosses who don’t pay for weeks on end until finally you show up at their office and demand money from them and they hand you cash out of their wallet just to make you go away.

High Performance Liquid Chromatography column packer and tester – Learned to appreciate that there are all kinds of weird jobs out there. Learned to hate Bay Area traffic.

Actor – a few plays, a few little movies a lot of fun. Learned to appreciate how hard it is to earn money in the arts. taxi Learned to hate rejection.

Playwright – had a play and a half produced for actual paying audiences. Learned to accept rejection.

QC Chemist – the Very Big Pharmaceutical Corporation of America. Tested all kinds of stuff meant to be injected, inhaled, swallowed and rubbed onto people and animals to cure their ailments. Learned even more about analytical chemistry. Learned to hate having to learn even more about analytical chemistry.quincy

Improv Actor – Flash Family and Big Boned Theatre. Got on stage and made stuff up and finally made some (very little) money doing what I’d been doing since kindergarten. Learned to appreciate that, apart from mimes and morris dancers, nobody has less of a chance at making money in the arts than improv actors. Learned to hate analytical chemistry even more.

Analytical Chemistry Method Developer for biopharma – oh for Christ’s sake, not chemistry again. Learned to appreciate that if you’re going to have a family, you’re going to have to earn some money. Learned to hate most PhDs.

Stand-up comic – experienced artistic success, if not financial success, telling jokes to strangers.jerry Learned to appreciate that comedy fame has nothing to do with talent – as evidenced by all the great comedians you probably haven’t heard of – and very much to do with luck. Learned to hate joke thieves and audiences who won’t shut the fuck up.

drysdaleAnalytical Chemistry Lab Director – for a biofuels startup company. Learned to appreciate that there’s a whole lot of complexity in a simple blade of grass. Learned to hate well-off venture capital big-wigs who do their jobs poorly, causing many not-so-well-off science little-wigs to lose the jobs that they do very well.

Quality Director for blood donor testing – still learning.

I’ve had such a schizophrenic work history, I might really need a psychiatrist!

bob newhart

“Why,” you are likely asking yourself right now, “do I give a hoot about your work history, and what does it have to do with your favorite albums??”

Well, album 95 is by The Rolling Stones, who in 2012 celebrated their 50th year as a band, meaning that as of today, Charlie Watts, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards have had the same job for 52 years. 52 years!!! I’ve had jobs I didn’t hold for 52 hours! They’ve been doing this for, well, 52 YEARS!!! This to me is beyond astounding! Even Ron Wood’s comparatively meager 39 year continuous work history (he joined the band in ’75) is amazing.

stones 1

I myself had a stretch of nearly 8 years in which I held the same job, and I consider that to be noteworthy. Most people don’t hold a job for 52 years. The only example of someone who comes close are the waitresses at The Melrose Diner in South Philly, who used to wear (and maybe still do) little coffee-pot pins on their uniforms stating the year they started work. Last time I visited there, in the early 90s, one of the women wore a “1935” on her dress. Most people who hold a job for 52 years are typically viewed with equal parts admiration, skepticism and pity. Think of what you would say if someone told you, “That guy’s been a dish washer repairman for 52 years!”

Immediate reaction:
“Really! That’s incredible! He must be in his 70s. Wow, what devotion!” (Admiration).ol lonely

Next reaction:
“But he can’t really still be able to repair a dishwasher, can he? At 72? Don’t you need some strength and flexibility?” (Skepticism).

Finally:
“Geez, do you think he needs the money that badly that he still crawls around under dishwashers and pulls out clods of wet food?” (Pity).

Such are 2/3 of my feelings about The Rolling Stones in 2014. It’s quite impressive that they’ve been around for 52 years. And I’m skeptical that they make music anywhere close to as good as they used to. But I don’t pity them one bit – getting to play music for people is a much better way to earn money than fixing appliances.

I’ve been aware of The Stones for about as long as I’ve been aware of music on the radio. Even as a young child in the early 70s, I knew that there was a Rolling Stones, just as I knew there was a Beatles and an Alvin and the Chipmunks. stones w mick tThey were like water or clothing or school or TV shows – things that were just part of the world around me that I didn’t think too much about.

As my musical tastes began to be refined, I grew more aware of the band. I listened to classic rock in the 80s, and The Rolling Stones were ubiquitous. “Start Me Up,” “Satisfaction,” “Paint it Black,” “Get Off of My Cloud,” “It’s Only Rock and Roll,” “Angie,” “Emotional Rescue,” “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” “Let’s Spend the Night Together” … these are just some titles that I quickly rattled off without thinking, and there are dozens more titles that have been heard by rock music fans millions of times. It almost seemed pointless to me to buy a Rolling Stones record because I heard so much of their music in a day back in the 70s and 80s.

So I didn’t buy any. Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free? stones cow

After my record collection had grown some, it occurred to me that I should probably pick up a Rolling Stones record or two, just to see if there was more to them than what I heard on the radio, and I happened to find a used vinyl copy of Sticky Fingers at my favorite SF record store, Streetlight Records. I put it on and realized there is more to The Rolling Stones than what you hear on the radio. Much more…

Sticky Fingers is the first Stones album to feature guitarist Mick Taylor, who joined after founding guitarist Brian Jones left the band. micksTaylor contributed a lot, but he left the band after 5 years. His tenure is a length of time I can relate to, and it would rank as my second-longest stint at any job, if I were Mick. (I find it interesting that all the Micks in rock and roll were British: Jagger, Taylor, Jones, Jones and Fleetwood.)

Sticky Fingers opens with one of the most familiar of Stones songs ever, “Brown Sugar.” It is a great song, with an outstanding riff and driving tom-tom beat, and it’s probably playing on the radio somewhere in America right this very second. It’s an impressive song, too, keith singingin that it is probably the highest charting song ever (and certainly the only song played regularly in dentist offices) that lyrically celebrates the rape of slave children. The song also features what I feel is an underrated – very underrated – component of The Rolling Stones’ sound: Keith Richards’ harmony vocals. Pay attention to the “Lady of the house/wonderin where it’s gonna stop” lines. Keith has a reedy, whiney tone that sounds like it’s probably a smidge out of tune, but to me those harmonies just make the song.

Keith’s harmonies are also on display on the Country tune “Dead Flowers.”

This song is a simple country tune, and while the song itself is bouncy and upbeat for Country, the lyrics darkly speak of finding solace in heroin after an angry breakup. (And – to be fair – finding forgiveness, too.) Keith supports the chorus with a shaky harmony mick taylorthat fills out the vocals. But the simple song also has wonderful Keith Richards/Mick Taylor guitar work which somehow sounds country, but not twangy. There is a raunchy sound on the guitar on this track (the video above is live, and so sounds a little different from the version on the record) and though it’s a simple 3-chord song it holds up on repeated listens for me mainly because of the guitar.

While we’re on the topic of dark lyrics, let’s take a listen to the track “Sister Morphine,” shall we?? (And why not throw in some Salvadore Dali images to watch while we do?!)

Listening to Mick Jagger lyrics – whether about rape or heroin abuse or death by drugs – one tends to forget that he’s Sir Mick Jagger, international celebrity. In 2014, Jagger’s name still often gets thrown into the mix of tabloid-y stars, as it has since the band’s early days, and he has reached a point of saturation at which he now almost seems like the tabloidKhardashians or finalists on The Bachelor – people who are famous for being famous. But Mick was (and maybe continues to be – I haven’t listened to a new Stones album since Undercover, in 1983) a fantastic lyricist. “Sister Morphine” is a first-person account of drug withdrawal (and death?) that is direct and chilling, and coupled with Keith’s acoustic rhythm guitar and guest Ry Cooder’s incredible electric slide guitar (Mick Taylor was not present during recording, according to what I’ve read – although I’m no Stones expert) creates a spare, haunting song that connects with me as a listener. It’s the type of song that would’ve scared the shit out of me at 8 years old – around the time Scooby Doo scooby was having the same effect on me – and now it’s one of the first songs on the album I’ll choose to play.

But Mick doesn’t just write good lyrics about sad, bad topics. One of the most enduring and popular Stones songs appears on Sticky Fingers – “Wild Horses.” I’ve read that Keith wrote the song about the pain he felt having to leave his newborn son, Marlon, to go on tour, and that Mick took the original lyrics and made them more universal. Whatever the story is, the lyrics offer a nice précis on the universal feelings of sadness and frustration and regret in any unwanted separation. And I know I’m starting to repeat myself here – and since Keith is known as one of the greatest rock and roll guitar players ever, and Mick Taylor joins him in Rolling Stone Magazine’s Top 40 guitarists ever, it shouldn’t be a surprise, really – but the guitar work is special on this song. The interplay between acoustic and electric, and how it supports the song without intruding on it, makes it a joy to listen to. The band does a good job of not letting the song get too sappy, of finding a bluesy feel to the sadness, not a maudlin feel. Maybe because they wisely resisted any temptations they may have had to add orchestra.

But they do know how to use an orchestra well, as the fabulous “Moonlight Mile,” which closes the record, demonstrates!

The middle to end of the song – when the orchestra picks up the riff, and the song builds, then falls – is one of my favorite parts of the entire album. The orchestra riff isn’t even a main melody in the song until the band finds it at around 3:35, and when the orchestra picks it up, it provides the perfect coda to the song and the album!

Okay, this review is getting to be pretty long now, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking,”

which is probably my favorite song on Sticky Fingers! charlieIt’s a simple riff, and the band sounds hot and tight, like it just started jamming and the engineer flipped on the “Record” switch. It’s a showcase for the famed Stones rhythm section of Charlie Watts on drums and the retired Bill Wyman on bass. wymanNeither of them is particularly flashy – on this song, or on many Stones songs – but they hold down a groove like no others, and place enough cool parts in songs (such as Watts’s double snare hit to echo Jagger’s question, “Can’t you hear me knockin?”) to satisfy. The song builds for a few minutes, then shifts suddenly to a Latin-flavored jam, complete with bongos, congas and a raging sax solo by longtime Stones sax man Bobby Keys. (In Keith’s autobiography Life it is clear that the only member of the Stones entourage who was as wild as – and maybe wilder than – Keith was Bobby Keys.) bobby keysAfter Keys’s solo it’s Mick Taylor’s turn, and he plays a solo that is among the best ever in recorded rock and roll.

Two other great songs are “Sway” which again features that Keith harmony style I love so much, and “Bitch,” which is fantastic pop rock song whose title may suggest it has the most troubling lyrics on the album, though they have nothing on the opening track… Rounding out the record are the slow blues tunes “You Gotta Move” and “I Got the Blues,” both of which sound like they were written on somebody’s back porch hanging off a shack in deep Alabama, reminding the listener that indeed, the Stones started out as a straightforward blues band.

early stones
This album is excellent. If I were naming “Best Albums,” it would certainly be higher on the list. But the name of the list is “Favorite Albums,” and I never established that deep connection I did with some other (well, I guess 94 other) albums in my collection. If you don’t have this record, I would strongly suggest you run right out and get it. And if you hold your job for 50 years, compare the best work you did on your job to Sticky Fingers, and see if your work performance measured up. If it did, nobody should complain that you can’t do as much in your 52nd year as you did in your 9th. Some work is so good it can’t be topped!

stones final

TRACKS
Brown Sugar
Sway
Wild Horses
Can’t You Hear Me Knocking
You Gotta Move
Bitch
I Got the Blues
Sister Morphine
Dead Flowers
Moonlight Mile

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