CK Retro Review: Out Of Our Heads by The Rolling Stones

On the surface, 1965’s Out Of Our Heads looked just like its three predecessors in the Rolling Stones catalog in that it was comprised of a bunch of R&B and soul covers with a few originals sprinkled in for good measure. The difference was the quality of those originals, as the Jagger/Richards songwriting team seemed to flourish all at once and find their uncompromising, invigorating voice. And there was great variety there as well, as the standout originals on the album included a lusty blues, a defiant rocker, an icy ballad, and, of course, the song that remains their signature a half-century after its release. Here is a song-by-song review:

THREE STARS

12. “One More Try”- While not an embarrassment, this fleet-footed original suffers a bit in comparison to the Jagger/Richards classics that surround it and makes a bit of an odd choice for a closing track. (Although this was still a time when bands didn’t really consider albums as anything more than a collection of tracks, so it’s somewhat understandable this one was tacked on the end.)

11. “Hitch Hike”- Sequencing this so close to “Mercy Mercy” makes it seem like one long R&B workout to start the album, which is fine, although it doesn’t really distinguish this Marvin Gaye cover too much.

10. “I’m All Right”- If nothing else, this live cut displays the frenzy of their early concerts. It never quite devolves into complete chaos, thanks to Charlie Watts steady backbeat, allowing Jagger and the guitarists to flip out.

9. “Good Times”- When you’re up against the standard of Sam Cooke, it’s wise to underplay, which is what the band does here. They cop an easy-going vibe that makes this one a quick, pleasant diversion.

8. “Mercy Mercy”- It’s interesting to hear how the Stones rhythm section nails that strutting groove while the electric guitars fuzz things out. The result is just another example of the group putting enough of their own identity into a cover song to make it more than just an album-filling exercise.

7. “The Under-Assistant West Coast Promotion Man”- The boys have some fun at the expense of a nameless record company promoter (later identified by Bill Wyman in his book.) While the music is a relatively straightforward blues stomp, there’s some sneaky insight in the lyrics about the cultural disconnect between the youth who played and listened to rock and the older generation clinging to their record company jobs trying to peddle the music.

FOUR STARS

6. “Cry To Me”- Man, were they great at these sauntering ballads. Keith Richards’ guitar punctuations at the end of Jagger’s wailing pleas are always perfectly-pitched. So what if Jagger’s screams weren’t as pleasing to the ear as Solomon Burke’s? He nails the emotion behind them, and that’s the important part.

5. “The Spider And The Fly”- The sleepy blues accompaniment is just right for Jagger’s weary tale of a rock star on the make. There’s no joy in his conquest (although there’s not really any guilt either.) Like the spider entices the weaker insects into a trap just because it’s what he does, so too does the singer ensnare unsuspecting women, like his girl at home and the barfly he encounters, as part of his routine existence. The sly humor and telling details provide further evidence of the rising songwriting tide.

4. “The Last Time”- Richards has spoken about how it was hard for he and Jagger to write a single for the group in the beginning, simply because the boys in the band were far tougher critics that any outside artist interested in songs from the duo. Maybe that’s why they piggybacked on a Staples Singers song (the chorus is nearly identical) to get it done. Aside from that though, the song is set apart by the loping rhythm, that quizzical riff (played by Brian Jones), and the striking cohesion between the musical attitude set forth by the instrumentalists and Jagger’s half-heartbroken, half-taunting bark.

3. “That’s How Strong My Love Is”- The album’s standout cover is Jagger’s showcase. Who knew he could get all heartfelt and earnest, setting aside his raised eyebrows to deliver from the heart and soul? The band supports him ably but basically stands back and lets him do the heavy emoting, and he really reaches you.

FIVE STARS

2. “Play With Fire”- For just a heartbeat, the acoustic guitar intro sounds like it’s going to be open-hearted and sentimental. It quickly takes a dark turn, and that’s the tone maintained throughout to chilling effect. Jack Nitzsche’s harpsichord is a left-field contribution that contributes to the song’s austere beauty. Then there’s Jagger’s vocal, which goes from emotionless in the verses as he tears holes in the facade of a society girl and then downright threatening in the refrain as he warns her away. Ruthlessly unforgiving and absolutely compelling.

1. “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”- Well, there’s the riff, obviously, but it’s more than that, right? We start on the chorus like The Beatles, but the similarity really ends there. The better comparison, from the same year, is “Like A Rolling Stone”, in that both songs find a kind of freedom in alienation; you have to identify the issue before you can cathartically attack it. That’s where Jagger’s lyrics, practically stream-of-consciousness in the way they flow from one aggravation to the next, really carry the load. We all generally come up short in life, which is why this anthem has ridiculous staying power.

(E-mail me at countdownkid@hotmail.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. For more on the Rolling Stones, you can pre-order by upcoming book about their 100 finest songs by using the link below.)

http://www.amazon.com/Counting-Down-The-Rolling-Stones/dp/1442254467

 

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