CK Retro Review: It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll by The Rolling StonesPosted: November 12, 2015
It’s hard to whine about It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll, The Rolling Stones’ 1974 album, too much. It’s solid and maybe more consistent than Goats Head Soup, although perhaps lacking the higher points of that album. What it lacks is the feeling that there was anything going on behind its creation than the need to put out more product. With the exception of the title track and “Time Waits For No One”, it doesn’t feel like the band is saying anything particularly novel in the songs, and, with the exceptions of brief nods to funk and reggae, there’s not anything out of left field from a musical standpoint. What you end up with is an album that’s never less than engaging but also rarely approaches exceptional. Here is a song-by-song review:
10. “Short And Curlies”- The one joke wears itself out pretty thin after it’s been repeated about a dozen times. Ian Stewart’s piano makes it worth one listen or two, but repeated spins probably aren’t in the cards.
9. “Luxury”- The ironic thing about the title is that the hard-working narrator will probably get nowhere near any luxury in his life. Mick Jagger embodies him well enough with idiomatic syntax intact (“Make a million for the Texans/Twenty dollar me”.) The hiccup of the reggae beat gets stormed over by the guitars a bit though.
8. “Aint Too Proud To Beg”- I’m not sure if this song needed a rocking version; a lot of the smoothness of The Temptations take falls by the wayside here. But it’s a song that’s hard to mess up, so three stars is the floor here. Too bad the group didn’t reach for the ceiling.
7. “If You Really Want To Be My Friend”- Mick’s call-and-response vocals with Philly soul group Blue Magic are the highlight of this rambling ballad, even when the band is responding to lyrics like “cancer culture.” Honestly the relationship that Jagger is describing seems to be too toxic to be worth saving, which makes his entreaties here seemingly misguided.
6. “Dance Little Sister”- Why Mick uses a Trinidadian dialect on some of the lyrics is hard to figure. Besides that quirk, this is a pretty straightforward rocker with gurgling guitars and Jagger’s full-throttle attack. On a lot of these mid-70’s songs from the band, you have to resist the urge to say “it is what it is.” This is one of them. Competent but not exactly inspired.
5. “If You Can’t Rock Me”- Here’s one where the band steers into the stereotype of them as ogling, leering rockers. I think you can hear Jagger’s eyebrow raised a bit, which allows this one to veer closer to the fun category rather than the creepy pile. Plus it’s one of the more vibrant band performances on the album, with Keith Richards and Mick Taylor soloing to the cheap seats.
4. “Fingerprint File”- This one wins points for the band trying something a little different. I’m not sure it always works, as Jagger’s paranoid rapping settles at perhaps too comical of a tone for the brooding funk feel of the music. They would get better and better at urban sounds before perfecting them on Some Girls; this makes for an entertaining test run though.
3. “Till The Next Goodbye”- Lots of good stuff here, particularly the delicacy and lilt of the acoustic guitars and the walled backing vocals. Jagger has written this song many times before. In this one, the verses are OK, but they don’t hit home with quite the same force as when he confronts his lover in the bridge, “I can’t go on like this/Can you?” Again, nothing too revolutionary, but, in this case, performed with a lot of heart.
2. “Time Waits For No One”- This album was Mick Taylor’s swan song in the band, and this song was his last glory moment with them. I’m still not convinced that his extended solos, like the one he plays here, ever connected as much as, say, his precise picking on “Dead Flowers” or his brief, stinging turns on “Ventilator Blues”, but you can’t deny that the guy goes to town when he gets the opportunity. Considering that this was written forty years ago and Jagger hasn’t perceptibly slowed a bit, he’s kind of proven this song wrong. But for most of us mere mortals, they’re words to age by.
1. “It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I Like It)”- How it came about sounds like a story being told by the grizzled roadie from Wanye’s World II: “Mick Jagger, David Bowie, and Ronnie Wood were working on a track, and who should show up but Kenny Jones. On a great, bloody Bengal tiger.” Seriously though, the track doesn’t really come alive without Keith Richards laying his electric guitar on top, providing the muscle that backs the titular assertion. There’s an affecting hitch in the rhythm as well that makes this seem like more than just your run-of-the-mill anthem. Jagger, who usually insists he’s no more than a dilettante in the music that made him famous, ends up defending it with more gusto than most.
(E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. For a more in-depth look at the music of the Stones, check out my new book, Counting Down The Rolling Stones: Their 100 Finest Songs, which arrives next week. Preorder it with the link below.)