CK Retro Review: Black And Blue by The Rolling StonesPosted: November 16, 2015
It gets dismissed some because The Rolling Stones were in transition when they made it, from the old sound to the new, from one guitarist to the next. Yet 1976’s Black And Blue is an underrated, excellent listen. Guitarists Wayne Perkins and Harvey Mandel couldn’t quite muscle their way into the band, but they acquitted themselves well in their efforts here. The fact that the band kept things down to a lean, mean eight cuts kept the clunkers at bay. And, amid some interesting stabs at variety, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards devoted about half the album to doing what they do best: churning out relentlessly propulsive rockers and beautifully damaged ballads. Here is a song-by-song review:
8. “Remedy”- While it’s fun to hear Billy Preston trading lines with Jagger, this more of an excuse for that than a fully-realized song. A pleasant throwaway, if nothing else.
7. “Hey Negrita”- Mick pretty much seems to be making up the lyrics about a pauper trying to sway a South American prostitute as he goes, which is fine, because they’re an afterthought compared to the skittering groove conjured by Ronnie Wood, one of his first major contributions to the group.
6. “Cherry Oh Baby”- There’s a little bit more delicacy in the reggae grooves here than what the band managed on “Luxury” a few years previous. As such there’s more space for the best parts to shine, such as Nicky Hopkins playful organ and the drunken harmonies of Jagger and Richards.
5. “Hot Stuff”- “Fingerprint File” ended the Stones’ previous album with a dose of cold funk; this opening track is sweatier stuff. Richards handles the wocka-wocka guitar groove and lets Mandel takes what’s usually the glory role on the solos; canny move that, since the rhythm was always going to be the song’s standout item. Jagger has fun playing the World Ambassador of Dance Music role toward the end with a megaphone-like effect on his vocals. They were getting better and better and making dance music their own, but there was still a leap to make in that area that was coming on the next few albums.
4. “Hand Of Fate”- Jagger is on the run here following an ill-advised shootout with a rival. I like the way that he’s singing in the midst of the chase, making this one a pretty suspenseful track. The music, a more classically Stonesian affair than just about anywhere else on the album, feeds into that suspense without getting melodramatic. Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman are at their understated best here, moving the rhythm along without ever showboating. The 70’s were the high-water period for rockers singing about Western-style gunplay, and this song is a fine addition to that list.
3. “Crazy Mama”- Wood plays on this closing track, and you can hear why he was the choice to replace Taylor. Not that Mandel and Perkins did anything wrong; on the contrary, their playing was fine. But they always seemed apart from the rest of the band, Richards in particular, in their parts, whereas Woods locks in with him and the rest of the band here on this son-of-“Tumbling Dice” strut. Jagger meanwhile is threatening to shoot out the kneecaps of the title character; that kind of thing is part of the blues idiom, of course, but it’s funny nobody ever got their dander up for this the way they did for “Under My Thumb” or “Some Girls.” Anyway, he sings the stuffing out of it and gets some seriously high harmony help from Preston in the excellent refrains.
2. “Fool To Cry”- The Jagger falsetto would start to be an increasing part of his repertoire around this point, with this Top 10 ballad perhaps beginning the trend in earnest. Hearing him sing about his daughter is quite nice, not ever what you’d expect, but nice. What the song conveys is that the narrator may be told that crying if pointless, but you still get the feeling that the events of his life are making it more and more difficult for him to heed that advice. Hopkins lets Mick have the opening word on electric piano and then carries the load on piano and synth, and the soul is palpable as a result.
1.”Memory Motel”- It was probably too long to be a single, and an edit likely would have diluted its power. (I always hated the edited “Angie”, and they would have had to butcher this one even more to get it on with Casey Kasem.) But still I feel like the band missed out on a golden opportunity by not pushing this one to a wider audience. The music sprouts from the rudimentary plunking of Jagger and Richards on keyboards to include Mandel’s wistful lead and Preston’s tender synths. Keith’s middle section is the perfect compliment to Mick’s main verses, since it talks up the girl’s intangible qualities as opposed to her hair and teeth and songs. “Memory Motel” is not really about him missing the girl. It’s about him mourning the fact that he can longer miss the girl (“It used to mean so much to me”), which is somehow even more devastating. And those “Sha-la-la-la” backing vocals are the icing on the tear-stained cake.
(E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. For more on the Stones, check out my new book, Counting Down The Rolling Stones: Their 100 Finest Songs, available right now at the link below and all online book stores.)