As I write this (9/23/16) the rumors are flying that The Rolling Stones will be releasing a new album sometime in the near future. But if it doesn’t happen, and A Bigger Bang is the last studio album we receive from them, it wouldn’t be the worst way to go out. (Heck, could you imagine if they actually broke up after Dirty Work and that was their last?) Released in 2005, A Bigger Bang is a shade or two better than its predecessor, Bridges To Babylon. 16 songs is too many, of course, but there’s some solid stuff here and not too much of it feels derivative of older work, which, when you’ve released as much stuff as they have, is no small feat. Here is a song-by-song review:
16. “Look What The Car Dragged In”- By the time you reach Track 14, one more diatribe against a female with wandering tendencies is one too many. But Mick Jagger does name-drop Sgt. Pepper, so that’s something.
15. “Oh No, Not You Again”- Remember when I said that there wasn’t too much on the album that was derivative. This one, which gets lost somewhere between self-deprecating and vulgar, makes a liar out of me.
14. “Driving Too Fast”- Jagger sustains his metaphor about life being a highway well enough, if a bit too long. The music doesn’t really help him either, coming off like a busy freeway when a one-lane country road might have been more effective.
13. “She Saw Me Coming”- About the only thing you might take away from this one is that Mick Jagger isn’t a bad little bass player. Other than that, it’s B-side filler at best.
12. “It Won’t Take Long”- Three straight churning rockers at the start of the album was probably too much, especially when they produced diminishing returns. You might forget this one pretty quick after you hear it.
11. “Infamy”- Keith Richards gets the last word as usual, but, oddly enough, it’s not with a ballad. Instead he tosses off a gurgling rocker that, aside from Jagger’s harmonica fills and Charlie Watts’ forceful backbeat, doesn’t do a whole lot.
10. “Dangerous Beauty”- A weird one, as a grungy groove is utilized in service of a character sketch of a female who literally tortures her prey. This is what happens when you’ve got sixteen songs worth of music to fill, but, like I said, it’s just bizarre enough to be memorable.
9. “Sweet Neo Con”- When the album was released, Richards spoke about worrying that this one song, a Jagger broadside against President George W. Bush, would steal a lot of the album’s publicity. And he was probably right. The song is OK, mostly because the music expresses the tough stance better than the lyrics, but not good enough to be the center of attention, as opposed to say the brilliant but ridiculously unheralded “Laugh, I Nearly Died.”
8. “Rain Fall Down”- Some funk courtesy of Jagger to change the pace a little bit. A sultry bridge with moaning backing vocals connects the flickering guitars and relentless beat. Lots of open spaces for the atmosphere to seep in, even if it wears out its welcome after a while at nearly five minutes.
7. “Let Me Down Slow”- Jagger keenly notices some changes in his paramour and figures that she might be changing partners as well. The nice little descending melody in the chorus lives this one up nicely.
6. “Back Of My Hand”- One of their purest nods to the blues in quite some time. At least with the music: Jagger going on about “Goyas, paranoias” in the lyrics takes you out of the moment. Luckily his harmonica and Richards subtly scorching riffs get you back in there time.
5. “Rough Justice”- It’s your typical blast of adrenaline, fuzzed-out guitar, Mick being Mick album-opener from the boys. Jagger gets off some cleverly dirty couplets (“So put your lips to my hips, baby/And tell me what’s on your mind”) and Richards and Ronnie Wood get their money’s worth while Watts cracks the whip. It may adhere to the tried-and-true formula, but it’s still fun.
4. “Biggest Mistake”- Jagger surprises a bit by playing a narrator who admits his restlessness caused the breakup that’s now hounding. There’s a certain elegance to the music, even with the electric guitars adding a little muscle. The Stones occasionally get in trouble when the songs are too lyric-driven, but this is one of those that works.
3. “This Place Is Empty”- Richards takes the lead for an out-and-out love song, albeit one filled with enough minor chords and bluesy ambience to make you wonder if his intended in the song might not have one foot out the door. Beautifully arranged, as all Richards’ ballads tend to be, and it’s nice to hear Jagger pitching in on harmonies instead of sitting out a Keith number as he often does.
2. “Streets Of Love”- “Fool To Cry” was probably the first time Jagger unleashed his falsetto on a Stones ballad; he must have realized it was effective, because he’s gone back to it many times since. There’s something so over-the-top about the effect that it’s almost as if he wants us to think that life’s too short for such painful emoting. Regardless, he’s never less than compelling here and he outperforms the just-OK quality of the lyrics and tune.
1.”Laugh, I Nearly Died”- Out of nowhere comes this moody marvel that resuscitates the second half of the album. Actually it’s so good that it leaves the rest of the material well behind. It’s the one time on the disc where Jagger’s wordy lyrics find a true home, as he portrays a fellow suffering through a nomadic existence in an effort to forget his heartbreak. The chain-gang backing vocals, the dynamics from the bluesy crawl of the verses to the rising angst of the refrains, Jagger’s anguished performance: Everything here is in concert. The great lost classic of their late period.
(For more on The Rolling Stones, check out the link to my book below. As always, feel free me to e-mail me at countdownkid @hotmail.com or follow me on Twitter at jimbeviglia.)
1997’s Bridges To Babylon got lost a bit on the battleground between Mick Jagger’s efforts to drag The Rolling Stones into modernity and Keith Richards attempting to put the kibosh on those efforts at all costs. There’s nothing here that’s an out-and-out embarrassment not is there anything essential to the catalog. But it’s interesting as a document of the intra-band power play. Here is a song-by-song review:
13. “Gunface”- Goes on for quite a bit and tries to cop a tough lyrical attitude to go along with the music, but there’s never a part of it that truly feels special.
12. “Out Of Control”- The transition from quiet to loud feels more like a forced enterprise than something that’s essential to the meaning of the song. Nice, swampy harmonica work by Mick Jagger though.
11. “Low Down”- Not too bad in a grinding sort of way, elevated by the chorus, which sounds a lot like “Anybody Seen My Baby?”, the song that precedes it on the album. Better sequencing could have been exercised here.
10. “Too Tight”- Clearly a Keith Richards contribution in terms of the songwriting, based on those “Ah-ah” backing vocals and the ringing, raunchy guitars. I’d even go so far as to say it might been more effective had Keith taken the lead vocal and given one of those half-wounded, half-wicked performances.
9. “You Don’t Have To Mean It”- If you haven’t figured out that Richards likes reggae, you haven’t been listening too closely. But he always honors the music with his performances. On this one he gets help from some soulful backing vocals and perky horns. Lyrically, the message seems to be if you can’t say anything nice, lie to me and make something up.
8. “Might As Well Get Juiced”- This is one of the ones where The Dust Brothers’ influence seems to really come to the fore. Jagger’s strangled cries are surrounded by all manner of synthy distractions, but it still comes off suitably bluesy even with its modern touches. Again, Mick’s harmonica work helps immensely to that end.
7. “Saint Of Me”- Richards is nowhere to be found on this one, and it indeed sometimes feels like a Mick solo effort. Some surprising guest stars here, including Me’Shell Ndegeocello on bass and, returning to the Stones fold after many years away, Billy Preston on organ. Jagger makes his devotion to doing the wrong thing sound like gospel, of course.
6. “Already Over Me”- Apparently Babyface Edmonds tried to collaborate on this song with Jagger, only to have his efforts left on the cutting room floor. Turns out to be your average Stones ballad, which turns out to be better than the average ballad when you compare it to everything else.
5. “Thief In The Night”- It feels like an instrumental; the vocals are incidental, adding more through their sound than the meaning of the words. Richards does a great job arranging these kind of after-hours, slinky tracks, which often linger a lot longer than the brash rockers for which the late-period band is known.
4. “How Can I Stop”- It’s funny, but Bridges To Babylon feels like Jagger’s album in a lot of ways, only for Richards to deliver a one-two punch on the end that almost feels like it belongs on another record, one jazzier and more contemplative. It’s a simple song that relies upon subtle instrumental flourishes for its power. The last of those, provided by saxophonist Wayne Shorter over Charlie Watts’ surprising fills, is a real grabber.
3. “Anybody Seen My Baby?”- Jagger on the prowl is always captivating, especially when he’s in search of those beautiful, ethereal girls that only seem to cross paths with rock stars. That his wingman in this case was Biz Markie and not Keith may have come as a surprise (an unpleasant one to Keith, apparently, based on his later dismissals of the Dust Brothers’ production ideas), but you can’t just rely on rockers and 12-bars forever, right? A pleasant surprise as a first single back then and it still holds up nicely.
2. “Flip The Switch”- The sinewy bass line laid down by session man Jeff Sarli, the tough-guy guitars of Richards, Ronnie Wood, and Waddy Wachtel, Jagger’s defiant sneers in the face of all manner of insult and injury: It’s all fine. But it’s hard to imagine this song packing the punch it does without Watts’ backbeat, which is somehow, as John Wooden would have wanted, quick but not in a hurry. It’s a real wake-up call of an opening track; any doubters wondering what the old boys had in them were quickly put in their place.
1. “Always Suffering”- After being upstaged by Richards’ ballads in the previous few albums, Jagger reached back for a little something extra on this weeper. “We’re already lost,” he sings, suggesting there’s no way to reverse the course of painful events and unforgiving time. Keith does chip in with some sweet harmonies and understated guitar work to make a crucial contribution. Not much to say about this one except that it expertly touches that place inside of us that can’t see the bright side, a place where we all dwell from time to time.
(For a more in-depth look at The Rolling Stones, check out my book in the link below. As always, you can reach me on Twitter @jimbeviglia and e-mail me at email@example.com.)
Voodoo Lounge arrived in 1994 a full five years after Steel Wheels, but the general consensus is that it built upon the foundation The Rolling Stones laid on that comeback album. Overall the songs are maybe a shade weaker than its predecessor, even if there are a few nice attempts at changing the pace and style. 15 songs was way too many, but that’s what CD’s, with their extra running time, wrought. Cut this thing down to ten songs, especially if you choose from the rock-solid first half, and you’ve got something that really hums. Here is a song-by-song review.
15. “Baby Break It Down”- “Hey, guys, we need another song to fit the CD running length. How fast can we cough up a refried groove? Right, let’s get on with it then.”
14. “Brand New Car”- The Stones indulged in this kind of fast-machine-for-sex metaphor before, most notably with “Start Me Up”. This is no “Start Me Up”.
13. “Suck On The Jugular”- It wants to be James Brown-funky but it gets a bit busy and overproduced fast. Quite a title though.
12. “I Go Wild”- This one just never catches fire. Mick Jagger tries hard (maybe too hard) with some elaborate lyrics, but the tempo drags even with Charlie Watts going to the snare often. Skippable.
11.”Sparks Will Fly”- Watts gives this one the pep it needs to get by, and the chorus is solid enough. I like the touch of the fire chief playing cards while everything burns. The vulgar turn the lyrics take is a bit unnecessary though, considering it’s a relatively benign-sounding song otherwise.
10. “Mean Disposition”- Not a bad little rockabilly tack-on at the end of the disc. Granted, it’s anticlimactic after “Thru And Thru”, but the ease with which the band sinks into this one is engaging nonetheless.
9. “Moon Is Up”- A pretty good studio construction, with every component in the music given a twist, such as Watts banging on trash cans and Jagger singing through the harmonica mike. The song itself is far less memorable, but the exotic touches improve it a lot.
8. “Blinded By Rainbows”- Well, the first thing you notice is that it has something on its mind rather than matters of the heart (and groin). Mick’s series of questions are a bit all over the place as the song goes on, but the gentility of the music and the yearning of his vocal are a good match that pushes this song past its overearnest limitations.
7. “Sweethearts Together”- The Drifters-style rhythm was something relatively new for the band, and they seem energized by the chance to take it on. Mick and Keith Richards, in the same mike rhyming “together” and “forever”: Very cool. Flaco Jimenez brings an accordion into a Stones recording and comes out none the worse for wear. Nice surprises all around here.
6. “You Got Me Rocking”- Stereotypical late-period Stones, you know, where some permutation of the “rock” figures prominently in a song full of brawny guitars. Jagger winks at himself with the line “I was a hooker losing her looks,” letting us know that those who take a song like this too seriously are missing the bus. Best to just crank it and leave analysis for the couch.
5. “The Worst”- The acoustic sorrow on display is pulled off quite well, with the violin adding to the high lonesome feeling. It seems like Keith has written this song before and probably a little better, but he always charms when he’s in self-deprecating, fragile mode.
4. “New Faces”- You’d probably have to go back to the Brian Jones era to find instruments like harmonium and harpsichord adorning a Stones song. Jagger always slides into these settings with aplomb, and the instrumentation pretties this up without a doubt. The bridge lets some emotion into the formality of the musical backing. An effective curve ball for sure.
3. “Your Love Is Strong”- In my book I had this just out of the Top 100 at #101, and listening to it again it makes me appreciate just how strong the catalog is that a track this solid didn’t make the cut. Jagger makes the most of his lower register to convey some serious sultriness, while his harmonica part uncorks his libido. The groove is thick as August humidity, while Richards and Wood prowl all around the scene. It’s only after listening a few times that you realize the narrator hasn’t even met this girl who makes him hard and weak all at once; the music convinces you that they’re pretty hot and heavy.
2. “Out Of Tears”- Another example of latter-period Stones really shining on the slow stuff. There’s something about how the ballads display their vulnerability, showing their age in the best possible way. Jagger writes a really strong melody here, while Ronnie Wood’s slide part is understated and tender. The production is smart all the way through as well, such as when the last verse returns to just Mick and the piano before the surging finish. We’ve all been there; the key here is that Jagger, with his bandmates helping out immensely, makes you believe he’s been there as well.
1. “Thru And Thru”- A truly unique effort from Richards, one in which he zigs every time you expect him to zag. It makes for a thrilling listen, even for a song that, at its core, is wounded and bereft. The weird jargon of the lyrics, the strange turns those lyrics take, the sudden whoosh of the harmonies, the sharp drums emerging from the creeping guitars, the menacing coda, and on and on: It’s impossible to put a finger on this one, and why would you want to? You’ve got six minutes of brilliant idiosyncrasy here. David Chase has a good ear, for sure.
(E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. For more on the Stones, check the link below or any online bookseller for my new book, Counting Down The Rolling Stones: Their 100 Finest Songs.)
Things got bad for a while there, and there were moments in the span from 1986-1988 where it looked like The Rolling Stones were finally kaput. Luckily cooler heads prevailed, and Steel Wheels was churned out over a relatively short span of time for release in 1989. It was a solid return to form, one that set the tone for all Stones releases since with its reliance on slick, zippy rockers, introspective, self-aware ballads, and the occasional experimental reach. The album certainly didn’t tread any new ground or touch the zeitgeist at large like the band once was able to do so effortlessly, but it provided a practical (and profitable) way forward for them as aging guys unwilling to go quietly into the oldies-only circuit and still able to spit out a classic song or two per disc.
12. “Hold On To Your Hat”- Loud and abrasive, it seems like an attempt to do a “Rip This Joint” speed-rocker but instead comes off like a Dirty Work retread in terms of sound and temparement.
11. “Continental Drift”- While it was a sentimental touch to include The Master Musicians of Jajouka so long after they worked with Brian Jones, the Stones didn’t bother to write much of a song to properly highlight them and really seem like guests on their own track.
10. “Hearts For Sale”- Not a bad little mood piece, featuring a circular guitar riff which doesn’t get old. The lyrics meander and Mick Jagger oversells them a bit, but the slow-burn intensity hangs on the whole track long.
9. “Break The Spell”- The bluesy tension never quite releases here, which isn’t really a bad thing. Mick sings this one a bit like Keith Richards’ old buddy Tom Waits might, and he also gets in some honking harmonica work which adds gritty atmosphere to the proceedings.
8. “Terrifying”- Some odd instrumentation, including chirping trumpet and marimba-like keyboards, help this one stand out from your usual mid-tempo track. Jagger adds some fun lyrics (“I’m rutting like a goat, I’m horny as a hog”) and it turns out to be a nifty little studio concoction.
7. “Rock And A Hard Place”- Keith reuses the riff from “It Must Be Hell” to get this one kick-started, but it eventually settles in as a throwback to the attitude-laced rock funk that the band once nailed in the late 70’s, albeit now with more sterility in the production. Jagger tosses off some pretty good lines about the haves stomping all over the have-nots, and Bill Wyman gets more chance to shine on bass than he’d had in years. I think in some places you can hear the effort they put in to make this one a “Gimme Shelter”-style classic. It’s nowhere near that, but it packs a punch.
6. “Can’t Be Seen”- Richards was coming off a successful solo album with Talk Is Cheap, and you can tell the confidence was still brimming with his excellent pair of lead vocals here. The funny thing is, for a guy who’s traditionalist to the core, he seems more at home singing within the late 80’s production styles than Jagger. Breezy, fun, and soulful all at once, with typically solid harmonies adding some melancholy to the middle eight, this one is worth digging out if you’ve forgotten it.
5. “Sad Sad Sad”- The open-tuned guitar at the start is Jagger, surprisingly, as he tears into a peppy, ironically upbeat (considering the title) bopper. One of many songs on the album that could be read as a Jagger/Richards therapy session, it features Mick telling a put-upon comrade to cheer up; “You gonna be fine,” he barks over and over. Richards must have believed it, because his guitar solo is buoyant. A little brass really seals the energetic deal. Great opening salvo for the album and a good way to reintroduce the band after their hiatus.
4. “Almost Hear You Sigh”- Richards had the music left over from his solo album (hence the co-writing credit for good buddy Steve Jordan) and let Jagger run with the words. He turned it into a lament for a particularly painful break-up, one that he sells with a combination of genuine hurt and gnawing fear that things are only going to get worse in his attempt to recover. Nice classical guitar from Keith in the middle too that dovetails well with the anguished sentiment of the lyrics.
3. “Blinded By Love”- While the band’s return to roots-based music in 1968 was the right move, one of the things that was sacrificed was the pop prettiness that Jagger and Richards conjured so often in the period just prior to that. This surprising little number sounds like it could have fit in snugly on Aftermath. Jagger certainly seems to enjoy the return to this side of the band; how else could he slip words like “burnished” and “parvenu” past Keith than in this setting? And while Brian Jones probably would have come up with something extra-special for a song like this, the musicians employed on harmonium, fiddle, and mandolin do a nice job creating a kind of Victorian C&W vibe. Lovely stuff.
2. “Mixed Emotions”- Well, Mick and Keith had to hash this thing out. Why not do it in the midst of a classic Stones rocker instead of sniping in the press? Meanwhile Charlie Watts drumming urges the Glimmer Twins onward in no-nonsense fashion, telling them to get on with already. The chorus is as sure as any they’d managed in quite some time leading up to that, surging deftly with minor-key urgency from Jagger’s playful verses. I suppose you could relate the song to your own life, but I prefer to enjoy it as a particularly potent chapter in the band’s autobiography.
1. “Slipping Away”- The idea that Richards would ever have the standout track on a Stones album would have seemed extremely far-fetched when he first started croaking out lead vocals with regularity in the early 70’s. Yet here he is, taking a sledgehammer to the notion, supported by his rakish public image, that he’s impervious to age and heartache. There is an elegance here that’s really arresting, as every element of the music is doled out with expert restraint and timing. Some people prefer the version the band did on Stripped, but I’ll take this one if only for the extra poignancy of Jagger coming in to join Richards on the bridge (even taking the high harmonies as if to cede the spotlight to the songwriter.) We’ve heard all the jokes about Keith outliving the cockroaches and such; this song, in heartbreaking fashion, makes you question whether that kind of longevity is worth it.
(E-mail me at email@example.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. For a more in-depth look at the songs of the Stones, check out my new book Counting Down The Rolling Stones: Their 100 Finest Songs, available now via the link below or at all major online booksellers.)
The worst album in Rolling Stones’ history? Well, before we bury 1986’s Dirty Work, let’s consider that it received pretty solid reviews at a time when artists like the Stones weren’t awarded knee-jerk raves just because they still exist. And their cover of “Harlem Shuffle” gave them their biggest hit in five years (and their last Top 5 Billboard hit to date.) But nothing can hide the fact that Dirty Work suffers from the sterile, inorganic production work of the era. And even the finest production couldn’t have prettied up some of the more uninspired songs and abrasive performances. With Mick Jagger’s head still in his solo career, Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood carrying the load, and the entire group, including the usually rock-solid Charlie Watts, suffering from 80’s excess, this album is inconsistency exemplified, sporadic highs and cratering lows, and it nearly ended the Stones as we know them. Here is a song-by-song review:
10. “Back To Zero”- Jagger’s concerns about nuclear war are admirable, but not for a moment does this synth-heavy, faux-exotic mid-tempo jam sound like the Rolling Stones.
9. “Hold Back”- I kind of wish they held back a little bit on this one actually. No nuance or subtlety, not from the overbaked drum sound, nor from the grinding guitars, and certainly not from Jagger’s haranguing vocal.
8. “Fight”- Some early reviews found the aggressiveness of Jagger’s lyrics refreshing. To me, they’re more often off-putting, even if, as in this case, they seem to be allegorical plaints about societal antagonism. Plus the unimaginative music isn’t exactly a good way to show them off.
7. “Winning Ugly”- It’s foundationed by a decent enough Motown bassline, and there’s enough open space here for Jagger’s lyrics to make their point about how 80’s-style competitiveness often took a dark turn. But again, his singing is all force and no restraint. And the Stones never quite figured out how to introduce synthesizers into their sound without it sounding jarring.
6. “Dirty Work”- If Dirty Work can be defended, you can make the case that there’s a pretty consistent theme about societal nastiness run rampant going all the way through it, and, as such, the title track sums it up quite well. It’s still too busy by half, but at least Jagger’s lyrics, probably his best on the album concerning power-wielders who never show their faces, find their proper home in the intense guitar squall of Wood and Richards.
5. “Had It With You”- In the grand tradition of “All About You,” here is a Richards song which lays bare both his love for and his frustration with Jagger. Those elements are hidden a bit more here though. For one, Mick is singing it in his best Slim Harpo drawl (and also adding some spicy harmonica.) For another, it’s a raver instead of a ballad, which keeps the focus on the music. In any case, it’s one of the better uptempo tracks here, mainly because it sounds like the five band members recorded in a room with no frills doing the kind of bluesy rock and roll they do best.
4. “Too Rude”- Although it’s dispiriting that two of the top four tracks on the album were covers, you can’t deny that this reggae diversion gets the job done. It’s the best of Steve Lillywhite’s productions on the albums, as he adds all kinds of effects to the one-man rhythm section of Ronnie Wood on bass and drums to fill the song full of fun surprises. And Richards is in his element on lead vocal, getting backing help from Jimmy Cliff, no less.
3. “Sleep Tonight”- One of those idiosyncratic Richards’ ballads with unexpected melodic twists and turns that close out albums so well. The production is a shade too glossy for what should sound like the last song at the end of a long night, but the backing vocals and Chuck Leavell’s tender piano win the day. And Keith’s lyrics are so evocative in their odd way: “These thoughts of you, it shivers me/The moon grows cold in memory.” Bonus points for the inclusion of the piano solo by Ian Stewart, who had recently passed away, at the end. Nice.
2. “Harlem Shuffle”- It’s not like they did anything revolutionary with this minor 60’s hit by Bob & Earl. But at least there’s a groove here, something, based on the rest of the album, you would think they had forgotten how to manage. Richards makes some sly commentary on guitar and Bobby Womack does some nice call-and-response with Mick, who slides into this one like a comfy pair of slippers. And the animated video was fun, which meant a lot at the time.
1. “One Hit (To The Body”)- Well, at least they got this single right. The interplay between the acoustic and electric guitars makes for an invigorating beginning. There are hooks aplenty. And Jimmy Page makes a special guest appearance with a wild guitar solo that fits the roughness of the music quite well. The lyrics are a typical Jagger construction about a woman who has a way about her that’s irresistible and who causes damage that’s irreparable, but he sells them with brio. Hey, nine more songs like this and we might have had something. So help me god.
(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 at the link below and at all major online booksellers.)
Because Tattoo You, which came out in ’81 but consisted of material of much older vintage, interrupted the narrative somewhat, 1983’s Undercover seems a bit out of left field in the Rolling Stones throughline, when in actuality it’s a natural progression to the modern, dancey sounds of the era that began with Some Girls and continued with Emotional Rescue. The effort is always there (although you can hear it a bit too often,) but, save for an excellent one-two punch at the beginning and a decent closing duo, the focus wavers. In the middle portion, we’re left adrift somewhere between Mick Jagger’s sound-of-the-moment pretensions and Keith Richards’ inclination toward traditionalism, and it’s a bumpy ride. Here is a song-by-song review:
10. “Too Tough”- Jagger’s heart doesn’t seem to be into this throwback to the riff-rocking of the 70’s. Extremely forgettable, except perhaps for the rampant nastiness of the lyrics.
9. “Feel On Baby”- If they could have gotten out of the way of the basic riddim, things would have been a lot better. But the production eccentricities that help out “Undercover Of The Night” are cumbersome here, and the five minutes running time drags.
8. “Tie You Up (The Pain Of Love)”- The sadomasochistic overtones are a bit heavy-handed, which would have been OK if the music had been a bit more playful instead of so unsmiling. Not a bad middle eight, but apart from that, it’s a bit much and not enough all at once.
7. “Too Much Blood”- Jagger’s cockney rapping is a kick, even if the subject matter skews toward the gory. Still, the music hasn’t aged well, with horns that sound like they were on loan from Phil Collins and synthetic drums that kind of take Charlie Watts out of the equation, which is never a good thing.
6. “Wanna Hold You”- It might be Keith on autopilot, with a flickering guitar groove that he’s done often before and since and lyrics that sound as if they were scrawled down in the last minute at the session. But it’s comfortable in its skin, which makes it stand out from a lot of the fussier stuff around it on the album.
5. “Pretty Beat Up”- Ronnie Wood gets a co-writer credit for coming up with the music on this quasi-instrumental. The horns are employed a lot more effectively here and there’s bite to the groove. David Sanborn adds some intense saxophone to top it all off.
4. “All The Way Down”- The double entendres fly fast and furious on this rocker that Watts provides with an energetic pulse. The somewhat nostalgic, somewhat caustic look back at a torrid affair with a more experienced woman sure seems autobiographical; Jagger certainly plays it to the hilt. Bonus points for this verse: “How the years rush on by: birthdays, kids and suicides/But still I play the fool and strut, still you’re a slut.” Manages to be self-aware, nasty, and pretty damn funny all at once.
3. “It Must Be Hell”- I’d be more praiseworthy of Keith’s great riff if it weren’t so similar to the one adorning Elton John’s “The Bitch Is Back.” And I’m still not sure if Jagger is sympathizing with or sneering at those bemoaning the world’s problems at the time. But the music is tough and focused and the chorus is rock solid. Pretty good send-off track.
2. “Undercover Of The Night”- It manages to sound very much of the times and very much a Rolling Stones track, which, in the early 80’s, was often a case of never the twain shall meet. Watts bomping beat keeps pushing you headlong into Jagger’s tale of repression and violence in South America, which builds to a frenzied peak with the lines “The smell of sex, the smell of suicide/All these dreams, things I can’t keep inside “. Here the production effects, like the echoing guitar and sledgehammer drums, are right on point with the tenor of the song. Every moment is charged with wiry energy. You can dance to it or despair to it, whatever your bag might be.
1.”She Was Hot”- The verses are the Stones doing yet another take on a Chuck Berry potboiler, as Jagger moans from his collection of cold, lonely hotel rooms. The refrains pull back to let the atmosphere sink in as the narrator luxuriates in the memory of a particularly steamy tryst. Richards separates the two parts with a stomping solo. Jagger’s descriptions don’t skimp on vivid imagery, with phrases like “molten glow,” “the lost bayou” and “the human zoo” showing Duran Duran, at the time the bell cows of sultry wordplay, a thing or two. Dare I say that the “hot, hot, hot” refrain at the end of the song, or climax might be the better word, sounds like lovers thrusting? Write what you know, they say, and Jagger seems to know this scenario right down the last bead of sweat.
(E-mail me at email@example.com 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, now available at the link below and all major online booksellers.)
Leftovers can often be moldy and unappealing, but every once in a while, the juices sink in just so and they taste even sweeter than the freshest main course. Case in point: Tattoo You, the 1981 release from The Rolling Stones whereby they raided their estimable vaults for material because they couldn’t be bothered to come up with new stuff. With one side of brash rockers and one of soulful ballads, this album, which wasn’t really an album proper after all, is now held up by many as the standard for the post-Exile era Stones. And it’s hard to blame the folks who feel that way, so satisfying are the results of the band’s archaeological dig. Here is a song-by-song review:
11. “Slave”- The longest track on the album is probably the most disposable, but, as instrumental jams go, this one has some bite. There is a long list of guest stars participating here including Pete Townsend on backing vocals, but the star is Charlie Watts and his beat that’s potent and in the pocket all at once.
10. “No Use In Crying”- There’s seemingly not much to this slow roller, a kind of rewrite of “Time Is On Your Side,” but Mick Jagger, via both some existentially sorrowful lyrics and his impassioned delivery of them, pushes it further than it has any right to go.
9. “Heaven”- A hypnotic little mood piece, with Jagger’s vocals altered to add to the hazy vibe. You can understand why it wouldn’t have made the cut for other albums, as it’s sort of an unfinished idea. And yet it works in its fragmentary way, with Watts again playing a big part in that with his nimble patter.
8. “Little T&A”- “Nice and dumb” is how Keith Richards once described this track, and that seems as solid an observation as any. Back in the day classic rock radio played it so much that I was surprised upon my research to find it wasn’t a single. It’s Keith in mischievous mode, and while I actually prefer him when he’s going for the more soulful stuff on lead vocal, you can’t deny the guitar attack is quite catchy.
7. “Neighbours”- A fine rip-snorter this one, it was apparently inspired by Richards’ tendency to get booted from his place of residence. Jagger decides to play the oppressed neighbour in the son and he has a ball with it, braying his frustrations with hilarious brio. Same goes for Sonny Rollins, who sprints through his saxophone parts as if he’s being chased out of the building.
6. “Tops”- We’re going way back with this one into the Goats Head Soup era, which is made clear by Mick Taylor’s lyrical solo. Nicky Hopkins is also in typically fine form on piano. Jagger is once again in character mode, this time playing the Hollywood producer who can’t help but seduce a young innocent. So smarmy and obvious are his come-ons that the song ends up acting as a cautionary tale.
5. “Hang Fire”- You can get into the sarcastic social commentary here, with Jagger portraying a jobless, prospectless bloke too lazy to game the system to get by. At the time England’s jobless rate was high and the safety nets were fast disappearing, so the context is key here. Yet you don’t need to know any of that to enjoy the brazen, unkempt nature of the music, especially Richards’ snotty solo and the wordless “doo-doo-doo” refrains.
4. “Black Limousine”- These gents used to play the blues a little, right? They sink right back into it effortlessly here, the groove a thing of lubricated beauty while Wood’s solos and Jagger’s harp take the lead roles. The titular vehicle is an indication of the high life that the protagonist and the girl he’s addressing used to live. Alas, the unspoken message is that, considering the hard times which have befallen them, a far more somber black limousine might just be waiting on the next block.
3. “Worried About You”- Such is the goofy nature of Tattoo You that this track features Wayne Perkins, the long-forgotten by that time guitarist from Black And Blue. He knocks it out of the part on this wonderful ballad, while the rhythm section of Bill Wyman and Watts are minimalists here, nimbly nudging the song from the stark verses to the filled-out choruses. Jagger wields the falsetto in the early sections but gives full-throated evidence of his anguish in the refrains, Richards joining along for the high lonesome harmonies. It probably escaped Black And Blue due to its similarity in temperament and style to “Memory Motel,” but it makes a soft, soulful landing here.
2. “Start Me Up”- They tried to make it into a reggae song when it was originally essayed for Some Girls; some evidence of that can be found in Wyman’s skittering lines and the hitch in Watts’ giddyup. Once those guitars kick in, their full-throttle blast plays off that off-kilter bottom end in wondrous ways. Jagger takes every critical snipe about the band’s boorishness or sophomoric behavior and doubles down on them in the lyrics, until the line about making a dead man come seems almost tame compared to the innuendo that preceded it. Thank goodness for producer Chris Kimsey, who unearthed this song and convinced the band that an album of outtakes was just crazy enough to work.
1. “Waiting On A Friend”- They had no lyrics for it originally, which is how this intoxicating warm breeze of a track slipped out of the Goats Head Soup sessions. Richards proves that not all great riffs need to be attached to fast tempos, while Hopkins goes off on dreamy runs on the outskirts. Once Jagger figured out what the song would be about, he came up with one of the all-time great songs about friendship, one that lets all Stones fans indulge in the notion that he and Keith are indeed as thick as thieves, magazine articles and autobiographies be damned. Rollins takes the song and the album home with jazzy improvisations on saxophone that classed Top 40 radio up something fierce. What a beauty.
(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 at the link below and all major online booksellers.)
They don’t all have to save the world, right? Well, they shouldn’t have to, but when you’re a band like The Rolling Stones, folks expect something substantial every time down the pike. 1980’s Emotional Rescue, by contrast, feels like an effort by the band to put out something with far more concern for grooves than thoughts. As such, it goes down smooth, but, with a few notable exceptions, doesn’t stick with you too long after it fades out. Here is a song-by-song review:
10. “Where The Boys Go”- Autopilot Stones guitar churn without a melody. Not much to hear here.
9. “Send It To Me”- It figures that the ever-anonymous Bill Wyman would get to come to the forefront on a disposable song from an album considered to be one of the band’s most disposable LP’s. Still his contributions here are the most notable thing on this endless quasi-reggae jam.
8. “Down In The Hole”- The sustained intensity of this blues jam is impressive. Sugar Blue gets in some impassioned harmonica while Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood do some hypnotic interweaving on guitar. The downbeat vibe is a little out of place with everything else here, but the song makes you stand up and take notice nonetheless.
7. “Dance (Part 1)”- Wood takes over on bass here and creates the first of many hooks the song has to offer, with others coming courtesy of the frisky horns and the vocal harmonies. Jagger’s patter is really inessential here, because the music is potent enough to carry the load.
6. “Summer Romance”- The idea of Jagger having a summer fling with a co-ed might strike some as icky, but a) it probably happened and b) if the Beach Boys can still sing about surfing and high school, who are we to begrudge the Stones this dip into academia? Like so much of the album, it’s a catchy number without much ambition that’s played with more gusto than it probably deserves.
5. “She’s So Cold”- You could pretty much ditto what I said about “Summer Romance,” only here the MVP is Jagger, who pretty much willed this one into being a hit with the loony charisma of his performance. Again Wood is on bass, playing melodic runs while Richards’ flickering lead adds even more rhythmic heft. Charlie Watts is the steady heartbeat. Still a lot of fun on your local classic rock station.
4. “Indian Girl”- Kind of an out-of-left field that succeeds in an offbeat way. The title character, a little girl orphaned in a Central American war, is not your typical Stones’ heroine, but Jagger lends her a great deal of dignity and respect with the straight-faced tenderness of his vocal. Meanwhile, the music, a lilting mariachi, shows that these guys still had versatility to spare, even if they displayed it less and less in those days.
3. “Let Me Go”- This underrated track sneaks into four-star territory just on solidity alone. Wyman and Watts are a propulsive engine while the electric guitars tick along, providing nice tension and release, and the solo is good as well. Jagger has more than fifty ways to leave his lover but she’s having none of it. Nothing groundbreaking, but done so effortlessly and expertly that it sneaks up on you.
2. “All About You”- The album starts with Jagger hailing Richards; it ends with Richards lambasting Jagger. Oh, you could kid yourself and pretend it’s about a girl, but, considering its placement on the record, it’s as if Keith has listened to Mick’s disco nonsense for as long as he can stand and has to get his two cents in. This is one of those tipsy Richards’ vocals that confound some people, but it’s genius, especially with how it plays off the smoothness of the harmonies. And it’s no surprise that Bobby Keys takes Keith’s side with his bluesy saxophone commentary. I think it says something about Jagger that he would allow this brazen pot shot on a record bearing his name; maybe he inherently knew that Glimmer Twins infighting and drama was as much of the brand as the lips.
1. “Emotional Rescue”- Rarely does the bass part in a rock song wake you up like Wood’s does here, although it’s a fair argument to say that this isn’t really rock. It’s pop, or disco, or maybe R&B, but whatever it is, it’s a recording that holds you in thrall for its entirety. Watts’ rat-a-tat snares are somehow the beat and the hook all at once, allowing Wood to just bounce around wherever he’s needed most. And Jagger strolls through this limber rhythmic bed with dramatically-intoned pronouncements and falsetto cries, an wild, improvisatory collection of words and sounds that’s sensual, silly, and, like he says, steadfast. Keys puts the whole thing to bed, bits of passion sneaking out from under the urbane facade. The perfect poster child for his off-kilter yet ingratiatingly lighthearted album.
(E-mail me at email@example.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. For a more in-depth look at The Stones, check out my new book Counting Down The Rolling Stones: Their 100 Finest Songs, available now at the link below.)
I’m not sure if 1978’s Some Girls is significantly better than the three albums that preceded it in The Rolling Stones catalog, albums which don’t have as lofty a reputation. The difference is that Some Girls, the band’s first full album with Ron Wood as a member, demands your attention; even when it’s going off the rails a bit, you can’t ignore it, and when it’s on its game, it’s thrilling in a way Stones albums hadn’t been since the ’68-’72 apex. There’s a sense of purpose to it as opposed to just seeming like an album meant to fill out a contract. There’s even a rough theme surrounding the New York City nightlife at a time when the city was a seedier, scarier, more unpredictable, for good and bad, place than it is today. Here is a song-by-song review:
10. “Lies”- The problem with the full-throttle, trebly approach that The Glimmer Twins applied to many of their uptempo productions starting with this album is that it then causes Jagger to shout to be heard. When the song’s not much to write home about, as is the case here, the whole effect can be grating.
9. “Some Girls”- I have no problem with the boys being provocative, as long as they do it within the context of a crackling song. Yet I have the creeping suspicion that “Some Girls” existed for no other reason to garner newsprint. Mission accomplished, but it doesn’t mean that I want to hit the replay button on a pretty dull slog of a track.
8. “Far Away Eyes”- Jagger’s ill-advised impulse to drawl out the lyrics in the verses mars what could have been a decent country turn. I’m not really fond of those lyrics anyway, but their flaws would be less noticeable without the silliness. It’s too bad, because Wood’s steel guitar and the harmonies in the refrain belong to a much better song.
7. “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)”- Part of me wishes that they had dug a little deeper into the Motown catalog for their 70’s cover choices. That said, they do a little bit better with this one than they did with “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg.”
6. “When The Whip Comes Down”- There’s a certain toughness to the two-guitar attack of Richards and Wood that there was never was with Richards and Mick Taylor. Part of that is the production and part of that was a conscious change in the style of songs the band was writing. In any case, that attack, along with Watts lightning-flash drumming, lends serious heft to Jagger’s odd tale of a gay garbage collector.
5. “Respectable”- Mick pretty much abandons the verses early on, which is fine because this one is crisp and peppy enough to get by just on the music and the sneering choruses, which Jagger claimed weren’t a swipe at his wife, although the impending divorce claimed otherwise. In those scant two verses, however, he efficiently dismantles those who would feign airs when the reality of their situation is much baser. And the fact that he uses the first person voice in the first verse means that he could foresee a time when he would be, against all odds, Sir Mick.
4. “Before They Make Me Run”- Jagger probably helped out with some of the lyrics because sometimes it takes someone on the outside to tell you how bad things really are, almost like an intervention. But Richards wrests control of the song with his vocal, always careening in the opposite direction of where you think it should be, and his defiant cool. The interlocking phalanx of guitars is a dynamic bit of business as well. If you had to explain Keith Richards to an alien, play him this song.
3. “Beast Of Burden”- The closest thing to a ballad on the album (“Far Away Eyes” is more of a parody of a ballad to me), this is also the song with the best guitar work here. At the slower tempo, you can clearly hear the interplay between Richards and Wood, one going this way, the other that, briefly intermingling, and then separating again while always keeping the song’s content in mind. Wood also beefs up the harmonies of Jagger and Richards, giving them an endearingly ragged quality. Those harmonies form some solidarity behind Jagger’s put-upon narrator, who takes his stand in the dirt, willing to risk the girl’s leaving rather than doing any more gruntwork in the name of love. No wonder people thought it was about he and Keith.
2. “Shattered”- One of Jagger’s finest performances, as he half-raps, half-bellows, capturing the coolness and the frenzy of New York city in that manner. Richards’ belching guitar sounds like a subway tunneling through hell, while Wood’s solo sparkles like Times Square. The city is slowly eradicating the narrator’s nervous system; even the sex seems like too much for him. And if he crumbles, NYC isn’t going to stop and shed a tear from him. Instead it’s going to move on and pummel the next poor sap who crosses its path: (“I’m shattered/What does it matter?”) All you can do is keep your head down, mind the maggots, and utter “Shadoobie”, the mantra of the city, under your breath.
1.”Miss You”- Everybody just assumes that the disco move was a jump on the bandwagon. What they’re missing is that the music here is the best vehicle for conveying the message of the song. The suavity of the rhythm mirrors the narrator’s attempts at restraint, but the carnal undertow eventually sweeps him up into exclaiming his lust to the world in the anguished bridge and the falsetto refrain. Bill Wyman and Watts play the kind of disco beat you would expect them to, effortless and elegant. Richards gets his riffage in even in this setting, and Jagger modulates his performance flawlessly. Sugar Blue’s harp and Mel Collins’ sax split the tension of the night. A lot of rock bands face-planted in their attempts at disco; no sweat for the Stones.
(E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. My new book, Counting Down The Rolling Stones: Their 100 Finest Songs, is out now and available at the link below.)
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 email@example.com 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.)