Formed in 1962, The Rolling Stones are considered to be the greatest rock and roll band in the world. In a career spanning half a century, the band has released over 100 singles, over two dozen studio albums, and numerous compilation and live albums which have cumulatively sold over 300 million copies worldwide. Ten of their studio albums are among Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, with their 1972 double album “Exile on Main St.” placing seventh. In 1981 they were the first band to conceptualize and promote a large scale stadium tour. And in 2005 their worldwide “Bigger Bang” live concert tour grossed over $558M. 2013 will bring many exciting and surprising events to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the band.
Released: April 23, 1971
Sticky Fingers is the Stones' first record on their own label, the third with Jimmy Miller producing, and was written and recorded during a period of peak creativity and performance.
Recorded when, musically speaking, the band was at its apex, Sticky Fingers is a bona fide rock and roll classic, containing and summing up everything good about guitar music at the start of the 1970s.
Like its successor, Exile On Main Street, and its predecessor, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers contains a little bit of everything for the varied musical taste. It features great rock and roll; expert song writing; marvelous production; blues, Latin, country; as well as a technical level of musicianship that many think they never reached again.
While Mick and Keith are the headline stars of Sticky Fingers - Sister Morphine and Moonlight Mile being two further examples - there are fantastic contributions from everyone else involved, too, not least session men Ry Cooder and Bobby Keys.
Along with Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed and Exile On Main St., Sticky Fingers is a cornerstone album - perhaps the cornerstone - in the Rolling Stones' history.
All tracks written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards
Pblished by ABKCO Music Inc., except "Sister Morphine" written by Mick Jagger, Keith Richard & Marianne Faithfull, published by ABKCO Music Inc. and "You Gotta Move" written by Fred McDowell and Rev. Gary Davis, published by BMG.
Track 3 : ABKCO Music
Track 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10 : Promotone B.V. via Inaudible Productions
Released: May 12, 1972
Exile on Main Street is considered to be one of the best rock and Rolling Stones album ever. Forget the hype and myth of the madness in its making: the music continues to enthrall, excite and delight.
There's always a lot of talk about the murky mix and the low production values of Exile On Main St. But the quintessential thing about the record is its tight focus on the basic components of The Stones' down-and-dirty blues-based rock 'n' roll songs and style.
How they got turned into a record is one thing. But how the band wrote them and played them is another, and as a collection of rock-country-blues songs, Exile is a masterpiece. There are few moments that can be faulted on this album: it's a massively powerful, almost devastating experience. It is also one of the most discussed.
Exile On Main Street takes up where Sticky Fingers left off, with the Stones wiping out one set of solutions - heading into exile to escape the cops and the robbers of Her Majesty's Inland Revenue - only to be confronted with another pile of problems, largely (according to popular myth) in the form of sex and drugs.
Naturally, the only way to confront these powerful demons is with the third part of the Holy Trinity: rock 'n' roll.
“You'd sort of jam an acoustic guitar into the corner of one of these cubicles and just start playing and you'd hear it back you'd think, that doesn't sound anything like what I was playing, but it sounds great. So you started to play around with the basement itself, aiming your amplifier up at the ceiling instead of like normal.” Keith Richards, 2001
The record comes on like an out-and-out rocker. Rocks Off isn't a subtle title and the song's not delicate either, although there's a wistful undertone to the lyrics that hear inaudible voices on the street and long for release that only comes in sleep.
Rip This Joint doesn't need a lot of explanation either: the fastest song the Stones have ever recorded, it's an absolute stomper, with Mick Jagger sounding at his most deranged, howling and whooping like Jumpin' Jack Flash himself, semi-incomprehensible nonsense about 'Birmin'ham and Alabam' not givin' a dam' bubbling in frenzied delight from those famous lips.
The dance mood continues, albeit at a slightly less crazy pace, with Shake Your Hips, before slowing into a more laconic shuffle on Casino Boogie.
Three tremendous slow numbers follow: Tumbling Dice, Sweet Virginia and then the heart- breaking tribute to the guitar player, Torn and Frayed.
These songs are so famous that writing anything new about them is practically impossible. It is worth saying, though - even though this, too, has surely been observed many times before - that the programming of these opening seven songs is absolutely inspired; hitting the listener up with three super-quick blasts of dancey-blues-rock, before bringing them down through a reflective, sorrowful mood into tearjerking country balladry.
The emotional control at work here is concealed by the messy sound values and the overall down-and-dirty mood of the music; but it's deliberate, and it's genius.
We then move through a three song sequence about love, in all its hope and glory: the love of freedom on Sweet Black Angel; the pleading desire of Loving Cup; and - Keith's special moment not only on the whole album but in the whole ouevre and history of The Rolling Stones - Happy.
On we move from there, leaving behind the light of love and turning instead to the lingering darkness in the haunted cellar beneath the sun-spaced rooms of the great villa Nellcote.
First up, the mischievous-sounding, but pain-ridden Turd on the Run: "Well I lost a lot of love over you."
Then the tortured low point of the whole album, Ventilator Blues: "...your spine is cracking and your hands, they shake... When you're trapped and circled with no second chances, Your code of living is your gun in hand."
And finally the potential redemption of I Just Want To See His Face: surely the most (deliberately) indistinct vocal (lead and chorus) ever recorded by the band. "Sometimes you ain't got nobody and you want somebody to love. Then you don't want to walk and talk about Jesus, you just want to see his face."
And then we're out and up and running again, into a great wall of rhythmic blues rock that builds and builds towards the end of the album, moving at varying tempo through obvious rockers like Let It Loose and All Down The Line; the deep blues of Stop Breaking Down; the rock and roll prayer that is Shine A Light (whose title Scorsese took as his title when he turned his all seeing eyes upon the Stones); and, finally, the acknowledgement that something has been endured here: Soul Survivor.
EXILE ON MAIN ST (Tracks 1 – 17)
Sync Licensing: All songs written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, except “Shake Your Hips” (written by James Moore), “Ventilator Blues” (written by Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Mick Taylor), and “Stop Breaking Down” (written by Robert Leroy Johnson)
Published by Colgems-EMI Music Inc. except “Shake Your Hips” (Embassy Music Corp.), “Sweet Virginia” (ABKCO Music Inc.), “Ventilator Blues” (Colgems-EMI Music Inc. / Promopub B.V.) “All Down The Line” (ABKCO Music Inc.), “Stop Breaking Down” (Kobalt Music Publishing America Inc. o/b/o MPCA King of Spades) and “Shine A Light” (ABKCO Music Inc.)
Master Licensing: Promotone B.V. via Inaudible Productions
EXILE ON MAIN ST (DELUXE ALBUM) BONUS TRACKS (1-10)
Sync licensing: All songs written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards
Published by Promopub B.V. except “Loving Cup” (ABKCO Music Inc.) and “Soul Survivor” (Colgems-EMI Music Inc.)
Master licensing: Promotone B.V. via Inaudible Productions
Released: August 31, 1973
Goats Head Soup tends to lose out in comparison with its predecessors. Don't make that mistake. It may be less celebrated than Exile On Main St. and Sticky Fingers, but it's just as rewarding. Take a look below and give it a listen.
Following Exile was never going to be easy, just as following Sticky Fingers wasn't going to be easy, just as following Let It Bleed...
Great sequences of inspiration and achievement must come to an end, and that's what Goats Head Soup is all about. Coming Down Again, possibly the stand-out track on Goats Head Soup, describes the mood and the moment perfectly.
Keith Richards has rarely, if ever, given a better vocal performance, Nicky Hopkins' piano meets him halfway, while the guitars (Keith), Charlie's halting drums and Mick Taylor's bass lines provide an evocative, wistful cocoon of sound that supports and secures the prominent voice and keyboard lines perfectly.
A beautifully-weighted cameo sax solo from Bobby Keys half way through the song anticipates the emerging 'Philly' soul sound that would dominate popular music by the mid-seventies, before an extended riff on the main theme takes the song into fade-out.
The song, lyrically, is about jealousy and love (emotional and also physical, to an extent that, based on some of the words, the tune could easily have been named 'Going down again'); but the message is clear. The Rolling Stones have been up there, on one, as it were, peaking; but now they are on their way back to earth to join lesser mortals.
“...for all its differences, Soup sustains some significant continuities with its immediate predecessors. ” Rolling Stone Magazine, 1973
Coming Down Again crystallises the mood - and 100 Years Ago, another achingly wistful ballad, catches and reflects a lot of it too; but Goats Head Soup is not an exclusively melancholy album.
Before both of these tunes, the Goats Head Soup opens with Dancing With Mr D, a gutsy, mid- paced funk-rocker in which Mick Jagger opens up vocally, describing how he trips the light fantastic with Death, the Mr D of the title.
And check out Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker) which follows 100 Years Ago - an angry urban stomp of a tune about death in the city, brassy and bold as hell, an instant rock standard.
The most famous track on the album is undoubtedly Angie - another 'what was and might have been'-flavoured ballad which, when released as the lead single, went to number one in the US and has persisted as one of the Stones' more popular tunes.
So by the end of the first half of the record, there's a clear dichotomy between brash, balls-out rock 'n' roll; and sorrowful regret for things that have and haven't happened. It's a fair description of a mixed-up and possibly compromised band "sliding out of perhaps the greatest winning streak in rock history" (Stephen Erlewine).
The second half is a little less ambiguous, and possibly clearer-headed about what the band are doing in Jamaica: making a rock and roll record. It kicks off with Silver Train, an under- estimated shouter of a track, highlighted by Mick's borderline manic vocal performance (especially in the refrain 'I didn't even know her name'), Stu's hammering piano and some awesome slide guitar work.
Hide Your Love, Winter and Can You Hear The Music all recreate for some more of the 'downer' flavour of the first half of the album (although only the starkly beautiful Winter, a Mick Taylor highlight really goes for the heartstrings in the same way that Coming Down Again and 100 Years Ago do); but each also has an elusive touch of the genuine Stones vigour about them. By this point, however strong the sense of 'something gone forever' is and has been, the counterpoint of 'But we are still The Rolling Stones' is beginning to surface again.
As if to underline the point, Goats Head Soup ends with Star Star, universally but informally (i.e. not on the radio, where, strangely, it's not often played) known by its shouted refrain: "Starfucker starfucker starfucker star".
Goats Head Soup might begin with a sense of mourning for the end of a winning streak, but it ends with the same sense of irreverence, honesty and belief in the power of drums, guitars, pianos and voices doing rock and roll together to get you through anything.
Goats Head Soup
All songs written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards and published by Colgems-EMI Music Inc. except "Angie" published by ABKCO Music Inc.
Masters: Promotone B.V. via Inaudible Productions
Released October 16, 1974
The Rolling Stones' twelfth studio album saw Mick Taylor leave, and Ronnie Wood arrive, bringing with him the classic, blended guitar rock sound that has typified the band ever since.
The Rolling Stones are in no danger of being charged under the Trade Descriptions Act for It's Only Rock 'N' Roll. Whether they're attacking Motown R'n'B soul standard Ain't Too Proud To Beg - a ritual slaughter on the altar of Rock 'n' Roll - or dropping into wistful balladry as on Till The Next Goodbye, there's a more consistent rock sensibility at work on this album that leads each song consistently to the same place.
It's not a new sound, but this is the first album on which every track, in one way or another, has it; and as such, It's Only Rock 'N' Roll marks an end and a beginning.
There is still room for depth on the record. Bill Janovitz has pointed out the layered complexity of the lyrics on Till The Next Goodbye, while the most atypical number here, Time Waits For No One, although it takes flight on the back of a soaring, extended Mick Taylor solo, still ends up being pumped up and whipped through towards its conclusion by some typically driving R 'n' B drums and piano.
(The song is probably the album standout, and the solo is a masterpiece - ironically enough, since this was also the track - which didn't credit him as a composer - that convinced Mick Taylor that he didn't have time to wait for the band to recognise his contribution, prompting his recognition.)
The fact is, two out of three opening tracks entitled If You Can't Rock Me and It's Only Rock 'N' Roll (But I Like It) on an album called It's Only Rock 'N' Roll kind of set an agenda and expectations. After the abstractions of a record called Goats Head Soup (opening tracks Dancing With Mr D, 100 Years Ago and Coming Down Again), this is straightforward stuff: shitkicking, good time R’n’B/boogie-woogie dance music, with some spoonfuls of blues, country and gospel stirred in; the whole mixture coming in more audible than ever before due to better studio technology, particularly the guitar sound, showing how closely related to and influential upon the hard rock genre The Rolling Stones were, and still are at this point.
“Even a casual toss-off by the Rolling Stones during their peak years beats most bands' A-list material...” Bill Janowitz, AllMusic, 2010
There’s a pinch of reggae in this mix too. It's hard to keep an entirely straight face during Luxury; the combination of a reggae hook superimposed over the standard rock beat that dominates the album; the lyrics 'I'm working so hard, workin for de company'; the faux-Jamaican accent in which they are sung; not being conducive to po-faced rock criticism. It's a cracking song, mind, with wicked piano once again by the irrperessible genius called Nicky Hopkins - a great party record.
Short and Curlies also prompts a smile of agreeable, toe-tapping enjoyment. It's a thumping song, full of thumping beats and groovy licks, and completely devoid of menace. "You can't get away from it all - she's got you by the balls," cries Mick, "It's too bad, so sad!" - sounding anything but upset about it.
What these tracks have in common with Time Waits For No One, Till The Next Time We Say Goodbye, and everything else on It's Only Rock 'N' Roll, is that by the end of the song, no matter how they approach it, they all end up rocking out, with guitars and drums kicking the rhythm and the melody into the genre The Rolling Stones here successfully claim as their own.
The closest thing to exceptions are If You Really Want To Be My Friend: a sincere gospel-blues with some beautiful organ on which Nicky Hopkins sounds more like Billy Preston than Billy Preston; and Fingerprint File, an extended paranoid funk rock jam, where Billy Preston sounds pretty much like himself; but even on this latter number there's a sense of suppressed comedy in the hammed-up fade-out vocals: "Good night, sleep tight."
But the key songs that set the tone and standardise around a Rolling Stones that persists today are If You Can't Rock Me, the title track, and Dance Little Sister.
This record, timeless and still amazingly listenable, contemporary even, is an admission not of defeat, but of acceptance: that, after some extremely strange and very high adventures, The Rolling Stones have come home, found their feet after time in space, and are going to stick with what they know, love and do better than anyone else.
It's only rock and roll, but they like it, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.
1974 (Remastered 2009)
All songs written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, except "Ain't Too Proud To Beg" by Norman Whitfield and Eddie Holland
Master Licensing: Promotone B.V. via Inaudible Productions
Released April 23, 1976
The Rolling Stones' 13th studio album was released in 1976, after being recorded mainly at Musicland Studios in Germany, and in Rotterdam, Netherlands.
Black And Blue was originally launched in America with a huge billboard on Sunset Boulevard that showed the model Anita Russell bruised and bound by Mick Jagger, accompanied by the phrase, “I'm Black And Blue from the Rolling Stones — and I love it!”
Mick thought it was ‘a valid piece of commercial art, just a picture’ and Keith claimed that it was ‘funny’; but various feminist groups weren’t quite so sure and protested until it was removed.
Black And Blue, perhaps more than any other Rolling Stones to date, was all about the medium rather than the message. It’s a good example of the old ‘Dancing about Architecture’ problem - there is nothing the music says that can usefully be put into words. This record is a triumph of sensation over meaning.
Take Black And Blue’s final track, Crazy Mama. There is no point in looking for some hidden significance here – in fact, the idea is pleasantly amusing. Take a listen and you’ll hear why. How could there be anything more to this straightforward rocker than Charlie’s and Bill’s pots and pans groove, the wall of full-throated backing vocals and Woods’ and Richards’ paint-peeling guitar figures?
The songs do tell stories but that’s not what makes the songs work. Example: Hand Of Fate relishes the lines, “Yeah and I watched him die, yeah, watch out boy, I watched him die, woah!” before feeding back into a startling guitar solo far more eloquent than the pick ‘n’ mix outlaw song lyrics.
Then there’s Hey Negrita, a living jam session which transports you to Munich’s Musicland Studios and puts you flat on your back on a long leather sofa. “I need money,” Jagger sings, before offering, contemptuously, “my sweet ass…”
The record actually begins with a rigid disco groove. Hot Stuff goes for boiling dance floor pressure, settles instead for a head-nodding ultra-bump, with more of Preston’s stinging piano lines. And then, just when you think, ‘there’s no way this will break down into some clomping jazz-rock’, it does precisely that.
There are two great ballads on the album. Memory Motel (“She has a mind of her own and she uses it well...”) has Wayne Perkins and Harvey Mandel on guitars and seems to be revisiting some old Stones nostalgia. A great deal of it is about a variety of attractive women that have flitted in and out of the band’s world, but it succinctly nails the road life ennui, “On the seventh day,” Jagger sings, “my eyes were all aglaze, we'd been 10,000 miles, been in fifteen states...”
The other is, of course, the global megahit, Fool To Cry, which is powerfully corny but undeniably affecting too. It’s hard to take Jagger seriously when he sings about his woman, “on the poor part of town”, even if they do, “make lurve, so fine”, but as already noted, you have to get over trying to put any literal meaning on the things on Black And Blue if you’re going to enjoy any of them. Interestingly, Fool To Cry is a very 1980’s sounding track – that sort of spare, spacey, synthesized song that would come to dominate many of the world’s airwaves some five or more years later.
1976 (Remastered 2009)
Sync licensing: All songs written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards except "Cherry Oh Baby" written by Eric Donaldson.
Published by Colgems-EMI Music Inc.
Master licensing: Promotone B.V. via Inaudible Productions
Released June 9, 1978
The Rolling Stones' 14th studio album was recorded in Paris but written and mixed in disco- crazed New York, as the sounds of a harsh new genre called punk rock started to penetrate the public consciousness. The result of this melting pot is a remarkable, deeply enjoyable record that let the world know that The Stones were still very much alive and kicking it.
It’s 1977. Elvis is dead. Most of Lynyrd Skynyrd are dead. Marc Bolan is dead. Prog fans, hippies and rock and roll fans will all be dead shortly. They are being hunted down and spat upon and pogo’d to death by hordes of angry teenagers with green hair, safety pins in their faces and anarchy symbols carved into their foreheads.
Peace, love and understanding are over and violence is in. The world is in flames and the air screams and shrieks with sound of tuneless snarling sung by singers who can’t sing, and discordant guitars played by guitar players who can’t play - nowhere more so than at 254 West 54th Street, Manhattan, where Mick Jagger attends the opening night of legendary hard core punk club Studio 54...
So what next for The Rolling Stones in this maelstrom of musical meltdown and personnel pandemonium? Some Girls, that’s what – a tremendously fresh, energetic and accomplished response to the surrounding sound of cultures clashing and band members falling over. Some Girls is a lewd, rude, dance floor and concert hall classic, with its famous trademark tongue stuck firmly in its cheek, and wherever else it can reach.
“This album saved Rock and Roll. Period.” Rich Monte, Keno, 2000
It manages to incorporate the aggression and dynamism of the London/Paris new wave AND the dance-funk-sex-sleaze combo of the hedonist New York disco scene, without losing the core rhythm and blues heartbeat that is the soul of The Rolling Stones. It’s hard enough to describe: pause and consider what alchemy was required to do this.
When the whip comes down, the tough get going. This is groovy, wiry, tough, funny music. The very sound of it invokes images and sensations of grinding groins, gyrating hips, lip-licking innuendo and hot breathy pouting. Then you hear the words.
“I was gay in New York/I was a fag in LA” Mick shouts, while Keith and – especially – Ronnie Wood cook up a smoking guitar brew of almost unprecedentedly demonic energy.
“When the shit hits the fan/I’ll be sitting on the can”, adds Mick, helpfully filling out the deeply unsavoury picture of New York sub-culture on 53rd Street with the kind of detail that Lou Reed would have been proud to include on the contemporary Street Hassle.
Miss You is a straightforward shot at a disco track, themed around love and sex, and it hits the bullseye. Bill Wyman gets the plaudits here for a sultry bass line that it’s hard not to dance to even when you’re sitting down, likewise Charlie’s Philly-flavoured four-on-the-floor drums. The complex multi-part vocal is uncomplicatedly brilliant, lyrics telling another New York tale about loneliness, lust and Puerto Rican girls while a chorus of Ooh Yeahs and Uh Huhs echo the voices in the night. The guitars keep the beat and the harmonies groovy and do some talking of their own, but they take a back seat here, as Sugar Blue’s harmonica and Mel Collins’ saxophone light the song up like the Manhattan skyline. Exquisite, and apparently heartfelt.
This is not the case on the title track. Here, Mick turns the ‘taking the piss’ knob turned up to Volume 11, singing in tones so openly lascivious, and self-mocking - “I don’t have that much jaaaam” - that he can only be joking. On Lies (the clue’s in the title here) the whole band turn in a balls-out thrash of such impeccably splenetic vitriol that, as well as being prepared to believe that this could be The Clash, you almost sympathise with them for being innocent, wronged victims. Respectable piles on more of the same: fast, raw punk rock and roll truth in a fictional framework, a blistering solo apiece for Ronnie and Keith, a manic three chord rhythm turn by Mick, Bill and Charlie just about keeping the whole thing on the rails as it threatens to flip out over the high side on the corners.
On Before They Make Me Run, after an intro that is uncannily – or cannily – similar to the opening bars of Exile On Main Street/Rocks Off, we get another take on the truth of how things are for the band at this peculiar point in time, particularly how they are for Keith, who effectively gives us his version of ‘My Way’, Rolling Stones style:
“Well after all is said and done I didn't hide, had my fun and I will walk before they make me run”.
Beast Of Burden, the second single off Some Girls (after Miss You), packs a slower, more soulful punch, and is once again open to interpretation. Who’s the beast and what’s the burden? This is another song that’s been picked to bits and criticized for being anti-feminine, as well as covered multiple times; but really, it is simply as it sounds: a song – a proper one, with verses, refrains, riffs, harmonies and sweet melodies – about the man wanting to go to bed with the girl. The rest is, as it so often is the world of The Rolling Stones, all about everything that might or might not go with that seduction.
Shattered rounds the album out, and is a final extraordinary musical comment on the times and the music and the streets of New York in 1977 and 1978. Accompanied by an insistent, jangle- free subterranean guitar line, Mick raps – literally, raps - about his brains being splattered all over Manhattan, while Ronnie Wood in one of his finest moments as a Rolling Stone plays drums, bass, electric and pedal steel guitars. This is a marvelous, marvelously unusual song, that gets dance and punk and good old-fashioned rock and roll into the studio, kicks the crap out of all three – in a good way – and then makes them perform together as if their lives depend on it.
It’s arguable that The Rolling Stones' life as a successful popular band did depend on Some Girls working properly. The times were changing fast, and The Stones could so easily have been left behind at this point, consigned to their own dated genre, respected but no longer relevant. Instead, they floored it and got way ahead of the game, laughing at everyone and everything at the same time as throwing everything they could find into the sound, and distilling some of their best ever songs and performances and recordings out of the mix.
Some Girls would come to be recognized as a stone classic, a gutsy, passionate, deft, sexy, hugely energetic and clever record that manages to bridge the two shifting musical continents of disco and punk, while keeping it solid with the rock foundations on which it was built. It wasn’t obvious at all. Clearly it’s a hard buck to turn, gambling on the changing tastes of generations as yet unborn. Poor the critics who got it wrong.
The Rolling Stones' remastered 1978 classic, "Some Girls" Deluxe Edition, including 12 previously unreleased tracks with the original collection. The additional tracks are the perfect compliment to the multi-million-selling classic album. Released by Promotone B.V. on Universal Republic November 21, 2011.
Sync licensing: All songs written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, except “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)” written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, published by Jobete Music/EMI Music Inc.
Published by Colgems-EMI Music Inc.
Master licensing: Promotone B.V. via Inaudible Productions
Released June 20, 1980
1980 was a time of change. Expectations of The Rolling Stones' 15th studio album were mixed. The band had mastered the 60s, ruled supreme in the early '70s, and adapted to punk and disco. Could the sole rock 'n' roll survivors change again to succeed in a third decade?
Emotional Rescue attempted to pull off the same trick that The Stones' previous studio record, 1978's Some Girls did; but it wasn’t quite as easily done two years on.
Having said that, many of the actual songs on Emotional Rescue still sound remarkably good. Dance (Part 1) [Part 2 appeared, briefly, on the Sucking In The Seventies compilation] piles the brass stabs, the DJ-friendly breakdowns and the lolloping bass-lines on top of Jagger’s insistence we should all, “Get Up! Get up! Get out!” It’s music for the party in the gold-leaf strewn ante- chamber behind the VVVIP room at one of those smart new Ibizan nightclubs.
By complete contrast, Where The Boys Go is actually hilarious, a cockney rebellion, a mussed- up, cock-strutting, punky-rocky party piece that inhabits that unusual ground between David Bowie and Sham 68.
“All day Monday and all day Tuesday I played football,” Jagger sings, “there’s nothing on the telly...”
If that doesn’t convince you that this record isn’t worrying the frayed hem of genius, then just wait ‘til the female chorus cuts in.
￼The aforementioned Summer Romance is equally silly and wonderful, a hair-shaking, hip- swinging anthem to hanging out that owes more than a little to AC/DC.
“You'll be studying history and you'll be down the gym,” Jagger sings, “I'll be down the pub, probably playing pool and drinking...”
This is one of those times when you need to let it wash all over you and not try to second-guess what’s going on upstairs.
Meanwhile, Down In The Hole is an often over-looked classic and uncontroversially one of the album’s outstanding tracks. A proper blues jam laid down by proper bluesmen making the most of shiny 1980 production standards, Down In The Hole is a truly bleak and affecting piece that links the old and the new and is as relevant and absorbing today, in the age of the Exile re- release, as it was when first released in the first flush of the Post-Punk era.
“I don't think Emotional Rescue was as coherent a bunch of sessions as Some Girls. All the fast, punk things had gone by then. We were doing more of the dance thing.” Mick Jagger, 2002
The timeless quality of Down In The Hole stands in sharp contrast to Send It To Me, a misjudged pop reggae number that, in all honesty, has not borne the passing of time entirely kindly. Filler, for sure; but worth a listen as a period piece, and a reminder that for all the marvelous musical highways The Rolling Stones have rolled down in style, there have been some fruitless diversions on to suburban ring roads too. Nobody makes it this far without having made a few mistakes along the way.
Much better is Let Me Go, a deceptively simple Buddy Holly-style rocker, which jangles and rumbles along with fantastic arm-around-the-shoulders harmonies and the unforgettable line, “Maybe I could become a playboy, hang around in gay bars, move to the west side of town...”
The title track is a crisply cut slice of spectral disco, held together by a disciplined and quietly impressive rhythm section, and in which Jagger goes for the full Curtis Mayfield falsetto, pitching it high and sleazy over a stripped bare funk backing track. Frankly, it sounds a little like Barry Gibb did in 1978 and Prince would do in 1984; although neither of those two ever casually dropped into such richly lascivious comedy voiceover mode in the fade-out in quite the way Jagger does here, at 4.35, ‘riding across the desert on a fine Arab charger’. Awesome.
Strangely, one Rolling Stones website voted Indian Girl as among their worst ever tracks, but, musically, this is actually sort of beautiful. Lyrically, the tale of violence and insurrection in South America is a little less easy to deal with:
“There's nothing left in the larder,” Jagger sings, “Last piece of meat was eaten by the soldiers that raped her”; but the fact remains this is a great ballad that rides an open-faced, steady-rolling groove with the assurance that comes with almost twenty years of experience.
She’s So Cold is also touched by whatever magic it is that makes The Rolling Stones and Jagger/ Richards different to and generally better than everyone else as songwriters and musicians. A classic, off-the-cuff pop song, pure and simple, in which Mick’s expressive vocal deals with a favorite theme – sexual frustration and the drawbacks of chicks not ‘putting out’ – while Keith and Woody, especially from 1.55 onwards, weave in the expert laconic country blues licks that make all the difference.
Keith’s All About You is a little beauty too, with a flash of Bowie’s Lady Grinning Soul about it – a late-night light-up of a song.
“I’m so sick and tired of hanging around with dogs like you,” Keith sings, “you’re the first to get laid, always the last bitch to get paid...”
Of course, he finishes by saying that, despite all that, he’s still in love.
And so, emotion duly rescued, the song and album end: a powerful but accessible and remarkably light-hearted statement of intent as well as achievement from a band who, in 1980, were assuming elder statesman status; but who still had at least two thirds of their career and maybe more still ahead of them. Give this a listen and you understand why.
1980 (Remastered 2009)
Sync licensing: All songs written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards except "Dance (Pt. 1)" written by Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Ron Wood).
Published by Colgems-EMI Music Inc. except "Dance (Pt. 1)" published by Colgems-EMI Music Inc./Screen Gems-EMI Music Inc.
Master licensing: Promotone B.V. via Inaudible Productions
Released August 24, 1981
The Rolling Stones' 16th studio album, released in 1981, was composed from old outtakes and unfinished tracks from the 1970s, with new vocals and overdubs. A number one hit in the US at the time, Tattoo You still sounds incredibly fresh 30 years later.
In the summer of 1981, The Rolling Stones were in their 20th year together as a band. These days that’s really nothing special. Nearly everyone stays together, if they’re any good, and sell enough records and concert tickets and merchandise to make it worthwhile - albeit with a few carefully-staged break-ups to maintain some interest.
But in the early 80s, still being together after nearly two decades was a very, very big deal. No one outside of the odd gospel group or some fairly awful cabaret acts had ever managed it. And yet, here was another record by The Stones – just 13 months after the excursion into funk-rock that was Emotional Rescue – and the band were sounding very strong, invigorated and overflowing with fresh potential.
This new lease of life was not arrived at in the most straightforward way. But then again, this is The Rolling Stones – who said anything about straightforward?
“They were just bits, or they were from early takes. And then I put them all together in an incredibly cheap fashion. I recorded in this place in Paris in the middle of winter. ” Mick Jagger, 1995
At the time Mick and Keith were going through an uncommunicative stage. (“We'd stopped writing new stuff,” is how Keith described it, although he later went on to add, “It wasn't that we'd stopped writing new stuff, it was a question of time.”) And they needed to get an album out. To try and solve the problem, producer Chris Kimsey spent a few months going through the band’s archive, pulling tracks and ideas from recordings made up to nine years previously.
There was solid gold in the vaults. The sly, shifting menace of Tops, a song with a great, top-of- the-vocal range chorus, dates from a Jamaican Goats Head Soup session with Jimmy Miller producing in November 1972. That’s Mick Taylor on guitar, not Ronnie Wood.
The same sessions also produced Waiting On A Friend, which went on to be a Top 20 hit in America. Mick added the new lyrics – he described them as being, “very gentle and loving, about friendships in the band” – while an accompanying video made with Peter Tosh was hugely popular on MTV, which, like Tattoo You, was ‘released (launched) in August 1981.
Elsewhere on the record, the brilliantly funky Slave – which features jazz legend Sonny Rollins on saxophone and, rumour has it, The Who’s Pete Townshend on backing vocals – was recorded just a few months before the album’s release. What both tracks show – what the whole album shows – was that here was a band so prolific, with such a volcano of ideas, that a whole new record could easily be put together almost entirely from old instrumental pieces with new lyrics and melodies. Then, of course, this being The Rolling Stones, that record would go to Number One in America and kick off enormously successful US and European tours.
The new song that lit the fire under those tours, the piece that sent the message out that this band were as hot as ever, was Start Me Up, a completely iconic slice of Rolling Stones songwriting with a riff as memorable and thrilling as that on Tumbling Dice or Satisfaction. Start Me Up began life in 1975 as a track called Never Stop. Recorded, recorded during the same Munich sessions that produced a lot of the Black And Blue material. Incredible as it seems, this early ‘80s classic, a kind of aural poster child for the first generation of MTV, actually came from a mid-70s jam session, and lay around gathering dust for half a decade before it was released. And 30 odd years later it sounds as fresh and startlingly dynamic as it ever did.
Hang Fire, a brash, punky blast of fury, comes from a long French session that took place over a few months at the beginning of 1978. Heaven, by comparison, is a floating, horizontally relaxed track - a fantastically relaxed, almost introverted piece of work, and the closest the Stones ever come to full-on experimental ambience.
But don’t worry, because this is The Rolling Stones, and Keith Richards’ Little T&A (taken from the Emotional Rescue sessions) is about as far from full-on experimental ambience as it’s possible to get. “The bitch keeps bitching,” he sings, “snitcher keeps snitching, dropping names and telephone numbers and all...” over a punchy, slash-and-burn track that was a direct influence on Primal Scream’s Rocks. And just in case you thought the band didn’t want to do R ‘n’ B anymore, Black Limousine appears sounding like the greatest bar band in the world have just tumbled into the room. The song was a big live favourite for years to come, as was one of the album’s all-new songs, Neighbours.
Despite being pulled from a variety of different times and places, Tattoo You is a both truly great mid-period Stones album - an early 80s classic – and an all-time highlight in a career that, astonishingly, wasn’t yet half-complete.
All songs written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards and published by Colgems-EMI Music Inc., except "Black Limousine" and "No Use In Crying" written by Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Ron Wood, published by Colgems-EMI Music Inc./Screen Gems-EMI Music Inc.
Master licensing: Promotone B.V. via Inaudible Productions
Undercover is the 17th British and 19th American studio album by The Rolling Stones, released in 1983. After their preceding studio album, Tattoo You, which was mostly patched together from a selection of outtakes, Undercover was their first release of all new recordings in the 1980s.
Released March 24, 1986
The Rolling Stones' 18th studio album was released in 1986, having been recorded under the toughest possible circumstances. It is astonishing that it was ever made. Less astonishingly, it's a superbly accomplished set of songs that once again proved the Stones' critics wrong.
Few albums get made under such difficult circumstances as those that surrounded Dirty Work.
For a start, after the release of She’s The Boss, Mick’s first solo album less than a year previously, Mick and Keith’s relationship was under severe pressure. Mick would go on to play a solo set at Live Aid while Keith and Ronnie played with Bob Dylan. There was a major, major division between the two main components in the musical and emotional engine of the band.
For another thing, both Charlie and Ronnie were dealing with personal problems, “a mid-life thing” for Charlie and longer-term behavioural issues for Ronnie, both involving chemical dependencies, meaning that health and reliability problems added to the strain.
Most traumatic of all, and a genuine tragedy, in the December before the record’s release, founder member of The Rolling Stones Ian Stewart had died of a heart attack. He was just 47 years old. His sudden death hit all of the band hard and took away something that could not be replaced.
The sessions – held in Paris between April 8 and June 17 – were often split into two camps, with Jagger recording his vocals after the rest of the band had completed their parts. Sessions would officially begin around 9pm, but Keith and Ronnie sometimes wouldn’t show until 9am and then they’d want to play all day and all night. Producer Steve Lilywhite said at the time, “I don’t want to say too much about it. It’s Keith’s album to a great extent. He wrote the songs because of Mick’s solo commitments.”
A proposed tour – which contemporary accounts suggest would have made the band somewhere north of $40m – never materialized. Jagger sent each of the band an identical telex informing them he would not be touring. There was just one show played at the 100 Club for friends and family. Charlie and Ronnie needed time to straighten out. Mick and Keith needed to be back in contact. Bill just retreated to the south of France, only to pop up on The Benny Hill Show every now and again.
One Hit (To The Body) is a propulsive rocker cut through with some powerful backing vocals. The band might have been in crisis, but the mid-section of the song, where it breaks down to Mick’s vocal, Keith’s guitar and Charlie’s drums, still rattles with emotion - the feeling is still so obviously there.
Fight took things even further – the big extended chords and sharp, needly drums are entirely 80s, but there is a fire underneath it, and it’s an angry, buzzing wasp of a song.
“Wanna do it in the broad daylight,” Mick sings, “I’m the truck, I’m the suicide...” This is not a group of men sinking into easy middle-age.
Hold Back is another fully-committed, throat-tearing roar of a song, Mick sounding mad and furious and right in the groove while the band hammers it down tight.
Keith shares Too Rude’s lead vocal with Jimmy Cliff and the track turns into a sweetly deep, dubbed-out treat, while Mick’s Winning Ugly is a shuffling, airy, synth-led piece that rolls forward on a relentless Wyman bassline. “I was brought up to cheat,” he sings, “as long as the referee isn’t looking...”
Back To Zero was co-written with keyboard player Chuck Leavell just a few days after Stu had told him the best thing he could do with this infernal machine was to, “throw it in the ocean...” The title track is a brutally simple rocker, an example of a band who can pull the goods out of the bag when they have to. Ronnie and Keith’s guitars trade sparkling, jangling lines while Charlie leans hard into his kit. Had It With You is a computerized Delta-blues, a band-in-a-box vibe with a pulsing harmonica solo and some intentionally hilarious Beatles-like harmonies from a multi- tracked Jagger.
Then there’s Sleep Tonight, a deliciously blue country-rocker sung by Keith and Tom Waits that rides a beautiful circular piano line, and is hung on the support of a rich gospel-hued backing vocal. It’s a wonderfully potent song.
This then is not the album you think it is, much less the one you’ve been told it is.
“Yes the relationships were terrible,” Mick said some time later. “Health was diabolical. The rest of the Stones couldn’t walk across the Champs Elysees, much less go on the road...”
And yet, for all that, they still pulled it together, still kept moving, still added another chapter to the story. As they entered their 25th year the Rolling Stones were still a mighty, mighty force.
1986 (remastered 2009)
All songs written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, except "One Hit To The Body" written by Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Ron Wood, "Fight" written by Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Ron Wood, "Harlem Shuffle" written by Bob Relf and Earl Nelson and published by Bug Music/Keyman Music/Rel-Nel Music, "Too Rude" written by Lindon Roberts, "Back To Zero" written by Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Charles Leavell, "Dirty Work" written by Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Ron Wood, and "Had It With You" written by Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Ron Wood.
Published by Promopub B.V.
Master licensing: Promotone B.V. via Inaudible Productions
Released August 29, 1989
The 19th studio album by The Rolling Stones was released in 1989. Recorded in Montserrat and London in spring, before launching into the band's biggest ever world tour to date, Steel Wheels is the closest the band ever came to a comeback album.
The Rolling Stones have never made a comeback album because they’ve never broken up. They’ve been written off many times, and some records have fared better with fans and critics than others; but they’ve never formally called it quits and agreed to go their separate ways.
On the contrary... And what else do we expect? They are The Rolling Stones, the world’s most contrary rock ‘n’ roll band... On the contrary, in the mid-eighties, when the creative unity of the band stood in greatest peril, they disagreed and went their separate ways instead, in high dudgeon and ripped to the very tits on the purest umbrage too, if the intra-band sniping in the press of the era was anything to go by.
It was a hard time, no doubt, rocks to the left of them and hard places to the right. Mick announced that he was feeling stultified by The Rolling Stones, refused to tour Dirty Work, toured solo instead, featuring Stones songs in his set, and put out She’s the Boss and Primitive Cool. Keith retaliated with Talk Is Cheap. They blamed each other bitterly and publicly, seeming at times – Mick in particular – to be admitting that it was all over. The end of The Rolling Stones seemed inevitable, and imminent.
Then something happened, only they know what, to make them both, along with Charlie, Bill and Ronnie (who’d watched things fall apart glumly, although never entirely resigned to a post- Stones world), start working together again. The result was Steel Wheels, which is as close to a comeback album as they’ve ever made – with the possible exception of Beggars Banquet, depending on how you feel about Their Satanic Majesties Request.
It’s fair to say that Steel Wheels rocks. It rolls a bit too, it’s true, and there are a couple of tracks where it comes off the rails; but by any standards it’s a big old locomotive of an album. It's not the most streamlined or beautifully designed musical vehicle they've ever built. But The Rolling Stones, even on occasionally ring-rusty comeback form are still the equal of almost any other band at their peak; and on Steel Wheels there are some moments of brilliance that are and will only ever be available to the bands who comprised genius to begin with, have played, toured, written and recorded together for 26 years, and have recently endured a two-year communal Near Death Experience.
“Not only did The Rolling Stones come out of the traps [with Steel Wheels] considerably faster than the current wave of mouthy young turks, but they have stayed the course in a way that surely defies belief. I wonder where Guns 'N' Roses will be 26 years after their first hit or what The Stone Roses will be good for come the year 2015.” David Sinclair, Q, 1989
First the worst? Opener Sad Sad Sad is probably one of the lesser songs on Steel Wheels. It’s not so much that there’s anything wrong with it, exactly, but there’s not a lot of originality here either. It’s a predictable, four-square, safety play, The Rolling Stones (80s version) doing a damn fine job of sounding exactly like The Rolling Stones (80s version). Mixed Emotions, the second track and the first single off Steel Wheels pulls off the same trick, albeit with more intense lyrics – commentators and critics have made much of the possible commentary the song offers on Mick and Keith’s relationship. “Let’s bury the hatchet, wipe out the past” certainly sounds like it; although “...get off the fence/ It's creasing your butt” demonstrates that the Stones’ robust sense of humour and perspective on human relationships is still functioning perfectly.
Hearts For Sale ratchets things up a bit in the ‘The Stones play The Stones’ selection on Steel Wheels. A splendid blend of chugging, dirty, rolling guitar riffs (including a twanging solo turn from Ronnie and the intro theme itself, courtesy of Mick), some jaunty, laconic work from the rhythm kings, Charlie and Bill, and a growling vocal from Jagger, all combine here to give the track something a little extra, even if the singer does sound more as if he’s looking for a fight than love. Single number two from the record, Rock And A Hard Place, another piece of straightforwardly radio-oriented AOR , is lifted from the ordinary by The Kick Horns’ show time brass work, a genuinely danceable Wyman bass line and the VERY 80s arrangement and production mix. The guitars wail and clash, Mick adds the usual drama and urgency on lead vocal, but only problem is that as backing vocalists Bernard Fowler, Lisa Fischer and Sarah Dash whoop out the chorus in the extended play out, it could almost be anyone.
Can’t Be Seen suffers a bit from the same problem – this record is not only very much a Rolling Stones record, it’s also very much a late eighties record. Wanting to make an original but popular album, while having access to exactly the same influences and technology as everyone else, means that genericism does creep in too easily sometimes. On the other hand, Terrifying manages to overcome the problem easily enough. Check it out: it could be an outtake from a contemporary The The album; but closer inspection reveals that this is actually an early version of X-Press 2/David Byrne’s 2002 dance hit Lazy, thirteen years before it was released. And what’s more, it’s better.
Other highlights including the pacy and menacing rocker, Hold On To Your Hat, and the disarmingly sweet mid-tempo singalong/strumalong love song Blinded By Love, with lovely, mellow folk overtones courtesy of Wood/Jagger/Richards accoustic guitars, and Matt Clifford’s harmonium, and Phil Beer’s fiddle and mandolin. Almost Hear You Sigh is another slower love song, all soul this one, and could almost be a George Michael track. Keith’s solo work on his 1956 Velasquez ‘Guts’ is stunning here.
Weirdest of all, on this strange eventful sonic history of how the band that nearly fell apart came back together, is an astonishing piece of music called Continental Drift. Featuring the Master Musicians of Jajouka (the connection with Brian Jones adds a level of poignancy), it’s best described as World Music; but that doesn’t begin to do it justice. Full of bazaar noises, hooky licks and riffs both vocal and instrumental, to the constant refrain “Love comes at the speed of light, the song grows and builds through the incorporation of layered chants, incredible Jajoukan drum rhythms, echoing strings, and a driving, accelerating beat; until it ends up sounding very much like the accompaniment to a midnight chase through the medina in the old town at Fez: completely out of control if you don’t know where you’re going, and you just have to trust those who do to get you where you’re going safely. Which they do, of course: these men are master musicians, and so are their Moroccan guests.
Steel Wheels needed to get the Rolling Stones from the mid-decade sidings of Dirty Work and near dissolution, to 1990 and another decade in which to reinvent themselves. The ride is not always as exhilarating as it might be. Slipping Away, the album’s last track, is frankly sub- standard, and shows a rare moment of not being contemporary but actually out of touch: “All I want is ecstasy/But I’m not getting much” sings Keith in the middle of The Second Summer of Love, while, in fields all over England, the kids were getting enough of the stuff and dancing to a very different beat indeed.
But Steel Wheels did get them there, and did indeed prove to be the vehicle that provoked or enabled their next big shape change. The Steel Wheels tour, which itself metamorphosed halfway through to become the Urban Jungle tour, was the first of the really big tours for which the contemporary Rolling Stones are now most admired. It’s hard to come back from near death and some very public, more or less unforgivable insults with anything like integrity; but a disregard for the normal standards and a devotion to making music together is what has always kept them going, and never more so than on Steel Wheels.
1989 (remastered 2009)
Sync licensing: All songs written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards except "Almost Hear You Sigh" written by Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Stephen Jordan
Published by Promopub B.V. licensing via Inaudible Productions
Master licensing: Promotone B.V. via Inaudible Productions
Released: July 11, 1994
The ﬁrst Rolling Stones album without Bill Wyman on bass, and with Don Was producing could have disappointed. Instead, it won the Grammy for Best Rock Album.
Voodoo Lounge came at an awkward moment for The Rolling Stones. The 1980s had seen the band lose some cohesion and direction, in the opinion of many of their fans; and doubts were beginning to be expressed about the viability of the band.
Personal side projects had appeared to take precedence over the work of any, or most of the band members. Rumours abounded about Mick and Keith's working relationship.
The undoubted commercial triumph of 1989's Steel Wheels, both the tour and the album (including European leg, Urban Jungle), had provided a convincing rebuttal to these rumours.
Then, in 1992, Bill Wyman announced his retirement from the band, and the question of whether The Rolling Stones could continue without him was inevitably raised once again.
Voodoo Lounge was The Rolling Stones' answer to that question: an emphatic 'Yes, for as long as we want to'.
The fact is that although Bill's departure did mean the end of a 30-year-era, Voodoo Lounge represented a new start, for a new band with a new producer. True, the four band members had
been playing together for twenty years - three of them for over thirty - but the loss of the bass player could have spelled disaster and a new producer, especially for a successful group with
known habits and references, is always a risk.
“I was ready to kill Bill Wyman. How dare you? NOBODY leaves. Especially from that end of the band. I kind of appreciated Bill in a way, later. He was being true to himself. He really didn't want to do it. And it was a chance to put a new engine in down there.” Keith Richards, 1994The situation was seized by The Rolling Stones as an opportunity, and the results are audibly inspired, authentic and widely admired.
(The traditional wisdom, then and now, is that Voodoo Lounge is the best Stones record since Some Girls - itself 'the last great Stones album' since...well, the one before that ;-)
The album was massively popular by any standards, going double platinum in the US and spawning several UK hit singles, although US single success proved elusive. (The thirteen month, six continent tour to promote the album grossed $320,000,000, the band's second most successful tour ever, behind A Bigger Bang.)
The straight-rockin' opener on Voodoo Lounge, Love Is Strong, gets plenty of plaudits for coming in like the band mean to go on, harking back to 'the golden age'. And it's true, that this sounds exactly like The Rolling Stones used to sound on, for example, It's Only Rock 'n' Roll, after they'd perfected their modern rock sound.
And bang on cue, You Got Me Rockin' doesn't pretend to be anything other than it is either - the clue's in the title, the music's in the message, and this is also unmistakably the sound of the Stones, Bill or no Bill.
When Mick shrieks "I was a hooker losing my looks", in addition to grinning at the inherent and intended dash of comic effect, you just know you're with the band who brought you Torn and Frayed, for example.
Growing up involves getting older, even if it doesn't mean slowing down. The similarly upbeat, three-minute, "I want sex"-symphony Sparks Will Fly - notwithstanding the wholly unexpected and atypical lapse in the into outright lewd obscenity by an obviously revved-up Mick Jagger - is another favourite.
(To be fair to the greater community of Stones fans, discussion of this one does get a bit 'Marmite' on the message boards - those who can't hear the ludicrous humour of this straightforwardly randy rock 'n' roll rant tend to come down hard on it for being crass.
Crossing the borders and boundaries of public decency? Yes, it's a risk The Rolling Stones have always been prepared to run. As Mick said of Beggars Banquet 25 years earlier, "Some people ﬁnd some of the lyrics rude. Some of the lyrics ARE rude, actually."
In slower mode, heartbreak confessional The Worst and the harpsichord ballad, New Faces, are less controversially admired. A sweet, sad, plaintive lament to the sorrows of past youth and love lost, a resemblance (and possibly favour owed) to Ruby Tuesday has been suggested.
Moon Is Up steps the pace up a notch but stays reﬂective of lyric. However, surprisingly exotic instrumentation - some wicked pedal steel from Ronnie, Mick on castanets and harp, Heartbreakers keyboardist Benmont Tench on accordion and Charlie playing drums on a trash can in the stairwell- makes this sweet, simple, straightforward tune an unexpected highlight.Out
Of Tears harks back to the great ballads of the golden age. Very much Mick's song, it's a classic sad ballad, perfectly suited to his voice, Chuck Leavell's piano and the triple guitars of Keith (electric), Mick (acoustic) and Ronnie (electric slide).
The topical, wholly emotional Blinded By Rainbows and also Mick's song stands out on Voodoo Lounge for various reasons. With words full of torn ﬂesh and Semtex explosions, it's unique on an album that is otherwise, by Mick's admission, 'all about girls, cars and immaturity'. A slowmoving country rock tune for the nineties, Blinded By Rainbows sits comfortably enough on Voodoo Lounge in musical terms, but more like 'a tarantula on angel food', in Chandler's phrase, when it comes to its lyrical content.
Voodoo Lounge is long and consistent album, which can make it sound 'samey' - in the same way that any collection of music assembled for similarities as well as contrasts can sound unvarying at ﬁrst listen. But songs like Suck On The Jugular - now that's what you call a groove - which is a song best summarised by its chorus line "Let's get together and rock all night/Let's get together and fuck all night"; and revenge tune Mean Disposition start standing out once you've recognised them.
Voodoo Lounge is never going to be as accessible as the Stones albums that made it possible in the late '60s and early '70s, because it's a direct descendant of them - like trying to be your own grandfather - not just like him, but to be him. But in terms of that style of black and white blues that the Stones helped to invent, Voodoo Lounge has claims to classic status.
Released September 29, 1997
The Rolling Stones' 21st studio album was recorded in Los Angeles in the first half of 1997. Here it's clear that the band and their stellar production team had taken contemporary musical developments on board and decided the best, most positive thing to do would be to get stuck right in.
The Rolling Stones get things done. Their work ethic is as remarkable as it is admirable. They could have long, long, long since decided not to bother making any new music – plenty of others have – and simply tour off the considerable fumes provided by their incredible back catalogue. But they don’t.
“We ain’t the Beach Boys,” Keith said in late 1997. “We’re not some nostalgia band...”
Clearly not. Bridges To Babylon was The Rolling Stones' last album of the 90’, and it would be their last record for eight years. If you can say such a thing, it is a Mick record, where Voodoo Lounge was a Keith record. Bridges To Babylon took a look at the musical world that surrounded it and decided to wade straight in.
With overall production duties falling once again to Don Was, the album also featured contributions from specialist production team the Dust Brothers – famous for their work with the Beastie Boys and Beck – and Danny Saber, whose work with Madonna, Bowie and U2 is widely admired. Consequently, there were, for the first and probably last time, samples and drum loops dropped into Rolling Stones’ tracks.
“I'd put my nose in one room and see Mick working on something with Danny Saber, and then I'd do something with Don Was or going to see what the Dust Brothers were doing in the other. This was quite good fun really.” Ronnie Wood, 1997
“It’s full of fance,” Keith said at the album’s launch. “That’s funk and dance put together.” Ronnie compared it to Beggars Banquet or Let It Bleed, which was fighting talk, but surely from the heart.
The album began life in January 1997 with the trio of Mick, Keith and Charlie demoing material in New York. In March the band – plus the drop-in services of a fairly large retinue of other musicians, including Jim Keltner, Me’Shell Ndegeocello and jazzman Wayne Shorter – moved to Los Angeles where they began the official recording. Early tracks like I’m Cured and a much- updated Young Love (the Ric Cartey and Carole Joyner song the band first recorded in 1964) came to nothing, but a rich seam of others began to come on stream.
The album opens in a typically Stonesy ballsy way with Flip The Switch, a ode to getting out on the road and chasing up some fun that features the timeless couplet, “I had the turkey, and the stuffing too, I even saved a little bit for you...”
Keith described it as being, “the fastest track the Stones have ever cut. It even beats Rip This Joint...”
It was soon right up near the front of the live set.
Anybody Seen My Baby? featured a sample of rapper Biz Markie, a synthesized bass-line and a delicately picked guitar figure from Keith, it is a markedly 90s pop record and there’s nothing wrong with that. kd lang gets a writing credit due to the chorus’s unintentional similarity to her own Constant Craving, which, bearing in mind what a popular melody that is, might have been unnecessary.
Low Down begins with a classic Keith and Ronnie tussle while Mick’a vocal is one of the best on the record, seriously controlled aggression all backed up with a cool soul choir. Mick’s lyrics for the single Saint Of Me considered the people through history who had converted to Christianity – people like St Paul and St Augustine – while admitting that he himself would never be a saint.
And you’re right, that guitar doesn’t sound like Keith. It is, in fact, session legend Waddy Wachtel appearing in his place.
Sugarhill Gang and Living Colour bass-player Doug Wimbish played most of the bass-lines on the record, but he turned down the opportunity to join the band for the huge world tour that followed the LP’s release. Perhaps if he had known that Keith was taking a mobile studio-cum-adults-only-playpen called The Baboon Cage on the road with him, Wimbish might have changed his mind.
Keith sings three numbers. How Can I Stop is a gorgeous ballad sung in a deliciously cut-glass manner that Keith compared to lush old soul like Chi-Lites and Stylistics, You Don’t Have To Mean It has a rock-steady shuffle that cooks down into some suitably pie-eyed dub while Thief In The Night is a hymn-like, soft bluesy moan of a song undercut with a backwards hi-hat.
Rather more aggressive is the funky strut of Mick’s Gunface which tells the story of a man intent on killing his girlfriend’s lover, while Too Tight is a plea for a little more room on the relationship leash. On one of the record’s finest put-down verses he sings,
“Don’t try to reel me in, with all those charm school looks, I’ve seen it all a thousand times, I sung that song, I wrote that fucking book...”
Might As Well Get Juiced is the most overtly electronic track on the record, a rumbling country blues run through the Dust Brothers’ myriad sound FX boxes and stretched across a few creaking analogue synthesizers. Keith said he thought they “ruined” the song, which seems a bit harsh, it certainly has more than a bit of heady charm to it.
But then, as Mick said at the time, “Keith doesn’t get along with people very often. In fact, he takes a stand against people...”
The album arrived to mixed reviews, but the band powered into 1998 with the Bridges To Babylon tour. It grossed $250m from 108 shows in 74 cities. In case anyone was wondering, there really was a lot of life left in this band.
1997 (remastered 2009)
Sync licensing: All songs written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, except "Thief In The Night" written by Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Pierre De Beauport and published by Promopub B.V. and Pubpromo Music, "Anybody Seen My Baby?" written by Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, K.D. Lang, Benjamin Mink and published by Promopub B.V., Bumstead Productions U.S., Inc., Polygram International Publishing, Inc. and Zavion Enterprises, Inc.
Published by Promopub B.V.
Master licensing: Promopub B.V. via Inaudible Productions
Released September 5, 2005
A Bigger Bang was born out of desperation, the reaction of Keith Richards and Mick Jagger to the fact that their friend and colleague of forty something years, Charlie Watts, was dangerously ill and might not make it through.
Their response to that possibility was to sit down and write, in France, and then to start recording, in the same location. The songs came easily and then the music started to come too. Whether it came easily or it was hard work, they certainly got the job done.
It doesn't take a lot of hard listening for this to click, and the listener clocks easily that A Bigger Bang is proper, old-fashioned, black-and-white, blues-based rock and roll, just like, The Rolling Stones used to play when they were inventing it, back in the '60s and 70's.
“I like hit albums, hit singles, hit anything’s. You just want people to hear what you've done. We're pretty excited about this record, we think there's really good stuff on it.” Mick Jagger, 2005.
From Mick's raucous, cock-of-the-walk strut on Rough Justice, through to Keith's been-there-done-that vocal on Infamy, The Stones are timeless here, doing what they've always done, audibly enjoying themselves as they do it, and also noticeably carrying a little less 'weight' than of late.
Don Was is at the helm again, for his third outing in this most heavyweight of desk jobs (he shared duties on Bridges To Babylon). But the lightweight way in which the record got made - bit by bit, at Mick's house, with a smaller than usual party of collaborators (all the usual suspects, but no unusual ones, and no newcomers) - is reflected in sparse values with little in the way of sound effect or fills for effect.
The songs are largely straightforward, some better than others, the worst of them respectable danceable/toe-tappable genre pieces. The best - Rough Justice, Rain Fall Down, She Saw Me Coming, This Place Is Empty, Look What The Cat Dragged In - are rock solid rock classics of the kind The Stones have always written, recorded and played.
2005 (Remastered 2009)
Sync licensing: All songs written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards
Promopub B.V. via Inaudible Productions
Master licensing: Promotone B.V. via Inaudible Productions