Just as it is the accepted wisdom that the four albums from 1968-1972 were the best of The Rolling Stones, it seems to be similarly accepted that 1973 is where it all started to go downhill. That would be to do some of the material recorded between 1973 and 1981 a disservice. Yes, none of these albums are classics in the way their predecessors were, but the material on them should not be dismissed out of hand.
The albums covered are:-
Goats Head Soup (1973)
It's Only Rock 'n' Roll (1974)
Black And Blue (1976)
Some Girls (1978)
Emotional Rescue (1980)
and Tattoo You (1981)
Scroll down to read the reviews chronologically.
GOATS HEAD SOUP (1973)
1. Dancing With Mr. D
2. 100 Years Ago
3. Coming Down Again
4. Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)
6. Silver Train
7. Hide Your Love
9. Can You Hear The Music
10. Star Fucker
This somewhat enigmatic, beguiling album has always suffered as the follow-up to the towering Exile On Main Street, Goat’s Head Soup has never been given too much credit. It has been criticised for being lazy and for having a muffled, muddy sound (even more so than Exile). The latter is undoubtedly true, and no amount of remastering will make any difference to that. However, it is not really a ”lazy” product. “Louche” is maybe a far better description.
Decadence and excess, drug abuse and jet-setting rock star celebrity glamour was what The Stones were all about now. This album was a huge bridging point in the public’s perception of them, and indeed of the dynamics between themselves, particularly Jagger and Richards, as they now moved in clearly defined different directions. Richards despised Jagger’s swanning around and Jagger had no time for Richards’ voluminous drug consumption. That said, the dirtiest, most decadent songs on the album are obviously Jagger’s and the tenderest ones Richards’. This dichotomy is no better exemplified than on Dancing With Mr. D and Angie.
There is some great stuff on here though - menacing, mysterious and moody. The afore-mentioned devilish and beautifully insistent Dancing With Mr D, the sublime Angie and the semi-funky and vibrant urban menace of Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker) were stand outs, and remain so to this day. I can never get enough of Mr D or Angie.
However, there are also unsung heroes too - the bluesy, dirty, insistent Exile-style groove of Hide Your Love, one of my favourites; the Cat Stevens-esque piano of the tender ballad Coming Down Again, with its saucy "stuck my tongue in someone else's pie" lyric and gritty saxophone solo and the doleful, bluesy grind of 100 Years Ago with its impressive funky organ/guitar extended instrumental ending. The energetic blues rock of Silver Train is a bit under-cooked, sound-wise, but there is no arguing concerning its vigour. It is as lively as anything else from the Stones in the period with some wonderful guitar breaks from Mick Taylor. Winter again suffers from a few sound problems - a slight crackliness during the opening guitar, but it is a beautiful slow rock ballad nevertheless. If it didn't sound at times as if it had been recorded in someone's garage, it would be a Stones classic. The layered strings at the end are an interesting embellishment too.
Can You Hear The Music is a partner to Sticky Fingers' Can't You Hear Me Knocking in that it has an extended jam-style groove, although the vocals continue throughout the song here, whereas they stopped after a couple of minutes on the Sticky Fingers number. It is the album's tour de force. Oh for a better sound on it, though, again. Star Fucker is still available in its original, uncensored, tasteless self. All the better, because the latest “doctored” version sounds as if something is going wrong with your sound reproduction for a few seconds. They made a right mess of trying to override the offending lines, to be honest, totally ruing the song. The risqué original is far superior.
The muddy sound sort of adds to the appeal of the goat. It is very much a product of its time, put it on and its October 1973 again. Worth a bit of attention. I remember in 1973 as a fourteen year-old just properly getting into The Stones (album-wise) thinking this was a great album. I had no reason not to like it. I still like it too, always enjoying its annual listen. There is still some excellent down ‘n’ dirty Stones material on here, though, and, if it wasn’t for the appalling, muddy sound, it would have been one of their best albums. Hell, it was still The Stones and it was the first Stones album to be released after I became "album-conscious" so it was always going to be one that I liked.
Indeed, Mick Jagger said of the album when comparing it to its predecessor - “…There’s more thought to this one. It was recorded all over the place over about two or three months. The tracks are much more varied than the last one. I didn’t want it to be just a bunch of rock songs….”. Listening to it again, you can sort of see what he meant. To be honest, they are still a bunch of rock songs, but there definitely is some variety of styles and sounds in there. He also said "I really feel close to this album, and I really put all I had into it...I guess it comes across that I'm more into the songs. It wasn't as vague as the last album which kind of went on so long that I didn't like some of the things...". So, there you are. That sort of flies in the face of the accusation that the album was a half-hearted, lazy one.
** There are several tracks that were initially recorded during the sessions for this album but did not appear until later on other albums. These were Short And Curlies, Through The Lonely Nights, Tops and Waiting On A Friend. The latter two surfaced on Tattoo You, the first one on the next album and the second one was the b side to It's Only Rock 'n' Roll.
IT'S ONLY ROCK 'N' ROLL (1974)
1. If You Can't Rock Me
2. Ain't To Proud To Beg
3. It's Only Rock 'n' Roll
4. Till The Next Goodbye
5. Time Waits For No-One
7. Dance Little Sister Dance
8. If You Really Want To Be My Friend
9. Short And Curlies
10. Fingerprint File
An often underrated album from The Stones. After the critically-lauded Sticky Fingers and Exile On Main Street, 1973's Goat's Head Soup began the supposed descent from which The Stones were never to recover, according to many. Another popularly held opinion is that it was something of a "treading water" album with the band at a period of transition. To a certain extent that was true, and this was, unfortunately, the last album to feature the wonderfully talented Mick Taylor on guitar. However, in terms of looking for positives about it - the very fact that it includes Taylor is one huge positive. Secondly, while both this and its predecessor suffer from poor sound quality, the sound on here is markedly improved from the muddiness of Goat's Head Soup. Listening to this album every now and again is always a pleasurable experience. There was some good material there.
Starting with the upbeat, rousing If You Can't Rock Me with, for a change, Keith Richards soloing on bass guitar. A good start that is continued into the surprisingly good cover of The Temptations' Motown classic from the mid 60s, Ain't Too Proud To Beg. Motown covers are notoriously difficult, they rarely come close to the originals. This one is not too bad at all. Then there is, of course, the hit single It's Only Rock 'n' Roll, which pretty much became a Stones classic instantly, with its fist-pumping, singalong refrain, recognisable guitar intro and continued excellent guitar parts throughout. Incidentally, the original backing track featured David Bowie on backing vocals, Willie Weeks on bass and Kenney Jones on drums, although The Stones re-recorded some of the song and the vocals, they kept this rhythm track.
Till The Next Goodbye is a beautiful, melodic ballad with a touchingly tender Jagger vocal that references his lady's "Louisiana recipes that let you down" at one point (maybe he had a disappointing gumbo) while Times Waits For No-One features a stunning Mick Taylor lead guitar that was his last great contribution. It also has an appealing drum rim, piano and bass slow burning intro. The bass continues to be of a quality throughout. Indeed, it is played by Mick Taylor, presumably at a different time to his lead guitar! Again, Jagger's vocal here is impressive, vastly improved on his somewhat slurred delivery on Goat's Head Soup. Regarding Taylor's contribution, he is said to have contributed considerably to the writing of these two songs and had this to say about that -
"I did have a falling out with Mick Jagger over some songs I felt I should have been credited with co-writing on It's Only Rock 'n Roll. We were quite close friends and co-operated quite closely on getting that album made. By that time Mick and Keith weren't really working together as a team so I'd spend a lot of time in the studio."
Taylor was not credited, of course - the songs went down as Jagger/Richards compositions - but this showed the first signs of the pair starting to drift away from each other and operating individually. This is something that would carry on for the rest of the seventies and be obvious and often counter-productive by the mid-eighties.
Luxury is a piece of cod-reggae seemingly popular with artists at the time (Elton John's Jamaica Jerk-Off and Led Zeppelin's D'Yer Mak'er spring to mind). While it is unconvincing and Jagger's vocal faintly ludicrous, it has a lively, light, summery appeal. It was, at the time, the "album track" that often seemed to get the radio play upon release. I remember it was the first one I heard from the album, played one Saturday morning on the Stuart Henry show on Radio One. Dance Little Sister Dance was similarly radio-friendly with its fast paced, drum dominated groove and catchy vocal refrain. If You Really Want To Be My Friend was another lengthy, slightly mournful ballad that had echoes of Waiting On A Friend from the Goat's Head sessions that would eventually appear on 1981's Tattoo You compilation of unreleased tracks. Philadelphia soul group Blue Magic (see my review of their debut album) contribute backing vocals.
Short And Curlies is perhaps aptly short and to the point. "She's got you by the balls" proclaims a miffed Jagger, or "bowwwls" as he enunciates it, typically. It was initially recorded during the sessions for Goat's Head Soup.
Fingerprint File is a real high point upon which to end this better than popularly thought to be album. The Stones embrace funk with Billy Preston's keyboards and some wah-wah guitar on this slow-paced, mysterious number about the FBI's surveillance techniques. As it fades out among whispers and a descending, disappearing beat at the end, we hear the fading out of the classic end of the 60s/early 70s Stones line up. Maybe it is this, not Exile that sees the last of the truly credible Stones material. It is certainly true to say that after this album The Stones ceased to be at the cutting edge of youth culture, or indeed relevant to it. They were into their thirties now and so were many of their fans. From now on they were seen as respect-worthy elder statesmen or boring old farts, depending on your opinion of them. Me, despite my punk years, I never turned my back on them.
Never again would The Stones be considered corrupters of the nation's youth, however. Time waits for no-one.
** The b side to the It's Only Rock 'n' Roll single was Through The Lonely Nights. It is a mournful number that sounds like a Keith song but it is Mick on vocal. It has a killer guitar solo on it, possibly from Mick Taylor. The track originated from the Goat's Head Soup sessions.
BLACK AND BLUE (1976)
1. Hot Stuff
2. Hand Of Fate
3. Cherry Oh Baby
4. Memory Motel
5. Hey Negrita
7. Fool To Cry
8. Crazy Mama
Another somewhat maligned album from The Stones - it seems as if everything post - Exile On Main Street is viewed disparagingly, which is something of a shame. Just as with the solo work from the members of The Beatles, Bob Dylan’s post 70’s work, or The Beach Boys' post Pet Sounds work, everything is measured against those classic periods in the group/artists’ career. It means, unfortunately, that sometimes, perfectly acceptable albums get the brush off from critics and fans alike.
Black And Blue is by no means a bad album at all. Yes, maybe the band had become a bit lazy and were enjoying the “rock star” life a bit too much, but that was not surprising. I should imagine some of the fire does go out. It would appear to be the case as it has happened to pretty much every major artist over many years.
Personally, however, I feel Hand Of Fate and Crazy Mama are two of the band’s most underrated rockers in their 70s output. Great guitar and vocals on both.
The album showed the band incorporating its traditional rock style with heavy influences from reggae and funk. Though recorded at a transitional moment for the band, the release has received mixed to positive retrospective feedback at the time - some stating opinions along the lines that because the album was somewhat made up of more extended grooves and jams than songs that this ended up being one of its main positive points.
The single Fool To Cry is a fine Stones “slowie” (it was a hit single too) and Hot Stuff is a more than acceptable extended slice of disco funk.
Melody is, shall we say, jazzily “experimental” with keyboardist Billy Preston featured heavily. Memory Motel is another slow burner, with a plaintive Jagger vocal about love and life on the road with a girl called Hannah.
Hey Negrita is a reggae-influenced groove, as is the cover of Eric Donaldson’s Cherry Oh Baby which is better than is popularly said to be by many.
The album has a general “hot” feel about it, maybe for that reason. I know that I only ever seem to play it on hot summer days.
** Incidentally, Slave and Worried About You were recorded during the sessions for this album (they eventually appeared on 1981’s Tattoo You). There was room for them to appear on here. If they had it would have been an even better album, as they are both impressive.
The remastering on these 2009 releases is more than acceptable as well.
SOME GIRLS (1978)1. Miss You
2. When The Whip Comes Down
3. Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)
4. Some Girls
6. Far Away Eyes
8. Before They Make Me Run
9. Beast Of Burden
In 1978, the disco boom had taken over the charts, thanks to the previous year’s Saturday Night Fever and everyone, it seemed, from Abba to Roxy Music were encouraged to put out a disco influenced single. Why, even The Stones got in on the act. The result was the extremely impressive bassy disco/funk groove of Miss You which showed people that they were able to diversify. It was also the first album to feature Ronnie Wood as an official full band member.
Overall, Some Girls is considered to be the band’s best offering for six years, since 1972’s Exile On Main Street. It taps into the contemporary disco vibe, but also features keyboards prominently and also exploits a bit of punk's attitude and energy.
It is very much a New York album, with Big Apple references prevalent throughout. Indeed, Mick Jagger said of it -
“The inspiration for the record was really based in New York and the ways of the town. I think that gave it an extra spur and hardness. And then, of course, there was the punk thing that had started in 1976. Punk and disco were going on at the same time, so it was quite an interesting period”.
It also has a decadent seediness to it in songs like the upbeat, rocky When The Whip Comes Down, the saucy Some Girls and the invigorating, soulful Beast Of Burden. The latter is a really good song, one of The Stones' best from the period. The title track has a slow, sensually chugging beat to it that always drags you in to it. Jagger's vocal is delightfully louche.
Mick Jagger is in full leery mode on the catchy and commercial cod-funk rock of Shattered and Respectable and reprises his Dead Flowers from Sticky Fingers country-hick voice on the oddly appealing Far Away Eyes. Lies is a frantic, almost punky rocker which sort of acknowledges the contemporary taste for fast guitar-driven rock.
There is a strong case towards the fact that Jagger wrote a lot of this material on his own, with possible help from Wood, as Keith Richards was pretty drugged-up and embroiled in court cases at the time. It does seem very much like a Jagger album (Richards’ archetypal piece of "Keith rock", Before They Make Me Run excepted).
Their cover of The Temptations' Imagination is more than acceptable too. Nowhere near the original, but they certainly put their own stamp on it.
Despite the album coming out at the height of punk, the music cognoscenti respected it, so too did the punks. So much for “No Elvis, Beatles or The Rolling Stones..”. It seemed to go down well with everyone.
The album has always had something of a tinny sound to it, however, and no amount of remastering seems to be able to correct that. The current (2009) remaster is the best to date, but it still comes off worse in comparison to other Stones albums either side of it. It was probably recorded like that and that is that, like Goats Head Soup, just not a great one, sonically. I just wish it could up the bass and lower the treble a bit within the recording. This can be remedied slightly by turning up the bass of my thumping sub-woofer. The tinny treble is still present though. Maybe The Stones were simply looking for that harsh, punky sound when the album was recorded.
** Everything Is Turning To Gold was the b side of the Shattered single. It was a reggae-influenced. slightly edgy and earthy number featuring some wailing saxophone and a bit of the 1978 white reggae/punk fusion feel to it.
Black Limousine, Start Me Up and Hang Fire - tracks that ended up on Tattoo You, were originally from this album's sessions.
THE SOME GIRLS EXTRAS
The extra tracks released on the “deluxe edition” of Some Girls were controversial for being enhanced versions of original out-takes and demos from the original sessions given a contemporary makeover by the Stones in 2010. Personally, I don’t mind this at all, it has allowed some previously unheard material to be given new life - fair enough.
What is also notable is that the sound quality on these new tracks is far superior to the tinny sound of the original album. It is like having a new Stones album and doesn’t detract from the original Some Girls at all.
2. So Young
3. Do You think I Really Care?
4. When You’re Gone
5. No Spare Parts
6. Don’t Be A Stranger
7. We Had It All
8. Tallahassee Lassie
9. I Love You Too Much
10. Keep Us Blues
11. You Win Again
12. Petrol Blues
Claudine is a rollicking piece of piano-driven bar-room blues and is a great start to this collection of songs.
So Young is a solid piece of Stones rock, apparently it had been around on bootlegs for years and this latest recording doesn’t sound much different. It has a loose, rocking, Exile On Main Street feel to it. In fact, it rocks harder and more urgently than anything on the original Some Girls.
Do You Really Think I Care? has the country rock vibe of Faraway Eyes but it is faster in a sort of Shattered way. Jagger sings in that silly country voice again, something we have all just got used to and happily accept. Nobody else would get away with it would they? But it’s Mick Jagger, so we’ll forgive him most things. It is actually a really appealing track, so there you go. When You're Gone has something Some Girls lacks - some copper-bottomed Stones blues. It is a bit like Back Of My Hand from A Bigger Bang but faster. No Spare Parts is a country style slow number sung in the same style as Do You Think That I Really Care? but it is another strong song. There is a real vibrancy to some of this material, you have to say.
Don't Be A Stranger is a vaguely reggae-sounding upbeat number with a summery breeziness to it. Time for a Keith song - We Had It All is typical Richards, being a slow, sleepy romantic ballad. Tallahassee Lassie is a very lively, southern bluesy cover of the old Freddy Cannon number. The Stones do it really well, full of vigour and enthusiasm with a hint of Creedence Clearwater Revival about their guitar sound. I Love You Too Much is a riffy, sensual Stones rocker in their late seventies/early eighties style.
Keep Up Blues is a more than welcome delicious helping of grinding, bassy blues. This is The Stones at their best and it is as good as anything they recorded in this period, to be honest. It has a great full sound to it too. You Win Again sees the group go back to that good ol’ country bar. It is like the sort of song that Elvis Costello did on Almost Blue. It is an old Hank Williams song and was also covered by Van Morrison and Linda Gail Lewis on their album of the same name.
No Petrol is a throwaway bit of piano and vocal blues that sounds like one of those early Dylan songs. I’m sure that is what Jagger is trying to sound like, in a very tongue-in-cheek way.
I have to say that listening to this side by side with Some Girls, this is by far the better collection of songs. It has far less of that 1978 cod-disco synthesiser-style backing and far more of a rootsy Stones sound. I guess the former was thought to be more popular in 1978, hence the make-up of the eventual album. Give me these other songs any day, though, and their warmer, fuller, bassier sound.
EMOTIONAL RESCUE (1980)
1. Dance (Pt. 1)
2. Summer Romance
3. Send It To Me
4. Let Me Go
5. Indian Girl
6. Where The Boys Go
7. Down In The Hole
8. Emotional Rescue
9. She's So Cold
10. All About You
Assessed by many to be one of The Stones' worst albums, Emotional Rescue is generally seen to be a poor relation of Some Girls. Indeed it utilised many cast off tracks from that album's sessions. However, despite some lazy low points such as Summer Romance and Where The Boys Go, there are some redeeming features in Down In The Hole, Send It To Me, Let Me Go and the album's two dance numbers, Dance (Pt 1) and the hit single title track, Emotional Rescue. As with 1983's Undercover, I don't mind listening to this every now again. It just has to be taken in context. It would be a fair conclusion to see this as more a Jagger album than a Richards one. The reggae of Send It To Me and, of course, All About You is pure Keith, but the rest of it is very Mick.
Dance (Pt. 1) continued the connection with contemporary dance rhythms explored with "Miss You" on 1978's "Some Girls", we had an even more "in the groove" number here, with a full drum sound and a convincing vocal. Lyrically, it was somewhat barren - "get up" is repeated quite a bit, but that is often the case in tracks that are more about the music than the lyrical content.
Summer Romance was a track on which it was rather odd to hear the already nearly forty-somethings singing about a teenage high school summer romance. It is a catchy, upbeat song though, but one can't escape that slight embarrassment of it all, however. Send It To Me was an appealing slice of light reggae/rock, with Jagger on fine yearning, lovelorn form, vocally. One of his best vocals on the album.
Let Me Go is a classic early 80s Stones mid-pace rocker, with some nice chugging guitar and a bit of saxophone at the end. Indian Girl was a Mexican/Latin influenced slow groove with some slightly contrived lyrics about "gringos" and "Che Guevara" and some Mexican-style horns and tinkling keyboards. The sort of laid-back thing Jagger loves and twists his slurred vocal around. Pleasant enough.
Where The Boys Go was a low point. Another embarrassing track. Oafish "laddishness" doesn't sit well with men of their age and the chorus has some over-loud female backing vocals that tend to drown out the whole thing. Low point of the album. An almost punky riff that pays a bit of a late nod to the late 70s genre. However, Down In The Hole could possibly be the best track on the album. A genuine mysterious blues concerning soldiers buying counterfeit goods - "cigarettes" and "nylons" in "the American Zone", presumably East Berlin. One of the band's first real blues since the early 70s.
Emotional Rescue had a sometimes unfairly maligned falsetto vocal from Jagger lends a commercial appeal to this disco-influenced number. He even "raps", to a certain extent in the middle of the song, not particularly convincingly, but leery enough to add to the song's appeal. At least it showed that The Stones were prepared to diversify to meet contemporary trends. An excellent saxophone solo from Bobby Keys at the end too.
She's So Cold was something of an archetypal Stones rocker that was sometimes still played in concert many years later. Some nice pedal steel guitar parts from Ronnie. All the guitar is good on this track.
All About You is a Keith track to end things off. A popular lyric in his case about loving a woman who is no good for him. As usual, so laid-back as to be almost comatose, but a sumptuous, vaguely comforting delivery. Like an old pair of slippers. Some nice saxophone in this one as well.
Interestingly, four tracks from Tattoo You - No Use In Crying, Heaven, Neighbours and Little T & A - came from the sessions for this album. They would have probably improved it slightly.
** If I Was A Dancer (Dance Pt. 2) was an unreleased outtake from the sessions for this album. It is basically an extension of the original track with a few added words, but the overall groove of the track is the same one.
TATTOO YOU (1981)
1. Start Me Up
2. Hang Fire
4. Little T & A
5. Black Limousine
7. Worried About You
10. No Use In Crying
11. Waiting On A Friend
This was a not a "new" album from The Rolling Stones in that it was a collection of rejected songs that had been recorded for possible use on earlier albums, dating as far back as 1972. Having said that, they are all tracks of a high quality. In my view, there is not a duff track on there and all of them would have considerably enhanced the albums they were initially recorded for.
The album's stonking, riff based opener, Start Me Up, dated from the sessions for 1978's Some Girls and apparently started life as a laid-back reggae skanking number. Thankfully it changed over time otherwise we would have had that riff. A now iconic Stones track used either at the opening or closing of live shows.
Hang Fire dates from the same sessions and is probably the weakest track on the album - an upbeat, almost punky rocker with some trite lyrics about nobody working hard enough in the UK. Slave dated from 1976's Black And Blue sessions and it is a tour de force - bluesy, rocky and featuring a great Jagger vocal and some excellent saxophone from Sonny Rollins too. A true high point. It would have raised the standard of Black And Blue no end.
Keith Richards' saucy Little T & A comes from 1979's Emotional Rescue sessions. It is ok, catchy enough, but, as with many of Keith's songs, it just sort of rambles gently and croakily along. From the Some Girls sessions comes the wonderful, vibrant blues boogie of Black Limousine. Another high point. Another one from 1979 is the frantic vocal attack, Neighbours. The repeated title is a bit off-putting and while it seems lyrically bland, it has a breakneck punky appeal, a good vocal and an excellent Bobby Keys saxophone at the end.
Also from Black And Blue is the beautiful build-up ballad that is Worried About You, featuring some impressive piano from Billy Preston. Jagger's vocal is top notch on this too, going all falsetto at one point. Imagine Black And Blue with this and Slave on it.
Tops and the fetching Waiting On A Friend both date from 1972 and are both excellent. Mick Taylor featuring on the rocking and soulful former and some Latin-tinged, saxophone groove from The Goat's Head Soup Jamaica sessions makes for an appealing latter.
Heaven is one of those seductive Jagger "solo" numbers dating from 1979 with some hypnotic percussion and a "phasey" deliberately muffled vocal and No Use In Crying, from the same sessions, is a slow-paced, bluesy ballad with one of those instantly recognisable Jagger vocals. Has a bit of a feeling of automatic pilot about it, though. Heaven, though, is a remarkably addictive piece of work, worthy of repeated listens.
In conclusion, although not a "new" album, it certainly plays like one, to be fair, and doesn't seem like a collection of cast offs. It is by far the superior to Emotional Rescue and Undercover. It is a good album.