Sunday, 4 October 2020

The Rolling Stones - It's Only Rock 'n' Roll (1973-1981)

 


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.

Jamming With Edward (1972)


The Boudoir Stomp/It Hurts Me Too/Edward's Thrump Up/Blow With Ry/Interlude A La El Hopo/Highland Fling

"I hope you spend longer listening to it than we did recording it..." - Mick Jagger

The material on this album dates from The Rolling StonesLet It Bleed sessions from 1969. It contains six loose jam sessions performed by the band, plus pianist Nicky Hopkins and guitarist Ry Cooder, while waiting for Keith Richards to return to the studio. The story goes that he had walked out, unhappy about Cooder's presence. Whether this is apocryphal will never be known, but Keith also had initial problems when Mick Taylor appeared on the later sessions for the same album.

Mick Jagger said of it - "I hope you spend longer listening to it than we did recording it...". It was laid down on one alcohol-loosened evening in London. It is, therefore a fans' curio - inessential to many but interesting none the less. I certainly am unwilling to write it off as a fair few reviewers have done over the years. Firstly, I quite like jams. I like George Harrison's and Eric Clapton's from the early seventies. Secondly, one thing that hits you is just how great the sound quality is, especially for such an ad hoc creation. It was, of course, never intended for release. I actually find it provides a nice breath of fresh air to listen to every now and again, particularly while doing something else.

The Boudoir Stomp recycles the Midnight Rambler riff, with accompanying similar blues harmonica. It sounds very like the middle instrumental bit from Rambler, to be honest. 

It Hurts Me Too features a muffled, distant Jagger vocal and can be listened to as a bona fide song. It is a cover of an Elmore James blues song, delivered in that typical slow, grinding blues rock style. 

Edward's Thrump Up is a solid jam featuring Hopkins' rollicking piano (Hopkins was "Edward", by the way). Some good harmonica on this one too.

You cannot deny the quality of Ry Cooder's blues guitar on Blow With RyWatts' drums are loose and relaxed. I really like this. Jagger again contributes a detached-sounding vocal which has echoes of Parachute Woman about it. 

Interlude A La El Hopo is a jaunty but ultimately pointless couple of minutes. 

Hopkins rocks the traditional Scottish Highland Fling tune on piano before it morphs into a sort of jazz meets rock workout. I bet Charlie Watts enjoyed this. Bill Wyman's bass on this is delicious. Throwaway it may be, but these guys can play, as obviously we all know. Many bands may well have stuck a couple of these instrumentals on their albums. Santana were doing it all the time in the late seventies/eighties, and Jeff Beck too.

Casual Stones fans will probably not get much out of this release but anyone with an interest in the band's minutiae will enjoy it, I think. Just as many did so with the material from The BeatlesWhite Album sessions. I reiterate, as well, the sound is bloomin' marvellous!


Goats Head Soup (1973)


Dancing With Mr. D/100 Years Ago/Coming Down Again/Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)/Angie/Silver Train/Hide Your Love/Winter/Can You Hear The Music/Star Fucker  

"We didn't know where to go to record. because Keith was in so much trouble. Jamaica sounded like a fun option" - Mick Jagger

This somewhat enigmatic, beguiling album has always suffered as the follow-up to the towering Exile On Main StreetGoat’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” (definition: disreputable or sordid in a rakish and appealing way) is maybe a far better description - looking at that definition it would seem perfectly apt. Time, however, has seen many attitudes softening towards the goat, amongst fans and music writers alike, which is pleasing, because I have always liked it.

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 surprisingly Richards’. This dichotomy is no better exemplified than on Jagger's malevolent Dancing With Mr. D and Richards' beautiful Angie.

Recorded initially in Jamaica, largely because it was one of the only places that would take the group (particularly Richards) and their drug-fuelled potential for narcotic criminality. After several busts, he felt he couldn't return to the UK at the time and the USA was out of the question for a while. The sessions were fraught with tensions - the general dangerous nature of the area, continued drug use from many of the musicians involved, too many hangers-on and intra-band rows and discontent. With all that was going on it was amazing that an album was created at all.
                                              
Despite that, there is some great, often overlooked 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 CurliesThrough The Lonely NightsTops 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.

** Released to the public in 2020 and also dating from the sessions for this album is the grinding, vaguely funky Criss Cross, which features some wah-wah guitars, funky organ and that sort of loose, sleazy Stones funk/rock that would dominate their music for years to come. It could easily be from Black And Blue or Emotional Rescue, despite dating from 1973. See the review below for comments on All The Rage.




Goats Head Soup (The 2020 Remaster)



"I really feel close to this album, and I really put all I had into it" - Mick Jagger

Giles Martin was the remasterer on this long-awaited re-release of The Stones’ notoriously muddy album. Could he do it? You bet your ass he could! It is a triumph, in my non-audiophile opinion.

Dancing With Mr D has some much-enhanced vocal bits in it, particularly at the beginning and end, a new, massive bass sound which I absolutely adore, along with crystal clear cymbals. Jagger’s vocals improvisations at the beginning and end are now much more audible. As soon as I listen to this I am thinking that it is like a new song, the new version just leaps out of your speakers like Mephistopheles himself during a bad dream. A lot of the song’s original murk has gone, but not to the detriment of the song’s nefarious atmosphere. There is also an infectious instrumental version of the song included.

The bit where the drums kick up a notch half way through 100 Years Ago is spectacular, as is the big, rumbling newly-defined bass sound. The demo version of the song with Jagger at the piano is plaintively appealing.

Listen the glorious beauty of the piano/bass/cymbal intro to Coming Down Again, and the clarity of the cheese-grater percussion when it arrives. The lead guitar sounds awesome too, as is the improved clarity of the backing vocals and Bobby Keys’ saxophone. Wonderful stuff, truly.  

As for the intro to Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker) - oh Lord have mercy! Power, muscle and thump. Nothing more needs to be said, really - one of the album’s best tracks now sounds even better. The bass/guitar/percussion interplay coming up to two minutes in is simply glorious. The song’s instrumental version is funkily fantastic too, just listen to those horns.

The drums on Angie are sublime and the acoustic guitar crystal clear - you’re beautiful indeed. Angie, I still love you, but now even more.

Silver Train is as bluesily raucous as it ever was, but, as with the other tracks, featuring added dynamism. Check out the intro to Hide Your Love too. Both these tracks retain their attractive sleaziness but have been bestowed with extra oomph. The alternative mix of the latter is warmer, less murky and even better than the original, for me.

The underrated beauty of Winter is enhanced by some lovely, warm bass and razor sharp guitar. The strings/guitar/cymbal bit is captivating as Jagger wraps his cost around us and takes us to Califawwwnia, sounding even more like Van Morrison.

You would expect the album’s instrumental tour de force, Can You Hear The Music, to be excellent, and it duly is, coming in to its own, unsurprisingly, on the flute snd percussion parts.

Then, guess what? They have given us Star Fucker with the John Wayne bit left intact! The 2009 remaster was ruined by clumsy editing.



I have mentioned Scarlet (on the next album's review) and Criss Cross earlier. 

All The Rage, the other reject from the album’s sessions is a robust, upbeat rocker that no doubt we would have got used to had it been on the album but it doesn’t stand out as anything notable on its first few listens.

The previously rejected Glyn Johns 1973 mixes of Mr. DDoo Doo and Silver Train have been well remastered but, for me, only the latter really can be seen as bettering the new remaster of the original release of the tracks.

The first dancey, contemporary remix of Scarlet is catchy and debatably improves on the original, while the second one renders the track much more grungy and edgy. Both are listenable, the former much more so, though. 

The live gig previously known as The Brussels Affair was always one of the best Stones live shows around. It still is. The remaster is even better than the previously available on, though - louder and chunkier.

I never expected my old caprine friend to ever sound this good, but, blow me down, he does.




It's Only Rock 'n' Roll (1974)

  
If You Can't Rock Me/Ain't To Proud To Beg/It's Only Rock 'n' Roll/Till The Next Goodbye/Time Waits For No-One/Luxury/Dance Little Sister Dance/If You Really Want To Be My Friend/Short And Curlies/Fingerprint File  

"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" - Mick Taylor 

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 TemptationsMotown 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.

Dating from an October 1974 session, a few months after the release of this album, is Scarlet, an interesting raw rocker featuring Jimmy Page on guitar and Ric Grech from Family on bass. It has a rough-edged drum sound, some grungy guitar and a sound closer to that of Goat's Head Soup than this album. The track was finally let loose to the public in 2020.


 

Metamorphosis (1975)


This was a sort of official release by ABKCO records five years after severing their ties with The Rolling Stones. It was, for many years, the only album of Rolling Stones outtakes around. It has no chronological arrangement, however, the tracks are included willy-nilly. So, with that in mind, here is where they are sourced from:-

Out Of Time - recorded in 1966. Shorter than the extended version that appeared on "Aftermath/Don't Lie To Me - 1964/Some Things Just Stick In Your Mind - 1964/Each And Every Day Of The Year - 1964/Heart Of Stone - 1964 (with Jimmy Page on guitar)/I'd Much/Rather Be With The Boys - 1965/(Walkin' Through The) Sleepy City - 1964/We're Wastin' Time -1964/Try A Little Harder - 1964/I Don't Know Why - 1969 - on the night the news broke of Brian Jones' death. For the "Let It Bleed" sessions/If You Let Me - 1966 - for the "Aftermath" sessions/Jiving Sister Fanny - 1969 - for the "Let It Bleed" sessions/Downtown Suzie - 1969 - for the "Let It Bleed" sessions/Family - 1968 - for the "Beggars' Banquet" sessions/Memo From Turner - 1968 - a different version to that released by Mick Jagger in 1970/I'm Going Down - 1969

The quality is varying, although all the tracks are of interest - the impressive blues rock of Don't Lie To Me would not have been out of place on any of the early albums. Dating from 1964, it actually sounds quite ahead of its time. 

The early Eastern-influence on Some Things Just Stick In Your Mind is a definite pointer toward later material. 

I'd Much Rather Be With The Boys had a huge early Beatles influence and it was probably better left off albums, leaving The Stones to forge their own identity. The track was impressively covered by Ronnie Spector, replacing "boys" with "girls" on her 2016 album, English Heart

Try A Little Harder is upbeat and punchy. If You Let Me is fairly typical of the group's 1966 output, featuring that distinctive keyboard sound and acoustic guitar backing.

The superb, buzzy and earthy blues rock of Jiving Sister Fanny and Memo From Turner are excellent, but Downtown Suzie, with its airs of Dylan's Rainy Day Women and awful backing vocals, was best left on the cutting-room floor. Having said that, each time I listen to it, its lazy appeal grows on me. Family is an unnerving prototype of Sister Morphine, with its controversial lyrics about prostitution - they were probably why it was ultimately left off Beggars' Banquet.

Their cover of Stevie Wonder's I Don't Know Why is muscular, with a rocking guitar solo and powerful brass backing. One of the best cuts on the album. They make it sound like a bluesy Stones rocker. The guitar-driven rock of I'm Going Down uses a riff they would apply a lot more in the seventies and eighties. This is another good one. The album ends strongly.

The version of Memo From Turner that appears here is more raw, edgy and faster than the one released by Mick Jagger in 1970. It is almost punky in comparison to the drawly, guitar-dominated later version. I prefer the longer, later version, although I like both of them. The vocals are clearer on the latter too.

Overall, this is an interesting album for completists, but certainly not essential.




Black And Blue (1976)


Hot Stuff/Hand Of Fate/Cherry Oh Baby/Memory Motel/Hey Negrita/Melody/Fool To Cry/Crazy Mama  

"Rehearsing guitar players, that's what that one was about" - Keith Richards                                      

Another somewhat maligned Stones album - 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 BeatlesBob 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. 

In December 1974, just as recording was due to begin for this album, underrated guitarist Mick Taylor abruptly left the group, leaving them in a bit of limbo. Despite that, though, as they always seemed to do, the arch pragmatists got by and produced an album that is a favourite of mine, at least.

If the cover is anything to go by, this is a HOT album - musically sweating and broiling throughout, like mid-afternoon in Jamaica (something I have experienced). However, it was recorded in Rotterdam, Montreux and Munich from December 1974 to April 1975 and was not actually released until April 1976, well over a year since recording began. (Made In The Shade, the retrospective compilation, filled the gap). It was also Ronnie Wood’s first album with the group, although he doesn’t feature prominently on all the tracks. Guitarists such as Wayne Perkins and Harvey Mandel were virtually auditioned on the album’s recording.

The album was one of only eight tracks, many of them dabbling in reggae, funk and slow, extended dance-ish grooves. While this may not appear to be archetypal Stones fare, it is in its loose, jamming style that its strength and its appeal lies. At the time of release, however, it was panned by many critics and fans alike, unfairly in my book. Thankfully, retrospective views have been kinder.                                                  

  

Check out Bill Wyman’s huge, rumbling bass on Hot Stuff 
and the superb guitar, both of which help to neutralise any criticism of the sparse lyrics. 

Hand Of Fate just bristles and burns with typically riffy power as Wayne Perkins’s guitar magnificently matches Jagger’s confident vocal. The swaggering offering is one of my favourite Stones rockers. It rarely gets mentioned, but for me it is as good as anything from the 1972-1981 period and that includes the Exile material.

The Stones are a white group that can do reggae acceptably and they produce a more than credible version of Eric Donaldson’s slow, seductive skank, Cherry Oh Baby. The track thuds along appealingly, Billy Preston’s swirling organ breaks to the fore.

The impressive and fetching country-ish slow rock number Memory Motel is one of the few tracks to feature Jagger and Richards sharing lead vocals. Harvey Mandel actually handles the guitar (Richards only sings on here). It has that effortless Stones lazy appeal that was so prevalent in their early/mid-seventies material and I just love to bit where Jagger says “going back up to Bowwston” in that silly but enjoyable drawl of his.

Reggae returns on the chunky reggae/rock of Hey Negrita, which is another easily swaying groove of a track, with a killer vocal and equally good guitar parts. It slowly boils as hot as the album’s overall ambience. Ronnie Wood makes his first great Stones guitar contribution here. It is said that he basically wrote the song. Once again, as with Brown Sugar, The Stones reference themes of interracial sex, something that was considered quite risqué in the comparatively intolerant seventies.

Melody is one of The Stones’ most off-the-wall, experimental tracks, with Billy Preston’s jazzy flourishes on the keyboards given free rein throughout. The song was credited to Jagger-Richards, but many suspect that it was pretty much Preston’s song. The way the two main songwriters appeared to hoover up all songs, whether they wrote them or not, has always seemed a bit mean to me.

Fool To Cry, a somewhat maudlin Jagger ballad to his daughter, was the album’s sole big hit. It is largely Jagger’s pained vocals and his electric piano, but it has a starkly soulful appeal. I remember really loving it in the hot summer of 1976.

Crazy Mama is the album’s other blatant rocker along with Hand Of Fate and it bears the hallmarks of Richards all over it. Its riffs are perfectly irresistible. Any Stones fan will love it. Jagger’s vocal is gruffly likeable too, as he growls and grunts in between verses.



As I said at the beginning, 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, delivering a really good sound, particularly when compared to that of Goats's Head Soup and It's Only Rock 'n' Roll. 

Love You Live (1977)


Honky Tonk Women/If You Can't Rock Me/Get Off My Cloud/Happy/Hot Stuff/Starfucker/Tumbling Dice/Fingerprint File/You Gotta Move/You Can't Always Get What You Want/Mannish Boy/Crackin' Up/Little Red Rooster/Around And Around/It's Only Rock 'n' Roll/Brown Sugar/Jumpin' Jack Flash/Sympathy For The Devil   
                  
Live recordings taken from Stones tours between 1975-77 which sees them at their most drug-addled and lazy in many ways, but in other ways therein lies the appeal of this leery live stuff. It is a “riffy” album. Keith Richards’ glorious riffs on cuts like the opening Honky Tonk WomenIf You Can’t Rock MeHappy and the risque Starfucker. There is also a great version of Fingerprint File with Jagger on great form and the blues cuts of You Gotta Move and Mannish Boy see Jagger at his best again. The organ/guitar interplay on Tumbling Dice is sensational. Keith is on fire. It even makes one forget Jagger’s slurred vocal on this one.

The rarity of Crackin’ Up appears for the first time since the sixties as does Around And Around and are really enjoyable. Sympathy For The Devil is not their best rendition of it, a bit messier than others available. The piano-driven funk of Hot Stuff rocks though.

 

Just listen to the first tracks though, there is a lazy Jack Daniel's-soaked beauty about it. They were still cooking in these years. Check out the ad-lib percussion/guitar bit in If You Can’t Rock Me and then Keith comes in, and he’s blistering, although he probably didn’t want to be there, man. The laid back Get Off My Cloud with some excellent keyboards is almost soulful. Keith on the intro to Happy. Wow. He sings as if he means it.

The album has finally been remastered acceptably after all these years. The great thing about it, though, is that although the performances are culled from different gigs, it plays like one complete concert with a more than credible set list order.

A better live release from this era, however, is the Stones Archive album, L.A. Forum 1975. This is not as bad an album as some say, though. The Stones are an easy target these days. Listen to this album, take yourself back to the mid seventies, and imagine you were at one of these gigs. You would love it. The heat. The smell of cigarettes, drugs, drink, sweat and perfume. Then The Stones come on. You feel a bit sick but what the heck. It's The Stones.


Some Girls (1978)


Miss You/When The Whip Comes Down/Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)/Some Girls/Lies/Far Away Eyes/Respectable/Before They Make Me Run/Beast Of Burden/Shattered 

"The inspiration for the record was really based in New York and the ways of the town" - Mick Jagger
     
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 LimousineStart 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.


Claudine/So Young/Do You think I Really Care?/When You’re Gone/No Spare Parts/Don’t Be A Stranger/We Had It All/Tallahassee Lassie/I Love You Too Much/Keep Us Blues/You Win Again/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)


Dance (Pt. 1)/Summer Romance/Send It To Me/Let Me Go/Indian Girl/Where The Boys Go/Down In The Hole/Emotional Rescue/She's So Cold/All About You 

"It may consist mainly of filler, but it's expertly written and performed filler" - Stephen Thomas Erlewine - AllMusic 

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 HoleSend It To MeLet 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 CryingHeavenNeighbours 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)


Start Me Up/Hang Fire/Slave/Little T & A/Black Limousine/Neighbours/Worried About You/Tops/Heaven/No Use In Crying/Waiting On A Friend  

"The thing with 'Tattoo You' wasn't that we'd stopped writing new stuff, it was a question of time. We'd agreed we were going to go out on the road and we wanted to tour behind a record. There was no time to make a whole new album and make the start of the tour." - Keith Richards

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.


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