Saturday, November 8, 2008

Coming Down Again

Goats Head Soup
Side One, Track Three
"Coming Down Again" – 5:54

[Download link]

Why does every song on this album sound like a Tattoo You reject?

That's probably unfair. It's just that I heard Tattoo first, as an impressionable young man. If I was born in 1961 instead of 1971 I would probably be commenting on how the Stones ripped off their own Goats Head album to make Tattoo.

Anyway. "Coming Down Again" is an almost impossibly vanilla ballad, overproduced and 70s-mellow in that way I hate so much. Wikipedia tells me that

"Coming Down Again", in the words of Tom Maginnis, "...concerns the well-worn topic of love gone bad." The lyrics tell of Richards' relationship with then-girlfriend Anita Pallenberg and his taking of her from Brian Jones.
Heavy. I'd love to hear how Keith approaches this soul-bearing topic...
Slipped my tongue in someone else's pie
Tasting better every time
He turned green and tried to make me cry
Being hungry it ain't no crime
Oh. Wow, Keith. What say you never write lyrics again, okay?

Also, Mick's funny backing vocals.

Friday, November 7, 2008

100 Years Ago

Goats Head Soup
Side One, Track Two
"100 Years Ago" – 3:59

[Download link]

I spent 10 minutes trying think of what song the Stones ripped off for "100 Years Ago" before I gave up. My conclusion: although it appears that the band created the song from scratch, it is bland enough to recall a thousand other mediocre songs.

Some passing notes because the song is far too forgettable to inspire me to compose actual paragraphs:

  • No, it's really bugging me: what song are they ripping off for the first section of the song? If you know, drop me a line.
  • That is Billy Preston on the clav. Man would play for anyone, wouldn't he?
  • That is the full Mick Voice for the "lazybones" bit.

  • Let's let wikipedia do my job:

    Credited to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, guitarist Mick Taylor said at the time of its release, "Some of the songs we used (for the album) were pretty old. '100 Years Ago' was one that Mick [Jagger] had written two years ago and which we hadn't really got around to using before."[1] The song is described by Tom Maginnis in his review as having a, "wistful air with a country lilt... before making several tempo shifts into a funky, sped-up groove..."[2] The song's lyrics see Jagger reflect on aging;
    Now all my friends is wearing worried smiles, Living out a dream of what they was; Don't you think it's sometimes wise not to grow up?
    Went out walkin' through the wood the other day; Can't you see the furrows in my forehead? What tender days, we had no secrets hid away; Now it seems about a hundred years ago
    The song then veers into a distinctive breakdown, slowing considerably before Jagger begins singing a verse in a noticeable drawl, before speeding back-up and turning into a funk jam of sorts.[2]

    Recording took place at Kingston's Dynamic Sound Studios in November and December, 1972, with a final mix conducted in June 1973. Jagger performs lead vocals and is accompanied by Taylor on backing. Taylor performs the song's guitars while Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts perform bass and drums, respectively. Nicky Hopkins provides piano while Billy Preston performs clavinet.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Dancing with Mr. D

Goats Head Soup
Side One, Track One
"Dancing with Mr. D" – 4:53

[Download link]

Yeah, this is what happens when you let Mick run the recording sessions instead of Keith.

After the sprawling glorious mess of Exile, Mick had enough. "We're a professional entertainment combo," he said in my imaginary scenario, "let's start acting professional. No more recording in the basement of a French tax-dodge mansion while snorting cocaine off the naked asses of nubile groupies—we're going to Jamaica!" And they did, recording Goats Head at Dynamic Sound Studios in Kingston. But don't expect their surroundings to contribute any exotic sounds: as "Dancing with Mr. D" shows, this album could have been recorded anywhere, at any time, by virtually any competent band in the world.

Beginning with Goats Head Soup, Mick Jagger's desire to turn this boisterous, ramshackle group of degenerates into the world's most popular faceless band started to become a reality.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Exile on Main St. by Robert Greenfield (book) -- I give up

I do a bit of book reviewing here and there on the net. A long time ago I made the decision to avoid criticising books for stylistic choices made by the author. The idea here is that the way a writer's style affects a reader is so subjective that it would be unfair to negatively characterise a book simply because it rubbed one reader the wrong way—it may be that other readers are captivated by the story and are not affected at all by the writer's style.

If you've read my last few posts on Exile on Main St. by Robert Greenfield, you may have picked up on the fact that the author's style rubbed me the wrong way. I am going to stop writing about the book because I know I won't be able to do so fairly: Greenfield may have written the greatest story ever, but I wouldn't be able to tell because the way he writes drives me insane.

So I'm moving on to something that will undoubtedly bring joy and sunshine into my life and yours: the Rolling Stones' 1972 classic Goats Head Soup, sure to be pure aural magic from beginning ("Dancing with Mr. D") to end ("Starfucker").

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Pogo - Alice (nonstones)

Pogo - "Alice" – 2:43

Sorry for the non-Stones content, but I needed to get the bad taste of that book out of my mouth and make a post about something I actually like.

Here's the youtube description:

The music video for my song 'Alice', an electronic piece of which 90% is composed using sounds recorded from the Disney film 'Alice In Wonderland'.

I don't know anything about electronic music, but one of the things I really like is the way Pogo remixed the vocal track to create a new melody, one which performs leaps in pitch that would be impossible for a singer to perform live. That and the mellow rhythm track really makes it for me.

Go to Pogo's page to download the track.

Exile on Main St. by Robert Greenfield pp 13-15

Exile on Main Street: a season in hell with the Rolling Stones by Robert Greenfield (prologue)

  • p. 13:

    The Players
    Keith Richards: He is our hero. He is also our antihero. In itself, this is entirely postmodern. But then in many ways, so is Keith. In this particular rock 'n' roll passion play, he is our Jesus of Cool.


    Why is Keith so cool? To put it plainly, the man simply does not give a shit. All things that matter most to all the faceless, colorless individuals who control the world outside of rock 'n' roll are of no concern to him.

    Jesus Christ. Show, don't tell.

  • p. 14: Did you know that Keith has no time for crap? That he does not care about details? That money means nothing to him except when he wants to spend more of it? It's true, man. That's what the author tells us, using those exact words. This is not a book that relies much on subtlety for characterisation.

  • p. 15: "By the time Keith comes to live at Nellcôte, he has already long since left behind bourgeois values." Aaarrrggh. The author did not just write those words. I refuse to believe it.

  • p. 15: "Always, the man [Keith] marches to the beat of a different drummer, one whose name does not necessarily happen to be Charlie Watts." Author Greenfield is never one to miss a chance to savage a cliché. Goddamn this book is going to be torture.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Exile on Main St. by Robert Greenfield pp 4-12

Exile on Main Street: a season in hell with the Rolling Stones by Robert Greenfield (prologue)

  • pp. 4-10:
    Welcome to Villa Nellcote. You do know how to get there, right? From Nice, take either the Grand Corniche, the twisting, turning high road built by Napoleon to follow the ancient Roman route along the jagged coast of the French Riviera, or the Moyenne Corniche, the twisting, turning middle road from which Princess Grace of Monaco plunged to her death in 1982, or more conveniently, the always crowded Basse Corniche, which runs at sea level right beside the sparkling blue Mediterranean.
    The author is setting the scene. That is the opening paragraph of an interminable physical description of Villa Nellcôte, the house where the Stones recorded the bulk of Exile, and the setting of the book under discussion. I know what you're thinking: "It's just a house, why should the author spend 6 pages describing not only its layout, but driving directions to the house?" Why indeed.

  • p. 10: An entire page discussing various rumours about the landlord of Villa Nellcôte. Scintillating stuff.

  • p. 10-12: It was rumoured (by one of the Stones' hangers on) that the landlord had lived with a Nazi at Nellcôte during the War, and that his stolen art still graced the house. This tawdry bit of gossip, unsupported bu any evidence whatsoever, allows the author to clumsily foreshadow how things will fall apart for the Stones because 30 years earlier some woman shacked up at Villa Nellcôte with some Nazi functionary.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Exile on Main St. by Robert Greenfield (prologue)

Exile on Main Street: a season in hell with the Rolling Stones by Robert Greenfield (prologue)
Pages 1-4

  • An inauspicious start:

    In the short space of ten months... three of the greatest individual talents ever to grace a rock 'n' roll stage ended their lives with drugs before their twenty-eighth birthdays. That rock itself did not die seems even now like a miracle....
    The three of the greatest individual talents ever to grace a rock 'n' roll stage? Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison.

    Wait, what?

    Look, I don't want to shit over anybody's faves. But can we be honest here? Of those three, the only one who had a meaningful, lasting effect on rock and roll was Hendrix. That the author thinks that the death of Joplin and Morrison could have spelled the end of rock and roll music itself does not bode well for his historical perspective.

  • Greenfield sets the scene: it is 1970 and the world is reeling from the death of Janis Joplin, the generational divide, Kent State. "Something that had been very much alive was in fact now dying. To be replaced by what, no one seemed to know." Ominous. "As always, you could blame it on the Stones." What?

    Two years earlier, Brian Jones, who always liked to refer to himself as "the undisputed leader of the Rolling Stones," had become the first great rock star of his era to die — by drowning under mysterious circumstances in his own swimming pool.
    As sad as it may have been, I get the feeling the author is placing slightly more importance on the deaths of Jones and Janis Joplin (really? Joplin?) than is warranted.

    Also, Altamont was another sign the world was ending.

  • Okay, I get it now. The author wants to paint a picture of rock stars turning to drug use for escape or something. In addition to the weltanschauung-changing death of Janis Joplin, the members of Cream had all begun to use heroin in worrisome amounts.

    In a world no one under the age of thirty had made, where everything seemed so fucked up as to be far beyond repair, numbing yourself to the pain of just having to wake up every morning to begin yet another hopeless day seemed to make eminent sense.

Three pages of this is all I can stand for now. More tomorrow.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Exile on Main St. by Robert Greenfield (book)

I'm trying something a little different now. Having made my way through the glorious sprawl of Exile on Main St., I will now make my way through the likely less-than-glorious book Exile on Main St.: A Season in Hell with the Rolling Stones by Robert Greenfield. I picked the book up a few weeks ago on a whim – I since have avoided reading any reviews or even any descriptions of the book besides its back cover blurbs to avoid colouring my impressions. (I get the feeling I'm going to enjoy the experience of reading this thing somewhat less than I enjoyed listening to the album of the same title.)

Here are some Google Books details to whet your appetite:

Recorded during the blazing summer of 1971 at Villa Nellcote, Keith Richards’ seaside mansion in the south of France, Exile on Main St. has been hailed as one of the Rolling Stones’ best albums-and one of the greatest rock records of all time. Yet its improbable creation was difficult, torturous...and at times nothing short of dangerous.In self-imposed exile, the Stones-along with wives, girlfriends, and a crew of hangers-on unrivaled in the history of rock-spent their days smoking, snorting, and drinking whatever they could get their hands on. At night, the band descended like miners into the villa’s dank basement to lay down tracks. Out of those grueling sessions came the familiar riffs and rhythms of “Rocks Off,” “Tumbling Dice,” “Happy,” and “Sweet Virginia.”All the while, a variety of celebrities-John Lennon, Yoko Ono, and Gram Parsons among them-stumbled through the villa’s neverending party, as did the local drug dealers, known to one and all as “les cowboys.” Villa Nellcote became the crucible in which creative strife, outsize egos, and all the usual byproducts of the Stones’ legendary hedonistic excess fused into something potent, volatile, and enduring.Here, for the first time, is the season in hell that produced Exile on Main St.

More details

Exile on Main Street: A Season in Hell with the Rolling Stones
By Robert Greenfield
Published by Da Capo Press, 2006
ISBN 0306814331, 9780306814334
258 pages

Exile on Main St. Roundup

Exile on Main St. Roundup

Side one
1. "Rocks Off" – 4:32
2. "Rip This Joint" – 2:23
3. "Shake Your Hips" (Slim Harpo) – 2:59
4. "Casino Boogie" – 3:33
5. "Tumbling Dice" – 3:45

Side two
1. "Sweet Virginia" – 4:25
2. "Torn and Frayed" – 4:17
3. "Sweet Black Angel" – 2:54
4. "Loving Cup" – 4:23

Side three
1. "Happy" – 3:04
2. "Turd on the Run" – 2:37
3. "Ventilator Blues" (Jagger, Richards, Mick Taylor) – 3:24
4. "I Just Want to See His Face" – 2:52
5. "Let It Loose" – 5:17

Side four
1. "All Down the Line" – 3:49
2. "Stop Breaking Down" (Robert Johnson) – 4:34
3. "Shine a Light" – 4:14
4. "Soul Survivor" – 3:49

I usually provide some kind of background details on these album roundups, but I won't do so here – I am about to begin blogging a book written about the recording of Exile, which will no doubt provide me with the opportunity to share many choice nuggets. So stay tuned – I'm not done with this album yet.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Soul Survivor

Exile on Main St.
Side Four, Track Three
"Soul Survivor" – 3:49

[Download link]

... and Exile ends with a whimper instead of a bang. On an album where the Stones took all kinds of chances, experimented with abandon in ways we'd never see again, "Soul Survivor" clocks in as the most generic track the band had recorded until this point. Not a bad track, but it sounds exactly like something that could pop up on Steel Wheels or an ipod advertisement 30 years later.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Shine a Light

Exile on Main St.
Side Four, Track Three
"Shine a Light" – 4:14

[Download link]

I've always heard "Shine a Light" as a fairly typical example of a soul-inflected ballad, no more musically interesting than, say, "Let It Be" or "Take It to the Limit". I never really understood the amount of attention the song attracted—compared to most of the tracks on Exile or any of the ballads on Sticky Fingers, "Shine a Light" is unremarkable.

There is a lot of confusion over who played what on this track. I was going to do some research to clear that up, but it's just not worth it for this vanilla track. I can say that Billy Preston is the man on the B3 (moonlighting from his gig at the time over at Abbey Road Studios), and who was perhaps asked to use his extensive gospel background to help arrange the song.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Please excuse the short interruption.

I've been ill for the last week, and haven't had the energy to finish off Exile. I'll get to it very soon, I promise.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Stop Breaking Down

Exile on Main St.
Side Four, Track Two
"Stop Breaking Down" (Robert Johnson) – 4:34

[Download link]

I read Greil Marcus's Mystery Train at an impressionable age. You all know the book, I won't recap it for you. One of the things Marcus did was turn me off blues music performed by white people. He didn't do this intentionally—much of Mystery Train discusses how Randy Newman, The Band, and especially Elvis incorporated blues into their best work. But by doing so he highlighted the fact that the best work by these artist incorporated blues, changed it, used it to create something entirely new.

I've talked here about the many limp Stones attempts at blues. I've mostly framed my comments within the "what is gained by having the Stones perform 'I Can't Be Satisfied' when I can just as easily hear Muddy Waters play it?" argument. Typing this up, I was going to address the "cultural theft" issue, but it's not even necessary—there is simply no value-added by a Stones blues shuffle when so many performances by authentic blues giants are easily available. It's like hearing about a new John Mellencamp album—do we really need this?

It seems that by Let It Bleed the Stones started thinking the same way. Or at least that's how it appears. They started taking fewer passes at traditional-style blues and more attempts at incorporating the blues to create something new: they did blues-as-rock, blues-as-country, and blues-as-opera. On "Stop Breaking Down", they reach back to some real deep blues roots—it doesn't get much deeper than Robert Johnson—and just rock the shit out of it. In spite of what I said in my last post, this song truly captures the sprawl, the reach, the ambition of Exile.

I'll leave the last word for Greil Marcus, who ruined so many Led Zeppelin songs for me, placing "Stop Breaking Down" at the number one spot in his top 5 Robert Johnson songs performed by rock artists.

This was the fifth straight LP on which the Stones included a country blues, but the first album on which they approached country blues as rock 'n' roll—perhaps because in sound and spirit the rest of the album approached rock 'n' roll as country blues. Exile was a nice tour of morgues, courthouses, sinking ships, claustrophobic rooms, deserted highways; the whole album was a breakdown, one long night of fear. Johnson's hottest bragging song gave the Stones a chance to blow the fear away. With Mick squeaking his harp, calling for chorus after chorus, this stands as one of the Stones' best.

It occurred to me that I hadn't listed to Robert Johnson's original in some time. Here it is. Stuff I got'll bust your brains out, baby, it'll make you lose your mind. That's some good bragging music right there.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

All Down the Line

Exile on Main St.
Side Four, Track One
"All Down the Line" – 3:49

[Download link]

Side four now, coming down the stretch. "All Down the Line" has a little pinch of everything that made the Stones great during this era: one of Keith's great open-G intros, a terrific Jagger performance, a tight rhythm section. There's some great slide work from Mick Taylor, neat horn charts, a singalong chorus. The Stones did all of these things better in other songs, but never brought them all together like they did here.

I'd forgotten how much I loved this song. It rivals "Brown Sugar" in dance floor potential, it rocks harder than "Bitch". "All Down the Line" is a party in a can.

Ahh, the seventies. That Mick Taylor could really play, couldn't he?

Monday, September 29, 2008

Let It Loose

Exile on Main St.
Side Three, Track Five
"Let It Loose" – 5:17

[Download link]

The Mick Voice has finally arrived. We have heard traces of it before, but I believe "Let It Loose" represents the first blossoming of this glorious flower. I previously described The Mick Voice as "jaw sticking out, severe underbite, slurring words all over the place — think of the first line of 'Angie'" and if this doesn't meet that description, nothing does.

There's nothing really interesting about this track apart from Mick. It is the most boring song on the album, and even Dr. John, who sat in on piano, can't distinguish this trifle.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Don Gardner - My Baby Likes to Boogaloo (nonstones)

Don Gardner
"My Baby Likes to Boogaloo"
(Tru-Glo-Town, 1967)

[Download link]

I ran across this old Soul Sides post, which linked me to Don Gardner's apocalyptic "My Baby Likes to Boogaloo". I am posting the song without commentary, except to say that this is maybe the hardest rocking song I have ever heard.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

I Just Want to See His Face

Exile on Main St.
Side Three, Track Four
"I Just Want to See His Face" – 2:52

[Download link]

Jagger on the song in 1992:

"I Just Want to See His Face" was a jam with Charlie and Mick Taylor. I don't know who's playing keyboards, maybe I am. I don't even know what album it was on. That was on Exile? I think it was just a trio originally, though other people might have been added eventually. It was a complete jam. I just made the song up there and then over the riff that Charlie and Mick were playing. That's how I remember it, anyway. I'd forgotten about that one.
I'm just playing the Doubting Thomas. I don't think it's a particularly rare idea.

An obvious studio jam, repeating the V-IV-I chords changes endlessly. A straight up gospel number. "You don't want to walk and talk about Jesus, you just wanna see His face." Some wacky percussion buried in the mix, and a couple (at least!) of overdubbed basses. No guitars. A strange little number. Right up Tom Waits's alley:
...that song had a big impact on me, particularly learning how to sing in that high falsetto, the way Jagger does. When he sings like a girl, I go crazy. I said, 'I've got to learn how to do that.'
That's two Waits references in a row. Hmm... I got an idea for a new blog!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Ventilator Blues

Exile on Main St.
Side Three, Track Three
"Ventilator Blues" (Jagger, Richards, Mick Taylor) – 3:24

[Download link]

Hey, Mick Taylor gets a writing credit! Bet he was happy about that, eh?


"Ventilator Blues" marks the first and only time guitarist Mick Taylor would be given credit alongside regular Stones scribes Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. While his exact amount of input is unknown, Taylor's contribution of the song's opening slide riff is considered the main reason he was given the credit, as it drives the song.

"Lumbering" is I guess the word you'd use to describe the song. The jerky rhythm always sounded like one of Tom Waits's existential blues recordings from Bone Machine.

There really isn't anything notable about the song apart from Jagger, who is in full Mick Jagger mode, double-tracked for even more Jaggery goodness.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Turd on the Run

Exile on Main St.
Side Three, Track Two
"Turd on the Run" – 2:37

[Download link]

Grabbed hold of your coat tail but it come off in my hand
I reached for your lapel but it weren't sewn on so grand
Begged, promised anything if only you would stay
Well I lost a lot of love over you

Well, the song sounds like shit. Can we agree on that? This is the type of production/mixing clusterfuck that would keep Mick bitching years later.

Fell down to my knees and I hung on to your pants
But you just kept on running while they ripped off in my hands
Diamond ring, vaseline, you give me disease
Well I lost a lot of love over you

A double-time blues boogie, the kind of thing ZZ Top could milk for an entire album. We expect more from The Stones, though. Some nice harp work from Mick doesn't make up for the unfinished feel of the composition.

I boogied in the ballroom, I boogied in the dark
Tie your hands, tie your feet, throw you to the shark
Make you sweat, make you scream, make you wish you'd never been
I lost a lot of love over you

That verse always reminded me of the version of "Reelin' and Rockin'" that Chuck Berry performed on American Hot Wax:

We boogied in the kitchen
We boogied in the hall
I boogied on my finger
and wiped it on the wall

That's the verse they always censor. Here is that performance, with that risqué part removed.

The Equals - Softly Softly (nonstones)

The Equals
"Softly Softly"
2:12 (can't find any songwriting credits)

I'm back, baby. I've spent the last month or so avoiding the Stones, recharging my batteries. Now, to ease back into the groove, I'm going with the greatest Stones ripoff ever recorded, The Equals "Softly Softly".


The Equals were a pop/reggae/rock group that formed in North London, England in 1965. They are remembered mostly for the fact that Eddy Grant, then sporting dyed blonde hair, was in the group. Also in the original line-up were the twin brothers Derv and Lincoln Gordon, as well as John Hall and Pat Lloyd with supporting drummer Paul Pegler.
I gather that The Equals were famous—to the extent that they were—primarily in the UK, which may explain why I'd never heard of them until I downloaded this track off Napster in 1999. Since then, I've become more familiar with their singles, which are all great, and deserve to be better known in North America (I am particularly fond of "I Get So Excited"). At some point I may do a retrospective post on the band, but for now I just wanted to get back into regular posting habits by singling out this great "Satisfaction" ripoff.

More info on The Equals can be had here, here, and their MySpace page.

Sunday, August 17, 2008


Exile on Main St.
Side Three, Track One
"Happy" – 4:23

[Save link]

Keith steps out into the spotlight here, due probably to Mick's missingness at the "studio" in France. I'll probably have to make a separate post just to discuss the shenanigans at Nellcote, so look for that. "Happy" is another one of those songs that nobody seems to like except me. It is a total mess, mix-wise, even worse than most of this album, but Keith's rhythm guitar is always right out there in front, and that is enough to get a pass from me.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Loving Cup

Exile on Main St.
Side Two, Track Four
"Loving Cup" – 4:23

[Save link]

A little bit of trivia: of the first nine songs on Exile, four of them start their verses on chords other than the tonic. "Rocks Off" and "Sweet Virginia" start on the IV, "Torn and Frayed" and "Loving Cup" being the verse on the V. Unusual, if not particularly notable. Can you sense that I have nothing to say about this track?

Here's a clip of the Stones playing the song around the time of its release. The performance is not particularly notable, but Keith is wearing one of the greatest belts I have ever seen. Even Vinnie Pazienza would have been embarrassed to wear that thing into the ring.

Another piece of trivia: this is the third Youtube clip I have posted where Keith has forgotten to bring a guitar strap to a television taping. What's that all about?

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Sweet Black Angel

Exile on Main St.
Side Two, Track Three
"Sweet Black Angel" – 2:54

[Save link]

I am going to put forward the proposition that "Sweet Black Angel" was the only good political song Mick Jagger ever had a hand in. Except for "Street Fighting Man". That was a good one, too. I guess "Gimme Shelter" counts as well. But that's it: "Sweet Black Angel" was one of only three good political songs that Mick Jagger could claim any credit for. Every other time he ventured into this arena he wound up embarrassing himself: "Undercover Of The Night" is shit, "Let's Work" is ridiculous, and we don't even have to discuss "Sweet Neo Con".

The Sweet Black Angel, if you're not familiar, was Angela Davis, a political activist and possessor of one of the great Afros of all time who was then facing a murder charge in association with a Black Panthers-related shootout (see Associated Press report of the incident – she was later acquitted). Davis was on trial during the recording of Exile, but who knows what prompted Mick to take a stand on this issue, penning some of his better lyrics:

Well, she ain't no singer, she ain't no star,
But she sure talk good and she move so fast.
But the gal in danger, yeah, the gal in chains,
But she keep on pushing
Would you take her place?
She counting up the minutes, she counting up the days,
She's a sweet black angel, not a sweet black slave.
More on Angela Davis here.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Torn and Frayed

Exile on Main St.
Side Two, Track Two
"Torn and Frayed" – 4:17

[Save link]

Well the ballrooms and smelly bordellos
and dressing rooms filled with parasites.
On stage the band has got problems,
they're a bag of nerves on first nights.

Rock and roll autobiographies come in all kinds. There's the tediously frank Lennon style ("Ballad of John and Yoko", "Mother"), the comic bragging style perfected by Springsteen ("Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out", "Growing Up"). You have the sepia-toned nostalgia of Van Morrison's "Cleaning Windows", the egomaniacally specific "Solsbury Hill", and the whatever-it-is of "Nutbush City Limits". Wikipedia has a long list of these type of songs. The Stones check in with "Torn and Frayed", ostensibly about the wearying life of a band who is not the Stones on the road.

Joe's got a cough, sounds kind a rough.
Yeah, and the codeine to fix it.
Doctor prescribes drug store supplies
Who's gonna help him to kick it?

The recording itself is a sloppy mess of a mix, sloppier even given the sloppy standards of Exile. This has been the subject of some complaints, notably Mick, Jagger who has been vocal in his remarks. I'll address his comments in a future post. Me, I don't mind the mix at all. I said it before, but Exile's greatest virtue is the scope of its ambition, and it almost seems to me that the band wanted to follow these ambitions without having to worry about little things like getting a good sound on the bass or recording the high hat properly.

Well his coat is torn and frayed.
It`s seen much better days.
Just as long as the guitar plays
let it steal your heart away.

It is well known that Mick was getting a little fed up with the rampant drug use within and around the band. Here, at least, he used that frustration to good use, coming up with some of his best lyrics on the album.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Sweet Virginia

Exile on Main St.
Side Two, Track One
"Sweet Virginia" – 4:25

[Save link]

Thank you for your wine, California
Thank you for your sweet and bitter fruit
Yes I got the desert in my toe nail
And I hid the speed inside my shoe

Some of the best lyrics Mick ever had a hand in. Musically, "Sweet Virginia" is sort of the sequel to "Love in Vain", although Charlie Watts and Bobby Keys show up to give the song a more rocking backbone. One of the things I noticed here that could be applied to any number of songs from this era: the Stones had a way of sounding incredibly sloppy but actually playing very precisely. Much of the charm of this song is hearing Charlie ramble around the kit seemingly aimlessly and Mick slur his lyrics incoherently, as if half asleep.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Tumbling Dice

Exile on Main St.
Side One, Track Five
"Tumbling Dice" – 3:45

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"Tumbling Dice" evolved from an earlier unreleased Stones track called "Good Time Women", which has the same chord changes but a completely different melody:

The recording of "Tumbling Dice" proper took place in four different studios over three years, beginning at Stargroves during the Sticky Fingers sessions. There are at least three different bass tracks, uncountable guitar overdubs, and five different singers overdubbing who knows how many parts. The whole thing is a mess, a glorious, glorious mess.

The key, I think, is the rhythm section. Watts and Wyman (and Taylor on one of the bass overdubs) lock down the laid back midtempo grove, give it strength and direction, and while those sloppy guitars and vocal tracks meander aimlessly, the rhythm section is there to anchor the whole thing, keep it from drifting too far.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Abridged Zeppelin (nonstones)

Unledded: The Abridged Zeppelin I

A few months ago I was reflecting on the fact that whenever I played a Zeppelin album, I spent a large part of the time leaning on the fast forward button. I came to the realisation that over the years my love for Led Zeppelin has become very focused: I no longer have any use for the fantasy elements (maidens and goblins and all that), I hate hearing blues played by white guys in blackface, I can do entirely without British folk music played by a heavy metal band. All I really want from bands like Zeppelin is the riffs. That's all: monster riffs played by six overdubbed guitars that sound like the end of the world.

I began re-imagining what their albums would sound like if stripped of all the elements that I didn't like, left with only those riffs. I began to think that would be one of the greatest albums ever. Unlike most of these flights of fancy, I actually spent a bit of time making this dream come to life. I loaded up Zeppelin I in Audacity, and trimmed out everything about that album I didn't need. Here is what I ended up with: Zeppelin I in 14 minutes, with just the guitar goodness.

1. "Good Times, Bad Times"

2. "Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You"

3. "Dazed and Confused"

4. "Your Time Is Gonna Come"

5. "Communication Breakdown"

6. "How Many More Times"

Casino Boogie

Exile on Main St.
Side One, Track Four
"Casino Boogie" – 3:33

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On an album with aspirations that encompass nothing less than the entire scope of American blues-based popular music, "Casino Boogie" stands out as a somewhat less than thrilling track. There's nothing particularly bad about this lazy shuffle, but it has virtually nothing to recommend it either. In that way it's a call back to the early days of the Stones, when their albums were chock full of nondescript blues songs[*]. I suppose this is one of those tracks Exile could have done without, except that a big part of the charm of the album is the looseness, the disregard for an organisational plan, that allows the band to experiment in productive ways – but also gives them the freedom to take a break from challenging numbers, and churn out some filler like "Casino Boogie".

[*  when their albums were chock full of nondescript blues songs: Of course, in those days, the mere fact that a British band was performing blues songs with passion, if not ability, was a reason to sit up and take notice.]

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Shake Your Hips

Exile on Main St.
Side One, Track Three
"Shake Your Hips" (Slim Harpo) – 2:59

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Kind of a proto-ZZ Top shuffle via John Lee Hooker on the one. The Stones attack the blues from many different directions on Exile, but on "Hips" they meet the blues head on – something they haven't done in a while (maybe since "Parachute Woman"). I was never a big fan of this track, but now I'm starting to hear some things that escaped me before: Charlie's clickity clackity percussion work; Mick's echo-drenched vocal; Keith's chugging open-G rhythm work.

"Shake Your Hips" is a song closely associated with its composer, Slim Harpo (né James Moore). Swear to god, until this moment, I thought the songs was one of those ancient delta blues songs, but it turns out that Harpo first performed it in 1966, only three years before the Stones recorded it using his arrangement. Take a listen:

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Rip This Joint

Exile on Main St.
Side One, Track Two
"Rip This Joint" – 2:23

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Mama said yes, Papa said no
Make up you mind 'cause I gotta go

This is as close as the Stones got to the sheer anarchy of those great Little Richard singles: two minutes of sustained chaos.

I really have nothing to say here. "Rip This Joint" has always been one of my favourites, and if you put on some headphones, turn up the volume, and press the play button above, it will become one of your favourites as well.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Rocks Off

Exile on Main St.
Side One, Track One
"Rocks Off" – 4:32

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When I first started this blog, I was enthusiastic about getting to two areas of the Stones discography: their shitty late-70s and 80s material, and Exile on Main St. – the former because it's always more fun to write about bad things than good things, and the latter because Exile is a special album to me, one that has accompanied me through every music phase that I went through over the years. Reviews of the album typically use the words "sprawling" and "mess" in the description, and there can be no argument that Exile is maybe not as concise as it could have been. However, by trying to do so many things on those four side, not limiting themselves to the best material or apt arrangements, they managed to produce music that can appeal to a listener is different ways depending on the mood.

Exile opens with Keith playing that brutal "Rocks Off" riff, and the effect is opening your front door to have someone punch you in the face.

Charlie and Mick Taylor come in, beefing up the sound, and then it's off to the races, with Jagger slurring incoherently about real and imagined slights. Here and there you hear a phrase that sticks out

The sunshine bores the daylights out of me.
Chasing shadows moonlight mystery.
Headed for the overload, splattered on the dusty road.
Kick me like you've kicked before, I can't even feel the pain no more.

But I only get my rocks off while I'm dreaming.

Justin Heming was a friend who died yesterday. I was going to write a little memorial, but now I find that I can't. Sorry, man. Can't do it. All I can say is this: he was a great guy and musician, and one of the best compliments I can give to anyone is to say that they had a great record collection. Here he is playing straight-up rock and roll on that familiar low-hung bass for the Brown Hornets.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Cancon! III: Rise of the Machines (nonstones)

Even more CanCon, nuggets from 90s Canadian alternative radio.

Sloan, "Coax Me"

The Super Friendz, "Karate Man"

The Odds, "It Falls Apart"

Lowest of the Low, "Pistol"

CanCon! II: The Legend of Curly's Gold (nonstones)

More CanCon, nuggets from 90s Canadian alternative radio.

The Mahones, "Dragging the Days"

BTK, "Peppyrock"

King Apparatus, "Five Good Reasons"

Northern Pikes, "Kiss Me You Fool"

CanCon! (nonstones)


Here, without comment, are four Canadian tracks from the 80s and 90s.

54-40, Baby Ran

Me, Mom, and Morgentaler, No More Nervous Breakdown

Doug and the Slugs, Real Enough

Bourbon Tabernacle Choir, Original Grin

Sticky Fingers Roundup

Sticky Fingers Roundup

1. "Brown Sugar" – 3:50
2. "Sway" – 3:52
3. "Wild Horses" – 5:44
4. "Can't You Hear Me Knocking" – 7:15
5. "You Gotta Move" (Fred McDowell/Rev. Gary Davis) – 2:34
6. "Bitch" – 3:37
7. "I Got the Blues" – 3:54
8. "Sister Morphine" (Mick Jagger/Keith Richards/Marianne Faithfull) – 5:34
9. "Dead Flowers" – 4:05
10. "Moonlight Mile" – 5:56

The Stones are really on a roll: Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, and now Sticky Fingers. The biggest change came with the addition of Mick Taylor – finally the band had a world class lead guitar player, and as "Knocking" and "Moonlight Mile" proved, he had some interesting rhythm ideas as well.

The album is unusual in that it features only three rockers – the rest of the songs are mostly mellow, if not contemplative.

Some background info from Wikipedia:

Although sessions for Sticky Fingers began in earnest in March 1970, they had done some early recording at Muscle Shoals Studios in Alabama in December 1969 and "Sister Morphine", cut during Let It Bleed's sessions earlier in March of that year, would be held over for this release. Much of the recording for Sticky Fingers was effected with The Rolling Stones' mobile studio unit in Stargroves during the summer and fall months in 1970. Early versions of songs that would appear on Exile on Main St. were also routined during these sessions.
With the end of their Decca/London association at hand, The Rolling Stones would finally be free to release their albums (cover art and all) as they pleased. However, soon-to-be-ex-manager Allen Klein (who took over the reins from Andrew Loog Oldham in 1965 so that Oldham could concentrate on producing the band), dealt the group a major blow when they discovered - to their horror - that they had inadvertently signed over their entire 1960s copyrights to Klein and his company ABKCO, which is how all of their material from 1963's "Come On" to Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out! The Rolling Stones in Concert has since come to be released by ABKCO Records. The band would remain incensed with Klein for decades over the swindle.

When Decca informed The Rolling Stones that they were owed one more single, they cheekily submitted a track called "Cocksucker Blues" - which was guaranteed to be refused. Instead, Decca released the two-year-old Beggars Banquet track "Street Fighting Man" while Allen Klein would have dual copyright ownership - with The Rolling Stones - of "Brown Sugar" and "Wild Horses".

Sticky Fingers may just be the band's most drug-drenched album, as well over half of the songs mention drug use, while the rest merely allude to it. Some final overdubbing and mixing in January 1971, found the album complete and preceded by "Brown Sugar" that March, which reached #1 in the US and #2 in the UK. Appearing in April on their new Rolling Stones label (with distribution by WEA Music), Sticky Fingers was rapturously-received and hit #1 worldwide, beginning an uninterrupted string of eight consecutive chart-topping US studio albums. "Wild Horses", covered by Keith Richard's friend Gram Parsons with The Flying Burrito Brothers, was the second single in the US only, making the Top 30.

Moonlight Mile

Stick Fingers
Track 10
"Moonlight Mile" – 5:56

The story goes that Mick Taylor's first major contributions were on "Sway" and "Moonlight Mile", two songs the Stones had already recorded rudimentary demos of. Taylor came in and, with Jagger, finished the songs off, playing all the guitars as well as arranging the songs (including adding the string sections). Taylor later said that he quit the band because of Jagger and Richard's refusal to grant him songwriting credits.

Keith does not play on "Moonlight Mile", and although the lead acoustic riff is frequently credited to Jagger, it is pretty clearly Taylor's work. Here, we get an idea of what the Stones would have sounded like without Keith – it turns out they would have sounded exactly like the Beatles, complete with a double-tracked lead vocal.

The lyrics fall into the whiny "being a rock star is so hard!" genre that Mick dipped into on occaiasion. They do have a particular grace and facility on "Moonlight Mile", suggestive of Lennon:

Made a rag pile of my shiny clothes.
Gonna warm my bones, gonna warm my bones.
I got silence on my radio.
Let the air waves flow, let the air waves flow.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Dead Flowers

Sticky Fingers
Track 9
"Dead Flowers" – 4:05


You all know this one. A classical midtempo country groove, some tasteful string bending, a catchy melody. That's the way you write a drug song: you make it too good to ignore.

Steve Earle liked the song too:
Dead Flowers - Steve Earle

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Sister Morphine

Sticky Fingers
Track 8
"Sister Morphine" (Mick Jagger/Keith Richards/Marianne Faithfull) – 5:34

As soon as you're born they make you feel small
By giving you no time instead of it all

Oh, wait. That's a different song. Sorry.

"Sister Morphine" was written (or co-written – the record is a little unclear) by Marianne Faithfull, who was a famous junkie in the sixties. She also apparently had a sideline as a singer/songwriter. Given that description, you won't be surprised to learn that I haven't heard her version of the song, nor have any desire to hear it ever (I'll put it down at the end of this post). The Stones' version of "Sister Morphine" is a drag, slow and blue, simulating, I suppose, the experience of junkyism in musical form.

Listen: I am a 37 year old middle class white guy with a house, job, and a dog. I'll go out on weekends and knock back a few pints with friends. I give money to homeless people in an attempt to curb my innate liberal guilt. I watch sports on TV. I don't want to hear songs about how some famous rich cunt in the sixties ruined her own fucking life, okay? I just don't give a shit.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

I Got the Blues

Sticky Fingers
Track 7
"I Got the Blues" – 3:54

I'd forgotten that Sticky Fingers was such a ballad oriented album – "Sway", "Wild Horses", and now "I Got the Blues".

I'd also forgotten what a great song this is – a letter-perfect ripoff of an Otis Redding soul balled, complete with a Steve Cropper arpeggio into, B3 solo (by Billy Preston, moonlighting from his gig over at Abbey Road Studios), and Otis horns (by the previously dissed – regretfully, may I add – Bobby Keys and Jim Price). In an earlier entry I wrote that there comes a point when commitment turns into caricature, when homage turns into parody. It's easy to understand how someone could think that "I Got the Blues" maybe crossed the line, but I'm inclined to give the Stones a break here. Unlike some of their other attempts to mimic their heroes and influences, this track is notable for how well it is executed – not only did they manage to write a song Otis could have sung, they played it pretty much exactly the way he would have recorded it.

Here they are performing the song live at the Marquee Club in London on March 26, 1971. Otis had been dead for three years.


Sticky Fingers
Track 6
"Bitch" – 3:37

Unlike many other canonical rock bands, the Stones didn't really go in for single-string riff rock. Whereas Zeppelin had dozens of songs in that style (eg "Heartbreaker", "Whole Lotta Love", "Good Times, Bad Times", "Black Dog"), "Bitch" is the only Stones song I can think of off the top of my head.

It's not a particularly good song, although the riff itself has a kind of satisfying inevitability to it. One of the things that's always bugged me about the track is the horns: they sound like shit. I don't know why that is. Maybe I'm just used to the contemporaneous horn charts of Stax and Muscle Shoals and on all the R&B/Soul recordings of the era, which represent the pinnacle of horns on pop/rock recordings. Compare, say, Aretha's version of "The Weight", recorded the year before the Stones recorded "Bitch" (the horns kick in on the second verse):

Hear the difference? The horn charts on "The Weight" act as a counterpoint to the melody, and take off at odd angles, rhythmically and harmonically. The three horns on "Bitch" (sax by Bobby Keys, Jim Price on trumpet and trombone) play in unison with each other and with the main guitar riff. I've never liked the sound of unison horns, which sound totally artificial to my ears. (Don't the "Bitch" horns sound exactly like the early digital synthesised horns of the 80s?) I think that's what's always bugged me about this song.

Anyway, here's a great live recording of "Bitch", from a concert in Houston, Texas, June 25 1972.

Friday, July 11, 2008

You Gotta Move

Sticky Fingers
Track 5
"You Gotta Move" (Fred McDowell/Rev. Gary Davis) – 2:34

This is the old blues number "You Got to Move", recorded by any number of artists over the years and on YouTube, but associated primarily with its "composer" Mississippi Fred McDowell. Composer in quotes – it's hard to know if anyone actually composed any particular blues song, since so many of the melodies and lyrics were floating around in the public domain and had a habit of turning up over and over again in different songs. Anyway, the Stones took a crack at it for some reason, with Mick Taylor on the 12-string playing slide and Mick Jagger singing in blackface.

Anyway, enough about the Stones. Back in high school, their version led me indirectly to the version by the Five Blind Boys of Alabama, a gospel group whose career stretches back to the depression, who spent a lot of time on my turntable over the last two decades. This is the second time Blogging the Stones has come across the group (previously on "The Last Time"), and I've got two songs lined up for you today. Here they are singing "You Got To Move" (click title to download).

Here they are singing one of my favourite gospel compositions, "Here Am I":

Can't You Hear Me Knocking

Sticky Fingers
Track 4
"Can't You Hear Me Knocking" – 7:15

I have a class of mp3s on my hard drive tagged "intros" – that is, the best opening few seconds of songs. I created it years ago just for "Can't You Hear Me Knocking", which may be the best intro of them all. Check it out:

Isn't that the filthiest, most obscene guitar tone ever? Mick Taylor comes in a steals the whole show in the first 10 seconds with that lewd, smutty riff [*]. Sticky Fingers is Taylor's album, and "Knocking" is his song. Keith could never have come up with a riff like that – if fact, none of the other guitar heroes of the day could have: they were all single-string soloist, and the "Knocking" riff is built on those Chuck Berry double stops [**]. JustinSosa shows how it's done:

Easy to play, difficult to come up with in the first place. Kudos to you, Mr Taylor. That is a riff for the ages.

This is a song that starts with a bang and ends with a whimper – specifically, that fusiony Santana-like coda which seems to go on forever. I have no idea what they were thinking – I mean, talk about sucking the air out of the room. To remedy the situation, I have deleted that coda on my mp3, fading the song out at its natural ending.

[Download here.]

[* that lewd, smutty riff: I have now exhausted my thesaurus for synonyms of "nasty".]
[** Chuck Berry double stops: a double stop is when a guitarist solos by playing two notes on adjacent strings simultaneously by "barring" the strings with a single finger. Chuck Berry popularised (invented?) the technique on his great singles hits.]

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Wild Horses

Sticky Fingers
Track 3
"Wild Horses" – 5:44

It's Ballads Day here at Blogging the Stones. But I have to tell you, "Wild Horses" really suffers in comparison to "Sway".

I am of two minds when it comes to "Wild Horses". I can see what the band was going for, a pop-sounding ballad with a catchy sing-along chorus. It's obvious they succeeded in their attempt. But... I don't know. The tone of regret is so contrived, especially after the soul-baring on "Sway". I know, I know: it's the Stones – everything they did was contrived. But I can't help but think that "Wild Horses" was a song for their fans, and "Sway" was a song for themselves.

God, we're only three songs into Sticky Fingers and already there's two great songs I have extremely mixed feelings about. Luckily, the songs that follow seem to be less ambiguous.

Instead of posting a bunch of links to the lame covers inspired by the Stones recording, I'll just post this. Because, honestly, there is nothing funnier than Mick posing for the cameras in the studio.

And one more, from the L.A. Forum, July 13, 1975 – just for the pics!


Sticky Fingers
Track 2
"Sway" – 3:52

Welcome to the band, Mr Taylor. Make yourself at home.

Micks Jagger and Taylor finished this song off together while Keith was off doing Christ knows what. The slide solo in the middle shows off what Taylor brought to the table, and what in retrospect the band had been needing for years. Because while Keith was an excellent rhythm guitarist, inventive and versatile, his solos lacked a true identity. How the band managed to get to this point without a true lead guitar player is a credit to the strength of their songs. But once Taylor entered the studio it must have felt like the missing piece of a puzzle falling into place.

"Sway" is, I would argue, the best Stones ballad. The competition is pretty thin – ballads are not what the band did best. But "Sway" is a legitimately great song, it's dragging tempo full of regret and missed opportunities. Jagger's vocal is one of his best performances.

Live "Sway":
Sway - The Rolling Stones