Monday, June 16, 2008

Honky Tonk Women

"Honky Tonk Women" – 3:02

I don't know if Keith had ever recorded a song playing in open-G tuning previous to this. I'm looking over my notes, and while I see that he's used open-D a few times ("Jumpin' Jack Flash", for example), I can't find an instance of open-G. Maybe one of the blues tunes on the Stones' first couple of albums, although I've heard that it was Ry Cooder that showed Keith the wonders of open-G ("Five strings, three notes, two fingers, and one asshole") during the Beggars Banquet sessions. In any case, "Honky Tonk Women" is certainly the first time Keith really exploited its possibilities.

I was considering writing up an "Open-G for non-musicians" primer here, but concluded that would be needlessly pedantic. It will suffice to say that non-standard tunings facilitate certain note combinations that aren't usually heard – suspended 2nds and 4ths are its identifying traits. Additionally, it is possible to use open strings (ie strings allowed to ring freely without being fretted by the player's fingers) more often in this tuning, creating a really full sound. Furthermore, minor chords are more difficult to finger in open-G, and you'll note a relative lack of minor chords in the Stones songs from this period. Anyway, even if you don't know what I'm talking about, you'll recognise the sound, it is quite distinctive – think of the opening bars of "Start Me Up" or "You Can't Always Get What You Want".

From here on out, Keith used open-G a lot: almost half of the tracks on Let it Bleed and Sticky Fingers used open-G (and most of the rest used open-D). On Exile, only "Loving Cup" and "Torn and Frayed" had Keith playing in standard tuning.

I am going on about the goddamn tuning because I want to avoid talking about "Honky Tonk Women", a song I don't particularly enjoy outside of Keith's great riff. I know it's part of their whole image and mystique, but the misogyny is really unappealing to me, and manages to poison the whole song. So there you go: a great riff ruined by Mick's personality.

BTW I should be starting Let it Bleed right now, but in this era bands like the Stones frequently released singles that did not appear on a contemporaneous studio album. Like "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and Beggars Banquet, "Honky" clearly is related to the material on Let it Bleed so I am sticking this entry here rather than wait for its actual album appearance (on the Through The Past, Darkly comp).

Also, check out this amusing document, from a Stones performance at Hyde Park in 1969.


Planet Mondo said...

Nanker on the subject of open G, I'm a guitar player(but don't know music theory), check this piece I made using a two tele's tuned to open G, it was written and recorded in 10 minutes... 'Stoner'

Ron said...

"A great riff ruined by Mick's personality"-
I am pretty sure you are kidding here right?
Isn't that what seperates the stones from other clone open G tuning bands like the crowes and humble pie. They have a singer with almost too much personality.

I love this slow version. You almost taste that nasty drip of cocaine running down the back of your throat. Its disgusting!

Nanker said...

@Mondo – I once spent two years of my life with all my guitars tuned to open-G. It's so easy to come up with something that sounds decent in that tuning for some reason, even for a shitty guitarist like me.

@Ron – I was vague. Of course it's Mick's personality that makes the Stones great. But it's this particular aspect of his personality that makes me angry. I get it, Mick. You hate women. Fine. Can you sing about something else for a change?