Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Gimme Shelter

Let It Bleed
Track 1
"Gimme Shelter" – 4:32

I was psyching myself up to get to this song – which I think is probably the Stones' greatest recording – and of course by the time I get to it I have nothing to say. Despite Scorsese's attempts to reduce "Gimme Shelter" to a cliché, it remains as vital as ever due to some terrific percussion work from Charlie Watts and producer Jimmy Miller.

Merry Clayton is the singer who comes in a steals the show. Friend of the blog Mondo hipped me to her solo recording of "Gimme Shelter":

Thanks to YouTube, I found a brief clip of Merry doing her thing:

"Gimme Shelter" seems to inpsire some rather unfortunate cover versions. Here is the normally surefooted Funkadelic performing the song in a desultory manner:

Patti Smith can't seem to get her head around the song either:

I don't know who the fuck these people are, but it's this type of stuff that guarantees that I avoid listening to music made after 1979:

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.