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

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Brown Sugar

Sticky Fingers
Track 1
"Brown Sugar" – 3:50


Scarred old slaver knows he's doing all right.
Hear him whip the women, just around midnight.
Brown sugar, how come you taste so good?

Am I being exceedingly politically correct if I said that I find those lyrics just a little... tasteless?

Maybe I am. It was, after all, the Stones' willingness to explore these dark corners that separated them from most of their contemporaries – in a good way. And while some bands, like the Velvet Underground and the Doors, also had material that made people a little uncomfortable, the Stones alone set these lyrics to music that would fill a dance floor. Getting a room full of people to sing and dance along to a song that celebrates slavery and rape constitutes a major accomplishment, although one with Milgram Experiment overtones.

Ah, that last sentence gave it away. Yes, I find the lyrics to the song horrifying, and I can't get past them. I can't even pretend to look at "Brown Sugar" with any sort of objectivity. Attempting to do so was a mistake. Sorry.

Paris Outtakes

You'll like this: captains dead uploaded the album The Rolling Stones Paris Outtakes, Vol 1, from the Some Girls sessions. Head over there and check it out. Vol 2 follows tomorrow.

Update 7/12: As promised, captains dead did indeed post Volume 2 of the Paris Outtakes. Not only that, but that was followed with the Lonely at the Top boot. I haven't listed to that one, but the Paris Outtakes are really good. Thanks, captains dead!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Let It Bleed Roundup

Let It Bleed Roundup

1. "Gimme Shelter" – 4:32
2. "Love in Vain" (Robert Johnson) – 4:22
3. "Country Honk" – 3:10
4. "Live with Me" – 3:36
5. "Let It Bleed" – 5:34
6. "Midnight Rambler" – 6:57
7. "You Got the Silver" – 2:54
8. "Monkey Man" – 4:15
9. "You Can't Always Get What You Want" – 7:30

(See also the related single "Honky Tonk Women".)

You know, any album that opens with a track as strong as "Gimme Shelter" has got a lot going for it. But looking at the track list above, what really strikes me are the two blues numbers, which are as far apart, stylistically, as is possible within a genre so musically limited.: "Love in Vain", perhaps the darkest song of Robert Johnson's legacy, performed by the Stones as a country ballad; and "Midnight Rambler", the Stones' "blues opera", with various tempo changes and a menacing protagonist. These are the products of a group with ambition and control.

"Monkey Man" is the turd floating in the punch bowl. But whaddya gonna do, right? The rest of the album is great.

Some background from Wikipedia:

Although they had begun the recording of "You Can't Always Get What You Want" in March 1968, before Beggars Banquet had been released, recording for Let It Bleed began in earnest in February 1969 and would continue sporadically until November. Brian Jones performs on only two tracks, the autoharp on "You Got the Silver" and percussion on "Midnight Rambler". His replacement Mick Taylor also plays on two tracks, "Country Honk" and "Live With Me." Keith Richards, who had already shared vocal duties with Mick Jagger on a handful of songs ("Connection", "Something Happened to Me Yesterday" and "Salt of the Earth"), sang his first solo lead vocal on a Rolling Stones recording with "You Got the Silver."

During 1968, Richards had been hanging out in London with Gram Parsons, who had left The Byrds on the eve of their departure for a tour in the Republic of South Africa. By all accounts, Parsons had significant impact on Richards' taste in country music, and perhaps as a result of his influence, the band recorded a true honky-tonk song, "Country Honk," a more uptempo and rock and roll version of which would appear as their next single, "Honky Tonk Women." The LP track featured fiddle player Byron Berline, who worked with Parsons frequently throughout the latter's career. Parsons frequently took credit for the arrangement of "Country Honk", although both Jagger and Richards have stated that it was actually the original arrangement of the song as written and conceived while vacationing in Brazil in late 1968. In any event, Parsons had recently introduced the group to his cache of traditional country records and was at least indirectly responsible for this sea change. The singer's own cover, released on the 1976 rarities compilation Sleepless Nights, features a slightly different set of lyrics and yet another arrangement that combines elements of both Stones versions.

Recorded under trying circumstance owing to the band having reached the final impasse with Jones, the album has been called a great summing up of the dark underbelly of the 1960s.[citation needed] In addition to being one of their all-time classics, Bleed is the second of the Stones' run of four studio LPs that are generally regarded as among their greatest achievements artistically, equalled only by the best of their great 45s from that decade. The other three albums are Beggars Banquet (1968), Sticky Fingers (1971), and Exile on Main Street (1972). Steven Van Zandt said the albums represented the "Second Great Era" of the Rolling Stones and called it "the greatest run of albums in history". [1]

Released in December, Let It Bleed reached #1 in the UK (temporarily knocking The Beatles' Abbey Road out of the top slot) and #3 on the Billboard Top Pop Albums chart in the US, where it eventually went double platinum. The album was also critically well-received.

In 1998 Q magazine readers voted Let It Bleed the 69th greatest album of all time, while in 2000 the same magazine placed it at number 28 in its list of the 100 Greatest British Albums Ever. In 2001, the TV network VH1 placed Let It Bleed at number 24 on their best album survey. In 2003, it was listed as number 32 on the List of Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

You Can't Always Get What You Want

Let It Bleed
Track 9
"You Can't Always Get What You Want" – 7:30

This song has by now been reduced to a baby boomer cliché, wistful nostalgia and sepia hues. I wonder if there's any life in it at all.

Do you ever feel that way? I'm sure you have. I used to love this song. I was born just as the sixties culture was dying, and YCAGWYW helped me understand a little of what went on during that time. But now... I don't know. All I can hear is Mick and the band embarrass themselves on stage, performing this song to an uncritical audience who doesn't want to be challenged, just reassured that some things will not change.

Isn't it funny that I can feel that way about some songs, and not about others? I don't even know where this feeling is coming from. But it stands to reason, that if there are songs that are filled with possibilities, there is the chances that these possibilities will fade over time. Why this has happened to "You Can't Always Get What You Want" and not, say, "In My Life" is a mystery to me.

I'll leave you with this clip, the second one I have posted which features Keith forgetting to bring a guitar strap to a television taping:

Monkey Man

Let It Bleed
Track 8
"Monkey Man" – 4:15

Not the Toots and the Maytals song of the same name. In case you were wondering.

This song is the very definition of album filler. The track drags itself along like a man reluctantly making his way to the dentist, barely driven by a pedestrian and forgettable Keith riff, finishing with a coda featuring Mick babbling "I'm a monkey!" over and over – I'll bet he thought they were going to fade that part out.

The only notable aspect of the song are the lyrics, which are hilariously over the top. "I'm a cold Italian pizza"? Really, Mick? That's what it's come to? "I'm a sack of broken eggs"? Jesus.

I'm a flea-bit peanut monkey
All my friends are junkies
That's not really true
I'm a cold Italian pizza
I could use a lemon squeezer
How'd you do?

I've been bit and I've been tossed around
By every she-rat in this town
Have you, babe?

Well, I'm just a monkey man
I'm glad you are a monkey woman too

I was bitten by a boar
I was gouged and I was gored
But I pulled on through
Yes I'm a sack of broken eggs
I always have an unmade bed
Don't you?

Well, I hope we're not too messianic
Or a trifle too satanic
We love to play the blues

Well I am just a monkey man
I'm glad you are a monkey, monkey woman too

Apropos of nothing at all, here is Toots' "Monkey Man":

Sunday, July 6, 2008

You Got the Silver

Let It Bleed
Track 7
"You Got the Silver" – 2:54

Keith's little gem of a ballad. Did he do another one? I can't think of any.

There really isn't anything to the song – a neat melody, some nice pickin' by Keith on an open-E acoustic. Nicky Hopkins once again shows up to save the day by filling out the sound nicely.

Songs like this demand to be covered. Here's Carla Buni: