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.