Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Rolling Stones 50

Hope I die before I get old.

Yeah Pete Townsend wrote that years ago but The Rolling Stones I Can't Get No Satisfaction was a statement of the times when it came out back in 65. But fifty years down the road later and The Rolling Stones are rock and roll's oldest rock band, no longer world's greatest rock and roll band, a argument upon itself.  Even as a youngster AM radio had a mystery all of its own as they played just about anything that came out on record, country, rock pop and blues all seem to go hand in hand in the newly formed rock era.  But as the 60s grew into turmoil and chaos from the peace and love tendencies The Stones came upon their very own, scoring big albums like Beggar's Banquet  Let It Bleed and having their own label to which Sticky Fingers and Exile On Main Street remain their all time best.

Back in 65, they were the Anti Beatles, the evil rock stars your parents forbid you to listen to. But even back then, The Rolling Stones had a love of R and B, and chess blues to pepper their early albums with some original material.  Beginning with Aftermath they started writing their own. There might have been missteps along the way with Their Satanic Majesties Request which was their attempt to redo Sgt. Peppers in their own way but they might have beaten Pink Floyd to the space rock game with 2000 Light Years Away From Home.  But The Rolling Stones also did great singles with Get Off My Cloud, the foreboding Play With Fire and The Last Time, my favorite all time Stones song.  One of my early albums that I ever had was a chewed up copy of Flowers with Ruby Tuesday and Lady Jane but I like the mad fun of Have You See Your Mother Baby Standing In The Shadow? and Out Of Time.  For a money grab, it did provide a nice overview of them on a cheap budget for myself.  Later on getting the Big Hits (Green Grass And High Tide) and Through The Past Darkly with the 67 stomper Jumping Jack Flash and even better Street Fighting Man.  Hipsters with bigger bank accounts managed to get the 2 LP Hot Rocks which presented The Stones in their full glory, the good and the bad, basically Sympathy For The Devil.

The secret weapon of the early years may have been Brian Jones but for myself he was the weakest link, he didn't write many songs, most of that fell upon Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, but Mick Taylor had the be the best guitarist that they ever had, after he replaced Jones, The Rolling Stones made their classic albums, the aforementioned Sticky Fingers and Exile On Main Street, a album that was so drugged out and so Unstoned like that after that they were never the same again.  Maybe they realized they couldn't follow that one up so an end of a era ended and sadly the second era became the money era, to which The Rolling Stoned didn't reinvent themselves but rather followed the money and for a time they made subpar albums. Goat Head Soup and It's Only Rock And Roll which told more about that title than anything else.  And then Mick Taylor left and Ronnie Wood from the Faces replaced him.

In some ways The Stones revisited black R and B and reggae on the you either love it or hate it Black And Blue to which Billy Preston plays on and gives street cred, I like the record fine myself with the Ohio Players gone Kingston (as Bob Christgau calls it) on Hot Stuff, and Mick and Billy trade off Melody but they didn't give up the rock either, they turned in a fine song in Hand Of Fate and the sloppy fun Crazy Mama but Fool To Cry is a boring single.  The last truly classic album was 1978's Some Girls with faves being When The Whip Comes Down, a great cover of Just My Imagination and Shattered although my least faves were the hit singles Miss You and Beast Of Burden.  Emotional Rescue was even more scattershot than Some Girls but it's not a waste, hell Summer Romance and Where The Boys Go I still dig to this day.  Start Me Up leads off Tattoo You and it's a great riff to lead off an album but sad to say that it's been played so many times at sporting events and classic rock radio it's a parody upon itself, while some people think Tattoo You was their final gasp, I didn't like the second side to which the Stones' mellow stuff put me to sleep everytime I played side 2 but they do get points for Sonny Rollins' on Waiting On A Friend.

In the 30 years since Tattoo You, The Rolling Stones albums were a matter of taste and they vary from here on out. Undercover was a piece of shit, Dirty Work was better and Steel Wheels has aged better than when it came out in 89 as a cash grab. What made Dirty Work work was the uneasy tension between Mick and Keith with Keith taking exception to Jagger's solo career and the music showed it as well as Mick's tossed off lyrics.  A big who's who played on that album (Jimmy Page, Tom Waits) but perhaps the best song was the last untitled piano piece by Ian Stewart who would pass away in 1985.  Second favorite track was Keith's cover of Too Rude

It's not to say that the rest of the Rolling Stones catalog was money grabs from concerts and half baked albums.  Voodoo Lounge was pretty good for a band no longer hungry or proving a point, by then Bill Wyman moved on and Darryl Jones took his place and continues to do a good counterpoint to Charlie Watts, the most steady beat drummer in rock history.  Even if Keith and Ronnie are too concern about the way their cigarettes are hanging from their mouths to play competent in their old age, you can always rely on Charlie to keep the beat in time. While Voodoo Lounge was good, I can't say the same for Bridges To Babylon and it ranks along with Undercover and Goat Head Soup as their least.  In 2005, A Bigger Bang came out and it goes on too long, it would have made a nice single album but as a double it doesn't work very well.  Too many slow songs although Sweet Neo Con is a good protest song of the time and Rough Justice has that classic Rolling Stones sound, although the single tanked on the charts. However the Rolling Stones may have turned on one of their best songs of the decade with Bill Wyman rejoining them on a song off Ben Waters' Boogie For Stu (Watching The River Flow) (Eagle Records 2011)

In the end, money overtook the melody and The Stones have changed record companies and have reissued their albums three times (from CBS to Virgin to now Universal/Republic)  the best way to hear the classic Stones is the Virgin remasters, The Universal stuff is mastered way too loud and it actually ruins Exile On Main Street as well.  There's many Stones live albums out there and it's buyer beware but the go to remains Get Your Ya Yas Out.  Likewise the best ofs, I would stick with the tried and true and Forty Licks is a better buy rather than Universal's reshuffle money grab GRRRRR.  ABKCO 2002's remasters of the London classics are worth the time and money if you haven't gotten them but I haven't gotten rid of my first generation CDs of those albums.

It is a big deal seeing The Rolling Stones touring 50 years later but at ridiculous prices and questionable acts coming up to duet with Gramps Mick and Keith has been a bad attempt to connect with the youngsters. The old version of the Stones in Chicago would have dueted with Buddy Guy or Shemekia Copeland rather than the odious Sheryl Crow and whatever she is Taylor Swift but the one shining light of the tour is that Mick Taylor has joined them again. They won't be around forever and of course, they'll never be broke as long as radio is playing Satisfaction or the NFL playing Start Me Up during kickoffs.  But they used to be a pretty damn good rock band and on occasion can still live up to that title, until somebody hits a bad note.

But they have survived longer than any other band of the 60s.  And that accounts for something.

Discography (incomplete)

England's New Hit Makers (London 1964) B+
12 X 5 (London 1964) A-
Rolling Stones NOW (London 1965) A-
Out Of Our Heads (London 1965) A
December's Childrens (And Everybody) (London 1965) B+
Aftermath (London 1966) A
Got Live If You Want It (London 1966) NR
Between The Buttons (London 1967) A
Flowers (London 1967) A-
Their Satanic Majesties Request (London 1967) B
Beggar's Banquet (London 1968) A-
Let It Bleed (London 1969) A+
Get Your Ya  Ya's Out (London 1970) A-
Big Hits (Green Grass And High Tides) (London) A
Through The Past Darkly (London 1968) A

Sticky Fingers (Rolling Stones 1971) A
Exile On Main Street (Rolling Stones 1972) A+
Goat Head Soup (RS 1973) C
It's Only Rock And Roll (RS 1974) C+
Made In The Shade (RS 1975) B
Black And Blue (RS 1976) A-
Love You Live (RS 1977) C+
Some Girls (RS 1978) A
Emotional Rescue (RS 1980) B+
Sucking In The 70s (RS 1980) B
Tattoo You (RS 1981) B-
Still Life (RS 1982) C+
Undercover (RS 1983) C
Dirty Work (RS 1986) A-
Steel Wheels (RS 1989) B
Flashpoint (RS 1990) B
Voodoo Lounge (Virgin 1994) B+
Bridges To Babylon (Virgin 1996) C
Forty Licks (Virgin 2002) A
A Bigger Bang (Virgin 2005) B
GRRRR (Universal 2012) B

And now the first set list ever fifty years ago.  Note the drummer wasn't Charlie Watts but Mick Avory who later drum for another famous Brit band The Kinks.


TAD said...

Crabby: Actually, I thot the 2nd side of TATTOO YOU was suprisingly strong. Especially since I couldn't TAKE EMOTIONAL RESCUE, they just sounded SO tired....
FORTY LICKS is a pretty good hits package, even tho everything I wanted isn't on there ("She's a Rainbow," "Lady Jane," "Dandelion," etc.) -- but some of it's pretty educational: Why wasn't "Street Fighting Man" a hit? Hadta B the lyrics....
& I admit when you line-up all their Good Stuff 1-after-the-next, it's pretty impressive. All the '60s stuff is Classic, obviously. & I thot they still moved around pretty good at the Super Bowl awhile back.
But I still think they shoulda called it quits after about '83. I'm sure Keith never figured 2 still B doin' this in his late 60s or whatever. & how does Charlie keep up?

R S Crabb said...

Actually I think Charlie is the one that keeps things from falling apart.

The Stones's expiration date came around Some Girls although they have shown a flash of brilliance from time to time. The best of the later years (Steel Wheels, Voodoo Lounge, Bigger Bang) Simply has too much subpar music to make them classic, make them pick the best 8 or 10 songs and they would hold up as well as the 60s and 70s stuff.

But Undercover and Bridges To Babylon are two turds that stink up the catalog as well as the money grab re reissues. I can't get over how lousy Exile On Main Street sounds due to new technology aka the LOUDNESS factor. As long you can find the Virgin CDs second hand your better off. Still anything after Some Girls your going have debates of which was the last good Stones album. The band farting still beats anything from Undercover or Bridges, and still can't get into Tattoo You but Steel Wheels has gotten better over the years than 1989. Nevertheless, The Stones classic albums long gone, they're basically touring to get retirement money (like they really need it) and giving special guests like Taylor Swift or John Mayer privilege to be on the same stage. So far best special guest star remains Mick Taylor and the Stones aren't using him to full advantage. And that to quote a Stones song is sad, sad sad.