Round three, with a disclaimer to start:
I would LOVE to post streaming links to the original versions of these songs, or mp3's. But that just ain't possible right now, so if you're checking out some of these songs for the first time, make sure to find the original versions on the albums I've noted they're from.
And with that said, we continue.
40. “Mercy Mercy” (1965, from Out Of Our Heads)
In their earliest incarnation as an R&B cover band, the Stones didn’t always improve on the original they were covering. Usually, they toughened up the sound, making it faster and leaner. With Don Covay's "Mercy Mercy," they not only toughened the song up, they took it away from him. The original is pretty standard R&B fare; a pleading, lilting number begging the singer's love interest to stay. It's a good soul song, but far from special.
The Stones made it special. Keith's intro line supplies an ominousness that is nowhere to be found on the original, and Bill and Charlie outrock and outgroove Covay's rhythm section. But Jagger is the star here; you can hear the first hints of him finding his own style as a vocalist; leonine, with a naughty edge - the Midnight Rambler, junior version. "Mercy Mercy" is the sound of the band growing beyond their source material.
39. "Jigsaw Puzzle" (1968, from Beggars Banquet)
If you grew up on late 70's/early 80's AOR radio as I did, it was easy to miss the true greatness of the Stones. Perhaps there were about 15-20 songs in rotation on Classic Rock radio, mainly from Hot Rocks, along with a handful of late 70's and early 80's hits. I'm embarrassed to say that there was a time I thought the band was overrated.
But that's because radio never played songs like "Jigsaw Puzzle," one of those criminally lesser known treasures from the band's creative peak, 1968-1972. It's got everything - a sinewy and sensual Charlie groove; a propulsive and nasty bass line from Bill; a driving acoustic guitar track from Keith; ferocious slide playing from Brian that is both a peak and a last gasp; and vocals from Mick that are so slyly and smartly phrased it's as though he brings discipline to decadence. Which, of course, is exactly what Mick Jagger does.
38. "Winter" (1973, from Goat's Head Soup)
By 1973, the Stones were exhausted, and they sounded like it. Following the masterpiece Exile On Main Street with the lackluster Goat's Head Soup, you could hear the bill come in on the years of continual work, play and abuse. But on this track, unlike many of the other songs on Goat's, Jagger didn't pretend that he was anything but exhausted, and that's what “Winter” great.
37. "No Expectations" (1968, from Beggars Banquet)
I fell in love for the first time when I was 20. She was older than me, sexy as hell, and far more experienced than me. (I wasn’t a virgin, but I might as well have been.) On our first date, we ended up going back to her place, and we put on my cassette of Beggars Banquet on one side and Let It Bleed on the other and made out continuously, long enough to listen to both albums twice, all the way through. It was magical. For me, at least.
The second time “No Expectations” played, I got distracted, and started thinking about Brian Jones, while this woman’s tongue was in my mouth. “I wonder what it would have been like if Brian had stayed in the band,” I asked myself. “If he had stayed, there would have been no Mick Taylor,” I countered, “and then there’s no Sticky Fingers, no Exile.” As I was having this ridiculous conversation with myself, one of Jones’ great slide licks from the song emerged, and I got my head back to the task at hand, moving slowly but surely from the world of innocence to the world of experience.
36. “It’s All Over Now” (single release 1964, from Big Hits (High Tide and Green Grass) released 1966)
Another good R&B song that they Stones completely stole into something sublime. The original was done by the Valentinos, an R&B outfit featuring Bobby Womack, who would go onto greater glory. The power chord that Keith nails in the chorus is one of the great moments in the history of rhythm guitar. Their first number one hit in England.
35. “Hand Of Fate” (1976, from Black And Blue)
Black and Blue isn’t a bad album, but it presages later albums like Dirty Work, Steel Wheels and Voodoo Lounge in how inconsequential it feels. But there's nothing inconsequential about "Hand Of Fate," with has just enough impending doom to make it very, very interesting.
34. “Live With Me” (1969, from Let It Bleed)
“I got nasty habits,” Mick declares as I’m closing up the bar where I’ve been DJ’ing all night. I’m there hanging out and indulging myself with the drop-dead-fucking-gorgeous bartender, who doles out lines with every drink she pours us. Johnnie Black on the rocks for me, Southern Comfort straight for her. The sun is coming up, and I have to be at work in about three hours.
Despite the stimuli, I’ve begun to fade, but "Live With Me" immediately gives me a jolt, and I revive, with a big shit-eating grin plastered on my face. I’ve gotten this DJ gig by bonding with the bartender over the Stones, so while it plays, we both light up and sing to each other. I think about how silky the bass is, and I kvell over Keith’s sublime harmony vocals. I also think about what I can do to get this amazing woman into bed, but I don’t make a move on her. I get that I’m so not Mick – he would have gone home with her - but when I kiss her hand and say goodnight (at 8am), I do it gallantly, and I know that Keith would approve.
33. “Miss You” (1978, from Some Girls)
In retrospect, it’s both difficult and easy to understand what all the hubbub was about disco. Difficult, because it’s only a four on the floor beat. Easy, because with its black and gay influence, and its explosive popularity, it was a significant threat to rock’s unquestioned popular dominance. Bruce Springsteen once described the anti-disco backlash as “veiled racism,” and he was right, except that he could have added homophobia as well.
The Stones one contribution to the disco era is also one of their great singles, their comeback after their desultory mid-70’s period, and a statement that they still mattered. It’s also New York in the 70’s; black, white, and Puerto Rican, on roller skates and flatbed trucks, hustling through Central Park, perhaps not getting what it wants, but definitely getting what it needs.
32. “Sway” (1971, from Sticky Fingers)
Mick counts off and the band sort of falls into it, reminding me of what the engineer Andy Johns once said about the Stones, something to the effect of hearing them rehearse hour after hour and them being awful. Then suddenly, it all comes together and they’re the Rolling Stones. “Sway” is murky and ramshackle – and devastating. Jagger’s vocals are white hot and committed – there’s none of the lazy phrasing he would take on later. Charlie’s fills hit harder than almost anything he’s ever played, and Mick Taylor plays a closing solo that the band should be paying him royalties on.
31. “Under My Thumb” (1966, from Aftermath)
The opposite of love isn’t hate – it’s indifference. And even then, the Stones knew that the only way to really gain control is by being indifferent to the object of one's desire. Paradoxical, but when aren't the Stones paradoxical? Power is a central theme of love in the Stones' music, and no one has ever explored power in relationships like they have. Of course, the way Jagger comes off, it seems as though he's the always the one in control, but given how in control he needs to be, you might have to wonder if he's hiding something.
Trying To Get To You
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Round three, with a disclaimer to start: