Gimme Five: 1990s Rolling Stones songs that don't, you know, suck

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by Nick Deriso

There was no reason to believe that the Rolling Stones, 30 years into their dangerously debauched rock career, would make anything worth a damn out of the 1990s.

In fact, the preceding decade — one in which, by far, the Stones’ best new thing was actually a 1988 solo recording from Keith Richards — seemed to confirm that notion. A band that made its name on skirt chasing and drug taking was softening into middle age.

No one would have been surprised if the Rolling Stones simply ground to a halt.

Only, they reformed in the wake of Richards’ successes with “Talk Is Cheap,” and quickly found their footing after the transitional “Steel Wheels” in 1989. By the middle part of the next decade, the Rolling Stones were in the midst of a small very-late career resurgence, one marked by notable new songwriting efforts, zillion-dollar tours and a fresh take on the key elements in their own legacy.

Here are five arguments for continuing your Rolling Stones collection into the 1990s. …

5. SAINT OF ME (from “Bridges to Babylon,” 1997): Written in tribute to bad-boy keyboardist Billy Preston, who appears on the track, the lyrics actually read like a rap sheet for Mick Jagger, Aging Lothario. It’s one of the saving graces on an album riven by arguments between the band’s two principal musicians. Jagger dominates this dancy, big-chorused tune, which includes production work by The Dust Brothers — then of Beck fame. Richards, who favored a back-to-basics approach, is notably absent on the recording (though not the video).

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4. DEAD FLOWERS (from “Stripped,” 1995): The Stones, throughout this period, issued a live recording after each of their outsized tours, mixing gems from the catalog with songs from their newest release. This tune, originally included on 1971’s wildly underrated “Sticky Fingers,” has long been a concert staple, but didn’t see the light of day as a live cut until the tour in support of 1994’s “Voodoo Lounge.” I think Mick Jagger originally meant it to be this hillbilly howler, a country send up. But it always felt a little too mean, and deliciously so, for that.

3. OUT OF TEARS (from “Voodoo Lounge,” 1994): A stunning turn of events: We find Mick Jagger, playboy sneer melted by abandonment, with his heart on his sleeve: “I can’t feel, feel a thing. I can’t shout; I can’t scream.” Chuck Leavell’s piano signature is a lonely counterpoint as this desperate fear of mortality seems to awaken: “I just can’t pour my heart out, to another living thing,” Jagger sings, with a bereft quietness. “I’m a whisper; I’m a shadow, but I’m standing up to sing.” There had always been some debate about whether the Stones could, or even should, grow up. This answered that question.

2. HONEST I DO (from the soundtrack to “Hope Floats,” 1998): One of several memorable songs on a film that was anything but, “Honest I Do” represents a rare look back into the influences that shaped the band. Jimmy Reed had a Top 40 hit with “Honest” in 1957, and clearly made an impression. The Stones included it on their 1964 debut. Subsequent covers of tunes associated with Reed include “Ain’t That Lovin’ You Baby,” “Bright Lights, Big City” and “The Sun is Shining,” famously performed during the doomed Altamont concert. Everything brash and boozy about the Stones’ celebrated “Exile on Main Street” started with this sound.

1. LOVE IS STRONG (from “Voodoo Lounge,” 1994): Lecherous vocals, skanky harp and a lyric straight out of a nudie magazine: “You make me hard; you make me weak.” Jagger hadn’t played harmonica on a Stones recording in years; he lowers his voice an octave, too — adding a whispering menace to Richards’ jangly, jarring guitar chords. A welcome blast of throwback swagger and sexuality.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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