A 50th anniversary tour hasn’t even been confirmed, but already a group billed as the Rolling Stones Liberation Front raised a ruckus about the setlist, backup singers, opening act and Keef’s crazy-ass skull ring. OK, we made one of those up. And, actually, it wasn’t the part about the backup singers.
Here’s what we do know: Charlie Watts says he’s game for a commemorative world jaunt. And in the meantime, whether the old farts tour or not, there are some seriously great old records to enjoy. So … we did …
“SHATTERED” (SOME GIRLS, 1978): A droning groove and a talking blues (nowadays they call it “rap”), 90% of the song is propelled solely by those two nasty chords and Mick Jagger’s commanding bluster. At once mocking and glorifying New York, taken in by the excess and succumbing to it, Mick nonchalantly tosses out sneers like “go ahead, bite the Big Apple, don’t mind the maggots, uh-huh.”
That other 10%, the instrumental break, is all Keith Richards, who drops one of his to-the-point signature blooz expressions, for the moment making the point that this underneath it all it’s still a Rolling Stones song.
Short, but good enough. You can’t have Mick without a little Keef, after all.
“Shattered,” by the way, sounds best from a factory 8-track tape player in a 1977 Ford F-150. Being fifteen years old makes it sound even better. Listening to Mick rap and the band groove makes me feel like fifteen all over again. — S. Victor Aaron
“MIDNIGHT RAMBLER” (GET YER YA YA’S OUT, 1969): The second guitar slot in the Rolling Stones has been something of a revolving door over the years, occupied first by the late Brian Jones, and later by Mick Taylor and Ron Wood.
But for my money, the so-called Mick Taylor years yielded the most satisfying music. Though Taylor’s tenure with the band was brief, it also produced some of the Stones finest albums, including two certified classics in 1969′s Let It Bleed and 1972′s Exile On Main Street.
Between these two masterpieces alone, you’ll find countless examples of how Mick Taylor’s pristine, fluid jazz and blues based lead guitar runs were the perfect compliment to Keith Richards rawer and chunkier brand of riffage. That list starts with “Monkey Man’” and “Gimme Shelter” and ends somewhere between “Tumblin’ Dice” and deeper Exile tracks like “Soul Survivor.”
Of all these amazing songs though, “Midnight Rambler” was the hands-on champ for displaying the amazing chemistry between these two great guitarists. This seven-minute tour de’ force highlights the contrasts between the styles of Taylor and Richards perfectly, and how these clashing techniques played perfectly off of each other. On the studio version from Let it Bleed, Richards blues based riffing — along with Mick Jagger’s darker sounding vocal and harp — lays down the foundation, while Taylor’s cleaner leads provide the necessary counterpoint and color. This becomes even more evident on the live version from Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out. On the middle section here, Richards matches Jagger line for line with thundering power riffs, before effortlessly shifting to a Chuck Berry groove. Meanwhile Taylor’s fluid leads dance all over the top of this dark, thick gumbo.
Here’s hoping that the rumors are true, and Mick Taylor and Keith Richards are able to reprise “Midnight Rambler” together, on the upcoming Stones anniversary tour. — Glen Boyd
“SAINT OF ME” (BRIDGES TO BABYLON, 1997): Mick Jagger dominates this dancy, big-chorused tune, which includes production work by The Dust Brothers — then of Beck fame. Meanwhile, Keith Richards, who favored a back-to-basics approach, is notably absent on the recording.
Still, it’s one of the kick-ass saving graces on an album riven by arguments between the band’s two principal creative forces. 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. And you know that’s always fun. — Nick DeRiso
SOME GIRLS (SOME GIRLS, 1978): Oh man, did the Stones get some crap for this song. In particular, the lyric “Black girls just wanna get fucked all night/I just don’t have that much jam.” Was Mick being self-deprecating? Or just a smartass? A little of both. Heck, when I first heard the song I’m pretty sure I hadn’t even done it for five minutes total (if that!), so the guy got my respect.
The best version of “Some Girls” I’ve ever heard was actually a cover. It was performed by Syd Straw on the tiny “Village Stage” at the 1998 Lilith Fair show I went to. Her backing band included Buddy Miller on guitar and Emmylou Harris on backing vocals. She launched into the song and I’m wondering if she’s gonna sing “the line.” I mean, we’re in the middle of this sea of estrogen, a veritable feminist pop culture event. Did she? Nope. Still, it was kinda cool. — Mark Saleski
“CAN’T YOU HEAR ME KNOCKING” (STICKY FINGERS, 1971): “Brown Sugar” and “Wild Horses” may have been the biggest hits featured on this classic album, but in my humble opinion, “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” stands tall and proud as the centerpiece. Punching in at 7 minutes and 14 seconds in length, the cracking cut zeroes in on the band’s individual talents each step of the way, while at the same time exhibiting what killer-diller chemistry they possessed.
The interplay on “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” between Keith Richards and Mick Taylor is simply mind-numbing. Bouncing swarms of stinging riffs off each other, then coming together in divine harmony, the guys stage one of the most exciting guitar gymnastic shows ever committed to vinyl. Mick Jagger’s vocals bellow with pleading commands, Bill Wyman’s bass work echoes with electricity, and Charlie Watts whacks the drums with hunger and intent.
Rattling congas add a wicked tribal beat to “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking,” while Bobby Keyes wails away on a surly, smoking sax. The legendary organist Billy Preston also joins the jamboree, providing passages that sweep, pound and sizzle with vibrancy.
Guided by a hard rocking blues edge, “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” often suggests the Rolling Stones are hanging by the seat of their pants. The energy level matches that of a caffeine-fueled existence, and you can almost smell and taste the sweat dripping off the platter. A bit of a boogie groove enters the picture as well, then melts into a paralyzing jam session where the musicians are firing on all cylinders before wrapping things up with an explosive bang.
The Rolling Stones certainly boast a slew of superb tunes in their extensive catalog, and there’s no question “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” perches high on the list of their many accomplishments. — Beverly Paterson
SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL (BEGGAR’S BANQUET, 1968): While so much of the Stones catalog is about sex (and yes, it’s a trait they share with just about every other rock band of that era), they picked up a particular intensity when dealing with issues of good and evil.
Sung from the point of view of Lucifer, “Sympathy For The Devil” conjugates the history of good and evil, set to an insanely ass-shakin’ beat, and set off by a snarling guitar solo. The Stones were of course accused of devil worship, a silly notion but one with a history as long as rock itself. — Mark Saleski
OUT OF TEARS (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, as Ron Wood gathers himself for one of his most expressive solo turns as a Stone. “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. — Nick DeRiso