Rolling Stones, “Love is Strong” from Voodoo Lounge (1994): One Track Mind

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In a strange happenstance, one of the Rolling Stones’ most identifiable 1990s songs barely scraped the bottom of the Billboard 100. In fact, the brooding, harp-driven “Love is Strong” got stuck at the very unglamorous No. 91 spot.

But then there was distinctive video, which finds a giant Keith Richards all akimbo; and a memorable performance at the MTV Video Music Awards; a Grammy for in the short-form video category, and countless performances on the subsequent tour. Somehow, along the way, “Love is Strong” had come to be thought of as a hit. It even showed up on the Rolling Stones’ 2002 double-disc best-of Forty Licks., as well as the more recent GRRR!

Alas, it became the band’s lowest-ever charting introductory single, a turning point from which the Rolling Stones have never recovered. “Out of Tears” hit No. 60 later in 1994; since, the group’s never gotten past the 94 spot — and that was with its most recent original charting single, “Saint of Me” from four years later.

By the time Voodoo Lounge arrived on July 11, 1994, of course, the Rolling Stones were in rebuilding mode. It had been half a decade since their uneven Steel Wheels, with the ensuing years spent focused on solo albums like Jagger’s Wandering Spirit and Richards’ Main Offender. Founding bassist Bill Wyman, however, declined to participate. The Rolling Stones Stones would turn to Miles Davis alum Daryl Jones, at the suggestion of drummer Charlie Watts, who joined in time for the Don Was-produced sessions that produced Voodoo Lounge.

Though it often felt more calculated than dangerous, the album — and specifically this song — nevertheless illustrated the point that Mick Jagger had lost none of his flair for snarky cock-rock. He builds backwards, lyrically, to give each line these little surprises: “You make me hard,” for instance, arrives like a pervy come on at first — before he adds an ironic wrinkle with “you make me weak.”

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: From “Emotional Rescue” to “Might As Well Get Juiced” to “Fool to Cry,” we’re counting down the times when the Rolling Stones gave us no satisfaction.]

Meanwhile, Charlie Watts is playing just behind the riff, as always. Keith Richards and Ron Wood are tangling and untangling their guitars, then howling “you’re so swe-e-e-e-et” like members of the Bourbon Tabernacle Choir. And Mick Jagger’s harmonica squalls with a spittle-flying verve we haven’t heard since the Rolling Stones’ days as youthful acolytes of mid-century city blues.

No. 91? Really?

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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