Monday, April 29, 2019

How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying

A recent social media post suggested that the Rolling Stones mid-70's records might not get the proper credit. I agree. At least half of "Goat's Head Soup" is as good as anything the band had recorded prior, and both "It's Only Rock 'N" Roll" and "Black And Blue" are far more consistent than anything post-"Some Girls." But I'd like to also offer this up:

"Black And Blue," though rumored to be a collection of unfinished jams---"Hot Stuff," "Hey Negrita," "Melody," "Cherry Oh Baby,"-- specifically created as an audition tape to help new guitarist Ronnie Wood get acclimated, is the last Rolling Stones album to sound like the band that became one of the greatest bands in the history of music. Once "Some Girls," the first proper release with Ron Wood and a stone classic, hit big, the sound of the Rolling Stones changed forever. Subsequently, all records that followed, were recorded with a new formula.

A big factor is Charlie Watts. 1962-1976 finds Charlie playing the kit in a variety of rock, r&b, and soul styles, showcasing the looseness usually associated with a jazz drummer, which of course, is what Charlie loved to play. Beginning with "Some Girls," Watts employed a new technique, which I challenge you to find on any record prior---three hits on the hi-hat, no hi-hat hit on the snare hit. It is a very rigid way to play the type of raucous rock and roll the Stones had, up to that point, pretty much owned. This is why "Respectable," "When The Whip Comes Down," "Summer Romance," "Let Me Go," "Where The Boys Go," "She's So Cold," "Neighbors," "She Was Hot," "Sad Sad Sad" and "Mixed Emotions" all feel like the same song. Some are better than others, but the two from "Some Girls, the first two, are arguably what fans feel are the best.

Then there are the Keith tracks, usually a rocker and a ballad, the faux country track, the faux reggae track and what you have is a series of records that all look and sound the same, but sounding less organic with each subsequent release.

Once the 80's ended, The Rolling Stones were really more of a Jagger/Richards project than a band. The records became less like Stones records and more like individual attempts to capitalize on a current sound or trend, with more and more guest spots and outside musicians lending a hand. Sure, there were gems hiding amidst the mediocrity, but I'm less interested in yet again, trashing the Stones output of the last 30 years, and more interested in what happened. The short answer might be Don Was.

"Black And Blue" is not perfect, though "Memory Motel" and "Fool To Cry," arguably the two most realized songs from that album, are damn close. But what I love about that album, as well as the other mid 70's Stones albums that don't get enough credit, is that they sound like albums made by the band we have loved since we first heard "Satisfaction" or "Tell Me." All of the instruments sound better. The songs structures are better, even if the songs themselves fall short of being classics like "Street Fighting Man" or "Gimme Shelter."

"Some Girls" was a revelation. "Shattered?" DAMN! Is that the Rolling Stones? It was, and still is bad ass. "Miss You?" That was a genius move, getting in on the disco movement and somehow sounding like a band that invented the whole darn thing. But then, with "Emotional Rescue," it all became a recipe and as we know, most brilliant chefs rarely if ever, use recipes.


steve simels said...

Three words -- "Hand of Fate."

Eric said...

Spot on analysis, Sal. Black and blue was my go-to cassette that summer I believe it was 76? Set the table as you indicated for some girls. That's a real bluesy album interesting perspective about Charlie's drums changes right after too . Finally does this make any sense that even the greatest songs from the greatest periods it was hard to understand exactly the words to the tee but post Emotional Rescue the lyrics became very clear-cut culminating in the performance she's got me rocking at the benefit concert on 12/12 at the Garden

Troy said...

@steve simels - EXACTLY. That is my favorite song on Black & Blue, and probably my favorite Stones song overall.

@Sal, I agree that something changed with Some Girls, though I am not a musician who would know or be able to tell how Charlie's drumming changed or how that affected their sound. I like Tattoo You quite a bit, but I understand that was mostly older material that was recycled. From that point on, the songs (at least to me) weren't nearly as interesting or compelling. That may be on the way they were played, but I also think they are more generic and lack the swagger of the stuff we all like the best. Whatever it is, the first time I heard Emotional Rescue, some switch in my head flipped to the 'off' position and nothing I have heard since convinced me to turn it back on. Not that it is all bad, it just (to paraphrase Keef) doesn't move me.

Good topic today, hope we get some more responses...thanks.

Anonymous said...

Hello, please remain seated,

Great commentary on Black & Blue. You're right about the subsequent sound of the Stones after Some Girls. I also add this: maybe it's the amps, but, after 1975, Keith's live sound got a bit less warm and more metallic. Or maybe my old ears just don't hear those frequencies anymore.

I know that albums are what they are, and you can't re-configure them. But, can you imagine if they *included* Slave and Worried About You and left off Hey Negrita and Melody? (ok, pick your own two tracks). It would have been an absolute monster of an album.


buzzbabyjesus said...

It became strictly business and a brand.

Sal Nunziato said...

What about completely abandoning all sorts of record-making? I use the term "record-making," because I believe in it.

Look at this list:
She's A Rainbow
Child Of The Moon
Dear Doctor
Backstreet Girl
Paint It Black
Prodigal Son
Factory Girl
Sister Morphine
I Just Want To See His face
Moonlight Mile

I'll stop, but I'm sure I could on for another 25-50 songs. Can you name three songs in the last 40 years that are remotely as daring or interesting as the songs on this list? Each one of these songs feels like a different band, yet all are unmistakably the Stones.

I like a lot of Tattoo You, too, Troy. And A lot of Steel Wheels. And half of Emotional Rescue. But I think the difference between the Stones pre-78 and post-78 is, not knowing what you were getting to knowing exactly what you are getting. 40 YEARS OF THAT!!

Peter Ames Carlin said...

I love 'Black and Blue,' including "Melody" and "Hey Negrita," which is so deliciously nasty with such a great Jagger vocal. Though of course "Memory Motel" is one of the greatest '70s decadence morning-after tunes, 'Hand of Fate' is the real thing ("He shot me once, but I shot him twice"). But it's all good, isn't it? "Hot Stuff" is an excellent rough draft for the nyc songs on "Some Girls" and "Cherry Oh Baby" is for my Euros the best reggae song they committed to vinyl. I could live without "Crazy Mama," it's the stupidist song in sight. But whoever said stupid wasn't a good option in rock 'n' roll?

The amazing thing now is listening to "Emotional Rescue" and being so wowed b/c even if the songs are gen'ly 2nd rate (Why didn't they just put out the great leftover album that came out 30 years later as the bonus disc on the 'Some Girls' box set?) the sound is pure Stones: raw, loose, with live-sounding tracks (I'm sure it has overdubs but still) and an overarching sense that these five guys are jamming and having fun. I love a bunch of "Tattoo You" too...esp the songs on the 2nd side...but the next two albums ('Undercover' and whatever that '86 release was called) sound confused and by "Steel Wheels" it's all Stones-as-Stones-Tribute-Band stuff. A few good tunes but mostly phony, phony, phony. The difference, I think? Mick and Keith stopped writing about their real lives and experiences and dedicated themselves to writing songs that sounded like earlier Stones songs. But everything lines up perfectly, the t's dotted, the i's crossed, the denims were acid-washed, with a scoche more room in the seat. How comfy! But real life abrades you and great rock 'n' roll should do the same. I don't want no comfy Stones. Get off your clouds, motherfuckers, and play it raw, sweaty and mean.

snakeboy said...

Sal, I hope we are both still around in 20 years to get your thoughts on Bridges to Babylon.
Keep that passion going.

Troy said...

Sorry, meant to say that the "off" switch got flipped at Undercover. Didn't especially care for Emotional Rescue, but the lights went out when Undercover was released. Couldn't stand that record, or Dirty Work after that. And as I said, after that I couldn't find enough to make me change my mind.

Chris Collins said...

Well said. I think about this subject ALL the time. But i have nothing to add that isn't just restating things that you and these other commenters have said.

I still care enough about the Stones to think about this subject at least once a week.

John Medd said...

The 'Fool to Cry' demo is must hear material.

Anonymous said...

We could throw this topic around for months and never get to the bottom of it.

At some point the Stones went off the rails, nuff said! Since I'm a glass half-full guy when it comes to the Stones I feel if they hadn't been so goddamn lazy "Bigger Bang" could have been a great album, if they had been willing to make the effort to make it great which clearly they couldn't.

Also there is the 800 pound gorilla in the room. Ronnie Wood lost all that made his guitar playing so unique and enjoyable once he joined the Stones. A pox on Mick Taylor for losing his way and quitting.

Captain Al

Alexi said...

Sal- I have been trying to figure out, for years, what Charlie is doing, or why, when he skips that quarter note on the high hat. You see it in video clips- it's like his hand is suspended over the hight hat for a second, then down it goes, and repeat. I've never seen that in another drummer as a recurrent thing. What I didn't realize, as a non -drummer, was that this was a change from his earlier styles, or that it became somewhat regimented.
Not that's it's a bad sound- he always, earlier and later, sounds so crisp compared to many rock drummers. And yet, maybe it affected their overall sound in the way you suggest. But thanks for the intel!
Now how about the impact of the loss of Bill Wyman and his playing - by his description- so that he follows Keith's rhythm guitar, rather than following Charlie. Hmmm.

Farquhar Throckmorton III said...

Very nice piece. That I disagree with some of it makes it all the more enjoyable to read. Thanks for taking the time to write some real content in a field that too often relies on just links.

You might get a smirk or two out of my own blog:

A walk in the woods said...

One of the better analyses I've read about the arc of the Stones. Although I like "later Stones" more than most (I think Steel Wheels and Voodoo Lounge have lots of great songs), I can't argue with your tenets here.

p.s. I'm headed to N'Awlins Thursday, and had a ticket for the Stones - but am now acclimating myself to how great it will be to see Mavis Staples and the other stuff without all of that.

kevin m said...

I think Sal is spot on about Don Was. How is it that he's become their later day Jimmy Miller?

And perhaps the departure of Bill Wyman has had an effect on their studio output?

Farquhar Throckmorton III said...

The Stones have always had lively critical response - much of it negative - and they've always ignored it and done what they wanted to do. Songwriting is a fleeting gift, and while it seems true that this aspect of their work has diminished since their Pop Hits heyday they still manage to come up with very good songs (and since when has that been a weakness?) and the occasional stunner. I've had more fun not adopting a critical position, of maintaining there's a jump-the-shark moment in their career or that so-and-so or such-and-such was responsible for a slide into formula/laziness/irrelevance. The Stones have never been afraid of formula - it's pop music. I always assume they're way ahead of me, never trying to please me or come up to my expectations. Sometimes it takes a while (like A Bigger Bang) but eventually I realise it all sounds great - what's MY problem? - and it all sounds like the Stones, and that there's really no-one to touch them. They never made a bad album; the eighties work we tend to dismiss is the best that over-styled decade has to offer, and sounds like, well, the Stones in the eighties, and why would I want to miss out on that?

I've just listened to the live album from the Honk set, and it's terrific.