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.