Tag Archives: Guitar

Keith Richards’ Best Guitar Songs

I’m currently in the middle of Keith Richards’ memoir Life, and so far it’s pretty awesome.  I’ll probably review it when I’m actually done.   I’ve always known that good ol’ Keith is an amazing guitarist, and has come up with some of the best riffs in rock, but I had no idea how inventive he actually was in achieving his signature sound.  In Life he describes an opening tuning using the G chord, and removing one of the strings.  He also reveals that “Street Fighting Man” and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” were actually played on an acoustic guitar obtaining the distortion through a cassette player.

I’ve only played a little guitar, so I can’t comment about the technical aspect, but here are what I think are some of Keith’s finest moments (and not necessarily the “big” songs either.)

Can’t You Hear Me Knocking

A contender for the most bad-ass riff of all time.  It’s loud and dirty, but also leaves a little bit of breathing room to showcase some of Charlie Watt’s best drumming.  Mick Taylor make take over the second half of the song with his fluid leads, but the song is probably best remembered for the riff.

The Last Time

The main riff is hypnotic in its repetition.  It practically moves the song is constant circles, which may also suit the songs lyrics. “This could be the last time, Baby the last time, I don’t know.”

Monkey Man

Some of Keith’s best playing (since he recorded all of the parts for this song and most of Let it Bleed).  There’s the chunky blues riff which drives the verses, the buzz-saw riffing during the bridge, and the slide-guitar solo at the end.

Sweet Virgina

The ultimate camp-fire song.  Keith has often talked about how if you play guitar, you need to start playing acoustic.  The song is a perfect example of that.  The slide-guitar gives the song a down-home country feel.  Even without the background singers, the feel of the song alone begs for people to come together and just play and sing.

Midnight Rambler

The Stones definitely got a lot inspiration from the Chicago Bluesman, and some of their originals could even be passed for old blues standards.  But “Midnight Rambler” is the dark hear of the blues.  While a lot of people probably prefer the faster (and more well known) live version, I’m going to go with the album version here.  By being slightly slower, tension is created by the spaces left between the notes.

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A Whole Week of Elliott Smith: Coast to Coast

“Coast to Coast” is kind of unexpected as the first song on the  album From a Basement on the Hill that was originally intended to be his next release after Figure 8.  Released in 2004, it ended up becoming a posthumous album, after he died from a stab wounds to the heart. 

“Coast to Coast” is a straight ahead rock song. It  has got big fuzzy, distorted guitars – and of course the multi-layered vocals which were one of his trademarks.  Smith also had his friend Nelson Gary recite some poetry explaining to Under the Radar in 2003:

“I asked this friend of mine to make up something he could say as fast as he could in fifteen minutes about people healing themselves or being unable to heal themselves. While he’s saying this thing there is a main vocal that goes over that.”

The song begins softly with what appears to sound like a distorted orchestra – something that would have been suited to a latter-day Beatles’ song.  And then the actual music kicks in, and the central riff pulls in you.  It’s chunky and distorted – confusing the listener, a theme which also appears in the lyrics.    

 Smith was known for his love of the Fab Four, even claiming that The White Album was the reason that he started making music in the first place.  Even the repeated non-verbal “ahhhhs” beginning at the 2:38 mark are very Lennon-esque.    The song even ends with piano gently playing while numerous voices speak over each other in the beginning – linking together a standard “rock” song with avant-garde effects.  It’s as if Smith was trying to combine the things that he loved about the Beatles in one song – the conventional song, the open heart lyrics, and the experimental.

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A Whole Lot of Elliott Smith: Waltz # 2

Waltz # 2” might be Elliot Smith’s most enduring (and with the exception of “Miss Misery”) his most popular as well. 

It’s also a song that seems like  it’s  existed forever and is timeless.  It exists in its own universe as a song, yet it is familiar.  It’s the sound of Civil War-era Ball, of an evening dance in Vienna.    Even if you’ve never heard “Waltz # 2” before, you swear to yourself that you have.    The synching of the piano and the guitars playing the same hummable melody ensure that once you hear it, you’ll never forget it.

“Waltz #2”’s  sweet melody is betrayed, but the bitterness of the lyrics.  Smith seem s to be pinpointing his anger towards his mother, and new husband – “That’s the man that she’s married to now
That’s the girl that he takes around town”  The rejection cannot be denied.  The closing lines of the song – “I’m never going to know you now But I’m going to love you anyhow,” echo the opening l lines of John Lennon’s “Mother”.  Both songwriters are pleading for the attention of their mother, but are denied through different forms of abandonment.  In Lennon’s case, his mother died during a car accident when he was 17, and Smith feels the pressure of a new step-father in the song.  He doesn’t like that his new man is interfering with his life – “Tell Mr. Man with the impossible plans to leave me alone.”

Smith’s  left to wonder if his mother is happy or not.  She appears to have him “like a dead china doll”.  She appears composed and fakes having a stable marriage in public – but can anyone be so sure?  It might all be a lie, to save face.  A wedge has clearly been place in the relationship, one that might not be able to be repaired.  Yet, he’s not entirely bitter even if the relationship is breaking.  “I’ll never know you now,” Smith pleads.  “But I’m gonna love you anyhow.”

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A Week Full of Hendrix: “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)”

Like most people, my initial thought the first time I heard this song was: “what the hell is this?”   It’s there’s a song that captures everything that Jimi Hendrix did – it’s perfectly achieved on this wah-wah soaked masterpiece. 

A friend of mine remarked that even 40 years later, “Voodoo Child” is among the heaviest things anyone’s ever put to record.  What sets “Voodoo Child” apart though, is how Hendrix is able to play the blues to logical extreme, be heavy and funky all in the same song.  There’s also a few occasions in the song where he does all three at the same time. 

“Voodoo Child” is the song that is guitar heroism at its apex.  No other human being has played better than this.  A little over a year before he recorded “Voodoo Child” Hendrix famously lit his guitar on fire during his performance at Monterary Pop.  “Voodoo Child” is creating the impossible with this song, and burning it down as he goes. 

The song itself also deals with destruction and creation.  “Well I stand up next to a mountain,” Hendrix begins.  “And I chop it down with the edge of my hand.”  But there’s beauty after the mess: “I pick up all the pieces and make an island.  Maybe even raise a little sand.”   He’s sorry for taking up sweet time, but don’t worry he’ll give it back to us, “one of these days.” 

Near the end of the song, Hendrix offers a sort of goodbye: “If I don’t meet you no more in this world, I’ll meet ya in the next one.”  It’s unclear whether he meant that sincerely, or as a threat to watch out for what he was up to next – Hendrix was said to be moving in a different musical direction around the time of his death.  Either way, he wasn’t going to wait around.  “Don’t be late!” He implores. 

Check out “Voodoo Child (Slight Return”):

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