Tag Archives: Mick Jagger

Keith Richards’ “Life”

I just finished reading Keith Richards’ memoir, Life.  All of the fabled stories are there – the drug busts, the flair-ups with Mick, taking Anita Pallenberg from Brian Jones.  And when Richards can’t quite remember the details he has guests come in and fill in the details.  When I first heard that Richards was calling his book Life, I wondered if he should come up with a better title.  While Life portrays an extraordinary life – it’s also  hilarious, heartbreaking, and honest.  Basically, life in general.

Of course Richards, being Richards he’s unapologetic for most things.  He finds it hilarious that he was on the most likely die list for 10 years.  And when it comes to heroin he suggests he never over-dosed because he wasn’t greedy – he only got enough to get him high.  Take those comments as you will.  But if you go into Life thinking this is all you’re getting than it’s your loss – Richards dedication to his craft shines through every heroin and alcohol-fueled moment. Rarely has such enthusiasm for simply playing music come through in a book.

Many musicians have suggested that being in a band is like being in a gang – you can’t leave unless you die.  Richards takes this view to heart – Mick Taylor never fit in because he left.  And Richards’ fights with Mick Jagger are famous at this point.  In Richards’ world you can fuck each other girlfriends, but don’t ever abandon your post.  That’s the ultimate betrayal.  Richards is pretty vicious towards Jagger throughout Life.  Some journalists and rock critics have wondered whether The Rolling Stones will tour after Life’s publication.  I’m willing to bet yes – because I’m willing all of the criticisms and jabs aren’t anything new to Jagger.  And Richards has probably said worse to him in his face.

Which brings me to my point about the love of simply playing.  The core of The Rolling Stones love their craft, and believe in their songs and what they have to offer the public.  Sure, sometimes it can sometimes be over the top.  They’re not the same band they were in the late 60s and early 70s.  I suggested a while ago that Mick Jagger could gracefully if he put out more songs like “Old Habits Die Hard”.  It’s a great song, but I might have been wrong in my assessment.  Would you really want Keith Richards and Mick Jagger to age gracefully?  They were not graceful in the first place – that’s what made them The Rolling Stones in the first place.

Life proves that Richards doesn’t plan on aging gracefully.  He’s ready to give two middle fingers to those that think otherwise.  But more than that he’s proving that passion for rock and roll doesn’t go away with age.

 

 

 

 

 

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Great Songs With Horns

A friend of mine suggested a while ago that the use of horns in rock and roll is very under-rated.  While a horn section is certainly a staple of soul and old school R&B, it’s not an instrument that comes directly to mind when you’re thinking of rock and roll.   So for this blog post I’ve decided to list some of my favorite rock songs that make full use of horns.

The Rolling StonesRocks Off

I could probably list about 15 different songs by The Rolling Stones alone for this.  The obvious choices would be “Waiting on a Friend” with the saxophone solo by the great Sonny Rollins.  But I’m going to go with Rocks Off for this.  For starters, it’s one of the Stones’ best rockers.  It’s messy, and the harmonies on the chorus don’t entirely sync, and the horns nearly drown out the vocals.   Yet they all carry the same melody and somehow it works – you get the horns stuck in your head.  After the final chorus Mick Jagger lets out an exuberant, “Wooo!”.  It’s as if even he knows it can’t get any better than that.

Bruce SpringsteenThunder Road

I’m sure lots of people will read this post and suggest that I choose “Jungleland” – The Big Man’s de facto anthem.  Truth is, I don’t rank Jungleland as highly as one of Bruce’s best as other people do.  But on “Thunder Road” rarely has a saxophone solo sounded so triumphant as it does here.  “Thunder Road” is as perfect rock song as they get, but the entire song rests on Clarence Clemon’s saxophone at the end.  The open road would not sound as as convincing without it.  The song may be about getting away, but the saxophone represents the possibilities of the destination.

U2 – Angel of Harlem

One of my favorite U2 songs, and one of their best.  Bono name drops Miles Davis and John Coltrane, and A Love Supreme on a song about Billie Holiday which would almost be unbearable if it weren’t for the sheer joy he shows in the song.  But it’s really the brass that makes the song.  The horns weave in and out between Bono’s lines during the verses, adding extra life to his ode to Billie Holiday.  In concert Bono has often declared that “the goal is soul” – they achieved it in spades on this song.

The Beatles – Penny Lane

An obvious choice, but you could also pick about a dozen or so other Beatles songs just like The Rolling Stones.  I’m going with Penny Lane, because the trumpet is so an integral part of the song.  It’s a song about childhood, and like the flip-side of the single Strawberry Fields which saw Lennon experimenting with both lyrics and music- Penny Lane is also experimental just not quite as extreme.  The trumpet solo is in fact in a mock-Baroque style, which also fits the over-all sound of the song extremely well.

George Harrison – What Is Life

Without a doubt, George Harrison’s best song as solo artist.  The use of both the saxophone and the trumpet elevate this song right as soon as the drums kick in.  Thanks to Phil Spector‘s wall of sound, the horns almost completely take over the chorus which is one of George’s catchiest.

David BowieYoung Americans

I couldn’t make this list, without listing this one.  It’s Bowie during his “plastic soul” phase.  It’s borderline campy, which is kind of the point.  The saxophone is one of the trademarks of the song – it’s trying to keep up with Bowie’s fast vocal delivery, and it’s a close call over who actually wins until Bowie delivers the famous “ain’t no one song” line near the end.

The Clash – The Right Profile

Just like Montgomery Clift (who the song is about) this song nearly veers out of control several times.  The horns seem to be the only thing actually anchoring it down.  The horns blast around the band and Strummer who delivers one of his best vocal performances describing the destruction of the life of Montgomery Cliff sometimes in horrific detail.  The saxophone solo in the bridge provides some added weight, and lets Strummer breathe for a few moments.

 

 

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Bowie Collaborations: “Dancing in the Street”

Yesterday, I wrote about “Under Pressure”.  Today’s close-up is going to be David Bowie and Mick Jagger’s version of Martha & The Vandella’s “Dancing in the Street”.

The original version of “Dancing in the Street” is one of the defining songs of Motown.  And it’s also listed as #40 on Rolling Stones’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.  While it originated as a party song and dance-single, it later took on greater meaning when many protesters cited the song as an anthem for civil rights.

What probably started off as a good idea, David Bowie and Mick Jagger decided to record a version of the song as a charity single for Live-Aid in 1985.  Two of the greatest singers getting together for a charity single, and covering one of Motown’s greatest songs?  What could possibly go wrong?

What could have been a great one -off single, turned into something completely different.  (I’ll mention the infamous video later, don’t worry.) Even before the song actually begins, you know it’s going to be the musical equivalent of something like Denny’s Fried Cheese sandwich as Mick Jagger shouts, “Ok!” (followed by something incomprehensible) and Bowie adding, “South America!”  Then there’s the horns.  And then it’s pure 80’s dance-pop – leaving any shred of the original version’s gusto behind.

It’s not like either Bowie or Jagger didn’t know how to record a soul song.  The Rolling Stones covered numerous soul singles before this (including a great version of “Just My Imagination”) and many of the songs on Exile on Main Street found the Stones dabbling in soul among other genres.  And many of Jagger’s signature dances movies were ripped off soul-singers (most notably taking cues from James Brown).  As for Bowie, he put his stamp on “plastic soul” with “Changes”, “Young Americans” & Golden Years”.

Throughout their career, both Jagger and Bowie took cues from musical genres that preceded them and reinvented them in their own image creating some of the best rock and roll in the process.  This was probably their intention when they made “Dancing in the Street”.  (I’m hoping.)

Without the video, the song would still be ridiculous.  (Especially when Jagger ad-libs, “Back in the USSR!” ).  But then there’s the video.  Believe what you want to about Jagger & Bowie sleeping together, but there’s no denying the chemistry that they have in this video.  (There’s a pretty long article about the “affair” between the two here.) Jagger’s outfit is pretty awful, and what’s up with Bowie wearing what appears to be a  lab-coat?

Yet, all the same, as bad as the song and video are, I still find them both extremely hilarious.  It makes me laugh every time, and I would definitely rank “Dancing in the Street” as one of the greatest videos ever.  Perhaps that was their idea along.

Incidentally, when I was in New York City last year I saw someone with a shirt with Jagger’s face on it that said, “I fucked David Bowie”.  I really wanted to get it.

Dancing in the Street:

 

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Fall Mix

I made a Fall mix for my girlfriend (she’s just starting blogging so check out her site) and here’s what I came up.

Old Habits Die Hard – Mick Jagger & Dave Stewart

Nobody Told Me – John Lennon

Born in Time – Bob Dylan

Lost in the Supermarket – The Clash

Pretty (Ugly Before) – Elliot Smith

Into the Fire – Bruce Springsteen

Easy Plateau – Ryan Adams & The Cardinals

You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away – The Beatles

The Unforgetable Fire – U2

Vito’s Ordination Song – Sufjan Stevens

Strange Boat – The Waterboys

Society- Eddie Vedder

Sprawl II – Arcade Fire

Heaven – Talking Heads

Perfect Circle – R.E.M.

Cold Desert – Kings of Leon

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1965 Songs: “Play With Fire”

“Play With Fire:” is a under-rated and forgotten gem in the Rolling Stones’ vast catalogue.  Its sparse production, simple acoustic arrangement, and Mick Jagger’s haunting vocals easily distinguish it from the rest of the songs that the Stones were putting out in the early 60’s.  But the lyrics are of course, all Jagger who warns his target: “don’t play with me, cuz you’ll play with fire.”  It doesn’t matter anymore if Jagger could go his satisfaction, he’s going off the rails against girls with diamonds and bows who get chauffeured around.  One has to wonder if Jagger is calling out girls who tried to think they were cool by being part of the underground movement, but were really just stuck.

Although the song is credited to Nanker Phelge, the bands’ pseudonym for when all members of the band received writing credits instead of Jagger/Richards, they are in fact the only two songs that appear on the track.  Phil Spector handled bass, and Jack Nietzsche played the signature harpsichord part.

“Play with Fire” was used in the 2007 movie “The Darjeeling Limited”, which I how I first it.  (Terrible I know, considering that the Stones are among my favorite groups.)  Lil Wayne was also sued by the Rolling Stones for using portions of the song without permission.  What’s interesting about the lawsuit was the Stone’s Abkco’s reaction:

Abkco also said that Lil Wayne’s version uses “explicit, sexist and offensive language” and could lead the public to believe the company and the Rolling Stones approved of and authorized the new version.

“Play With Fire”

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Exile on Main St.

Exile on Main St’s legendary status surrounding its conception is probably only surpassed by The Basement Tapes. (Both also by the way, are about the only two rock and roll records that seem to have a deep understanding of American music.  Dylan with American folk music, and the Stones with blues, gospel and soul.)  The story is well kn0wn – that The Rolling Stones fled England to France to escape high taxes.  They wrote songs, drank and did a lot of drugs.  But what makes Exile so special?

For me, it’s the rock and roll album.  It embodies everything that is great about rock – it’s dirty and dangerous.  On Exile, The Stones take almost every single blues, country, soul and rewrite it as their own.   If Exile has one flaw, it would be that a lot of the songs make little sense on their own.  There’s no “Gimmie Shelter” or “Sympathy For the Devil” here.

If you’ve never listened to Exile on Main St, do yourself a favor and buy the remaster.  Turn up the stereo and get lost in one of the greatest albums ever put to record.  Here’s a few of my favorites from the album.

Rocks Off

Second to “Like a Rolling Stone” for greatest opening song on an album.   There’s a short opening riff by Richards a quick drum snap, followed by Mick’s jubliant, “Ooooh yeah.”   And then they’re off.  Whether the song is about masturbation, or doing heroin (or both) is up to debate.  You can barely hear Jagger’s vocals during the verses, but the screams of “I only get my rocks off while I’m sleeping!”  is pure rock and bliss.  To add to the insanity, none of the background vocals are in sync – there’s a lot of inaudible shouting.  The background horns don’t seem to fit in either – it’s a loud glorious ramshackle of sound that only ends when the song fades out.

Sweet Virginia

The ultimate camp-fire rock and roll singalong.  It starts off as a country song, with just an acoustic guitar and harmonica. When the drums comes in, the song sounds fairly standard for the Stones of this time.  The true virtue of this song is the chorus – “Come on. Come on down, Sweet Virginia.  Come on honey child – beg you.  Come on, come on down  – you got it in ya.  Got to scrape the shit right off your shoes”.  If it weren’t already catchy, the background singers (again not quite in sync with Jagger or each other) turn the song into a full fledged party.  If you listen in on your head-phones you can hear people talking, laughing, and just having a great time.  The saxophone solo provides a slight break, but on the second chorus, Jagger possibly realizing what is taking place, encourages the party.  On the third chorus, Jagger is barely heard at all, and it becomes the best drunken singalong you’ve never been a part of.

Shine a Light

The absolute masterpiece of Exile, and the saddest as well.  Again taking a genre that isn’t their own (in this case soul), The Stones breathe new life into a lament about a dead friend – Brian Jones.  While the Stones had previously explored gospel on “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, “Shine a Light” truly embodies soul and gospel.  It feels less forced, and more natural – which is saying something considering that “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” was recorded a few years earlier.  The chorus of “May the good Lord shine a light on you/may every day your favorite tune” seems to come from a gospel song as well.  It’s kind of hard to believe that this is the same guy that wrote, “I can’t get no satisfaction”.  Mick Taylor provides a fantastic solo, bringing one of the Stone’s finest ballads to a shining close.

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Best Frontmen

Recently saw that the British music magazine Q created a list of the 100 best frontman in rock.   I’m shocked that they named Liam Gallager of Oasis as number one.  Maybe Oasis was bigger in Britain,with their brand of Beatles re-writes turned up 10 11,  but Liam Gallager could not command an audience.  He just stood at the microphone and sang.  Not much of a frontman if you ask me.

So here’s a list of who I’d consider to be among the best frontmen: (no particular order).

Mick Jagger

Bono

Bruce Springsteen

Joe Strummer

Iggy Pop

Ian Curtis

John Lennon & Paul McCartney

David Byrne

Eddie Vedder

(Note: I would include such greats as Little Richard, Sam Cooke, Elvis, and James Brown who were all great performers, but they’re not part of a group.)

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