Thursday, June 09, 2011

Top 50 Albums, #50 - "Some Girls," The Rolling Stones

For a band that was on a roll the way the Rolling Stones were on a roll in 1972, the years that followed seemed haphazard by comparison. It wasn’t as if “Goats Head Soup,” “It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll,” and “Black and Blue” were bad albums – they weren’t, and each of them had their moments of greatness. But for fans who were accustomed to sustained greatness, those records were a little disappointing.

With the advent of punk and new wave in 1976 and 1977, the Stones even seemed a little pass̩. New bands like the Sex Pistols, The Clash, and the Ramones sounded tougher and brasher Рin fact, a little bit like the Stones themselves sounded in the early 1960s. Add to that the fact that Keith Richards seemed determined in the mid-seventies to drug himself into an early grave, and that the most entertaining stories about the Stones during that era were the ones that had them evading and avoiding arrests and making high-profile courtroom appearances. No doubt about it, the Stones were in decline.

And no doubt they would deny it today, but you have to believe that the Stones were a little pissed when they entered the studio in late 1977 to cut a new album. For the first time in a long while, they had something to prove, and what they had to prove was that they still mattered.

The first song on the album, “Miss You,” proved that the Stones weren’t just listening to punk – they were also listening to disco, the other major trend of the time. But “Miss You” is not a disco song – it is a disco-influenced song, and there’s a major difference. The first thing that jumps out when you listen to the song is how huge the sound is – the drums are huge, the bass is huge, and Mick’s voice is huge. Out of nowhere, he is suddenly singing with a confidence and a swagger that hasn’t been heard in years. And the guitars, as they are throughout the album, are downright nasty – after 3 years together, Keith and Ron have finally figured out how to make the Stones sound like a guitar band again.

“When the Whip Comes Down” is next, and the best way to describe it is just to say that it is a classic, hard-edged, fast, guitar-based Stones song. In a similar vein are “Lies,” which closed the first side, and “Respectable,” with the memorable line “you’re the easiest lay on the White House lawn.” But as good as those songs sound, they aren’t even the best ones on the album.

On that score, it’s hard to pick a winner – “Just My Imagination” is a wonderful cover of the old Temptations song, “Some Girls” proves that even in their old age, the Stones don’t mind being offensive and politically incorrect (not to mention the fact that the song spawned the all-time greatest Mick Jagger quote: “F*ck ‘em if they can’t take a joke”), “Before They Make Me Run” is nothing less than Keith risen from the grave, and “Beast of Burden” proves that Mick and Keith learned a thing or two when they were listening to all those old Otis Redding records. Heck, even “Far Away Eyes,” the country song, is not a complete joke – it’s silly, but you still find yourself singing along.

I guess if I had to pick a favorite it would be “Shattered,” the album closer, which was the band’s “New York song.” To quote Wikipedia:

“The song is seen as a reflection of American lifestyles and life in 1970s-era New York City, but also influences from the English punk rock movement can be heard. It also foreshadowed the upcoming rap movement as Mick Jagger's performance is as much narrative as it is melodic. Some consider the song to be the group's "art music" masterpiece, stylistically consistent with the early punk music scene but without being excessively vulgar or negative.”

Which I suppose is another way of saying “it’s got a good beat, and you can dance to it.”

It may have been the last truly great album they recorded, but “Some Girls” proved that the old boys still had a little gas left in the tank.

Some Girls, The Rolling Stones (1978)
Produced by The Glimmer Twins
Track Listing: Miss You/When the Whip Comes Down/Just My Imagination/Some Girls/Lies/Far Away Eyes/Respectable/Before They Make Me Run/Beast of Burden/Shattered

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