The Bloody Classics - The Rolling Stones
The Rolling Stones Some Girls, 1978, Rolling Stones Records
When The Whip Comes Down
Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)
Far Away Eyes
Before They Make Me Run
Beast of Burden
Before I start this one, I feel as though I should make it clear that I am absolutely, unequivocally biased towards this band. I have spent a significant chunk of my life following Rolling Stones tours around the world and I have an emotional attachment to their music. Initially, I thought I might try to avoid the bias by not featuring a Rolling Stones album in this column at all but that seemed ridiculous, since, whatever your feelings on their music, their influence and importance to the British scene is undeniable. Then I thought I might throw you all a curve ball and pick “Dirty Work” which is always my answer to the question “What’s your favourite Stones album?” (I get a kick out of how enraged people get when I say it) But even I am not contrary enough to genuinely claim the Stones’ dalliance with 1980’s production as one of their seminal works. So much has already been written about this band and their classic albums from the 1960’s and early 1970’s that I wasn’t sure what I could add to the conversation, so I’ve gone for an album that flirted with both punk and disco, cemented their longevity and genuinely stands the test of time from start to finish.
Formed in London in 1962 with their roots in blues and early rock and roll and part of the British Invasion of the US in 1964. By 1978, The Rolling Stones were well and truly part of the British rock and roll establishment, representing everything that punk was against. Their highly respected albums; Let it Bleed (1969), Sticky Fingers (1971) and Exile on Main Street (1972) produced during what is considered their strongest artistic period were already a distant memory thanks to the commercially successful but critically derided Goats Head Soup (1973) and It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll (1974). By the time Some Girls, their 14th UK studio album was released people thought the Rolling Stones had were old, tired and out of touch.
From the start of this album, you know that these guys are still funky - Miss You has such a great intro that you’ll be moving and “Ooh-ohh-ing” before a minute’s even passed, it’s disco, but darker with perfect guitar weaving from start to finish and, like all the best songs, Charlie Watts’ drumming drives it (I warned you I’d be biased). When the Whip Comes Down, which is lyrically pretty edgy for its time being a story of a gay man’s struggle on the streets of New York continues the groove with solid rhythm guitar from Ronnie Wood. Just My Imagination slows things down, it’s a nice enough love song with a solid beat. Mick Jagger has taken to introducing title track Some Girls as a “feminist anthem” when it’s played live now. I admit, it’s not exactly PC, but it’s still a great tune and the harmonica on it is brilliant. The guitars are particularly good and the melody from all the vocals is sweet, plus if you wanted to list Stones songs with offensive lyrics you’d be here all day and of course they were trying to be a bit punk on this album. Lies is a proper blusey rocker with more great guitar work. It’s fast and never lets up. This is the only track from this album that hasn’t been played live in the recent past and that’s a shame. Far Away Eyes which is the album’s weak point is glaringly slow in comparison. I am no country fan, although I admit the Stones do it well, but this one is not one of their classics and Jagger’s american accent is just a bit too corny for me, I know it’s supposed to be a parody, and the lyrics are funny, but I’m just not a fan. Respectable is a return to form, it’s fast with more great guitar work. Keith Richards takes the lead vocal on Before They Make Me Run and this song is a highlight of the live set for me and, if you can forgive the slightly messy beginning it’s a strong album track too, Ronnie does another great job, this time on the lap steel (which I have never seen anyone else play) and while admittedly whenever Keith sings you know why Mick is the front man, it’s still enjoyable and of course “I wasn’t looking too good, but I was feeling real well” is surely the most accurate description Keith Richards has ever written about himself. Beast of Burden is just a beautiful, melodious song and while the weaving is again at the forefront, Charlie’s drumming here is exemplary. The album ends on a fast note with Shattered. It’s the punky-est, shoutiest of the lot, almost claustrophobia-inducing in its relentlessness, the lyrics are urgent and Charlie just sort of disappears for big chunks of the song which, surprisingly isn’t a criticism because underneath the swagger, it’s brilliantly arranged.
This album’s longevity is obvious if you look at any Stones setlist from the last twenty years, they are still playing all of these songs regularly (with the unfortunate exception of Lies, perhaps I’ll start a Lies campaign on tour this summer). While it clearly retains the r&b and soul roots that are the hallmark of the Stones’ music, it has taken just enough of the attitude and feeling of punk and disco, two diametrically opposed genres, to keep it interesting and up to date. I think the most important thing on this album though is Ronnie Wood. Although he had played on previous albums as a session musician, this was his first album as an “official” member of the band and his interplay with Keith Richards (and indeed Mick Jagger, whenever they decide to throw three guitars into the mix) is a delight that keeps the tracks moving at a perfect pace. The public and the critics seemed to agree and Some Girls reached number 2 in the chart (kept off the top spot by the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever which I imagine was rather galling, but I suppose it shows the importance of disco) and re-established the band’s popularity. It also heralded the start of the Stones as the touring act that they are primarily known as today, and, slightly bizarrely, it’s the only Stones album to ever receive an album of the year Grammy nomination (although I suppose the less said about the Grammy's the better).
I’ve seen Some Girls described as a punk album, but to me that’s absurd, what they’ve taken from punk here is the importance of stripping things back for a truer sound, there are fewer session musicians, no brass section (except on Miss You) and for the first time, no Ian Stewart on the piano. Yes, there is a bit of shouting and some faster and lyrically angry tracks, but that wasn’t really new territory for them. This is in fact the Stones moving with the times just enough to stay relevant while retaining their quintessential sound. The sessions to record the album were months in length and over 50 songs were recorded, some of which showed up on later albums which proves that they hadn’t strayed too far from their roots.id
It’s fair to say, as many people do, that this was their last genuinely great album (although last year’s Blue and Lonesome, though entirely made up of covers was impressive) and indeed it is still the best selling of their catalogue. but the Stones legacy as a live act is unmatched. They have changed the business model of rock and pop tours, essentially creating arena rock. They can lay claim to not one, but three of the highest grossing concert tours of all time. In 2006 they played a free concert on Copacabana beach in Brazil, one of the largest ever, for over 1.5 million people and in 2016 they played a free show for half a million people in Havana, Cuba, the first time a foreign rock band had done so. They even have fossilised insects named after them, honestly - (That’s from a proper academic journal too).
Of course they have influenced countless other bands, simply by being around so long and they have shown that you don’t have to have music in the chart to remain an incredibly popular live proposition. Their stage act remains phenomenally good, even though the last five years or so have seen them get rid of much of the theatrics and Mick Jagger runs around the stage just a little bit less than he used too. Oh and of course crazy people like me are still willing to drop everything and travel the world to watch them play the same old songs again and again in the faint hope that they might play Get Off My Cloud one more time. I’ll see you all in the States in the summer, fingers and toes crossed for Lies in the song vote!