Rolling Stones: Sucking in the 70s

Spoiler alert: Sucking in the 70s was the name of a Rollings Stones album.

The first half of the 1970s were owned by The Rolling Stones. Only Elton John and a few others were successful on this level.

Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out!, Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main Street, Goat Head Soup and It’s Only Rock and Roll.

All tremendous albums and big sellers. The Stones’ 1972 tour of America christened the as the greatest rock and roll band in the world, not an over-exaggeration.

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The Stones at Altamont, where the Hell’s Angels and murder were center stage

The Stones survived the backlash of Altamont, which symbolically laid to rest the optimism and love of the 1960s. They survived the ouster and death of founding member Brian Jones, became British tax exiles, overcame various drug and alcohol addictions, and skirmishes with the law.  What didn’t bury them, made them stronger. The 1970-1974 period was the Stones most creative and most prolific period, but like all things in music, it didn’t last.

exile-on-main-street
Recording sessions for Exile on Main Street.

In 1974, the Stones released their extraordinary masterwork, It’s Only Rock and Rock, but the wheels were already coming off. Lead guitarist Mick Taylor abruptly quit the band after five years, in part because he failed to get proper writing credits for songs he co-wrote.  “Time Waits for No One” was written by Taylor and Mick Jagger, but credited to Jagger/Richards. Looking for fairness in the Stones? Forget about it.

The Stones were left without a second guitarist. Ron Wood, who co-wrote and played on the song, “It’s Only Rock and Roll,” was handy, but he had commitments to The Faces. The Stones auditioned a wide variety of players, and used Harvey Mandel and Wayne Perkins on sessions that would become Black and Blue.

Virtually any guitar player of magnitude was mentioned as a possible replacement, including some rather unlikely players like Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and George Harrison. Peter Frampton, Steve Marriott, Rory Gallagher and others were mentioned as well. Auditioning for the Stones was like selecting the next actor to play James Bond.

While no new product surfaced in 1975, two Rolling Stones albums hit the marketplace, virtually at the same time.

The Stones’ older master tapes were controlled by former manager Allen Klein. The Stones had an acrimonious split with Klein, same as the Beatles and other musicians. The story of Klein will be told another time. Klein wanted to release an album of scraps leftover from various recording sessions of the 1960s. Stones bass player Bill Wyman even worked on gathering some of the songs for a boxed set ultimately rejected. The finished product called Metamorphosis, surprisingly had some interesting material like “I Can’t Tell You Why” which was credited at first to Jagger/Richards but was later corrected to Stevie Wonder and three other writers. “I’m Going Down,” a slight song but featuring that distinctive Richards guitar riff, is not quite a gem, but a nice stone unturned. The album cracked the top ten, but is not a treasure.

On the same day as Metamorphosis, a greatest hits collection, Made in the Shade, was released. A collection of ten tracks culled from their 1970s albums, this was a nice set if you didn’t already own the albums. Both of these albums capitalized on the Stones’ upcoming tour of America. Meant to cover North and South America, the two month summer tour hit 27 U.S. and Canadian cities. Ron Wood was signed to play on the tour.

Stones-75-Hughes-01
The 1975 tour, with Ron Wood.

Blackblue
Black and Blue was released in 1976, to mixed reception. This was not your father’s Rolling Stones. Gone was the scorching blues-rock, and anything resembling a guitar solo. Recorded in Switzerland, the Netherlands and Germany, the album had more world music vibes, incorporating funk and reggae vibes. The album have a few bright spots but lack any thematic feeling.

Side one
“Hot Stuff” 5:20 – A good funk riff, a great performance by the rhythm section, with guitar by Richards and Harvey Mandel.  A single that didn’t crack the top forty.
“Hand of Fate” 4:28 – A Stones-by-the-number riff song. Not an all-out rocker, but a good rock groove.
“Cherry Oh Baby” Eric Donaldson 3:57 – A reggae song, neither good or bad, just a fair cover version.
“Memory Motel” 7:07 – Another piano story ballad, like “Fool to Cry.” Jagger and Richards share lead vocals, and both play keyboards, quite a rare performance.  Always one of my favorite songs, and an underrated one, from this album.

Side two
“Hey Negrita” inspiration by Ron Wood 4:59 – A reggae riff brought to the studio by Wood, who did not receive a writing credit, only an inspiration tag.  Reggae was a big musical style in America at the moment, certainly in the clubs, and infused with the Stones’ own style here.
“Melody” inspiration by Billy Preston 5:47 – Another song “inspired” by a non-band member, this time keyboardist Billy Preston.  A slower tempo song, dominated by keyboard and vocal harmony.
“Fool to Cry” 5:03 – The single, sort of like Angie for piano.  A nice ballad, heavy on piano and keyboards. Jagger delivers a nice vocal performance. Barely cracked the top ten.
“Crazy Mama” 4:34 – One more Stones’ riffs, the best one on the album, and the most uptempo song on the set.  Hearkens back to the Stones’ style of old, like Richards pounding out a riff and Jagger riffing on the riff. Not classic, but pretty good.

Black and Blue is a curious album in their discography, very much a transitional effort, and lacking of a classic Stones’ song.

LoveyouliveLove You Live (1977) was recorded on the 1975 tour, supplemented by four songs recorded at Toronto’s El Mocambo Club on March 4 and 5, 1977.

This was their first live album of the Wood era and more modern recording technology. While the tracks were recorded live, it was now accepted practice to sweeten the tracks with overdubs and correct instruments that were out of tune. This was not one performance, but several as the tour was recorded in anticipation of a live release.  The Stones again had Ian Stewart on keyboards, plus Billy Preston on second keyboards and percussionist Ollie Brown.

RollingStonesTourOfTheAmericasPosterThe resulting album is polished and has outstanding sound.  I’m not sure the point of the entire side of covers.  Sure, it was great to play a small club and to pay respects to their elders, but it was unnecessary.  Otherwise, this is fine collection of the Stones in the 1970s, and would reach number five on the charts.

In five years, the Stones would release another live album, Still Life, in case fans had forgotten the Stones.

Side one
“Intro: Excerpt from Fanfare for the Common Man” (Aaron Copland) – 1:24
“Honky Tonk Women” – 3:19 (5 June 1976: Les Abattoirs, Paris)
“If You Can’t Rock Me”/”Get Off of My Cloud” – 5:00 (27 May 1976: Earls Court, London)
“Happy” – 2:55 (5 June 1976: Les Abattoirs, Paris)
“Hot Stuff” – 4:35 (6 June 1976: Les Abattoirs, Paris)
“Star Star” – 4:10 (6 June 1976: Les Abattoirs, Paris)

Side two
“Tumbling Dice” – 4:00 (7 June 1976: Les Abattoirs, Paris)
“Fingerprint File” – 5:17 (17 June 1975: Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto)
“You Gotta Move” (Fred McDowell/Rev. Gary Davis) – 4:19 (5 June 1976: Les Abattoirs, Paris)
“You Can’t Always Get What You Want” – 7:42 (7 June 1976: Les Abattoirs, Paris)

Side three
“Mannish Boy” (Ellas McDaniel/McKinley Morganfield/Mel London) – 6:28 (4 or 5 March 1977: El Mocambo Tavern, Toronto)
“Crackin’ Up” (Ellas McDaniel) – 5:40 (4 or 5 March 1977: El Mocambo Tavern, Toronto)
“Little Red Rooster” (Willie Dixon) – 4:39 (4 or 5 March 1977: El Mocambo Tavern, Toronto)
“Around and Around” (Chuck Berry) – 4:09 (4 or 5 March 1977: El Mocambo Tavern, Toronto)

Side four
“It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I Like It)” – 4:31 (17 June 1975: Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto)
“Brown Sugar” – 3:11 (6 June 1976: Les Abattoirs, Paris)
“Jumpin’ Jack Flash” – 4:03 (6 June 1976: Les Abattoirs, Paris)
“Sympathy for the Devil” – 7:51 (9 July 1975: Inglewood Forum, Los Angeles

Some_GirlsSome Girls arrived in 1978, the first full studio album with Wood in the group. Some Girls shed the pomposity that Black and Blue possessed, embracing a rougher, raunchier attitude.  In 1978, punk rock was forcing its way onto the music scene and the Stones seemed to take notice.  The Stones also incorporated a mean disco beat that powered “Miss You,” their first single from the album.  Whereas Black and Blue borrowed beats and grooves, Some Girls did so with purpose and infused the Stone’s own muscle.

Some Girls is a guitar album, with piano and synthesizer used sparingly, and very little use of sidemen.

Side one
“Miss You” 4:48 – Said to be inspired by going to clubs, the vibe was Jagger’s, with help from Billy Preston (although no writing credit), which the band built upon. A number one single in America and one of their classic tunes.
“When the Whip Comes Down” 4:20 – A daring song lyrically, very muscular, one of the best songs on the album. Some reviewers call this the closest to punk the Stones would get.
“Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)” (Norman Whitfield, Barrett Strong) 4:38 – The Stones’ often included an R&B cover on their albums, sometimes successful, sometimes not.  This version was light and playful, and excellent effort.
“Some Girls” 4:36 – A highly criticized song for the stereotyped view of women, although the Stones’ said it was parody.
“Lies” 3:11 – Another uptempo rocker with three guitarists. An average song at best.

Side two
“Far Away Eyes” 4:24 – The Stones going country and western, with a steel pedal guitar, and piano.  The greatest style shift on the album, more of a novelty.
“Respectable” 3:06 – Released as a single in Europe. Jagger wrote it as a slower song but Richards wanted a more rocking tune, which is what it is.  Not a great song but again, it brought the Stones’ desired attitude of hard and rough.
“Before They Make Me Run” 3:25 – Up to that point, a rare Richards lead vocal. Richard wrote and recorded with, with Jagger later contributing background vocals.  The loss of friends and trouble with drugs would certainly be a source of inspiration for Richards.
“Beast of Burden” 4:25 – A slower-paced song, nicely arranged, and a number eight single. One of many songs on the album that challenged with its lyrical content.
“Shattered” 3:48 – I hated this song and I still don’t appreciate it but I’ve mellowed. It’s repetitive and lacking in creativity. It was popular and reflected the Stones’ attitude.

Some Girls began the next phase of the Stones’ career.  Although the live album, Love You Live, was released a year earlier, with Ronnie Wood onboard, the style didn’t shift until sessions for Some Girls.  This album found the group embracing the changing musical landscape and returning to their roots of guitar-driven rock.  This album made the Stones relevant again, and not for their drug and romantic exploits.

EmotionalRescueIn 1980, the Stones released Emotional Rescue, an album two years in the making.  This album is perplexing, an album I had a hard time embracing at the time. Honestly, it is not one I’ve listened to in 20 years, until I pulled it out for a listen as I wrote this blog.

“Emotional Rescue,” the title song, is again influenced from the club scene, decidedly for radio.  It is less effective than “Miss You” was from the previous album.  The song reached number three, so it was no failure, but not among their classics.  A follow-up single, “She’s So Cold,” went to number 26, but sounds like a reject from Some Girls.

“Dance Pt. 1” featured a guitar riff from Wood, and finally became his first Stones songwriting credit.  Another disco beat influence, the song is better than “Emotional Rescue” but wasn’t released as a single.

u-g-oykjk0.jpgRolling Stone magazine said this about the album: “There’s hardly a melody here you haven’t heard from the Stones before. but then that’s nothing new.”

In 1981, the Stones would return with Tattoo You, arriving in time to save the Stones yet again, just like Some Girls had in 1978.  Also in 1981, the Stones would release another greatest hits collection, drawing on their material since Made in the Shade.  Sucking in the 70s was an interesting title, considering the reality that this collection is rather light on quality.  Interestingly, they picked a great song from It’s Only Rock and Roll, “Time Waits For No One,” the last of the Mick Taylor years.  Sadly, they edited almost two minutes from the song, the best two minutes of the song, where Taylor delivers a blistering solo, perhaps the best Stones solo. Inconceivable. When the Stones screw up, they go for broke.

The Stones survived the late 1970s as they had the first part of the decade.  Keith Richards escaped his drug arrest in Canada and his heroine addiction. Miraculously, forty years later, he is still walking the Earth and will probably out live us all. By the early 1980s, cracks would begin to appear in the Jagger/Richards relationship and musical direction of the band.

Coda:

Want the best of the 1970s, listen to the first four studio albums of the decade and Some Girls.  The second half of the decade doesn’t exactly suck, but it gums.


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