A Weekend “Blast From the Past”

| April 26, 2014

Jagger/Richards.   Anyone who knows modern popular music immediately thinks of the Rolling Stones on reading those names.

Both are now 70+.  So today, most people likely think of them – and the Stones – as tired, aging old rock-n-rollers who still perform hits of yesteryear.  And I guess today that’s accurate.

It’s also a shame.  Because thinking of them as they are today, sometimes we forget just how damn good these guys were at their peak.

Their peak began in 1968, while the three primary members of the Stones (Jagger, Richards, and the late Brian Jones) were all facing potentially lengthy prison sentences.  Though the band had had success previously – and had released “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” in 1965, nearly universally held to be perhaps the best rock & roll tune ever written – they still weren’t fully “locked in”.

The experience of facing jail apparently caused them to focus their efforts.  And focus they did.

They returned to their blues/rock&roll roots.  Musically, the result was good.  And it stayed good for four full years – from May 1968 to May 1972.

Here’s a Baker’s dozen tunes from the Stones’ peak – the original versions. If it’s been a while since you’ve listened to them it might be worth the time to listen again, if for no other reason than to remind yourself just how good they were.  (And if you’ve never really listened to the Stones of that era, it might also be worth your while.)  The songs are presented roughly in chronological order.

Here’s a bit of perspective.  “Midnight Rambler” is considered a quintessential Stones tune.  “Honky Tonk Woman” and “Brown Sugar” were #1 hits.  “Street Fighting Man” was hugely musically innovative and considered so subversive in it’s day (1968) that many US radio stations wouldn’t play it – but still made the top 50

And IMO they are the four weakest tunes in the set.  The other nine tunes are better.

Find a good set of headphones, crank up the volume a bit – and enjoy.  They’re from before the days of music videos, but the audio should be near CD-quality.

During their 1969 US tour, the Stones  began billing themselves as  “the world’s greatest rock & roll band”.  The billing stuck as the group’s unofficial slogan.  They still use it today.

Marketing hype is typically exactly that – hype. And calling the Stones “the world’s greatest rock&roll band” today is probably nothing but hype.

But from 1968-1972, that slogan might well have been the truth.

Category: Pointless blather, Who knows

Comments (13)

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  1. TC says:

    Spot on

  2. LebbenB says:

    It all sounds as good today as it did when it was released back in the 60s and 70s. Though I prefer the live version of “Gimme Shelter” over the studio track from “Let It Bleed.” And Jane’s Addiction does a super cover of “Sympathy For the Devil.”

  3. Hondo says:

    LebbenB: if forced to pick, either “Gimme Shelter” or “Sympathy for the Devil” would be my pick for best Stones tune – ever.

    I assume the live version you’re referring to is this version from 1995. If not, please post the link – I’d love to hear one that’s even better.

    • LebbenB says:

      Yeah, that’s the one. Lisa Fisher’s got PIPES.

      • Hondo says:

        LebbenB: so did Merry Clayton, who sang the original.

        This article gives the backstory of that particular session, and the personal loss it caused her. The session was recorded in the middle of the night – literally – with no notice to Clayton beyond a late-night phone call asking her to come record the tune. (She literally had no idea who the Stones were before the call.) They did only 3 takes; not sure which one made the final, or if it was a compilation.

        The isolated vocal track contained in the article is IMO exceptionally interesting. Apparently, the studio crew – or maybe the band, not sure which – were literally floored by her performance; you can clear hear their interjections of amazement on the isolated track. If you listen carefully, you can actually hear the same on the final recorded version of the tune.

        Note: for some reason, the link doesn’t seem to work now – extra stuff seems to be being added when you follow the link now. But if you delete everything that shows up in the browser URL window after the “.html” portion of the link, it seems to work fine.

        • LebbenB says:

          I thought Marianne Faithful did the female vocal on the original.

          • David says:

            nope. For a great look at backup singers, including the still-lovely Ms. Clayton, watch “20 Feet From Stardom”… awesome ladies.

  4. Brat says:

    Reading this makes me feel ooooooooooold! I was in England when Brian Jones died….have seen the Stones twice… The most recent was with my then teenage daughter – and they proved that they may be *old* but they still put on a hell of a live show..

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane – off to crank up the vinyl…..lol

  5. Hondo says:

    Addendum: and, FWIW: “Sympathy for the Devil” certainly can work in concert, too. (From 1990 at Wembly Stadium, London.)

  6. Sparks says:

    Hondo when I was overseas there were The Beatles type guys and the Stones type guys and the soul brothers. I was a die hard Stones fan. Loved their music then and still do. Sometimes the right talent comes together at the right time and magic happens. I can’t take anything away from The Beatles, same talent and magic, different style. But I was a Cream, Yardbirds, Buffalo Springfield and Stones fan. My favorite from the Stones, “Sympathy for the Devil”.

    Thank you Hondo. I too still “drop the needle” on old vinyl.

    From the time I was a teenager through the military until about 1998 whenever I needed extra money I DJ’d at whatever local station hiring. If you said I want night shift on the weekends they said, sign right here. (Nice part of night shift was I could go off the PD’s program list and “cherry pick” what I wanted to hear.) During those years I played about every genre there was in many states. Some I loved, some I hated. You might say while I had a “face for radio”, I was blessed with a good voice. Over the years I would often get LPs and 45s they were tossing or had multiple copies of and have a pretty good collection now, though most have “Not For Sale” printed on them. It was in Arkansas, 1975 when I came up with my theory on country music. Now old country was alright, you could hear a voice and immediately identity the artist. Each was unique unlike today’s “modern country” which it isn’t called anymore because there is no more old country, in which they ALL sound the same to me. And rather than being country they want the extra money by trying to put out “cross over” stuff for the Top 40 and Pop genres. (Again, my age, there is no more Top 40 or Pop genres.)

    My theory on country music is this, “Country music touches your heart…the only problem is, it has to go through your FUCKING ears to get there!”

    Sorry for the long post fellows. Thanks again Hondo. I love the memories.

  7. Ex-Army doc says:

    I saw the Stones in the early 1980s. Helluva show.

    That’s a great list, Hondo. The twin LP vinyl Hot Rocks collection was a regular spin on my college dorm room record player.

  8. Pinto Nag says:

    You forgot — or neglected to include — “Paint It Black.”

    I like the Rolling Stones, and this is my favorite.

    • Hondo says:

      Pinto Nag: my article here didn’t review the entire Stones’ career. It focused only the Stones’ “golden era” – from May 1968 to May 1972, or from the release of the single “Jumping Jack Flash” to the release of the album “Exile on Main St.” – and on just how good their music from that period really was.

      “Paint It Black” was released in May 1966. Like “Satisfaction”, it was among the Stones’ early work predating the period I wrote about.

      If I’d done a full career retrospective, my Stones’ “best” list in the article would probably have been about 20 tunes vice 13. But all 13 of those tunes would have been on my list. And I’m not sure “Paint It Black” would have been there; it’s a fine tune, but IMO it’s just not quite in the same league with most of the Stones’ best work even if it was a huge commercial success.

      Off the top of my head, the other 7 from outside the period above would probably include “Satisfaction”, “Heartbreaker”, “It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll”, “She’s So Cold”, “Start Me Up”, and “One Hit (to the Body)” (not sure about this last one; might drop it an slide in another post-1972 tune in its place). The 7th tune (to make 20) would likely be from early on, probably either “Hey You (Get off My Cloud)” or “Let’s Spend the Night Together” – though I could possibly see “Paint It Black” in that slot instead of those two. That choice (and the “One Hit” question) would for me be the hardest calls.

      Significantly, out of the best Stones’ work from a 50 year career, IMO nearly 2/3 of it comes from the 4 year period I wrote about. That to me is stunning.

      For that 4 years, maybe they really were the “world’s greatest rock&roll band”.