Time Is On My Side 45 by The Rolling Stones

July 25, 2010

I won this record and picture sleeve at a church dance when I was a teenager. I remember at the time thinking the group was just plain ugly. I also liked the flip side, “Congratulations,” better than the hit side. Little did I realize at the time that I was holding a piece of rock ‘n’ roll history.

“Time Is On My Side” was the first single by The Rolling Stones to reach the American top ten. It would rise to number six during the fall of 1964.

The Stones at the time were still rhythm & blues based but were expanding in a rock direction. “Time Is One My Side” is one of the first great Mick Jagger vocals.

The song is now part of The Rolling Stones vast catalogue and legacy. It remains instantly recognizable to many rock fans 46 years after its initial release.

The flip side is still pretty good too.

Satisfaction 45 by The Rolling Stones

December 20, 2009

“(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” is one of the signature songs of rock ‘n’ roll. It opening guitar riff is instantly recognizable to three generations of music fans. It is difficult to believe that it will be 45 years old in just a few months.

The Rolling Stones formed in early 1963 as a British rhythm and blues/rock fusion band. Their first hits in The United States made them an important part of the British Invasion. “Time Is On My Side,” “The Last Time,” “It’s All Over Now,” and “Heart Of Stone” gained them acclaim and popularity on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. These songs were, however, just a warm-up.

“Satisfaction” hit number one in the USA in June of 1965 and stayed there for a month which propelled The Rolling Stones into the upper strata of rock bands. Even the somewhat tongue in cheek flip side, “The Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man” is very listenable.

“Satisfaction” was and remains rock ‘n’ roll at its very best and is one of the perfect single releases in rock history. Very few artists have covered this song as it was done right the first time. It set The Rolling Stones on the road to becoming the world’s greatest rock band.

A Bigger Bang by The Rolling Stones

February 24, 2009

A Bigger Bang was released in the United States on September 6, 2005. To date this is the last Rolling Stones studio album. It reached the number three position on the American charts and sold over a million copies in this country alone. This release proved there is still some life left in the old dog.

The Rolling Stones retreated to Mick Jagger’s house in France and set up shop in his personal studio to record this album. Mick, Charlie and Keith form the basic core for A Bigger Bang. Regular bassist Darryl Jones plays on most of the tracks and keyboardist Chuck Leavell also makes several appearances. Ronnie Wood only contributes to about half the songs. There is basically no one else. Mick plays some bass, harmonica and even an effective slide guitar. This back to a basics, stripped down affair works well as it returns the Stones to their rock ‘n’ roll roots.

This was a good effort for the Stones as they proved they can still sound fresh and make energetic rock ‘n’ roll 45 years after their birth. I can’t help but think that what separates this album and a number of other good Rolling Stones albums are just the lack of a classic or signature song to provide a foundation from which to launch the rest of the tracks. When I listen to the album as a whole, it is mostly excellent, yet if I start separating the songs into their individual parts it does not fare as well.

The Stones would leave on another massive world tour in support of this release and it would be anything but a basic stripped down affair. Rather, it would fill stadiums and arenas for over two years and gross close to a half billion dollars. The highlight of the tour would be a free concert in Brazil that would draw close to a million fans.

The song, “Dangerous Beauty,” really defines this album. It is just Mick, Charlie and Keith laying down some basic rock ‘n’ roll. I can’t help but wish that there was more music of this type.

“Rough Justice” is the lead track and informs the listener that all is fine with The Rolling Stones. Keith’s guitar and Mick’s strong vocals combine together to drive the song along. “Let Me Down Slow” contains a line that says; “are you coloring your hair with some new kind of dye?” This short verse just about somes up the members of the Stones as they had entered their sixties.

A Bigger Bang contains a number of other worthwhile songs. “Rain Fall Down” is a power ballad type number with a Mick Jagger falsetto that harps back twenty years or so. “This Place is Empty” finds Keith giving what appears to be a tired lead vocal which is just about perfect for him after all these years. “Oh No, Not You Again,” is a classic Rolling Stones track with Keith and Ronnie meshing their guitar sound into a solid rock ‘n’ roll romp. “Back Of My Mind” may be the best track on the album as it returns the Stones to their blues roots.

The only real miss on the album is the political, anti-Bush, anti-Washington, “Sweet Neo Con.” Political views aside, 2005 was not a year that I wanted to hear non Americans criticizing this country, especially when it was a poorly constructed song.

A Bigger Bang proves that The Rolling Stones can still produce credible and relevant rock ‘n’ roll. Mick Jagger has stated that he likes this album and that’s good enough for me. Hopefully there will be more to come.

Stripped and No Security by The Rolling Stones

February 22, 2009

Stripped, released in 1995, and No Security, released in 1998, and were the eighth and ninth live albums released by The Rolling Stones. Sometimes I wish the Stones would have put as much thought into their modern day studio albums as they did into these two live albums. Conceptually the albums are well thought out and as such are interesting.

Stripped may be the best Rolling Stones album of the past twenty years. It is as the title implies. The album is basically Jagger, Richards, Watts, Wood, and Jones with Chuck Leavell in support. The songs were recorded live in the studio and in small venues. There are some electric guitars present but it is the acoustic sound that makes the album unique and creative. Best of all is the choice of the songs. Many obscure tracks and a few gems are resurrected for creative reinterpretations.

Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone” received the most airplay when this album was released. If you are going to interpret Dylan, and particularly this song, you had better be not only good but inventive, and the Stones are both. They cruise through a rocking, rollicking version with Mick Jagger providing stellar vocals.

The album is mostly a highlight reel. “Street Fighting Man” is given an acoustic-electric treatment which changes the tenor of the song but not the intensity. “Not Fade Away” returns forty plus years after its release and Mick Jagger’s copying of Buddy Holly’s vocal intonations is priceless. “Dead Flowers,” from Sticky Fingers, retains its country roots and features an appropriately insincere vocal by Jagger. The old Robert Johnson tune, “Love In Vain,” is given a fine blues treatment featuring Woody on slide guitar. This version of “Wild Horses” is definitive.

I would love to see the Stones perform this way on tour. It would just be the Stones sitting around and casually playing their songs without hype or fireworks. The problem is the Stones can still sell out stadiums and arenas, so it is a question of economics. Stripped presents the Rolling Stones at their best and as they should be every so often.

No Security does not have the brilliance of Stripped but is interesting in its own right. I call this a fill in the gaps live album. The songs had either never been released on a Stones live album or at least had not appeared for a very long time.

“You Got Me Rocking” features a fine Keith Richards guitar solo with Woody in support. “Out Of Control” and “Flip The Switch” both rock nicely and it is nice to hear live versions of these studio tracks. “Respectable,” from Some Girls, is vastly superior to the largely forgotten studio version. “Sister Morphine” is still chilling and will always bring Marianne Faithful to mind. Taj Mahal joins the Stones on “Corinna” and chugs through an excellent version of this song.

A real miss on the album is the Dave Matthews collaboration on “Memory Hotel.” He takes Keith’s place and duets with Mick Jagger. This is a strange vocal pairing at best and makes me long for good old Keith.

No Security features mostly fine, but not outstanding performances. It is probably an album that can be skipped unless you want to, as I wrote earlier, fill in the gaps.

Finally; can anyone tell me the names of the two people on the cover of the compact disc?

Bridges To Babylon by The Rolling Stones

February 22, 2009

It had been three years since the last Rolling Stones studio album and the group was preparing to leave on another massive tour. The Stones would play 108 shows over the course of a year before four million fans and gross over a quarter of a billion dollars. Mick Jagger was writing songs for another solo project and did not want to record a new Rolling Stones album. Ronnie and Keith outvoted him 2 to 1 and so Bridges to Babylon was born. It would be their last studio album for eight years.

Bridges to Babylon was recorded over a four-month period during which Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were constantly at odds over the album’s vision. Richards wanted a back- to-basics sound and Jagger wanted a modern-techno sound. This animosity created an album of disparate and varied songs that ultimately turned out all right. Eleven years after its release I call this album good but not great, pleasurable but not overly creative and very playable but not essential.

I tend to think the Keith Richards contributions are the strongest. He sings an unprecedented three songs on this album. “You Don’t Have To Mean It” is a nice reggae effort and he provides superior guitar lines to support the vocal. The final two songs of the release, “Thief In The Night” and “How Can I Stop” are typical Stones songs of sex and rock ‘n’ roll. Richards vocals strain successfully to provide a strong ending to the album. These are totally Keith Richards’s creations as Jagger had walked out of the sessions and did not appear or work on the tracks.

The most interesting track was the funky and interesting “Anybody Seen My Baby.” It is an infectious song with some rapping and you almost want to sing along. After the track was completed Keith Richards realized that they had inadvertently copied the melody from a K.D. Lang song. It all turned out well as she did not really care and was happy to accept a writing credit.

“Might As Well Get Juiced” was the prototype Mick Jagger song on the album. It featured drum loops and a dance beat. Jagger played some fine harmonica but I have never been a big fan of the Stones in dance mode. This song and others carried on Jagger’s inclination to make music similar to what was hot at the time.

“Gunface” was the hardest rocking song on the album and possibly of the Stones 90’s output. Keith’s guitar rips along in support of lyrics of violence. “Low Down” and “Saint Of Me” are average rockers but are not offensive. Mick does hit the spot with the ballad, “Always Suffering.” He seems to be focused and proves that most of the time, at least for the Rolling Stones, less is more.

Sometimes The Rolling Stones’ members were their own worst enemies and victims of their past successes. This was most apparent in the studio but rarely so in concert. I thing Bridges to Babylon is under-rated but could have been better. My feeling is that there were just too many people in the studio. There are nine bassists credited on the album and Charlie Watts hired veteran studio drummer Jim Keltner to sit in when he was disinterested. Still, while the album produced no breakout or truly memorable songs, when taken as a whole, it remains a good listening experience.

Voodoo Lounge by The Rolling Stones

February 21, 2009

Change was in the air for The Rolling Stones. It had been about five years since the release of the band’s last studio album, Steel Wheels. Keith Richards and Mick Jagger had both released solo albums in the interim. The biggest change was that original member and bass player Bill Wyman had retired. Jagger and Richards had tried to convince him otherwise but at age 55 Wyman decided it was time to move on. Darryl Jones would be the new bassist in the studio and on the road. Ronnie Wood was finally elevated to full member status after 18 years and would now receive a percentage rather than a salary.

The Rolling Stones was preparing to launch another massive world tour and Mick Jagger and Keith Richards decided to release a new album to tour behind. The resulting Voodoo Lounge was a back to basics effort for the Stones. Many people have called this sparse album as calculated but it received mostly positive reviews and reached number two on the American charts. While the album would ultimately contain no classic songs it would contain a number of very good ones. The title was taken from an abandoned kitten that Keith Richards adopted and named Voodoo.

A number of the tracks from Voodoo Lounge received radio airplay and charted on the new mainstream rock charts. “You Got Me Rocking” (2), “Sparks Will Fly” (30) and “I Go Wild” (20) were all rocking numbers that featured driving rhythms and consistently excellent guitar work between Wood and Richards. One of the Stones better modern-day ballads, “Out Of Tears,” would also chart (14) and feature an effecting Mick Jagger vocal. These songs would propel Voodoo Lounge to winning the Grammy award as the best rock album of the year.

Keith Richards was in fine form on this album. It contained some of his beat guitar playing in years. “The Worst” with some wonderful steel guitar by Ron Wood and “Thru and Thru” both featured fine Keith Richards vocals and continued to show his maturation as a writer.

There were a number of other above average songs contained on the album. “New Faces” featured the use of a dulcimer and harpsichord that would have made Brian Jones smile. The ballad, “Moon Is Up,” has some creative drumming by Charlie Watts who recorded some of the parts in a stairwell to crate an echo. He is supported by Ronnie Wood on a pedal steel guitar. “Sweethearts Together” presents unusual harmonies by Mick and Keith. “Suck On The Jugular” is a funky tune that takes the Stones back to the late 1970s.

In the final analysis Voodoo Lounge is not a great album but is a consistently good one. It may be a bit contrived in places but it is difficult constantly being The Rolling Stones.

The Rolling Stones Live (Again)

February 21, 2009

Still Life (American Concert 1981) is not one of my favorite live albums by The Rolling Stones. The songs are more or less fine but the album has a slickness to it does not serve the Stone’s sound well. The songs may be live but do not add up to a real concert feel. Basically the parts are better than the whole. However, the album was a hit selling 2 million copies and reaching number five on the American charts.

The album begins with an excellent version of “Under My Thumb.” There is solid guitar interplay between Keith Richards and Ron Wood. The problems quickly begin with “Shattered,” “Twenty Flight Rock” and “Let’s Spend The Night Together” which find the group going through the motions. I can’t help but think that money is being placed before artistic integrity.

This live version of the Miracles “Going To A Go-Go” was released as a single and reached number 25. It was an average Rolling Stones Motown cover that paled next to the original. The other single release was a live version of “Time Is On My Side” The song was interesting but been there, heard that.

Two other excellent songs were “Let Me Go” from the Emotional Rescue album which benefited from a faster tempo and a surprisingly effective version of “Just My Imagination.”

Still Life does contain some excellent performances but you will need to seek them out. The album today, remains an afterthought as there are a number of superior Rolling Stones’ live albums.

Steel Wheels is everything that Still Life is not. It has crisp production, tight performances, and hangs together well as a concert overview. I consider this album to be the best of the modern Rolling Stones live albums.

The album begins with a four song set that rock about as hard as The Rolling Stones are capable. “Start Me Up” has led off hundreds of Stones concerts and this version quickly shows why. The opening guitar lines are classic and the song rocks throughout. “Sad Sad Sad” is a frenetic version that is superior to the studio release. Chuck Leavell on piano and Bobby Keys on sax drive the song along. “Miss You” is not one of my favorite Stones songs but here it is given a much harder rocking treatment than the studio cut. The duel guitars of Richards and Wood are in top form. “Rock and A Hard Place” is also better than the studio version. This track was only on the CD and was not included on original vinyl release.

“Ruby Tuesday” would almost be a welcome relief. It slows the tempo down a bit and allows the listener to catch his or her breath. The Stones base the song of Chuck Leavell’s piano playing. This is a difficult song to perform with all the tempo and melody changes but the Stones are up to the task with a precise performance.

“You Can’t Always Get What You Want” finds Mick Jagger at his best. He leads the audience in a partial sing-a-long. Jagger needs to be seen live to be appreciated but this performance gives you an idea as just how dynamic he is on stage.

One of my favorite points on the album is Mick Jagger’s introduction to “Factory Girl.” He can’t remember which album it comes from and so asks Bill Wyman who has no idea either. Someone off stage finally yells Beggars Banquet.

“Sympathy For The Devil,” Brown Sugar” and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” combine for another rocking section of the album near its end. “Brown Sugar” is rock ‘n’ roll at its finest.

Flash Point ends with two studio tracks. “High Wire” only reached number 57 as a single release and pales compared to what has preceded it. I find these songs out of place and would have preferred they would not have been included.

The Rolling Stones would continue to be a concert presence through the 1990’s and beyond and Flashpoint is an excellent document of a rock ‘n’ roll band that was refusing to grow old.

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Steel Wheels by The Rolling Stones

February 20, 2009

Three years had passed since the release of Dirty Work and The Rolling Stones were smart to have taken the time off. They gathered in Barbados to record their next album which would become Steel Wheels.

The relationship between Mick Jagger and Keith Richards was on sound footing. Richards was functioning at a high level and would again become Mick Jagger’s partner in the studio. Charlie Watts had kicked his addiction and even Ron Wood was mostly sober. Only Bill Wyman missed significant studio time and this was relationship related. The basic tracks for the album were recorded in an intensive two month period with only time off to fly to Cleveland and be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame.

Steel Wheels, for the most part, was a return to a basic guitar based rock ‘n’ roll sound. It would be embraced by their fans and remains a very good effort by The band. The album would reach number 3 on the Billboard charts and quickly sell two million copies.

Three of the first four songs from Steel Wheels are all out rockers. “Sad Sad Sad” is a guitar driven classic that finds Keith playing better than he had in 15 years. Check out the Flashpoint live album to hear this song in all its glory. “Mixed Emotions” was the lead single from the album and continued the Stones rock approach. “Hold On To Your Hat,” with an excellent vocal by Mick Jagger, completed this very welcome rock trilogy. The only problem was the average slow ballad “Terrifying” was misplaced as the third song and interrupted the flow.

There were a number of other highlights from Steel Wheels. “Slipping Away,” with a lead vocal by Keith, was a mature, well constructed song with sophisticated lyrics and shows his surprising growth as a songwriter. “Rock and A Hard Place” is just six minutes of flat out rock ‘n’ roll. “Almost Hear You Sigh” was a nice balled that featured an affecting Jagger vocal.

“Continental Drift” was an oddity on the album but the Stones meant well. Mick, Keith, and Ron flew to Morocco to record the Master Musicians of Jajouka. Brian Jones had recorded them for a never released album back in 1967 and now the group was down on their luck. These recordings would be worked into this song giving it a mid-eastern flavor and some royalty money to the players.

The Rolling Stones would leave on their massive Steel Wheels world tour shortly after the release of the album. They would be on the road for a year and visit 16 countries on three continents. Each of the four Stones was guaranteed 18 million dollars. Good old Ron Wood was still on salary.

I have to fess up that I missed the boat on a legendary Rolling Stones performance. I lived in Connecticut at the time and was a semi- regular attendee at Toads Place in New Haven. The Sons Of Bob were scheduled to be the opening act on August 12, 1989 for a to be named later main act. The Rolling Stones kicked of their tour in front of 700 people who each paid the entrance fee of $3.01.

Steel Wheels was an excellent comeback album for the Stones and provided a positive foundation for their tour. It remains very playable today and shows The Rolling Stones producing relevant rock ‘n’ roll again as the 1980s came to a close.

Dirty Work by The Rolling Stones

February 20, 2009

Dirty Work was probably an album that should not have been made. Mick Jagger was concentrating on his first solo album and placed the Rolling Stones in a secondary position, creating a great deal of animosity between him and Keith Richards. It would take several years for these wounds to heal. Ron Wood and Charlie Watts were both having problems with addictions and Bill Wyman was just plain bored. Watts and Wyman would each only play on about half of the album’s tracks.

Ron Wood would write four of the songs (with Jagger and Richards also receiving writing credits). Keyboardist Chuck Leavell would also create one song leaving only three original Jagger-Richards compositions, which was not a good sign.

The lead single was a cover of the old rhythm & blues song “Harlem Shuffle.” I remember thinking at the time this was a good song played by the wrong group. The Stones would change the tempo toward a pop/dance direction. Soul artists Don Covay and Bobby Womack sang along with Mick and I wish they would have sung alone. The song would be an unlikely hit and reach number five on the national charts.

The second single would be the Ron Wood creation, “One Hit (To The Body).” While this release was less successful, only reaching number 28, it was probably one of the better songs on the album. Jimmy Page played along with Wood and Richards giving the track a three guitar attack. It was one of the few 1980’s songs by The Rolling Stones that would not sound totally dated several years later.

The Jagger-Richard song, “Hold Back,” features a vocal by Mick Jagger who seemed to at least be trying here. “Too Rude” sung by Keith is a competent reggae based slow song that would be a part of his solo act for years.

The bad, however, would outweigh the good. “Had It With You” and “Back To Zero” are forgettable filler songs. The title track, “Dirty Work,” returned the group to a woman and sex theme but this type of song had been overdone by the Rolling Stones. I remember someone writing that “Winning Ugly” sounded like a Robert Palmer B side in one of the most succinct criticisms of the record.

The final song, “Sleep Tonight,” with a Keith Richards vocal, featured an Ian Stewart boogie piano run on the fade out. This was added after the fact to honor him. Stewart died of a heart attack on December 12, 1985 at the age of 47. He and Brian Jones had founded The Rolling Stones and he had graciously stepped aside when their first record company wanted a five man group and not six. He would remain as the Stones caretaker, manager, and harshest critic. He was about the only person on the planet to whom the group members would listen too. Stewart has never gotten enough credit in the history of The Rolling Stones. Dirty Work would be dedicated to him. Keith Richards would say at his funeral that now there was no one to keep them all in line.

The Rolling Stones wisely decided to not tour in support of the album. Wood and Watts would have physically been incapable and Jagger and Richards might have torn the group apart. The Stones took some time off and were better off for that decision. Dirty Work remains an album that the Stones themselves dismiss and the songs are rarely, if ever, performed live.

Undercover by The Rolling Stones

February 19, 2009

Undercover was the first Rolling Stones album not to reach number one in the United States in almost a decade. This was probably appropriate as it is one of the weakest albums in the Stones catalogue.

The Rolling Stones had spent a year touring and were back in the studio. Keith Richards was sober (for the most part) and was challenging Mick Jagger’s control of the recording process.

Their constant bickering produced an album of songs with such topics as politics, serial killers, drug use, and S&M (sadomasochism). These topics may have appeared in the Rolling Stones repertoire before, but here they were connected to poorly conceived and executed songs.

Undercover is the first Stones album that sounds more like a business decision rather than a rock ‘n’ roll album. Recording techniques had improved, but this did not help the Stones sound. The songs were slick and for the most part over-produced.

The Rolling Stones were also financially secure. They had just signed a new muti-album deal with CBS for $28,000,000 dollars. Part of the deal gave the record company the rights to re-release any of their older material back to 1971. Mick Jagger figured at the time that you could only recycle their material on so many albums. What he did not predict was the advent of CD’s which meant that every album in the Stones inventory would be reissued enabling the company to earn millions of dollars at the groups expense.

The title song, “Undercover (Of The Night),” would be a hit single reaching number nine on the American National charts. I will give the Stones credit for trying something new even if it was not a complete success. Jagger and Richards combined political themed lyrics with a slick rhythm track. Today this song sounds dated, but it was very danceable in the clubs of the era.

The second single, “She Was Hot,” is a rocker that suffered from the aforementioned overproduction. I would have liked to have heard this song stripped down to its basics. The song did not crack the American top 40. The Ron Wood song, “Pretty Beat Up,” features a nice sax solo by David Sanborn and Ron Wood’s competent guitar. Naturally Mick and Keith took a co-writing credit. Ron Wood still performs this song in his live solo act.

There was a lot of not so good material on the album. “All The Way Down” was just grinding it out rock ‘n’ roll. “Wanna Hold You” is an average Keith Richards song at best. Such songs as “Too Much Blood,” “Feel On Baby,” and “All The Way Down” equal more filler than any Stones album past or present. “It Must Be Hell” closes the album and is an inept song about inept political leaders. I wish I could say the main problem with Undercover is that it does not hold up well but the problems with this album go much deeper. The song structures and particularly the melodies are not up to Rolling Stones standards. There is also no real classic song to build around, nor are their any memorable ballads. The final test, for me at least, is that I do not play this album as I do with many of the other Rolling Stones releases, and that is the most telling criticism.