THE ROLLING STONES

4 February 2011

[Picture of Rolling Stones' Logo]I might be old, but I still missed the The Rolling Stones era; they belonged to the generation before me.  My elders and betters liked them (and Led Zep, Dylan, Hendrix, Cream and all that); I merely grew up in the 1960s, but they actually lived through it.

As a result, there was no attachment, no possessiveness, no direct association with band of that time — I was too busy with all the mad genius of the 1970s to bother with all that older stuff.

So how come I am such a fan now? Well, it’s an odd story:

In the early 1980s, I had bought an apartment in the city and was fixing it up. One afternoon, I think I was sawing a piece of timber when the doorbell rang.  It was a mate — the singer in my band at the time.  He was known as Jock, but his real name was Anthony.

“Hey man”

“Righto Jock”, I returned to sawing

“What you think ’bout the Stones, man?” He swung his leg over a chair, and sat with the chair back to his front

“Rolling Stones?”

“Yep”

“Why?” I stopped sawing and looked up.

“Well, there’s a spare ticket going if you wanna see them live”

“How much?”

“Free, man.  It’s my cousins, they have money, they don’t care”

“Oh, OK” I said returning to finish sawing the board, “When is it?”

“Now”

“Now? — Wait — what do you mean, Now?”

“Well, they’re both waiting down in the car to go to the gig, man”

“Serious?” I put down the saw and wiped my brow.

“Serious”

“Ah, I’m not ready…” I shook my head.

“Come on — it’ll be a laugh” he said rising to his feet.

“Ok, but I’ll catch up with you — where is it?”

“No, you have to come now”  he looked me in the eye, “It’s in Leeds”

“Leeds? In England?”

“Yeah, and tomorrow — part of a big festival thing in Roundhay Park, whole weekend man, we have beds and it’s all laid on. There will be chicks”, Jock grinned.

“I’ll grab my coat and stuff — gimme a minute”

That is how I saw the Rolling Stones live for the first time.  I grabbed a bank card, some cash, a jacket and my door keys.  I locked up and jumped into the back of a big Merc with a gorgeous blonde girl called Susan Linderman, and we stayed in Leeds in a lovely house that seemed to be a girls’ dormitory.  I’m not kidding, you couldn’t make this stuff up. Gooood times.

The next day at the gig, the sun was out, and I got pretty red.  We drank a LOT and listened to the likes of Joe Jackson.  I grew close and quite fond of Susan as Jock and his cousin seemed intent on talking business deals and gossip about family and folks I didn’t know.  It was sunset when the Stones came on — and they used fireworks once it got dark.

I have to say it was honestly one of the best live shows I have ever seen.  The vibe was amazing, what a crowd! Now — remember, I had none of their records, would probably not have bought a ticket if they were playing round the corner from my house — so imagine my surprise to find that I knew all their material!

There was not a single mystery track, and they were a bloody good band, having a bloody good time too. I found the real meaning of the phrase “guitar lick”; that gig had way more than I’d have thought possible.

The only track I would have said that I’d really liked before this would have been “Tumbling Dice” — but I didn’t even know that it was the Stones, nor that it was from “Exile on Main St“.  I got  “Some Girls” once I’d got home to Glasgow. This was quickly followed by “Voodoo Lounge” and “Tattoo You“.

So roll on years later.  The Rolling Stones were playing Hampden Park.  I got two tickets and took a girlfriend along.  I’m ashamed to admit it, but I cannot remember who she was — even though I do recall that the tickets were extortionate and that I even bought her one of the expensive tour tee-shirts and a program!  Musically, it was a memorable night though — once again the end of another sunny, hot, summer’s day.  Huge hookers rapidly inflated at the stage sides up when they did “Brown Sugar“. Fantastic.

Although they haven’t released new material since 2005, just a few months ago (23 May last year in fact), the re-issue of “Exile on Main St” stormed at No. 1 in the charts — almost 38 years to the week after it first occupied that position.

  • This means that The Rolling Stones are the first act to ever see a classic work return to No. 1 decades after it was first released. In the USA, the album went straight to No. 2.

This spurred me to listen to these guys again, and I can say that I have found the ‘Stones again — and that I can appreciate them properly for the first time.  It’s all probably around the wrong way, but I’m finally “getting them”… it’s not the vocals, the drums, the guitars, odd keyboards or bass — it’s how they work together, somehow.

I kind-of knew that because of the live shows and the buzz — but now I’m actually listening properly — with headphones — and that is a different level from the dancing about overall impressionism.

U2 are NOT the greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World.  Don’t get me wrong, U2 have been around long enough to lay claim to a lot, but the ‘Stones are so much more in all respects. First internet streamed gig, biggest audience at a gig, biggest tour and so on and on.

Even in terms of drama and controversy they win over all rivals — I can well remember the fuss over the video of “Undercover of the Night” (C major). I love this track as it has a fabulous beat and sublime bass licks. It’s got the heat and down-and-dirtiness of ‘Harlem Shuffle‘.

[Embedded video of Undercover of the Night]

As a guitar and bass player, I adore the licks of almost every track they have ever done. “Beast of Burden” (E major) has superb chops.

Start Me Up” (F major) is a bizarre mixture of bass and guitar riffs that seem to have been recorded randomly and thrown together as an experiment — yet it works!  A joy! They even throw in hand-claps and finger pops to give it extra Stonesyness.  Genius!

When I compare the vocals of “Start Me Up” with those of (say) “Love is Strong” (A minor), I am amazed to discover how much a part of the musicality is the vocal.  Jagger is definitely under-rated in that respect; he chooses each word very carefully indeed, not just for the word-play, but for the sound — and the way he delivers them.

Love is strong and you’re so sweet
You make me hard you make me weak…
Your love is bitter if taken neat

Or how about one of the most famous songs ever written:

Gold Coast slave ship bound for cotton fields
Sold in a market down in New Orleans
Scarred old slaver knows he’s doing alright
Hear him with the women just around midnight

Brown sugar how come you taste so good?
Brown sugar just like a young girl should

What great sounds, riffs, words! The way he sings “How Come”, and the ambiguity he manages to inject — such as “How Come you taste so good” sound very like “How Come You Dance So Good”.  Amazing — or “Gold Coast slave ship bound for cotton fields” could easily be “Gold Coast slave she bound for cotton fields” — while this can be ingenious, it can also be hilarious, a lot of Stones’ lyrics are unfathomable to the casual listener, and can produce interesting ad-lib fills and mis-heards — on “Brown Sugar”, for example, he sings  “I bet your mama was a tent show queen”, which I always thought was “I bet your mama was potential queen”.  Good grief.  It’s only Rock and Roll, but I like it, like it yes I do.

[Embedded video of Harlem Shuffle]

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