Friday 8 May 2009

Rolling Stones "Some Girls" (1978) (News, Views and Music 30, Revised 2014)

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Miss You/When The Whip Comes Down!/Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)/Some Girls/Lies//Faraway Eyes/Respectable/Before They Make Me Run/Beast Of Burden/Shattered

The Rolling Stones “Some Girls” (1978)

‘Watch my tail lights fading, ain’t a dry eye in the house”

Punk is junk. Well, that’s what most groups in the late 1970s thought – particularly those who’d been around a long time and though they had the industry of singing youthful songs to young people sewn up even in middle-age. But, inevitably, times change tastes alter and things move on. What's a band to do when it's in danger of being left behind? Sneer and act above it all the way the generation they used to worship did when they came along - or join in the fun and games and get told off for not acting their age? Oddly the punks never had the knives out for the Stones the way they did for some of their contemporaries (The Beatles, Pink Floyd and even the similar band The Who got a good kicking for their prog rock concept era), perhaps sensing a brotherhood of sorts in the band's undated uncaring attitude and the fact that their records still came without gatefold sleeves, arty covers or any exotic instrumentation after Brian left the band. The Stones, therefore, a band who prided themselves on never acting their age, were in the perfect position to take advantage of punk to revitalise their career even if ‘Some Girls’ runs contrary to at least the last three decidedly ballad-heavy LPs. Many punk albums are built on simple grooves and tales of poor boys (and sometimes girls) with nothing desperate to overthrow the old world order: with the possible exception of Chuck Berry nobody had been keeping that flame burning longer than The Stones, even if it had dimmed by a few Watts by 1978 (no not Charlie, although he does play out of his skin across this album after sounding half asleep on 'Black and Blue' - we're talking light-bulbs). What's more, the timing was near-perfect: Mick Taylor's crystal clarity playing would never have fitted in such a sound - but with Ronnie Wood now a fully functioning if not paid up Rolling Stone (Ronnie won't get fairly compensated for his work for decades yet) and eager to dive in head-first, The Stones were in their best position since the 1960s to play an entire record live. Keith was also in the best health he'd been for some time, having finally cleaned up his act after surviving a drugs bust in 1977 that could have spelled the end of both his and the band's career and desperate to return to his favourite 1950s sound after a couple of albums of Mick calling the shots. 'Some Girls' is the inevitable result of all these factors and it crackles with more excitement, energy and commitment than I've ever heard from the Stones or indeed punk at its purest (even the supposedly perfect 'Never Mind' by the Sex Pistols is a few sneers short of a classic): that it comes from a band celebrating their sixteenth year together is remarkable.

Of course The Stones weren't alone in accepting the punk's challenge. Despite its short-lived status, the self-professed ‘year zero’ of punk in 1977 had worried enough of the 1960s and 1970s leading artists to make 1978 a ‘year zero’ for punk being drowned out by the elder generation desperate to prove to the kids they still had what it takes. 1978 into the early months of 1979 saw the recording of The Who’s angry challenge ‘Who Are You?’, the Kinks’ first recordings for their low budget album, err, ‘Low Budget’, saw the Jefferson Starship go all punkish on ‘Freedom At Point Zero’, Pink Floyd doing their version of punk (all-out energy and fierce sniping – but on songs that lasted twenty minutes instead of two on 'Animals'!) and even the Beatles weren’t immune, with Paul McCartney recording (but thankfully never releasing) his own ‘punk’ song ‘Boil Crisis’ (believe me, the title is as good as it gets). What's amazing is that the Stones, on the turn for the past two albums (I'm amazed any punk allowed them to forget the prog rock painted sleeve of 'It's Only Rock and Roll' where the band are made out to look like Gods or at least VIPs) bounce back so whole-heartedly. Perhaps that's because, for the first time since 1972, the Glimmer Twins are on song. Mick had always kept an ear to the ground for new musical tastes and wanted to keep half an ear on what the outside world was doing rather than being stuck in the past while for once the youngsters were listening to something Keith vaguely approved of too, reminding him of the band's snotty-nosed Edith Grove days. While neither were exactly fully paid up members of the punk and new wave fraternity, they had at least resisted the temptation for not blaming the kids for being as young, dumb and stupid as the band themselves had once been called. However the excellence of this album (a few duff tracks aside) is that this isn't just some pale copy of what people half their age are doing. This is punk Rolling Stones style, complete with the usual detours into the blues and country, as if suggesting that this what the band always do, named after their cheekiest headline-grabbing parody yet. No punk album would ever break off for the likes of 'Faraway Eyes' and most felt at out and out war with disco, memorably copied in this record's lead and surprisingly successful single 'Miss You'. Throughout, though, it's the rock and roll pulse that comes through loud and clear - well loud anyway, the mix is still a tad murky though not as much as on albums of the past. This album even had a producer in Chris Kimsey (the band’s first since Jimmy Miller) who kept the band on target and had full control – not least because the control room at the chosen studios in Paris was so small only one of the band could fit in at any time so he had less arguments between the Glimmer Twins than in years past!

It's become something of a cliché to call 'Some Girls' the last Rolling Stones album that matters. In many ways I'm not sure even this record matters that much - once the point about the band playing as fast and wild as the punks has been proved there's still only half an album of decent material here (highlighted, as ever, by the ballads 'Beast Of Burden' and 'Before They Make Me Run', along with the band's best single cover since 1964, The Temptations' 'Just My Imagination'. I'd also stake a claim that, while not perfect and decidedly less energetic, there's enough interesting things going in on later albums like 'Tattoo You' 'Steel Wheels' and parts of 'Voodoo Lounge' and 'Bridges To Babylon' to make those records at least partly important, strengthening and extending the band's sound more than  people often give the band credit for. However, 'Some Girls' is the last Stones album where the band themselves seem to feel as if it matters and it’s the only one of their studio LPs to truly rock harder than any of the band's records from the 1960s. While the Stones have long played up to their nickname as 'the greatest rock and roll band in the world', the truth is that they're not a 'traditional' always-on rock band for most of their career: their most popular albums 'Beggar's Banquet' through to 'Exile On Main Street' can best be described as 'lethargy rock' : the slightly off-colour been-up-for-five-nights-in-a-row-wasted-on-something-illegal spirit best summed up by 1971's [167] 'Sway'. Even before that the Stones tended to be an R and B band with rock and blues twinges rather than fully paid up members of the brash and harsh brigade like The Who or the early Kinks. As recently as the last album the band had been toying with reggae as their 'new' sound, whilst their rock songs have been getting increasingly tired  and slow, more about the groove than the flashiness or tempo (see [222] 'Hot Stuff' in particular).

'Some Girls' succeeds not because it's the best written or most thought out Rolling Stones record but because it's a real attempt to blow the cobwebs away and prove how much the band have to offer still. A lot of critics have commented that the band should have sounded rustier than they do having not done this sort of thing for a while - but the truth is the Stones hadn't ever really sounded like this before. Everyone puts in that little bit more effort than usual instead of working off auto-pilot. Mick has never sounded tougher, Keith has never played as many notes, Bill has never played so fast and Charlie - rightly mixed right up high to dominate every song here (unlike in the 1990s, when he’s wrongly mixed up high and just drowns Mick out) - is at an all-time high, powering through these songs like a man possessed. At the time many critics and fan singled out Ronnie Wood for special praise, the new boy who was probably assumed to have played a bigger role in this album than expected. However Ronnie's work in The Faces was arguably more pub rock than The Stones' had been till recently, with the change in band sound as much of a shock to him as the others. It is still, however, his greatest moment on record - no other Stones LP offers quite as many examples of the Stones' distinctive 'weaving' style as 'Some Girls', which sounds as hard and tough as it does precisely because shots are being fired in stereo, rather than having Keith firing and Mick Taylor soaring or Brian colouring as before. What’s more, now Mick Jagger feels comfortable enough to display his guitar playing to the world after fifteen years of watching Keith do it. Rather than what happens when most lead singers do this, it wasn’t a case of powerplay but necessity: Keith was out of it and often didn’t show up while Ronnie was new and not yet dictating sessions (Ronnie got special praise for his adopted style on this album, most reviewers missing the credits on the back sleeve mentioning Mick’s role on the record). Somebody had to show the rest of the band how the new songs sounded – and why not bring that sound into the recording studio as well as the rehearsal rooms? Though Keith was predictably sneering of how badly his colleague could play, Mick’s charming amateurishness was exactly what this album needed, the band’s own punk playing simple choppy chords out of power and rhythm while Keith and Ronnie wove their more intricate versions of the same riffs over the top. For one album it works (Mick plays a little on ‘Steel Wheels’ but largely goes back to just singing, which is a shame) adding a new element of raw unembellished fire into the band. The telepathy between the three guitarists is really something special across this album and it's a tragedy for the Stones and their reputation that they end up converting back to old ways by the time of the very next LP. The wheel could so easily have come off the wagon had any one of the five not played their role or done things the way they always did, but The Stones sound committed - and hungry. That vital spark missing from their later albums - when the band felt they didn't have to try quite so hard after proving themselves here - will be their downfall in future years, with every record played back to back with this one and found wanting. All that matters here and now, though, is that the Stones are back and actually sound as tough, macho, dangerous and occasionally dark and scary as their lyrics always did on paper. What a shame then that this is a brief hello the Stones never even try to copy again.

Then again it seemed for a while as if ‘Some Girls’ might have been an enforced goodbye. The other influential factor on this album besides punk and Ronnie Wood was Keith Richards’ drug bust in Toronto on 27th February 1977. The infamous story about this is that the Canadian Mounties intercepted a parcel full of drugs more by luck than knowledge and assumed it must be a huge drug sting there was such a vast quantity. They lay in wait for the recipient to book into his hotel and tried to grab him the next day - however the guitarist was so out of it via drugs and jetlag that the police raiding his hotel room had to spend half an hour slapping round the face in order to wake him up and arrest him. The less hilarious effect of this meant that Richards had become so dependent on heroin that he’d smuggled enough of the drug in with him to qualify for charges of trafficking the drug, not just using it. In a weird mirror of how things were ten years before almost to the day, the Stones were facing the possible forced end of their partnership because of a drugs charge pushed by the authorities they'd been battling since their formation and the charges against Richards were even more serious this time around than they were in the 1960s, the sentence likely to be longer. Things weren’t helped in the Canadian press by rumours that Mrs Trudeau – the young wife of the Canadian prime minister – was having an affair with Jagger or that Keith overslept and missed two of his court hearings that he was meant to have attended in person. The band played a rather tear-stained tour by their standards that year, heard in the live album 'Love You Live', released to fans with the understanding that it might be the last time they saw the band for some time.

The band had one last chance at an album while Keith was out on parole, though. 'Some Girls' was recorded fast and loud at the end of 1977 and released in June the following year, when it was very much feared to be the last release the Stones would ever do – at least for the foreseeable future - and the band wanted to go out with a bang. The band recorded some forty-four songs for the album (an additional twelve tracks were released on the deluxe CD version in 2011, with a handful of the tracks returned to during the 'Emotional Rescue' and 'Tattoo You' projects): a staggering amount by their usual standards of starting by sifting through the previous album's outtakes for inspiration. Chances are they were doing what Elvis did before he went into the army: recording enough to keep the band’s name alive in absentia and to keep the records flowing. What's better still, almost all of the best recordings actually made the album for a change (with the sly, poppy oh so Stonesy [243] 'Do You Think I Really Care?' swapped for this record’s latest miserable country comedy 'Faraway Eyes' the only change I'd make). In the end all this hard work was null and void. Keith’s case wasn’t heard until October 1978, some eighteen months after the policemen raided his room and a year after the bulk of this album was made, and that’s one heck of a long time to stay worried about your job and future freedom (hence, perhaps, the lyrical references to feeling 'shattered' and pretending to be 'respectable'). The band had enough time to record another album if they’d wanted to – but they didn’t, ‘Some Girls’ having made all the points they wanted to make. Richards did however choose to clean up his act of his own accord and after stumbling a bit through 1977 sounded as sharp again live as he ever had in the past - an advert for how drugs can drain as well as inspire your creativity as any other. Against all the odds, the court case actually had a happy ending too – Richards was found guilty but the judge was so impressed with the defence's character witnesses (including a remarkable blind Canadian girl, who recounted how Keith had taken care of her personally at gigs and made sure she was looked after without being asked to – the court were impressed that she came forward with a letter to the judge without the band even asking) that he allowed Keith off with just a few charity concerts to perform (mainly for the blind). Despite their uncaring image the Stones have always done a lot of charitable gigs and were more than happy to oblige (and unlike 1967 it had been the band's own behaviour that had shown the authorities the errors of their way, not a newspaper columnist and public outcry). That happy ending perhaps dulled a lot of the band's records to come and the band never again seem like such outlaws and rebels, accepted even by the establishment.

However the band could still get into trouble one last time; actually thrice. 'Before They Make Me Run' is the only song Keith wrote directly about his tangles with the law and while it concludes with his outlaw character turning himself in of his own accord before someone else makes him do it this song is still the last truly renegade flag the band will truly wear. ‘Respectable’ makes fun of the band’s friendship in Canada with a sexual romp on the White House lawn which apparently didn’t go down that well with Jimmy Carter’s missus! However the big even is this album's title track, the last time a Stones record ever got banned - a red letter day for a band who used to be censored every time they opened their mouths. The band have learnt the art of insulting everyone equally, though, the title track being a put-down of girls from every single race under the sun, including their own and caused no end of fuss with lines about how ‘black girls want to get fucked all night’ and English girls are ‘prissy’. Oddly Canadian girls seem to get off scott free despite what was or wasn’t happening with prime minister Trudeau’s wife! This theme is cleverly spoofed in the mock-punk front cover that takes the 'Sex Pistols' scrawled graffiti approach (used on so many back-to-basics punk newsletters) but uses it on a vintage 1950s era hairdressing salon poster as if to show that the Stones have been vandals for a lot younger than the pretenders to their throne. As well as giving us the unforgettable sight of the band in drag (a neat reminder of the [109] 'Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby?' single picture sleeve from 1966; Mick and Bill loo particularly good - Charlie just looks scary), it's a neat reminder that some punk inventions were actually re-inventions of what came before - the Stones taking the approach that even they weren't the first and that they owe everything to America in the 1950s (the eventual cover manages to look both very 1950s and late 1970s all at the same time). There was one last bit of controversy too as Lucille Ball and Raquel Welch balked at their likeness being used on an album listing sexual preferences of different races - even in silhouette - and their likenesses (which weren’t that recognisable anyway) were both taken off the sleeve for later pressings and all CD re-issues, replaced by an ugly ‘under construction’ banner that kinda fits too. ‘Some Girls’ is, in many ways, the Stones’ last hurrah as a band parents and elder siblings warned you about. After Keith’s arrest they literally won’t be able to be arrested after this and will become as establishment as any other band, visited by families with different generations in concert (something unthinkable until 1978).

Elsewhere, though, 'Some Girls' shows a definite deepening on Jagger and Richards' responses to women. Both were currently married to tough imposing wives and wishing they weren’t (Mick to Bianca, Keith to Anita) and the narrators across this album seem more down-trodden than usual. In many ways this year is crunch time: Bianca will finally have enough and file for divorce in May 1978, in between recordings and release of this album, on the grounds of Mick’s adultery with his longest lasting partner Jerry Hall. As for Keith and Anita – the second longest Stones relationship thus far – they’re in trouble too in even sadder circumstances. Poor Anita had become a far worse drug addict than her boyfriend and it was actually her parcel that had made the Mounties in Canada suspicious and put them on the alert for other missives sent to the same address. Realising that the road wasn’t good for her but unwilling to leave his eldest at home with an increasingly fit mum, Keith took the hard decision to leave her at home with newborn son Tara while he went on the road with toddler Marlon (what with other mini-Stones on tour, there’s a concert documentary film I wish someone had made!) Unfortunately Tara died at two months old from ‘cot death’ – specifically a respiratory problem. Though the coroner ruled it an accident, it was another strike against Anita for being an unfit mother and though she and Keith remained close it was it seemed the final excuse he needed to leave. As a result the love songs on this album come with more of a sigh and a raggedy step than usual: 'Beast Of Burden' is the obvious song, the narrator vowing not to take it from his missus anymore, but in a sweeter way than when the Stones usually throw their toys out the pram. Mick mopes over a girl who ‘doesn’t even know me’ (who is surely Jerry Hall in his mind, even if it is from a cover song), Keith dreams of the lure of ‘Faraway Eyes’, Mick admits that ‘I Miss You’ and ‘Shattered’ amongst other things complains about how women always seem to have the power over men no matter how much they try and make it the other way around.

Other tracks also deal with this idea of fighting against stronger figures. The album's best rocker 'When The Whip Comes Down' is about having to change with the times even when you don't want to (and a hint that the narrator has a part-time job as a sado-masochist; his mother's just pleased he's no longer on the 'dole'). There are also the first graphic scenes of bondage with groupies on ‘When The Whip Comes Down’ whatever the title of ‘Black and Blue’ promised! 'Respectable' even jokes at the band's supposed respectable tag after months of seeing Mick's relationship with the Canadian prime minister's wife in all the papers, jokingly turning this to their advantage with a tale of non-stop sex on the white house lawn. Finally 'Before They Make Me Run' is the band's ultimate rebellious song, Keith summing up the ups and downs of the past few years and realising that he has to change his ways before they catch up with him, although he's far from ashamed about his past, 'walking before they make me run'. 'Watch my tail lights fading - there ain't a dry eye in the house' he sighs, convinced that his time is up and he's going to jail. However the tail lights fading signify something different: the last moment in which the Stones were a thorn in the establishment (any establishment's) side: before long the band will be reduced to walking; the real theme of this record being 'enjoy this last jog while we can make it'.

The real key to a great record is whether it changes things for the band past the album's actual release, sending ripples through their releases for decades to come. Hmm, let’s see – the previous LP was the horrible over-produced ‘Black and Blue’, a strong candidate for worst Stones album of all, with a really ugly cover and chock-full of excessive noodling songs that go on for hours without any real purpose and on which the guest musicians shine and the Stones sound bored. The follow-up was the terrible over-produced ‘Emotional Rescue’, a strong candidate for worst Stones album of all, with a really really ugly cover and chock-full of excessive noodling songs that…hang on a minute, ‘Some Girls’ didn’t change anything at all! Yep, that’s the real downside to this album – the fact that it brought the Stones the best critical plaudits they’d enjoyed since 1971’s ‘Sticky Fingers’ (and sales: barring compilations, this is the best selling Stones album after their first one way back in 1964) and yet the band were either unable or unwilling to use this sound again thereafter. As soon as Keith gets his freedom back and punk died a quick and painful death (albums like this one – where the punks’ granddads did the whole scene better than they did – didn’t help matters much) this whole genre was dropped from the Rollers’ catalogue like a stone and everything goes back to normal as if this record had never happened. In Rolling Stones terminology it’s a tease, getting long-term fans to flirt with their future records in the vain hope that it will be anywhere near to being like this one. It’s a real one-off in their canon this album, a last gasp of glorious effort and energy before they went back onto auto-pilot, seemingly forever barring accidents.  

So should we pay 'Some Girls' the attention the band clearly crave, seeing as the feelings and emotion behind this album seem to be only fleeting? Yes. 'Some Girls' out-punks the punks, out-rocks the rockers, out-ballads the balladeers and out-discos the disco-goers. For one album to contain songs as different as 'Miss You' 'Respectable' and 'Beast Of Burden' is remarkable; the fact that all three songs manage to be excellent is nothing short of remarkable. The album isn't perfect: 'Faraway Eyes' is a joke too far and must have caused curious punk fans apoplexy while 'Lies' and 'Shattered' are more ordinary than the other punk songs around them and even the fun-loving title track is a bit of a lame duck as outrageous Stones songs go, a poor fan's [210] 'Star Star' or [145] 'Stray Cat Blues'. But if the band slide into self-parody occasionally then that seems fair enough for a band that had been going for so long. Even with these occasional lapses, 'Some Girls' is still a remarkably consistent LP that's more eclectic and groundbreaking than most people give it credit for as well as being thrillingly exciting with more energy than any Stones album since ‘Aftermath’. Had this been the band's last release - had Keith been looking at six years plus in prison (exiting just in time for 'Dirty Work') it would have been a fine way to bow out as the Stones left the game in the most contemporary way possible. Even as a one-off the band never bothered repeating it's a thrilling, crucial work, so 'respectable' it makes you wonder what on earth happened to the records that followed that can't manage even a tenth of the intensity of this one. More than just some album ‘Some Girls’ is the last moment when the Stones seem to have a present and a future as well as a past.

The Songs:

Much of ‘Some Girls’ tries to break the tried and tested image but no song more than lead single [231] ‘Miss You’. Mick’s response to Keith’s punk-rock riffs is to have a bash at the genre’s slightly more sensible disco-shoed brother, the sort of ‘posh’ kid to the punks in the street. Many Stones songs have dabbled with rhythm before this one (particularly [222] ‘Hot Stuff’) but most just sit back in a laidback groove. Here Mick is back to being assertive and driving an energetic adrenalin-fuelled backing track along, even though the lyrics are some of his most passive, clearly inspired by his split with Bianca as he basically sits around and misses his wife. Just to get rid of any last Stones vibe this is also the debut of a sound that will come to dominate the next decade of recordings: Mick’s falsetto. Less off-putting than his Transatlantic accent but still rather over-used on albums to come, it works well on this track at least with the chorus making Mick sound as if he’s crying. Only as the song gets going does he let down his guard and go back to ‘normal’, stretching out a great soul improvisation over the end as Mick pleads Otis Redding style for his baby to come back because ‘God I miss you, child’. Very much a New York-set song, complete with references to Central Park, it fits the sounds coming out of the city in 1978 even though like everything else on the album it was recorded in Paris. The harmonica player, for instance isn’t Mick for once but a busker the band had befriended on the streets named ‘Sugar Blue’. Another guest is Ian McLagan from Wood’s old band The Faces who takes the sound of the track in a whole new direction. However the biggest change is from the band themselves, with Charlie playing in a very different disciplined and thuddy style to his usual light jazz and Bill reputedly spending nights of ‘research’ in local discos to perfect his uncharacteristic throbbing style (nights well spent!) Not everything works: Bobby Keys’ parping sax solo is so typical of its period it virtually comes with a best before date and, hard as Richards tries to boogie in his solo, this is a song dominated by rhythm rather than melody and his hooks just don’t belong in this song. The lyrics too run out of ideas quickly: read rather than heard they seem like the many one-dimensional songs Mick and Keith used to write for other people back in 1964 like [24] ‘Tell Me’ (‘I’ve been hanging on the phone, I’ve been sleeping all alone, how I miss you’). Even the very Stones interjection of an invite to a party ‘full of Puerto Rican Girls’ isn’t enough to dispel the gloom of the song though and one of Mick’s better metaphors come when he waits outside for a taxi sighing that girls are just the same – when you need one they are never there. It’s the performance that makes the song though, Mick coming out of his passive stupor to connect with every word (demanding your attention on the ‘whatsammaterwidyouboy?’ middle eight) However the hook rescues the song more than anything, Mick sounding as f he’s being tortured over a wordless wail that was much-copied that summer and got into your head like an ear-worm in a way the Stones had been too slow and careful to manage for ages. The result is a song that, fittingly, you can’t put down or lose affection for no matter how flimsy so much of it is on analysis. A 12” mix goes on for eight whole minutes (not all of them successfully) and includes an extra verse that’s the most revealing in terms of Mick and Bianca’s marriage: ‘Guess I’m lying to myself, it’s you and no one else, but Lord I won’t miss you child you’ve been blotting out my mind, fooling on my time!’ Listen out on the original too for some nattering going on in the background which seems to be Mick talking back to the control room but too far away to hear what he is saying.

 [232] When The Whip Comes Down’ is a strong candidate for the best Stones rocker of the post-1972 period. It’s the last time when the band are truly lost in the midst of the music and offer up the sort of song their rivals could never do as well: brutal, unfeeling, but very very exciting. The Stones do their best to sound disinterested like they always do at their best and yet you can hear that even they are energised by the time this song ends. Most 1960s/1970s refugees trying to do punk ruin it by going too fast, in the false belief that punk is about speed rather than noise and attitude (the two don’t always go hand in hand). The Stones find a great mid-tempo rock groove on this number instead, stripping their sound back to its bare bones (it’s a shame that Billy Preston and Nicky Hopkins had to go, but hurrah to have a 1970s Stones song that isn’t smothered in horns or keyboards for a change…) and wringing every little bit out of this song for all it’s worth. Keith Richards is a particular star here, amazing considering just how ill (by his iron constitutional standards) he was back then, having suffered that drugs bust in Canada that forced him to clean up and undergo drug withdrawal symptoms in this period, at least for a short time. His guitar solo is just as gritty and basic as it had ever been in the1960s but has an added sneer here, mixing Chuck Berry with his own early 1970s playing and obviously equating punk in his own mind with how the music scene had been back in the 1950s while the three guitarists all criss-crossing each other makes the song feel as if it is always moving. Jagger is well at home with his latest character too, telling us how his good rich clean-living life in New York can come crashing down his ears in just the time it takes the whip of fate to come down. He may be one of the few Stones narrators to admit to being rich, but his problem is there’s always so much fun going on he spends all his money without ever having a chance to save it. This is also the period when Mick at the peak of his androgynous look – something that really shouldn’t have worked with his natural butch ways but somehow did and it was a good fit for the times. ‘Whip’ is the first Stones song that includes a gay first-person point of view and once again it’s a song with a New York setting, on 53rd Street  (given away only by the fact that Mick sings about ‘rubbish’ not ‘trash cans’). Despite appearances to the contrary there isn’t any sex in the song, but that doesn’t stop the Stones sounding as if they are revving up for a bondage party, the guitars all flirting with each other while Charlie’s drums tries to throw some testosterone into the room. The vocals are mixed typically low for this period of Stones history, so that you can’t always tell what they are (most books about the Stones claim that this song is all about punk ‘accessories’ like safety pins and spitting, but if so they’ve got better ears than me…), but Mick puts in some of his fiercest vocals and actually sounds as if he cares about this character, a true rarity for the 1970s Stones. The improvised ending of the song, when Charlie Watts just can’t stop hitting the cymbals and the band all chip in behind him, is perhaps the greatest Stones moment that doesn’t involve Brian Jones, a dulcimer or a mellotron. A really under-rated track that sounded particularly good live.

Against the odds [233] Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)’ makes it three great and very different songs in a row, even if it looks on paper as if it’s going to be the downfall of the album. You see, nearly all Stones albums post-Beggar’s Banquet have some sort of vaguely obscure rock and roll cover on them and they’re nearly always the worst track on the album – this formula goes double for the band’s take on Motown songs, of which this is one. But this cover of the Temptations’ classic (a much better song than [212] ‘Ain’t Too Proud To Beg’) doesn’t half buck the trend – it’s assured and delivered with just the right mix of energy and panache as if the band mean every word. Jagger is ultra-committed, breaking our hearts as he first tells us how lucky he s to have the perfect girl on one of the most romantic Stones songs of them all, cover or original. Once again the lyric is set in New York as Mick tries to start a new life there with Jerry and the setting may have inspired Mick to look out this song. Singing live (or near enough live) on this album really helped to develop his voice too – Mick sings loud and clear on the first verse before turning to an indecipherable growl when he finds out he’s mistaken in the middle part of the song, as Watts and Wyman keep slugging it out behind him and goading him on. The middle eight in this song is particularly majestic, just at the point when the guitar duel is running out of steam (we talk a lot about classic middle eights on this website, but not usually where the Stones are concerned, I’ve noticed who tend to find a happy groove and stay there) – with the whole track slowing down as if to let the narrator look back on his happy fate. He’s gone into full on-fantasy mode, imagining all the many children the couple are going to have (‘two boys for you – what about two girls for me?’), he prays to the Lord to never take his girl away, tells us how great her arms feel and voice sounds and then concludes sadly in a twist we don’t see coming the first time that there’s only one problem: ‘she doesn’t fucking know me!’ This is a much more ‘human’ song than normal from a band who like pretending to be super-heroes most of the time made all the better because of how rough and ready the backing is. The narrator dreams of perfection but perfection doesn’t happen to people like him, just the lust signified by the guitar licks that keep nipping at his heels and the lure of Charlie’s drums that keep him moving onwards. The use of criss-crossing guitars (played by Richards, Wood and Jagger all at once) really draws out the rock and roll edges of this song, too, and so Stones-like does the end result sound that you can’t believe it ever started out as a brassy polished Motown song rather than the ramshackle rocker we have here. A second hidden gem.

The [234] ‘Some Girlstitle track though really annoys me, I’m not sure why. Most fans adore this song, seeing it as an example of all the flippant, irreverent outlaw humour the Stones revel in and in many ways it’s the obvious extension of past Stones tracks, one that effectively insults everybody as Mick tours the world ‘California Girls’ style and finds girls from every country wanting and like their stereotypes. Nobody gets out of this one well in any skin colour of country of origin including the band’s own (English girls are ‘prissy’, French girls want perfume, Italian girls want cars, Chinese girls are a ‘tease’ and American girls want ‘everything!’, while Mick complains that he’s worried about dating a horny black girl ‘as I just don’t have that much jam!’ Interestingly given recent events there’s no mention of Canadian girls – they’re always wanting to place ice hockey maybe?!?) However unlike some past controversial songs with some depth to them (i.e. [138] ‘Sympathy For The Devil’)  this is a one-joke song that exists purely to make mischief. Sadly it’s also a song without any real melody to go with it (the whole thing is built on two chords, bar the workmanlike middle eight). Hearing the world’s women reduced to generalisations should be fun on paper and yet, when we get there, it’s the usual outdated stereotypes trotted out and not actually that clever at all without the same sense of mischief as, say, [210] ‘Sta Star’. The band sound as if they’re having a ball on this song, but it’s fun and games that the listener doesn’t really feel able to enjoy. Mick in particular seems to be having great fun with the vocal though! Even so, I‘m left feeling a bit uneasy and even a bit queasy. I’m more with Civil Rights protestor Jesse Jackson, who was so alarmed at hearing what African American girls were meant to get up to that he tried to have the album banned – the Stones really should know better, even in jest. A shameful blot on their canon.

Side closer [235] Lies would sound like the best rocker on any other Stones album, but here sounds a little outclassed too. Keith and Ronnie's guitars mesh well and Mick has a lot of fun barking out the lyric, which surely has a lot to do with the accusations that were flying around the press regarding Mick and Bianca. Jagger really vents his anger here on one of the nastiest lyrics of the 1970s Stones recordings as he responds to effectively being dismissed as [112] ‘Yesterday’s Papers’ himself. He finds everything his ex does is a lie including such things as the way she walks and he physically sees the lies dripping off her tongue ‘like dirt’. A more interesting song seems to be developing in the second verse as Mick realises what his papa told him about settling down with a nice girl was wrong too (because there aren’t such things) and that his history books at school all lied (we don’t hear why, but in context perhaps because they’re all about men’s domination over women when this narrator knows they are the stronger sex?) Of course this verse is soon followed by a third back to telling ‘you dirty Jezebel – why don’t you go to hell?’ However this comment on ugly rumours is more noisy venting rather than philosophical debate and is another song that sounds like more fun to play than to listen to. Interestingly Stones fans The Kinks came out with a near exact copy of this song (albeit slightly slower) on the title track of their 1985 record 'Word Of Mouth', another moan about muck spreading. The result is another intense three minutes of the record, but not necessarily the best.

The worst song on the album by far, though, is [236] ‘Faraway Eyes’ a track that really doesn’t fit the album in theme, genre, tempo or attitude. Country songs have ruined many a Rolling Stones record; their painful country spoofs have come close to ruining their career they’re that bad. This here’s another one that’s even worse than [140] ‘Dear Doctor’ and [174] ‘Dead Flowers’ with Mick putting on a ridiculously fake Southern accent and running through just about every country cliché under the sun. Now, all that’s a shame, because the chorus itself is quite sweet, especially the lush Stones harmonies and chirruping pedal steel that show that they had a real feeling for this genre, if only they’d take it seriously (by most accounts Keith did mean this song to be taken seriously – and was less than impressed with Jagger for aping up his vocal and making the rest of the band play along; he responded that he was hired to be a blues singer and had no idea to do country. So why not come to the obvious compromise and let Keith sing it?) Alas, we get blooming sarcasm and some unfunny digs at country radio music in America (and before you ask, I hate American country music too, I just don’t believe in spending time making spoofs of something poor that actually sound worse than the original). After all, it’s hard to see how this tale of a country music fan getting the ‘wrong’ idea could ever be taken seriously. Told by a DJ that God is on his side the narrator pushes his luck ‘and I ran the next twenty red lights in his honour’. He then sends off $10 to have his prayer read out on the station so his dream can come true – he can make up for missing a date for a girl he knows with faraway eyes. The idea of a girl with ‘faraway eyes’ is quite a good one, an idea that would make a fine complement to this album’s ‘Just My Imagination’ as she imagines the perfect man who clearly isn’t this narrator (who isn’t spiritual enough to understand faraway eyes at all). Amazingly, though, despite every other cliché under the sun (the country kid dreaming of his girl from a departing train while listening to country music on the radio) we get a happy ending and the Stones miss the obvious one and fail to give the narrator a dead dog! It’s still a truly mind-curdlingly wretched song though and it’s played with the sort of fake sincerity it’s hard to excited about even with a rare Ronnie Wood slide guitar solo and is easily one of the worst Stones recordings of them all. Thank you for small mercies though Mick ‘n’ Ronnie, thank you all. Lordy mamma. Hallelujah.

Next we get [237] ‘Respectable’, one of the most down and out adrenalin-fuelled rockers of the Stones’ career. You can really hear the band relishing the challenge of playing like their punk successors and Charlie Watts especially is having great fun on this track, rattling the kit in a way quite different to most of the lethargy-filled Stones albums of the 1970s with real energy and adrenalin. This lyric is a lot of fun too – Jagger even gets to poke fun at the way the band have lost sight of their original rebellious image with the opening couplet talking about the Stones being respectable and discussing drugs with the president on the white house lawn! The rest of the song reverts to a Stones standard, putting down a girlfriend for not being good enough but the lyrics seem to be meant as a joke here, a parody of the band’s public image. Lines like ‘get out of my life, take my wife, don’t come back!’ obviously aren’t meant to be taken seriously, as are lines about having fun with the first lady of the united states on the White House Lawn (a reference to the rumours of Jagger and the Canadian prime minister’s wife, perhaps?) – but it’s so unusual to hear the by now far too pompous Stones poking fun at themselves that this track confuses you at first, especially the conviction with which the band play it. My guess too is that while much of the song is written from the point of view of the band this song comes with more than a few digs at the posh inner circles of Bianca who hated the low-lives and riff-raffs the Stones hang around with. This song basically says ‘well we’re respected too!’ before asking why anyone would want to be respectable when it means that you have to be pretending all the time. There’s nothing fake about this performance which is one long messy scream that’s basically a free-for-all with three guitars, bass and drums all trying to outdo each other and grab your attention on the best band performance on the album. A more than respectable effort for a millionaire band in their late thirties that’s as deep as you want to make it.

[238] ‘Before They Make Me Run’ is Keith’s big moment on the album and it’s the last gasp showing of his outlaw rebel image before he cleans himself up from drugs and drops this persona in his songs to some extent. Actually, that idea is in this song too - despite a chorus that talks about escaping the authorities so the narrator can lead a life of bliss, the verses are full of self-recrimination, reflecting on how its ‘really hit him’ as the narrator ‘says another goodbye to another good friend’ – a line often taken to refer to ex-Byrd Gram Parsons, with whom Keith was close. Keith believes both sides of what he’s telling us here, believing that we should fight back against mindless authority and control and that everything he’s told us in song till now has been ‘right’, but to also be aware of why rules might be there in the first place  and why sometimes we should follow them. Wasn’t looking too good’ the narrator muses, before challenging assumptions that drugs are only doing him harm with the line ‘…but I was feeling real well!’ This is the exact minute that Keith pulls himself from the rock and roll casualty brink, thankfully captured for posterity on record as he debates with himself whether continuing to b a human chemical dumpsite is truly in keeping with the ‘survivor’ image of rock and roll. In many ways it’s a song that enables Richards to have the best of both worlds: in this track turning himself into the authorities before he gets assassinated is clearly the right thing to do for him as much as the ‘man’ as he knows he’s reached a line. However Keith does so on his terms, still adamant that being an outlaw is the only way to live your life. Interestingly the song starts in ‘The Twilight Zone’, the glorious sci-fi series by genius Rod Serling that’s generally set in a paranormal, other-worldly dimension. To our ears there’s nothing ethereal or other worldly in this land of misfits, drug addicts and bars where the only thing they have to offer is ‘another pile of medicine’ to get through another day of hanging round the same misfits, drug addicts and bars. Keith knows the repercussions with his fans as he juxtaposes his red-tail lights ‘fading’ in the mist as a metaphor for him selling out – but from his point of view this could be the police car putting him away for a very long time and his fans would be deprived of his music in any case. Like many of Keith’s vocals in this period, its awkward and uncomfortable but compelling and although his voice sounds like all the years of heavy living it’s been through and more, it still sounds so sweet for the most part and for pretty much the last time, while the swirl of mock-angelic harmonies sound like a last bit of mischief. A fan favourite for many good reasons, this has become one of the album’s longest lasting songs on the stage and really digs below the surface of Keith’s caricature for once. Interestingly, this seems to have been the very first song designed from the outset for Keith to sing rather than one he re-claimed off Mick in rehearsals, showing again what a personal song this is.

[239] ‘Beast Of Burden’ is the album’s true 100 carat classic though. Jagger lets down his guard here on this slow ballad (not that anyone’s told Charlie Watts that, who still seems to be hitting his drums as hard as on the rockers on this album!), asking his girlfriend if he’s living up to what she wants him to be. My take on this song is that this is Mick sitting down to write yet another love song when he’s hit by a pattern: he’s done this already with Chrissie, Marianne, Bianca and now Jerry, so what makes him think this time will be any different? Worried about whether he will ever live up to the image people have of him Mick starts asking ‘Am I hard enough? Am I rough enough? Am I rich enough? I’m not to blind to see!’ Indeed ‘worried’ is a good word all round for this relationship, which will be by far the longest of Mick’s life, his second consummated in marriage (later annulled as there wasn’t a licensed vicar present) and will end with two mirror songs to this one admitting that indeed Mick didn’t live up to what he promised ([367] ‘Laugh I Nearly Died’ and [360] ‘Streets Of Love’). That’s only part of this song though on a lyric that potentially contradicts itself many times: likening himself to being a donkey, Mick refuses to do all the work in this relationship. He’s tired from his last troubles, he’s sore, ‘my feet are hurting’ and he’s in this relationship purely because of the love he feels – if that isn’t returned, he’s gone.  Basically this is a love song disguised as a negotiation, with both sides battered and bruised enough to think that true love is impossible but unwilling to be alone. Only an unnecessary middle eight with a switch to that falsetto that’s already becoming irritating (‘Pretty pretty such a pretty girl!’) gets in the way of the most dimensional Stones song in many a long year. Better still is the band performance, which after an album full of trying to ignore their winkles on punk songs or write pastiches can play things directly and honestly. Everybody excels on this song: Charlie’s noisy don’t-fool-me drumming, three guitar parts that sound in glorious slow motion compared to the rest of the song and some of the best harmonies of any Stones song, with Mick, Keith and Ronnie all bruised in different ways but uniting in the same key for a change! The best moment though is a ‘yerrr’ from Mick buried in the backing track, suddenly moved by how quickly this song has clicked into place. The result is a real triumph and even though it has nothing in common with any other song here the clear album highlight.

Shee-doo-be, the Stones' best album in many a long year ends with the laidback groove of [240] Shattered, a song which had it come out today would be termed 'rap'. Mick speak-sings the song and gets increasingly histrionic when pitching the narrator's simple life of 'love and lust and sex and sex' against his girlfriend's drive for 'success'. 'But does it matter?' he screams, humiliated at not being the most important thing in her life, 'I'm in tatters!' This is also obviously another song about his split from Bianca who, by and large, thought Mick was wasting his time in the Stones when he had made his money and could hang out at posh lunches. She didn’t share his drive to make music at all costs and considered Keith’s problems an excuse for ending the Stones, not the tragedy that would leave Mick lost and helpless. This song sounds like a noisy how-dare-you protest as Mick tries on last time to show his ex just how exciting rock and roll music can be (especially in concert where this song was played twice as fast and about five times as hard!) A far cry from the 'Aftermath' days when girls were supposed to do as they were told, this could also be a song of protest: why is his wife so intent on being seen in all the right magazines with status symbols when there are people begging on the streets with nothing? How is this fair? Why is nobody saying anything important about this when all he hears is ‘chitter chatter’ that signifies nothing? Jagger gets a bit carried away with his idea, though, blaming the influence of Manhattan on his girl's new attitude. His last verse - the last of the album - is an extended tour de force: 'You get rats on the West side, bed bugs up town, what a mess! This town's in tatters, I've been shattered, my brain's been splattered all over Manhattan! This town full of money grabbers, here in the big apple - don't mind the big maggots! All that flatter flatter flatter flatter flatter flatter...' He’s still going when both song and album end, clearly getting more than a few things off his chest in another song that comes with a specific New York postcode. This sense of looking behind fakery and staying authentic makes it the single most punk song the Stones ever did and fittingly the music has the most punkish groove too, hardly varying off on note and taking flight on one of the simplest Keith Richards riffs of them all. The result is a song that isn't quite up to the best the record has to offer but there's a neat groove at the heart of this song and Mick is on top form. Far from sounding shattered, the Rolling Stones have never sounded more vibrant - and the same is true of the record as a whole.

So that’s that. Some hits, some misses, sometimes heartfelt, sometimes corny and sometimes  pastichey, that’s some girls summed up to a tee. A combination of being more on the run than ever before, the breakup of two major Stones relationships, a relocation to the harsher sounds of New York and a sense of I’ll-show-you!’ with the punks who wanted to put their generation away results in an album that suddenly matters again. This album wasn’t made to earn a swimming pool or another car or because the band had to go back on tour but because music is the best way of making sense of all this mess that has been going on around the band and they still have so much to prove (all the more reason to go back to their young hungry beginnings too if it is all about to be taken away from them thanks to Keith’s looming prison sentence). From hereon in though all these problems will be solved: both Stones will remarry before too long, the prison sentence will be quashed, punk will be (almost) dead (or at least on life support) and The Rolling Stones will become the new darlings of the establishment who suddenly see them as a safe pair of hands. Even more shocking than that statement, for anyone reading this book in order, is that they’d be right: The Stones are from now on a safe, reliable, competent sometimes-great rock and roll band but they will never again be brave enough to be important or daring enough to be worth buying for reasons other than nostalgia. The band are about to forget all of their hard work and end up writing records that are more or less interchangeable and bear no relation to the music being recorded at the same time by other people. In contrast, ‘Some Girls’ has a sound all of its own and it’s a sound that, frustratingly, the band never even bother attempting again despite how good it all sounds for most, if not quite all, of this album. Far from being a record about ‘some girls’, however, its also the first Stones album since ‘Between The Buttons’ to pay attention to actual real relationships which gives this LP a whole different flavour and autobiography. There have been better Stones albums in the past and the Stones go to sleep somewhere in the middle, but this is the last one you most definitely need to own.  

A Now Complete List Of Rolling Stones and Related Articles To Read At Alan’s Album Archives:

'No 2' (1965)

'Out Of Our Heads' (1965)

‘Aftermath’ (1966)

'Between The Buttons' (1967)

'Their Satanic Majesties Request' (1967)

'Beggar's Banquet' (1968)

‘Let It Bleed’ (1969)

'Sticky Fingers' (1971)

'Exile On Main Street'(1972)

'Goat's Head Soup' (1973)

'It's Only Rock 'n' Roll' (1974)

'Black and Blue' (1976)

'Some Girls' (1978)

'Emotional Rescue' (1980)

'Undercover' (1983)

'Dirty Work' (1986)

'Steel Wheels' (1989)

‘Voodoo Lounge’ (1994)

'Bridges To Babylon' (1998)

'A Bigger Bang' (2005)

Ronnie Wood and Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings Solo

Rolling Stones: Unreleased Recordings

Surviving TV Clips and Music Videos

Non-Album Recordings Part One 1962-1969

Non-Album Recordings Part Two 1970-2014

Live/Solo/Compilations Part One 1963-1974 

Live/Solo/Compilations Part Two 1975-1988

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