The Rolling Stones — How could I have any piece of space on the internet without mentioning the Stones? I’ve found that I might be unaware of anything else out there in the music world that steps a little too far from the Rolling Stones because I can get everything I need within their repertoire. It’s 2008. They’ve been making music since 1962. That’s 46 years of music. There’s been more than 40 albums and compilations, and over 3,000 bootleg recordings (many of which are excellent quality) from live shows and studio outtakes. There’s a reason these guys make well over $100 million on their tours, and it’s not just because a top-tier ticket in Madison Square Garden costs $180. As I was saying, why do I need to venture far from them? They’ve got country, rock, 80s beat songs, 90s funk, blues, R&B, pop, acoustic, solo, instrumentals, duets, the first music video, DVDs, IMAX recordings, and more!
In the beginning…..
And from last year’s tour:
I came across this article eleven years ago. I was thirteen years old and it’s stuck in my memory ever since. I don’t agree with everything contained herein, but it’s nonetheless a very good, long article on why the Rolling Stones are just about the best band ever.
original site is here: http://www.furious.com/PERFECT/rollingstones.html
STILL LOVE THE STONES
by Alan Crandall (November 1997)
The Rolling Stones are playing in Oakland tonight, but I’m not going to be there.
It’s not that I don’t want to. Actually I had planned to go ever since the dates were announced back in July. But, alas, my car decided to set me back $600, and I just can’t justify a $60 ticket right now. Besides, I’ve seen them before. And I hate those huge outdoor stadiums. None of them can handle the sound. Watching them on a big video-screen just ain’t the same, and looking at tiny little figures prancing around on an enormous stage just doesn’t do it for me. In 1981, if I’d wanted to, I could’ve left my seat in the balconies and fought my way down to the front but festival seating’s a thing of the past. And it’s raining.
Where I live (S.F. Bay Area), a Stones concert appearance is a major event. Both of our major newspapers have overflowed with articles, tributes, remembrances and commentaries for the past three weeks. They’re doing four shows here, apparently something of a record. This is the only town where the vaunted Pearl Jam (the Led Zeppelin of the 90’s and if you consider that a compliment, you’re welcome to it) are opening, which has added another layer of expectation. Further, there’ve been rumors of an unannounced gig at the 2,000-person Warfield theater, an event that would be rare enough to get me out of my house, low bank account, rain, and all.
I come not to bury the Stones, but to praise them. Any maybe, in 1997, that’s something of a revolutionary stance. Since the release of the new Bridges to Babylon, as in 1994, we’ve heard the same tired cliches explaining why the Stones should hang up their rock`n’roll shoes- they’re too old, they’re too rich; in these heady days of Prodigy and Oasis and Whoeverthefuck, they just don’t matter anymore. Keith Richards looks like he’s dead. Charlie Watts looks like somebody’s grandpa.
Enough, enough already. These cavils are as tired as the “tired old bar-band licks” wags accuse them of recycling, album after album. Yes, they’re also partly true. No question; they hit their peak probably somewhere around 1972. They never made another album as good as Exile On Main Street. That’s orthodox critical opinion and also, pretty much, fact. They are richer than God and this outing will only leave them richer still. And this long-time Stones fan knows damn well their live show will be something of a disappointment. The stadiums aren’t built for the kind of sound the Stones make- the night air swallows the music. And, at least as of last time out, the whole thing was mixed all wrong- Chuck Leavell’s keyboards were way out in front of Keith and Ron’s rude guitar raunch. Mick’s developed a bad habit of shouting out his songs rather than singing them. And the drums boom too much- it always sounds like cannons are firing off in the distance.
But you can trash them all you want. All these arguments are crap. Their age? Mick is 53, Keith 52, Charlie 57, Ron 50. This makes all of them younger than Link Wray, Dick Dale, Bo Diddley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ronnie Dawson, The Ventures, John Lee Hooker, B.B. King, Johnny Cash, Tony Bennett, Harry Belafonte, Chuck Berry, James Brown, Little Richard, and a host of others all of whom are still recording and in many cases, still touring. As one local journalist wrote: are you saying Keith Richards is a worse musician now that he’s had 30 more years of practice? Their relevance? If it’s possible for a rock band to be relevant to anyone but their audience and the corporations that profit off their music (and I don’t think it is- not anymore), then the Stones’ “relevance” is based on past accomplishments. And even if they are PAST accomplishments, they are accomplishments no rock band today will ever make and I’ll swear by that as surely as I’ll swear that in 2007, and 2017, the opening riff from “Brown Sugar” (or “Satisfaction,” or “The Last Time,” or “Jumping Jack Flash”) will still sound good, long after the current crop of today’s hot modern rockers and critical faves have faded into memory, nostalgia, and/or well-deserved oblivion.
In the cult-fave film CLUELESS an airhead high-school student utters the line “the way I feel about the Rolling Stones is the way my kids’ll feel about Nine Inch Nails.” It’s meant as a joke (and it’s a funny one, in a nose-wrinkling sort of way), and I suppose it’s true. But it’s also unfair. Because the Stones have been places Nine Inch Thumbtacks (and a hundred others like them) will never go, and they’ve given us things that Trent Razorburn or whatever his name is, and all of his ilk, can never hope to match. And for once, I’m not going to just throw that statement out… I’m going to back it up.
THEY INTRODUCTED US TO THE BLUES Yes they did. Shut up and listen. They got their start as a bunch of British schoolboys playing blues and r&b (I’m not going to delineate their whole history; it’s too well-known and there’s other places to go for it. But I’m going to touch down there, just a bit, now and then). Their earliest records released in the U.S. (England got an entirely different selection up until around 1967) are 99% covers. Their taste was impeccable: Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Slim Harpo, Solomon Burke. They were not the first white rock group to mine this territory: Elvis had covered Chuck, and Jimmy Reed. Buddy Holly had covered Bo Diddley and Little Richard. ALL the white rock`n’rollers drew inspiration from the same records and artists as the Stones. But Elvis and Buddy et al never gave the blues lip service, never treated it as something special and exotic in it’s own right.
A big part of this is that, for guys growing up in the South, it really wasn’t anything so exotic- you could hear all of those records on the radio, and some of them were even hits. But to English kids, they were exotic. And frankly, to the white rock kids who got turned on by the Stones in the mid-sixties, kids too young to have been fired up by rockabilly and r&b in the 50’s, for the most part, they were just as exotic. And it goes without saying that to successive generations, for whom hearing blues and r&b on the radio was something rare or even impossible, they were also exotic. For this kid, born about the time the Stones were first becoming stars, the early Rolling Stones albums were my first introduction to this music. I would never have discovered Muddy or Bo, or Chuck Berry or Howlin’ Wolf or, for that matter, country music, if it hadn’t been for the Stones. For that alone, I am forever in their debt. So are those artists, who gained a whole new audience thanks to the Stones. And never did the boys forget that- they have frequently toured with their idols, brought them out at concerts (John Lee Hooker blew them away in 1989; in `66 they brought Howlin’ Wolf on Shindig) and in general seen to it that credit and attention was given where it was deserved, including paying them their royalties.
The Stones are not and were not the only white band to play the blues. But they were, and remain, the best. I have no hesitation about saying that. Yes, fans will scream about their various faves — Paul Butterfield, the Rising Sons, Stevie Ray Vaughan, not to mention numerous contemporaries of the Stones such as The Yardbirds or The Animals. And what about Eric Clapton? Well… you can keep them. Many of these people made fine music and many of them helped introduce the blues to a wider audience, but none of `em ever captured the feel of the blues the way the Stones did. Butterfield were best as a jamming band, Stevie Ray owed a lot more to Jimi Henrix than he ever did Jimmy Reed, The Yardbirds were best at turning up the juice and freaking out, and Clapton… well, he’s a fine guitarist and an okay vocalist, but none of his blues covers even comes close to the Stones, in my book, either as blues covers or even taken in their own right.
One thing that set them apart was their rhythm section, one of the finest ever in rock`n’roll. They understood how the music worked in a way that went much deeper than the superficialities that most white blues guys have keyed in on. As Bill Wyman said after meeting Chuck Berry: “most of the cover versions of his songs didn’t swing. Actually Chuck Berry walked in while we were recording “Down the Road Apiece,” and he said to us, `Wow, you guys are really getting it on!”
Now, let me put it straight- there is not a single Stone blues or r&b cover that I would trade for the original. In fact, some of them are quite pale. The first Stones album (England’s Newest Hitmakers in the U.S.) sounds like pretty thin gruel next to anything in the Chess back catalog. But even then, they played with such unapologetic fervor, such an unwillingness to compromise that gritty sound, that they still get by on sheer enthusiasm. By the time of The Rolling Stones, Now, their best early album, no apologies were necessary. If their Muddy Waters and Jimmy Reed and Solomon Burke covers are no threat to Muddy Waters and Jimmy Reed and Solomon Burke, they’re also no embarassment. By then Mick was sounding less and less like a British schoolboy, and more like a Southern schoolboy (a step up, for sure). As for the band, they were coming as close as any white rock`n’roll band ever has to the pure raunch of 50’s Chess singles- just spin their version of “Down the Road Apiece,” where Keith and Brian’s guitars simply propel the song off the grooves like a jet engine, or the full-tilt stomp of “You Can’t Catch Me,” which matches any of Creedence’s later rockabilly recreations, or Wyman’s low-down bass and Keith’s twangy licks all over “Down Home Girl,” so greasy it could clog your arteries. After that, they no longer needed to cover blues classics… they had taken what they’d learned from the blues and incorporated it into something new and uniquely their own, and that takes us to…
THEY BROUGHT IT ALL BACK HOME Because you see, rock`n’roll was never just the blues. It was the mating of blues and r&b AND country music AND gospel AND latin music AND everything else that happened to be floating around at the time. For all their claims of r&b authenticity, Mick and Keith and the rest all had been inspired by Elvis, and Gene Vincent, and Bill Haley, as much as any of their peers. A pure adrenalin version of Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away” was an early single. At some point, they had to have a rapproachment with the white rock`n’roll that was their heritage. The earliest Stones albums usually featured an original or two. Usually they were less than stellar — fairly typical British Invasion-type rock. The closest any originals came to their real inspirations was “Little By Little,” a Jimmy Reed-style number that Phil Spector wrote for them. It didn’t take long. By the end of `64 the Jagger-Richards songwriting team had taken what they’d learned from blues and r&b and (now) soul music too, and incorporated it into their own idiom. The blues ceased to be their source of material and now was simply absorbed into their own overall sound. Listen to Otis Redding’s version of “Satisfaction” and you see how easily that famous riff is adapted as a horn riff (which is what Keith had originally intended it as). Listen to the way later songs like “You Got the Silver” and “No Expectations” manage to take rural blues slide-guitar and blues songs structures and mate it to music that owes as much to Bob Dylan and English folk music as it does to Robert Johnson. Listen to the way their cover of Johnson’s “Stop Breaking Down” or their own “Ventilator Blues” draw on everything they learned from Howlin’ Wolf while still sounding like nothing so much as the Stones.
What’s more, they never stopped absorbing current and even divergent trends. They inhaled country music (“Honky Tonk Woman,” “Wild Horses” and many more), Dylan (Mick rapidly absorbed Dylan’s lyrical style into his own and the rare b-side “Who’s Driving Your Plane” is pure Blonde on Blonde), soul music (numerous covers including an early version of Solomon Burke’s “That’s How Strong My Love Is” is one of Mick’s finest hours vocally and later they would create originals like “Long Long While” and “I Got the Blues” [heavily infuenced by Ike and Tina Turner, I always think] that would have done any 60’s soulster proud), gospel (“Shine A Light,” and much of Exile on Main Street), latin music (“Sympathy for the Devil”), British folk music (“Lady Jane,” much of Aftermath and Between the Buttons), psychedelia (again, much of Between the Buttons and the much-maligned but still intriguing Their Satanic Majesties Request), reggae, and just about everything else as well. They exhaled music that was informed by, influenced by, and shaped by all of these styles but was always their own.
THEY WERE PIONEERS OF PUNK ROCK I remember one afternoon a few years ago, walking through the building I worked in at the time. Someone had a “classic rock” station on. Some awful generic late 70’s/80’s thing (Journey or Foreigner or Styx or whatever) was ending. Bland, boring homogenized arena-rock. Suddenly it segues into “19th Nervous Breakdown.” Talk about a contrast! The drums are huge, sharp; the guitars whipping up a firestorm of dissonance and pure noise; Mick’s snarling out his lyrics, all attitude and bad vibes. You can hardly make out what he’s saying, but it doesn’t sound friendly- he’s talking about mental breakdown, confusion and (gasp!) taking LSD! In this context, this “oldie” sounded noisier, weirder, and meaner than Sonic Youth!
Punk rock is unimaginable without the British Invasion. In America, the New York-Cleveland bands were the children of the 60’s- Dylan, the British Invasion, American garage bands. The Beatles might have stood as great artistic inspiration but it was the rough boys (The Who, Kinks, Yardbirds, Them and the Stones) who provided the sound. Of these, the Stones loom the largest, both in popularity and pure inspiration; outside of the Velvet Underground (who were also influenced by the Stones- “When the Rolling Stones appeared, we liked them. They did the same thing we did, only better,” said Sterling Morrison. It was reciprocated, too- Mick admitted in 1977 to lifting the sound of “Heroin” for “Stray Cat Blues.”) it’s impossible to think of another group more directly responsible for the hard, mean, clattering sound of punk rock.
Not only did they pioneer punk sound, they also pioneered punk attitude. Yeah, all the early rockers were rebels, but let’s face up to a few things. Elvis posed for pictures singing gospel hymns with his parents. Jerry Lee may be the baddest-ass motherfucker on earth, but he still put on a big apple-pie smile for his photos (admittedly he always looked pretty Eddie Haskell-ish). Same goes for all the 50’s rockers. Even Gene Vincent at least tried to look like a little bit like the boy next door. And check out the liner notes to Little Richard’s first album, where some record exec tries to convince wary parents that they would appreciate this raving maniac’s song stylings if they’d only stop to listen to his version of chestnuts like “By the Light of the Silvery Moon.” When the Beatles came along, however debauched they may have been in real life, they played the game too. Matching suits, all smiles. Nice boys, for all their wild music.
Not the Stones. Their first album cover features five somber-looking young men, peering out of the shadows. They look cold, indifferent, not even defiant. They look like they don’t give a shit. It set the trend. The Stones routinely appeared in pictures looking scruffy, ugly, unkempt, bleary-eyed, cigarettes in hand, pimples on their faces, bags growing under Brian Jones’ eyes (he looks more and more dissipated with each shot), sexually ambiguous, mean. The whole scheme may have been a sham, dreamed up by manager Andrew Loog Oldham to contrast them to the Beatles. In reality, Mick may have been a spoiled princeling who worried about getting tea spilled on his Persian rugs. Charlie may have lived quietly at home and brought a fruitcake to his mother every Friday afternoon. The Beatles may have been just as nasty in private (perhaps even nastier: no one in popular music has ever topped Lennon’s “we’re bigger than Jesus” statement for pure outrage). It may have been a put-on, but it was a brilliant one. And it worked. By 1967 they were in trouble with the law- a put-up drug bust clearly intended to get the Stones, who were by then seen as a legitimate threat to the status quo, off the stage. The whole thing failed (Mick and Keith’s sentences were rapidly overturned after outrage in the British press) but it helped enhance their outlaw image even more. For the next ten years, drug busts became a fixture of Stones culture. What’s more, they put all this bad attitude into their music. It not only sounded mean, it was. Their songs chronicled drug abuse (“Mother’s Little Helper,” a joyful song about middle-class housewife valium addictions that hit the Top 40 about the same time Lou Reed was writing “Heroin.”), bizarre states of mind, mental and societal breakdown, and the inability to get “satisfaction.” They wrote often about women but few love songs; instead, they wrote grand kiss-offs like “The Last Time,” gloating put-downs like “Under My Thumb,” songs of scorn and struggle, and flirted with radical politics (“Street Fighting Man”) and diabolism (“Sympathy for the Devil”). In doing so, they set the stage for nearly everything that followed. Even today, the image of the Stones remains THE blueprint for a rock band. A bunch of ugly, gloomy, un-photogenic guys who play loud, hard music, scowl every time a camera is pointed at them, try to make rude or outrageous statements to the press and prefer songs of struggle, despair and anger to romance. You can see the image at work in all the heavy rock bands of 70’s, from Alice Cooper to Black Sabbath to Lynrd Skynrd to The Stooges; on through punk rock (The Clash, Pistols, Ramones, Television and even Patti Smith – a female Keith Richards?), “new wave” music, and into “alt/modern rock” and metal (Nirvana, Guns`n’Roses, Soundgarden, Metallica, Pearl Jam and Prodigy ALL fit the mold neatly) .
THEY’RE ONE OF THE BEST BANDS IN ROCK’N’ROLL. The Stones have always been not only an outstanding group of musicians individually, but also collectively. Their great 60’s singles are full of small, memorable and telling moments: the snaky surf-like rhythm guitar weaving it’s way through “Satisfaction;” the zooming Dick Dale-type bass riff that Bill Wyman uses to close out “19th Nervous Breakdown;” Brian’s sitar on “Paint It Black” and Charlie’s drums on just about everything, especially “Paint It Black” where he sounds like the hoofbeats of the Four Horsemen approaching, “Honky Tonk Woman” and “Loving Cup” and “Tumbling Dice” where he just sounds so HUGE you can’t possibly ignore him; Keith all over the place, punching out signature riffs that still hit the nervous system no matter how many times he’s recycled them; Micks harmonica playing just about every time he picks it up; Mick Taylor’s soaring guitar lines; Ron Wood’s bump`n’grind with Keith; and Brian Jones’ experiments with anything he could get his hands on. Put simply, one of the Stones greatest virtues is that they sound like a great rock`n’roll band.
They’ve produced a phenomenal body of work. If you were to take only one chunk of the Stones catalog, from the years 1968-1972, you would be left with a collection of some of the finest rock`n’roll albums ever recorded. Beggar’s Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, the live Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out and the classic Exile On Main Street are works of sustained brilliance. Each of them contains one or more famous hit single, familiar to anyone who’s listened to rock radio much in the last 30 years. But what’s more, each of those famous hits is surrounded by a slew of excellent songs. In fact, there’s not a bad track to be found on any of these albums and frankly, I would miss less-celebrated songs like “Stray Cat Blues” or “You Got the Silver” or “Sway,” “Moonlight Mile” or “Torn and Frayed” as much if not more than any of the hits. And that’s only one chunk of the Stones back catalog. The earliest r&b albums are enjoyable if not always classic, but 1964’s The Rolling Stones Now! IS a classic, the best white r&b album ever made. 1966’s Aftermath is a creepy masterpiece that pretty much sets the tone for everything that would follow. Of the rest of their 60’s albums, all are rewarding, even the weird Their Satanic Majesties Request has it’s charms. Get hooked on any of these, and you’ll want them all. That’s 14 albums (not counting most of the hits compilations but definitely including Big Hits: High Tide and Green Grass, an essential collection of singles), almost all of them classics. That’s a larger body of consistently excellent work than most artists ever produce in their entire careers, and it represents only about the first quarter of their career to date.
They’re still going. However much Generation X journalists might resent them, the Stones are still at it. What’s more, they’ve survived every trend. In 1989, Guns`n’Roses and Living Colour, two of hottest bands in the land, got tapped as the opening acts. Some considered it unwise for the has-been Stones to follow the new generation of rockers. Today, both GnR and Living Colour are Trivial Pursuit questions. This time out, it’s Pearl Jam, Sheryl Crow, and the Smashing Pumpkins. This collection of modern-rockers has earned the tour a lot of attention in it’s own right. All (except for Crow) are celebrated critics faves as well as hit-makers. Here’s betting that in another 10 years, this year’s opening acts have joined Guns`n’Roses in oblivion, while the Stones line up another sucker to open for yet another tour. And if I’m wrong, I’ll eat my copy of Goat’s Head Soup.
They’re still good.
The 80’s were not a good era for the Stones. After `72’s Exile, they seemed to miss a few beats. Whether it was drugs, tax exile, living in France or just the fact that 70’s rock generally bit, the albums that followed were something of a disappointment- enjoyable, but not classic. Then 1978’s Some Girls returned them to form; a hot collection of tight rowdy rockers, all of them good ones. Unfortunately, from 1980-1983, they did little more than remake it. Subsequent albums had their moments, and even gave them some big hits (“Start Me Up,” a song I’ve always hated a lot). And parts of them have aged well (Undercover has some hidden gems, plus perhaps their most interesting video — for the title track). Then Mick and Keith’s feuding seemed to derail them. After 1981, they stopped touring. After 1983, they stopped recording. When they did return, it was with 1986’s Dirty Work, a weak, disappointing album where they seemed to be just barely going through the motions. Even Dirty Work‘s best tracks were pretty much a letdown. Meanwhile, they made solo albums; Mick’s were embarassing, Keith’s enjoyable but hardly the Exile On Main Street II fans (like me) had hoped for.
Then Mick and Keith patched up the feud and did another album and tour as the Stones. Unfortunately, Steel Wheels was no return to form. A sad, dull album that seemed to be the Stones struggling to sound “contemporary” (by 1989 standards) by emulating other, lesser Top 40 acts of the time. If I wanted to listen to Prince-type music, I’d listen to Prince. Even the weakest Stones albums usually had a memorable or even classic song or two. Steel Wheels had nothing. Not for me, anyway.
I was tired of the Stones. Tired of disappointing albums, tired of always feeling apologetic for their recent work, tired of Mick’s naughty schoolboy public persona, his leather-lunged singing style which has replaced his earlier snarl and drawl, the simple-minded lyrics he now substituted for his earlier, more clever and challenging wordplay. Tired of wanting to run and hide every time Let’s Spend the Night Together, their dumb 1981 concert movie, showed up on cable, or every time I saw yet another shameless repackaging (Made in the Shade, Sucking in the 70’s, Rewind) at the record store. I was ashamed of the Stones for succumbing to unfortunate contemporary trends and for apparently not caring enough about their music anymore to come up with anything better than Steel Wheels and Dirty Work. At the end of the `89 tour Bill Wyman left the band. I knew that wasn’t the end of the story, but I figured it was for me. I kept my eye on Keith and hoped maybe he’d turn up with something more interesting on his patchy but still fun solo albums.
And then I got a surprise.
There was a warning shot, a song called “Out Of Focus” from Mick’s most recent solo album that I heard a snatch of on the radio once. Mick alone at the piano, sort-of gospel tinged, singing in that mush-mouthed yowl he used to use for ballads way back when. It didn’t sound half-bad. Wow, he still remembered Beggar’s Banquet. A short time later I saw his funk video for another song off the album and that killed my interest.
In 1994, when they announced the forthcoming release of an album called Voodoo Lounge and another tour, I just heaved a big disappointed sigh. Oh boy. Another shitty Stones album, another million dollars in their pocket. That’s when the surprise came.
Late fall. Cruising channels, I happen to pass by the MTV music awards. I’m transfixed watching Michael Stipe accept an award, not because I like R.E.M. much, but because he looks so ghastly. Then Rosanne Barr announces the Rolling Stones. What the hell- I’ll watch them just out a sense of obligation. Wonder how wretched it’ll be…
But this time it’s different. Keith and company slam into a slinky, slow rocker that sounds like the idiot bastard son of “Sympathy for the Devil.” Cut to Mick, working his way through the crowd, dressed in a weird Papa Legba outfit, and blasting away on his harmonica(!). He makes his way to the stage and starts croaking out this low, disturbing tale of sexual obsession- he’s given up the spastic disco chicken routine, looks straight out Gimme Shelter. The song (“Love Is Strong”) is actually good! It sounds like … The Stones! Not the rather tired party anthems of the 80’s but the stalking, bluesy rock`n’roll of the Mick Taylor era. By the time it’s done, I’m a fan again.
A friend at work loans me his copy of Voodoo Lounge. It’s something of a mixed-bag. A few of the songs are forgettable, but not actually wretched. There are several winning rockers. A couple decent ballads (“Out Of Tears”). Some interesting lyrics. “Love Is Strong” bears up to continued scrutiny as a minor classic. “Mean Disposition” starts out cliched but ends up a recreation of The Rolling Stones Now! Keith sings a couple winners, the weird “Through and Through” and a great country-ish weeper called “The Worst.” My favorite track is “New Faces,” which sounds like an outtake from 1967’s Between the Buttons, where badass ol’ Mick, backed by acoustic guitar and harpsichord, actually faces the prospect that he might lose his girl to someone younger and cuter, then slashes his rival to pieces with scorn.
Over the next few weeks, I kept coming back to Voodoo Lounge again and again. This was a legitimately good album. What’s more, I was actually anxious to hear some of these songs played live. I decided to I had to see them and hoped they’d play a lot of new stuff. I was probably the only person in the stadium who was more hot to hear “Love Is Strong” and “You Got Me Rocking” than “Brown Sugar.”
Despite all the usual problems of a stadium show (sound, visibility, etc), it was a good one. When I saw them in 1981, they’d come on as a good-time party band and stuck to their greatest hits. This time out the show was more daring. They came on like the sinister Stones of my dreams- we got “Sympathy for the Devil,” and “Gimme Shelter,” and perhaps my favorite moment, “It’s All Over Now,” their great r&b cover that I’ve always treasured from my earliest days as a Stones fan. Mick was acting like a grown-up for a change and Keith was his usual awesome self. I came away satisfied.
Then this past summer, they announced their latest opus, yet another new album and tour. Late this fall I got to hear “Anybody Seen My Baby” for the first time. I liked it immediately. It was different, yet still distinctly the Stones. Low and spooky like “Miss You,” but less silly, less of a throwaway. I liked the way Keith’s 3-chord riff rang out in the distance, almost as an afterthought.
I slapped Bridges to Babylon into the CD player with trepidation. Would they let me down again? My first reaction was that it was decent, just okay. But I kept coming back to it- one by one the best songs started to worm themselves into my brain. In the two months I’ve owned it, hardly a night goes by that I don’t slap it on to hear at least one song and then I usually find myself wanting to hear another one. The songs I considered weak on first listen have grown on me. Last night I really listened to “How Can I Stop,” which I had initially written off as the worst track on the album, one of their worst ever, and realized I kinda liked it. There’s no kinda doubt about “Flip The Switch” or “Saint Of Me” or the slinky funk of “Out Of Control.” They’re great. I even like Keith’s reggae number. Bridges has been roasted in almost all the major rock journalist circles, dismissed as irrelevant or even worse. Gina Arnold, in her syndicated column, condemned it outright (she does, however, really like the new Duran Duran). Spin incinerated it. Even the local paper called it “easy to like but irrelevant.” But they’re wrong. Bridges is actually an even better album than Voodoo Lounge, better than their entire output in the 80’s and better than most of their post-Exile albums except Some Girls.
Well, it’s 1997 and I suppose condemning the Stones is the fashionable thing to do. Rock`n’roll is, if not dead, pretty much a specialized form now, like the blues. And pretty much an unpopular one. I suppose a band like the Stones, with their roots in the 50’s rock`n’roll of Chuck Berry and the 60’s rock of Dylan are an anachronism, an embarassment to hipper-than-thou kids who know little and care less about rock before U2, or Nirvana. But they’re going to hit stages across America the next few months, playing rock`n’roll, not a “rock” or a “modern rock” or “alternative rock;” letting the kids and the old-timers have it with Chuck Berry’s “Little Queenie” (a staple of this years set) and their own classics, and even a few picks from their good new album. Playing the biggest halls in the land and making more money than the superstar acts who will open for them. And to this fan, who loves the rock`n’roll of the Stones and loves equally the music that influenced and spawned them, and hates the art-metal and death-disco that passes for rock today, that’s one of the finest things that could happen, next to Ronnie Dawson’s new one knocking the Spice Girls off the charts. So keep rocking Stones… I’ll catch you next time…