First Listen?!? – Some Girls
RPM writer Jason Lent is back with another First Listen?!?, this time on the Rolling Stones’ Some Girls.
One his last maiden voyage into a rock classic, he listened to The Who’s Tommy which you can read here.
When MTV started airing Rolling Stones videos in the early 80s, the band was riding high with, arguably, their last great album, Tattoo You. “Start Me Up” and “Waiting On a Friend” stood out amongst the New Romantic fashion of the earliest videos and even as a child, I understood that the Rolling Stones were a big deal. My parents had a copy of Hot Rocks: 1964-1971 on vinyl which I dusted off from time to time. Years later, the alternative country resurgence of the 90s led me to Gram Parsons and then the Rolling Stones of Sticky Fingers (1971) and Exile On Main St. (1972). The one album that kept eluding me was Some Girls even if a few of the singles have been stuck in my head as long as I’ve loved rock-n-roll. The time has come for a first listen.
Straight ahead four-on-the-floor rock-n-roll with just enough disco influence to reinvent the Rolling Stones for a new era. What does Mick miss? For me, it is New York City, a place that seems to hold so much sway over the entire album. There is a toughness and clarity to the band’s sound that many assumed was lost under the weight of addiction; heroin for Richards and fame for Jagger. Doing disco on their terms, the Stones pull it off without sacrificing their sound, something Rod Stewart cannot say with a straight face.
When The Whip Comes Down
Sounding like a grittier “Jumping’ Jack Flash”, the Stones journey deeper into the gutter of New York City and the life of a gay prostitute on the streets. Jagger’s eye for detail might not dethrone Lou Reed but the song works on the heels of “Miss You”. Not exactly punk, the Stones are still breaking new territory as a band and this song would have fit nicely into a night at CBGB’s.
Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)
A loosely played cover of The Temptations shifts the band back into a more traditional Stones vibe and lyrically, Jagger sells me on it being about New York and not a girl. Probably the least important track on the record, hearing the band play something from The Temptations still offers a tiny thrill.
The unrelenting, two-chord drone of the guitars sounds reminiscent of a juke joint where an old blues man locks into a groove and starts ad-libbing lyrics over the top. For Jagger, those lyrics are cringe inducing in today’s more enlightened social climate but they are hard to take seriously in the context of the album. Robert Johnson’s “Traveling Riverside Blues” (famously covered by Led Zeppelin) wasn’t too different (Johnson wasn’t singing about actual lemons) and “Some Girls” follows in that tradition.
Ending side one of the record, Jagger screams “lies” over and over, perhaps answering for the implied misogyny of the preceding song’s stereotypes. Like the best Stones rockers, the band sounds like they are moving a little too fast down the tracks and that the entire song could come apart at any second. Few bands can so consistently play on the edge and keep it together. Buried deep on this album, “Lies” would be a lead single for many other bands.
Far Away Eyes
Flipping the record, the Stones take us from New York City all the way to Bakersfield, CA. This color-by-numbers country ballad would be trite in the hands of lesser musicians but Jagger and Richards sell it. It might lack the authenticity of a Gram Parsons number but Ron Wood’s pedal steel brings something new to the Stones sound. They sound older but no less dangerous.
Hanging over the recording sessions was a dark cloud of uncertainty. Keith Richards was awaiting judgement on a heroin bust in Canada. It is hard to hear this song as anything other than the band making light of their own situation. Allowing a little of the punk-New Wave vibe of the late 70s to creep into their sound, “Respectable” still sounds like the Stones. Charlie Watts is many things as a drummer but a punk rocker he is not. He is simply too good and his backbeat on this does far more than a punk song demands. But it shows that the Stones could hang with the young guns emerging in NYC and London.
Before They Make Me Run
Keith Richards at his finest and the beginning of an epic three song run to end the album. Having emerged from his drug-induced haze, he allows himself to open up a little and reflect on his own choices without getting sentimental. Is he remembering Gram Parsons when he sings – “Well here’s another good by to another good friend”? I like to think so.
Beast of Burden
The addition of Ron Wood has paid many dividends but nothing as rich as this classic. Wood and Richards set their guitars spinning across the dance floor, entwined like lovers. Richards has reflected on the song being something he wrote to Jagger as a thank you for carrying the band through Richards’ deepest period of drug use. If true, placing it after “Before They Make Me Run” turns it into the closing act of a trilogy as the band moves from Richards’ drug bust (“Respectable”) to Richards’ “time in hell” (“Before They Make Me Run”) before finding closure as a band here. On its own, “Beast of Burden” is nothing short of one of rock-n-roll’s greatest songs.
Ending the band’s journey on Some Girls, “Shattered” drops us back into the belly of the beast that is New York City. A summary of the scene they documented on “Miss You” and “When the Whip Comes Down”, the Stones sound ready to get the hell out of a town plagued by rats and a rising crime rate. The band captures the beautiful decadence and hopeless reality of the Big Apple in the late 70s without passing judgement. In equal measure, they convince the listener that it is a place that you have to see and a place you have to escape. And they do it with an album that measures up to their best work.
First Listen Judgment: an absolute classic that ranks up there with their finest albums. How the hell did I miss this one?