Tuesday, May 7, 2019

CD Odyssey Disc 1259: The Rolling Stones

Welcome back to the CD Odyssey. Let’s get to some music, shall we?

Disc 1259 is… Some Girls
Artist: The Rolling Stones

Year of Release: 1978

What’s up with the Cover? This cover loses something in the conversion from vinyl to CD. The vinyl version has the faces of the band on a sheet behind a bunch of cutouts of women’s wigs. You can slide the faces back and forth to line them up in different ways. On the CD, you only get the one setting.

Not owning it on vinyl, I’ve never really looked at this cover that carefully but some of these wig names are downright disturbing, notably the “Capless Skin-Top Beau Catcher” and the “Skin Crown” both of which sound like some kind of Lovecraftian horror.

How I Came to Know It: The record is pretty famous and I’ve known it all my life. This particular version was from a dive I did into the Rolling Stones collection many years ago.

How It Stacks Up:  I have seven Rolling Stones albums. Of those, I put “Some Girls” at #2, behind only “Sticky Fingers”. Here’s a full recap:

  1. Sticky Fingers: 4 stars (reviewed at Disc 73)
  2. Some Girls: 4 stars (reviewed right here)
  3. Exile on Main Street: 4 stars (reviewed at Disc 559)
  4. Let It Bleed: 4 stars (reviewed at Disc 820)
  5. Beggar’s Banquet: 4 stars (reviewed at Disc 381)
  6. It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll: 4 stars (reviewed at Disc 822)
  7. Their Satanic Majesties Request: 2 stars (reviewed at Disc 340)

Ratings: 4 stars

When I was a kid it seemed like everyone’s older brother owned this record and listening to it for the last couple of days it was easy to see why. “Some Girls” is equally good for a house party or a drive down main street. It is a record where you can get up and dance, or just sink into a leather couch and have a beer. It feels like a parade of hits.

It was a top five record in multiple countries and went multi-platinum, but I was surprised to learn that it actually only spawned a single #1 hit (“Miss You”) and two top tens. This is a testament to the importance of records over singles back in 1978, but more to the point, it points to the consistent quality of “Some Girls.” The songs don’t just hold up, they hold up against one another.

This cohesive brilliance is counter-intuitive for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, the record sees the Stones trying on a lot of new styles. “Miss You” throws in a Motown bassline that strays well into the land of disco. “Far Away Eyes” is pure country (to the point you might have called it satire if it wasn’t so damned good). And with its leading beat and frenetic bounce, “Shattered” sounds like New Wave. The Stones artfully make each of these styles their own, meeting all these sounds halfway, infecting the style with their own swagger in the process.

Much of the credit for this goes to Mick Jagger’s vocals. Jagger’s showmanship and lascivious sneer shows through on every track. He is bad boy, made superstar, and clearly well aware of his status. The title track has Jagger, vocally gyrating his way through a list of conquests with neither regret or shame. Jagger is so full of visceral power that every listen feels like a new live performance.

Secondly, the album doesn’t have the help of the one person who I always think of as the soul of the Rolling Stones: Mick Taylor. Taylor is now out of the band, and with him the artful guitar licks and solos that for me help define the Rolling Stones in their glory days.

Despite the loss, the rest of the band elevates their own work, with Keith Richards and newcomer Ronnie Woods elevating their playing. I don’t know who is responsible for what parts (a quick internet search suggests Woods played slide) but it works. It still isn’t the artistry of Taylor, which paired so perfectly with Richards’ dependable groove, but it works. The new duo maintains a strong thread of rock and blues through songs that could have otherwise strayed too far from home.

It all comes together on “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)”. Jagger takes a step back in time to early vocal performances, and the guitar is rich and full. The song is a romantic salve amid all the rebellion and cynical sex. Later, Jagger will strain against the chains of commitment on “Beast of Burden” but the romantic in him remains. On both songs he’s still a bad boy, but the one you dream you can one day tame.

Whether summoning romance, rakishness or just plain raunch, “Some Girls” is a bombastic, self-aggrandizing collection of songs from a band completely comfortable with their own greatness, but that doesn’t make it any less great.

Best tracks: Miss You, Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me), Some Girls, Far Away Eyes, Beast of Burden

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