Category Archives: The Rolling Stones

Rocks In The Attic #575: The Rolling Stones – ‘Blue & Lonesome’ (2016)

RITA#575I’ve been burnt before by a blues cover album. In 2004, Aerosmith released Honkin’ On Bobo, a record collecting eleven blues covers and one original song. After 2001’s simply awful Just Push Play, the back-to-basics blues album was supposed to be their redemption. I nearly lost my shit when I first heard about it, especially as the advance word was that it was going to be produced by their old ‘70s partner in crime, Jack Douglas. How could this go wrong?

So I approached Blue & Lonesome with a degree of caution. I’d heard a couple of pre-release teasers (Hate To See You Go and Ride ‘Em On Down) and they sounded pretty good. When I finally picked up the album, I was overjoyed with it. It succeeded, where Honkin’ On Bobo failed, in the sheer sonic quality of the record. If Aerosmith’s album sounded too clean and polished, the Stones’ effort sounded ballsy and authentic.

I don’t buy many new releases. If I buy any at all, I might pick up one or two a year. So if I buy a new record and I don’t take it off my turntable for a while, it’s quite a big thing for me. I must have played Blue & Lonesome five or six times before I gave something else a chance.

The record might not be everybody’s cup of tea. It probably won’t be a big seller – compared to how Stones albums usually sell – simply because it’s not an original studio record. Not only is the choice of material restricted to one dusty, old genre, but the selections are quite obscure songs as well. These are the kind of songs that Keith Richards can be heard playing behind the scenes in a recent documentary, on a little record player in his dressing room.  In fact I had only recognised one of the album’s twelve songs (and that song, Willie Dixon’s I Can’t Quit You Baby, is only well-known from having been covered by Led Zeppelin and Jeff Beck’s band in the late ‘60s).

The album was put together in a prompt three days of recording – incredible really, when you consider how long they could take. Eric Clapton appears on a couple of songs, having been drafted in from the studio next door to where the Stones were recording, but I don’t think his appearance really adds anything special.

My one criticism is that it would have been nice of the Stones to have paid a little tribute to Brian Jones, their blues-obsessed former leader. I’m not sure how they could have done this, but a great idea I heard was naming the record something like Brian Was A Blues Guy.

Be sure to check out the recent episode of Sit And Spin With Joe, where my good friend Joe Royland discusses his take on Blue & Lonesome.

Hit: Ride ‘Em On Down

Hidden Gem: All Of Your Love


Rocks In The Attic #527: The Rolling Stones – ‘Their Satanic Majesties Request’ (1967)

RITA#527.jpgPoor Brian. I’m just in the middle of Peter Norman’s 1980’s biography The Stones. There’s quite a large portion of the book involved with the mental (and professional) decline of Brian Jones, and it makes for quite upsetting reading.

For some reason, I had always mistakenly thought Jones was still a member of the band when he drowned in his swimming pool late one night after having too much to drink. He’d actually been kicked out of the band a couple of weeks prior to this, when Mick Jagger and Keith Richards visited him at his home to do the dirty deed. As Jones had by that time lost any trust in the songwriting pair, they took along the affable Charlie Watts in way of a neutral, calming influence.

Their Satanic Majesties Request is always seen as the black sheep of Stones albums, in much the same way that Brian Jones was the black sheep of the Stones themselves. I admit that it’s not one of their best. Their attempt to emulate the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s leaves them sounding amateurish, most likely because the record was self-produced after Andrew Loog Oldham walked out on them in his capacity as manager and producer. His loss – but their lightning-in-a-bottle four album run, just around the corner, could never have been achieved by Oldham in the producer’s chair.

Satanic Majesties might not be their best album – but it’s a far more enjoyable listen than its predecessor Between The Buttons, which found them completely bereft of ideas. I struggle to listen to Between The Buttons – a huge step down after the peerless Aftermath. At least Satanic Majesties finds them trying to do something different, whereas Between The Buttons was a retread of earlier accomplishments, following a tired formula.

I was pleased to hear the announcement the other day that there’s a new Stones studio album on the way – Blue & Lonesome. A blues album, I don’t expect it will be any better than Aerosmith’s woeful attempt at a blues-only record, but you never know. Somebody had a great idea in that they should have titled it Brian Was A Blues Guy, or something like that, as a nice nod to their former leader.

Hit: She’s A Rainbow

Hidden Gem: 2000 Light Years From Home

Rocks In The Attic #455: The Rolling Stones – ‘Undercover’ (1983)

RITA#455The Rolling Stones’ website claims that Undercover opens ‘with the epic Undercover Of The Night, every bit as political and experimental in sound and lyrics as Sympathy For The Devil’. This just proves that if the critics aren’t saying it, then make up your own plaudits. I’m on the fence myself. I know that it isn’t in the same league as Sympathy For The Devil – that’s a given – but I’m on the fence as to whether it’s any good or not.

On the one hand you have a band, now in their collective forties, trying their damndest to sound contemporary in the wake of the rise of the MTV generation. On the other hand you have a song that just…isn’t very good. The hook isn’t in a guitar riff, a melody line, or a catchy chorus; it’s in the production of the song. And who’s that down to? Mick? Maybe. Keith? Surely not. This has to be down to producer Chris Kimsey – the band’s former recording engineer, and the first outside producer that they had worked with since they parted ways with Jimmy Miller a decade earlier.

The album is also notable for being the starting point for Mick and Keith’s animosity that would see them bickering throughout the rest of the 1980s. No wonder they fell out. The record doesn’t sound like the Rolling Stones of old – and blues purist Richards evidently took a dislike to their fancy new sound. Maybe the Stones had to do this to stay alive though. Perhaps if Jagger hadn’t pushed the band into reinventing themselves, they might have split around this time.

Some might say that splitting up at this point would have been a good thing – they definitely didn’t record any more timeless rockers after this (the thirty-five year old Start Me Up from 1981’s predecessor Tattoo You was probably their last truly great song), but the jury’s still out. I’m not ignorant of the fact that they’ve very much in the pattern of retreading old ground by this record –  album closer It Must Be Hell might be a good song, one of the strongest on the album, but it’s just a mixture of Start Me Up and Honky Tonk Women.

I have to admit I’ve liked some of their more recent material though – Love Is Strong and You Got Me Rocking from 1994’s Voodoo Lounge was a particularly strong return to form, and they’re still providing a lot of joy to people by touring around the world every five or six years.

Is it enough though? Thirty five years is a long time…

Hit: Undercover Of The Night

Hidden Gem: It Must Be Hell

Rocks In The Attic #402: The Rolling Stones – ‘It’s Only Rock ‘N Roll’ (1974)

RITA#402For me, this is the first real duffer by the Stones. I like Goats Head Soup before this, and I like Black And Blue which followed this, but It’s Only Rock ‘N Roll has never really done it for me. It’s a weird transition record – the first one without Jimmy Miller in the producer’s chair, and the last to be recorded with Mick Taylor. Taylor’s playing had really energised the band a couple of years prior, taking them to another level entirely; but here it sounds like his heart’s just not it – bullied out of the band just as Brian Jones was before him.

One of the big problems I have with this album is the title track. Viewed as one of the Stones’ most well known singles – a song that seems to define them as a band – it’s probably one of the laziest singles they released. Essentially, it’s a catchy chorus with no real substance behind it. There’s little in the way of melody in the verses, and when I hear things like that godawful charity single put together a few years ago, it really makes me wonder who thinks of these things.

Not long before this, the UK was similarly blighted by a similar charity single with various artists “interpreting” Lou Reed’s Perfect Day – a love letter to his own heroin addiction. Alongside All Saints’ cover of Under The Bridge – also an ode to heroin addiction – this really is something that you just have to stare in wonder at the BBC for, an institution that once banned I Am The Walrus simply because it mentioned the word ‘knickers’ in the lyrics.

Hit: It’s Only Rock ‘N Roll (But I Like It)

Hidden Gem: Time Waits For No One

Rocks In The Attic’s buyer’s guide to…The Rolling Stones (Part 1 – The Decca Years)

– 3 essential albums, an overlooked gem, a wildcard, one to avoid, and the best of the rest –

A 1962 advertisement in Jazz News by a young guitarist named Brian Jones had consequences the blues purist could never have imagined. Jones’ ad, searching for similarly-minded musicians to play with, led to the formation of undoubtedly the world’s biggest rock band, and twenty two studio albums later they’re still going strong.


Twenty two studio albums is quite a body of work – there’s a lot of gold amongst those records, but there’s a decent amount of average (and even sub-par) material too. Given there’s just so much to get through, I’ve split this buyer’s guide into two parts – firstly the years between 1964 and 1969, when the Stones’ albums were released on Decca Records (or London Records in the USA), and the second era from 1971 to present, where releases appeared first on their own label, Rolling Stones Records, and then much later on Virgin.

A handy marker to distinguish releases between the two eras is the famous tongue and lips logo, designed by John Pasche. This was introduced in 1971 and appears on the sleeve of Sticky Fingers, their first Rolling Stones Records release, and onwards.

But first, here’s a guide to the first decade of the band – one that started innocently with a group of like-minded individuals paying homage to their Chicago blues heroes, and ended in a double-dose of tragedy.

Start off with: Beggar’s Banquet (1968, Decca)

Stones2Beggar’s Banquet marks the band’s first confident steps away from their former leader, Brian Jones. Up to this point, it was very much Brian’s band. He put the band together, he named the band (after a Muddy Waters song), and he was the driving force behind a lot of their early covers. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards had other ideas though. This album represents a return to what they do best, compared to Their Satanic Majesties Request a year earlier. On that departure of a record they were still very much Beatles copyists, but with Beggar’s Banquet they were setting up their own stall, becoming a rock group rather than a ‘60s beat group. If there’s one Stones album that sets the template for every Stones record to come, it’s this one.

Follow that with: Let It Bleed (1969, Decca)

Stones3It’s a major understatement to say that the ‘60s ended badly for the Stones. First, the ousted Brian Jones is found face-down, floating in his swimming pool. Then Jagger watches from the stage at the Altamont festival as a fan is stabbed and beaten to death by the Hells Angels. Let It Bleed was released in between those two events, and the smell of death hangs over the record like a black cloud. ‘Rape, murder, it’s just a shot away’ sings backing vocalist Merry Clayton on Gimme Shelter (the L.A. Times reported that after recording that track, Clayton suffered a miscarriage upon returning home – yet another bad event surrounding this record). Their last record of the ‘60s, the Stones end the decade with the seven and a half minute long You Can’t Always Get What You Want. Taken at face value, it feels like a song about the death of the ‘60s dream, but it’s covered in hope – ‘if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.’

Then get: Aftermath (1966, Decca)

Stones4To the Stones what A Hard Day’s Night was to the Beatles, Aftermath was the first studio album consisting solely of Jagger / Richards compositions. It’s not their best record, by a long shot, but it shows that they could write a body of work without needing to go digging in the well of Chicago blues songs. The important thing here is that its Mick Jagger and Keith Richards writing the material, not Brian Jones – the first nail in his coffin, perhaps? Amongst the stand-out tracks are Mother’s Little Helper, Lady Jane and Out Of Time (a UK #1 for Chris Farlowe) – but the centre-piece is Under My Thumb, the song that the band was playing when Meredith Hunter was killed at Altamont (the common misconception is that they were playing Sympathy For The Devil at the time).

Criminally overlooked: The Rolling Stones (1964, Decca)

Stones5Their debut record marks out their territory well – edgy, energetic and respectful to their R&B and blues heroes. A cover of Chuck Berry’s Route 66 kicks things off, with Mick spitting out the American towns in Bobby Troup’s lyrics. Thirty three (and a third!) minutes later, a cover of Rufus Thomas’ Walking The Dog closes the album by what the American release would call ‘England’s Newest Hitmakers’. They only managed one original composition – they’d work at this over subsequent releases – but the eleven covers they chose showed which road they were going down.

The long-shot: Their Satanic Majesties Request (1967, Decca)

Stones6Terrible cover. Supposedly the Stones’ worst album. A psychedelic cash-in. Believe what you will, but I don’t think it’s that bad. There are definitely worse Stones albums from this period (more on that in a minute). If you ignore the shameful lack of originality on the cover, and maybe sweep a few of the lengthier trying-too-hard-to-sound-psychedelic-and-out-there songs out of the way, it’s a decent listen. The obvious comparison – due to the cover – would be Sgt. Pepper’s but the Stones sound more like Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd. Plus you get She’s A Rainbow – a celebration of squirting girls everywhere, with a string arrangement by Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones – and 2,000 Light Years From Home, driven by one of Bill Wyman’s best bass riffs. Thankfully they would leave the joss sticks and kaftans behind for their next release – Beggar’s Banquet.

Avoid like the plague: Between The Buttons (1967, Decca)

Stones7Between The Buttons is odd in that each and every Stones album up to this point was a little better than the one before it. Each subsequent Stones album would have more Jagger / Richards compositions on it, culminating on the fully self-written Aftermath in 1966. But with Between The Buttons, their second attempt at this feat, they overreached and produced a boring, snoozefest of an album. Connection is the album’s only glimmer of hope, and even that is just two short minutes of schoolyard rhymes. If anything, it sounds like it was ghost written by the Gimme Some Money-era David St. Hubbins and Nigel Tufnel. Speaking of buttons and schoolyards, I once ingested a button up my nose when I was at infant school. It was a more enjoyable experience than listening to this record.

Best compilation: Through the Past, Darkly (Big Hits Vol. 2) (1969, Decca)

Stones8At the last count, there are about three hundred and nineteen Rolling Stones compilations commercially available, all of varying quality. The band’s second hits collection, with a great octagonal cover, is arguably the better of the two released during the ‘60s. Dedicated to the recently departed Brian Jones, the album contains four white hot Stones singles – Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Let’s Spend The Night Together, Ruby Tuesday and Honky Tonk Women – all available only on 7” up to that point. In fact, it doesn’t matter what the meat of the sandwich is, the very fact that the record opens with Jumpin’ Jack Flash and closes with Honky Tonk Women makes it one of the greatest records ever.

Best live album: Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! The Rolling Stones in Concert (1970, Decca)

Stones9Great between-song banter – “I think I bust a button on me trousers, hope they don’t fall down…you don’t want my trousers to fall down now, do you?” – and audience chatter – “Paint It Black, you devil!” – make this a great listen. Those moments are so good, you could almost forgive them for sounding like the sloppiest live band ever to grace a stage. Because that’s the truth of the situation – they might produce the occasional lightning bolt in the studio, but on stage they sound resolutely awful. The very fact that most people don’t notice this is a testament to how good some of their classic material is. Who cares what they sound like, as long as they’re playing Jumpin’ Jack Flash?


Rocks In The Attic #378: The Rolling Stones – ‘Big Hits (High Tide And Green Grass)’ (1966)

RITA#378This is the British version of this compilation – the U.S. version not only has a different cover, but a different tracklisting. I prefer the later compilation (Through The Past, Darkly) from 1969 but this still has a wealth of great songs on it. Given that they only released their first single in 1963 – eight months after the Beatles – it’s a testament to their success that they could pull together a ‘best of’, and a decent one at that, in the space of three years.

I finally got to see the Stones late last year. When I was in my teens and twenties, they always seemed a little on the expensive side, a little out of my price-bracket; and anyway, it didn’t really matter, I could always catch them on the next tour, right? As they all reach their seventies, I’m glad I got to see them before they give up touring for good.

It’s amazing that this music is still being listened to, toured and appreciated some fifty years after it was released. It’s not hard to imagine that it’ll still be revered even fifty years from now – when the Stones will be long gone and they’ll be more myth than anything else.

Hit: (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction

Hidden Gem: Little Red Rooster

Rocks In The Attic #358: The Rolling Stones – ‘Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out’ (1970)

RITA#358If nothing else, this album’s worth having just for the between-song banter.

Mick Jagger: “I think I bust a button on me trousers, hope they don’t fall down…you don’t want my trousers to fall down now, do you?”

Female audience member: “Paint It Black!……Paint It Black!……Paint It Black!………Paint It Black, you devil!”

Mick Jagger: “Well alright! Well alright! Well alright!…Charlie’s good tonight, ain’t he?”

The record also serves as living evidence that the Stones are the sloppiest live band around. Do they all need to play in tune? Nah. Does it matter? Probably not. It’s the moments of magic that count, when they finally hit the same groove. This might not happen on every song, but when it does, it’s well worth the wait.

I finally got to see the Stones recently (in Auckland on the last night of the 2014 tour, wrapping up the 50th anniversary celebrations nicely) and they didn’t disappoint. As I expected, they were shabbily fantastic. Nearly every song was started in a ‘name that tune’ manner, as Keith played something that approximated the start of a Rolling Stones song. Then the rest of the band come in, all disjointed, until the song actually starts to sound familiar midway through the first verse.

They’ve earned the right to do this. The very fact that Keith Richards is still alive, ducking and swooping around the stage at 71 means he can do whatever the fuck he wants. Charlie Watts is, and always will be, a machine. You could set your watch by him. Ronnie Wood seems to be the happiest man in the world, and nothing ever looks better than somebody who seems to be having a laugh, all the time. Finally, Mick Jagger never stops. He swaggers around the stage, throwing moves only he could get away with. I was really surprised to hear him blow some mean harmonica, when we say him. I knew he could play but…I don’t know…I just wouldn’t have been surprised if he had someone else to do that for him. I was also lucky to see my favourite Stones guitarist, Mick Taylor, join the band for a couple of numbers (Midnight Rambler and (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction).

For me, one of their rare flashes of brilliance is Honky Tonk Women. When they played this in Auckland, I could have died right there and then. Boom. Thank you. Good night.

Hit: Jumping Jack Flash

Hidden Gem: Live With Me