Tag Archives: Brian Jones

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 #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.

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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?

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Rocks In The Attic #344: The Rolling Stones – ‘Let It Bleed’ (1969)

RITA#344Rape…murder…it’s just a shot away. Nice lyrics there. This is a pretty bleak album, and those backing lyrics really set the scene. This was the first album to feature ex-Bluesbreaker Mick Taylor on guitar, and the last album to feature Brian Jones, who only plays on two songs.  By the time the album was released, Jones had been fired from the band he put together.

Of the ‘Big Four’ Stones albums, this is the one I got around to last. I inherited Sticky Fingers and Exile On Main St. from my Dad, both on vinyl, but he only had Let It Bleed on CD, so I left it. I then went back to the beginning and listened to the rest chronologically, meaning that I got to Beggar’s Banquet first, and this – it’s follow up – last.

It’s probably the one I listen to the most though. The sense of doom and gloom that seems to be hidden in the grooves – along with the music – is a big attraction – like the ending of The Empire Strikes Back, or the second half of Nabakov’s Lolita. It’s a downer, but it’s beautiful.

You can say what you want about the Stones – that they’re a devastatingly average rock ‘n roll band who have ridden on a wave of mediocrity for the last 50 years –  and you’d be more or less right; but you can’t take those four albums away from them. I’d say they’re all perfect, but it’s the imperfections that make them what they are.

Hit: Gimme Shelter

Hidden Gem: Live With Me

Rocks In The Attic #314: The Rolling Stones – ‘Metamorphosis’ (1975)

RITA#314Metamorphosis is the Stones’ third post-Decca compilation (after the two Hot Rocks releases in ’71 and ’72 respectively). It’s hardly their best forty eight minutes committed to vinyl, but I guess by this stage the barrel was being well and truly scraped.

A hotchpotch of demos, outtakes and alternate versions, the album has little in the way of hits – although Out Of Time is a well known pop hit of the ‘60s. The album was released on the same day as the first Atlantic Records compilation of the band’s material, Made In The Shade, and any cursory glance over that album’s tracklisting – pulling together material from Sticky Fingers, Exile On Main St., Goats Head Soup and It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll – suggests a much better way to spend an hour of your time.

The album’s one saving grace is its cover – a trippy Kafkaesque illustration of the band as various man-size bugs, clothed in late ‘60s garb, holding masks of their human form: the Stones as we know them. Both Brian Jones and Mick Taylor are present, making the band an odd-looking sextet. And speaking of guitarists, most of the tracks on the first side were recorded with session musicians – namely Jimmy Page and Big Jim Sullivan.

I have tickets to see the Stones very soon, in Auckland, and I can’t wait. They’ve always eluded me in the past – I’ve been busy doing other things, or tickets have been too expensive – but I just had to get tickets this time. Time is running out and all that. I remember hearing about a few European gigs they did back in 2003, supported by AC/DC. Man, that would have been a great show.

We have tickets in the cheap seats; well, standing actually, and they weren’t cheap either! But it’s okay – I’m not sure I want to be that close to a rapidly aging Mick and Keef. The word on the street is that Mick Taylor may be making an appearance, and that would just make my night, but I’ll be happy just to see the band before they pack it in for good.

Hit: Out Of Time

Hidden Gem: I Don’t Know Why

Rocks In The Attic #302: The Rolling Stones – ‘Out Of Our Heads’ (1965)

RITA#302Another early Stones record with very little in the way of Jagger and Richards compositions (they managed three on this one). This is still very much Brian Jones’ band, but this album really only highlights the limitation of doing things Brian’s way – twelve songs appear on the British release of the album, nine of which are covers. Only two months later the Beatles would release Rubber Soul – a collection of songs that really shows how far behind their cotemporaries the Stones were.

Of course, of the three Jagger / Richards songs on Out Of Our Heads, two of them would make the history books. Heart Of Stone went on to become a top-20 single in the US, and the albums closing song I’m Free would earn the band a mini-resurgence when it was covered – re-imagined is probably a better description – by the Soup Dragons in 1991, hitting #5 in the UK charts.

That Soup Dragons song is a little more Soup Dragons than it is the Rolling Stones, but I guess as usual the lyrics carry the legal imprint of a song more than the music does. The Stones taking credit for the Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony is another matter though – that song uses only a snippet of an orchestral version of The Last Time (as recorded by their manager’s side-project, the Andrew Oldham Orchestra in 1966). This has to be one of the most tenuous plagiarism cases ever – somehow the Stones managed to lay a 100% claim to a 1997 hit single featuring an orchestral motif recorded by another artist interpreting their work back in 1966.

“Free, any old time, to get what I want,” Jagger would sing in 1965, and he wasn’t joking.

Hit: Heart Of Stone

Hidden Gem: Mercy, Mercy