Music/Popular Culture

Please allow me to introduce myself…

By Patrick Vecchio

The NBC Nightly News’ final segment Thursday was about how that day was the 50th anniversary of the Rolling Stones’ first gig. The segment featured the obligatory file footage and then a joint interview with Charlie, Mick, Keith and Ron Wood.

I had to laugh. They look like old uncles—the kind who would sneak you behind the house at family gatherings when you were 10 and teach you how to smoke a cigarette. Can’t you hear Uncle Keith cackling now? “Don’t tell your mum and pop, ha-ha caff-caff.”

Charlie’s 71 now, and in the interview, it looked as if he had a Silly Putty mouth that someone stretched way, way out. Keith should come with subtitles. Mick’s got a 69-year-old face and hair that’s about 30; he probably has it colored and styled about once a week. And say what you will, Ronnie Wood is not a Rolling Stone just because he hung around with them for so long that they felt sorry for him and let him into the band. If Wood is a Rolling Stone, then Nicky Hopkins and Ian Stewart were, too.

Thursday night on the news, they looked like cartoon characters, Disney animations of their former selves. It’s sad to say this is how a generation or maybe two see the Stones. It used to be different. During the so-called British invasion of the 1960s, the Beatles were cute and cuddly. They wanted to hold your hand. The Stones were sheathed in cigarette smoke and probably on their way to the pub.

Did the Stones want to hold your hand? The answer came during the best moment of Thursday’s news segment—a clip of the band’s appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, when they were forced to change two words in a song they performed. As Mick sang “Let’s spend some time together,” he rolled his eyes with so much disgust it’s a wonder he wasn’t deported.

The Stones have made a lot of music between Ed Sullivan and now—some of it the very best rock ‘n’ roll ever made, and an equal amount less so. My musical obsessive-compulsiveness means I’ll buy everything a band makes until they lose their mojo. For me, the Stones lost theirs after It’s Only Rock and Roll back in 1974, but it’s fair to say the comedown was inevitable after the string of preceding stellar LPs: Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main Street and Goat’s Head Soup (where the first signs of the fading mojo surfaced). Then again, what do I know? Some Girls, from 1978, sold six million copies.

More and more, though, their albums seem like thin excuses to tour to promote the records and make millions of dollars. The tour after their last release, A Bigger Bang, from 2005, grossed $558 million. That’s a long way from the $50 or so the band was paid for that first-ever show 50 years ago.

I don’t know how 20-year-olds react to CD releases today, but I clearly recall the Stones’ release of Goat’s Head Soup and how two of its songs, “Angie” and “Silver Train,” were seen and heard first on TV on the premiere of the show Don Kirschner’s Rock Concert in 1973. The TV lounge in our dorm was jammed. It was An Event. When the LP finally was released and the bars downtown were playing “Silver Train,” the dance floors were packed, and I was doing my best Mick imitation out there.

The inevitable musical litmus test from that era is “Beatles or Stones?” It’s an unfair question. The Beatles changed the world. But as far as the music was concerned, the Stones <i>were</i> rock ‘n’ roll. With everything that has come since then in terms of explicit sex and violence in music, the Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” has never been outdone in terms of menace. These days, bands’ references to Satan result in raised eyebrows and shoulder shrugs, if that. Satan is nothing but a concept. But the Stones turned the devil into a person—most scarily, one of us:

I shouted out, “Who killed the Kennedys?”
When after all,
It was you and me.

As for the music, if there’s a better rock riff than the opening to “Satisfaction,” then I haven’t heard it.

Categories: Music/Popular Culture

18 replies »

  1. Would we have started rock and roll if we’d known we would have to watch octogenarians like Mick and Paul shake their creaky bottoms one day?

    I dont really like either band as much as most people my age seem to. But you nailed it, except for choosing the wrong lyric from Sympathy, and omitting Honky Tonk Women.

    I once read an interest comment after Wild Horses (I forget what album that was,) that the Stones were the best country band that had ever existed. And certainly the best rock band. And a credible blues band at times.

    Final comment, a friend of mine (God help him) was dancing in hte living room when the Stones played the Superbowl a few years ago. His teenage daughter came in, watched a minute, and said, “Who’s that? Are they supposed to be good?”

  2. Pat, sorry, I forgot my main point (Stones arent the only ones that are old.)

    Great piece. Construction and writing is superb. Whenever it looks effortless, as this does, it is craft to a very high level.

  3. Otherwise, you’re right: The country music in the Stones’ catalog often is overlooked. The only place they go overboard with it is “Country Honk” from Let It Bleed. But songs like “Dead Flowers” are superb.

    Wrong lyric from “Sympathy?” What’s your call? I’m guessing “Use all your well-learned politesse/Or I’ll lay your soul to waste.”

    As far as your friend dancing in the living room, I hope you were there to see it, because that’s not an anecdote I would tell about myself. I *will* confess, however, to being compelled to dance when I saw Toots and the Maytals a few years ago.

    And thank you for taking the time to read and comment about my writing.

  4. Here’s Dr. Slammy, trying to stir it up. If he were a hockey player, he’d be Maxim Lapierre, skating around the ice and biting people’s fingers.

    • Also, Some Girls is my favorite Stones album. And “Get Off My Cloud” is my favorite Stones song. Either that or “It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll.” Or maybe “Far Away Eyes.” One of those.

  5. The greatest Stones’ song is “Gimme Shelter.” The 2nd is “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” – after that is the rest of the catalogue, which is superb up through ’78 or so. I am incredibly fond of “Waiting on a Friend,” but that’s just me.

    GOAT’S HEAD SOUP is a piece of crap. “Angie” is Jagger playing kiss ass to the left – fuck him. Be an artist, not a goddam politician. “Heartbreaker” should have gotten Mick’s ass kicked out of the band. Graham Parker could have replaced him well (H/T Sam Smith)

    “Beast of Burden” is the best song on SOME GIRLS. “Far Away Eyes” is the triumph of comedy, not music. Leave comedy to comedians.

    Ron Wood should have stayed with the Faces – as should Rod the loser Stewart. Mick Taylor should have stayed with the Stones. He made them better. If anyone can show me better playing than Mick’s on “Time Waits for No One,” I’ll buy him the most expensive drink in the house.

    That’s right. You can’t.

    Now get off my cloud….

  6. Jim, you need to express stronger opinions.

    I can’t pick out a “best” Stones song, although if I were being threatened, I would go with “Rocks Off” for a dance tune, “Sister Morphine” for a slower song.

    My favorite Mick Taylor solo is at the end of “Sway.” He is so effing fluid.

    • I just realized that I left something out earlier. Honestly, my FAVORITE Stones song is “Paint It Black.” But the Space team Electra cover, not the Stones version. Once you hear what STE does with the song, it’s hard to regard the original as anything other than a tad silly.

      Of course, that’s probably not what we were discussing, is it?

  7. Pat you know I Iove you. And Sam, you’re my boy always. (Pounds heart)

    Pat, you should know that in an email to Sam Smith I just said, perhaps, “Rocks Off” is the best Stones song. Although now, as I think about it, “Soul Survivor” grabs me. They are soooo good, aren’t they…? And any song with “The sunshine bores the daylights out of me…” has to be in serious consideration, doesn’t it…? 😉

    Sam, Space Team Electra? Stop marketing for a minute, will you. Yes, great band in themselves, but we’re talking about the STONES, for God’s sake….

    • Yeah. Except that I saw STE do that song and you didn’t. You know how Cowboy Junkies took “Sweet Jane” away from Lou Reed? This is like that, times a hundred.

      I’m not badmouthing The Stones. You know me better than that. On the contrary – I’m giving them credit for writing a great tune that others could then do even more with.

  8. Sam goes to the dictionary, opens it to a random page, and then throws three darts at it. Where the tips of the darts come through the other side of the page, he uses that word and makes up bands’ names: like Space team Electra.

    The Cowboy Junkies never took “Heroin” away from Lou Reed: That’s the measuring stick, Dr. Slammy. As for “Sweet Jane,” Mott the Hoople beat CJ to that song by a couple of decades.

    • One of the great tragedies in life is that a man who loves music as much as you do, Pat, never got to see STE. They’re one of the most special bands I ever saw. Over the course of maybe five years they may have been one of the 20-25 best bands I can name. And this isn’t hyperbole – I mean this literally, and I’m speaking as a guy who knows a LOT of bands.

  9. Slow down and take a look at Western Music History. There has not been a new style or trend in music that withstood the time test of 50 years, the credibility mark, since the 19th century, until now. Please consider recognizing the 50 year mark as the most significant development in modern times.

  10. Michelle, I’d say jazz has done pretty well for itself over the past 50 years—and people say jazz is the only truly American music form. I don’t know if the same can be said for the blues, but that genre has stood the test of time for the past five decades and before that. If I recognized the 50-year mark as the marker for significant, then I wouldn’t mention either of those genres.