TRACK-BY-TRACK: KICKS! 1963-1972

Kicks! 1963-72
Paul Revere & the Raiders (2005)

Paul Revere & the Raiders have been lucky with comps in the CD era. For those who just want the garage band essence, The Essential Ride is unbeatable. The Collector’s Choice set of their complete singles easily sustains three long discs.

But for the best overview of everything they meant in their decade of prominence–a decade that made them the one true garage band (in the narrow sense of the term–there’s a case to be made that all rock and roll bands are garage bands of some sort) to transcend the genre (which, like most rock and roll genres, was retroactively named).

I loved them at every phase. And at every phase, they may have wandered in this direction or that for a record or two–a little folk rock, a little psychedelia, a little pop–but they always came back to the same place.

Stomp.

Track….by….track:

“Louie Louie”–Not as chaotic as the rival Kingsmen’s monster hit and, oddly, not as focused either. But it does have its own unique thrill. Right at the top. “Grab your woman, it’s Louie Louie time!” Now that’s a band announcing itself.

“Steppin’ Out”–They made plenty of other gut-bucket sides, chasing a way to put the jet-fuel energy of their live shows on wax. This segue takes you past all that and straight into their greatest period. Meaning they managed the trick. The narrator’s been in the military. Just got home. Found out his girl’s been running around. He’s not happy. He wants answers. Released in 1965 and only a modest hit at the time, it was enough to get their career started. Within a few years, it was as much an autobiography of a generation as “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” or “Run Through the Jungle” and the true birth of what came to be called Heartland Rock. I don’t think much has changed.

“Just Like Me”–And then they go bigger. Mark Lindsay was already one of the period’s great vocalists, able to purr on one beat and roar on the next without sounding like he had played a trick….or contradicted a thing.

“Kicks”–A specific anti-drug song, courtesy of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. As un-hip as anything could be in 1966 and one of the few records that saw around the corner as clearly as it embodied the times.

“Action’–This one I could do without. As TV show themes go, it wasn’t “Come On Get Happy” let alone “Theme from the Monkees.” Placed here, it just breaks the momentum of one the great singles’ runs in the history of singles.

“Hungry”–Back on track. Mann and Weil again. It’s worth remembering they wrote “We Gotta Get Out of this Place,” too. They had a knack for expressing blue collar anger. As did Mark Lindsay.

“I’m Not Your Steppin’ Stone”–Suddenly they’re in competition with the Monkees, which probably didn’t do anything for their cred, especially since “Steppin’ Stone” was one of Mickey Dolenz’s best vocals. I’m not even sure this is as good. But it still scorches. No let up.

“Louie, Go Home”–An obvious throwback, just before they moved to the next phase. One of the great Louie updates, though, and a harbinger of where they would always go in a pinch. For a taste of what they had done with this sort of material three years earlier, you can watch this…

“Ballad of a Useless Man”Not a ballad. A talking blues. “I was gonna be a king…Now the end is drawing near.” That kind of talking blues.

“The Great Airplane Strike–One of the great protest records because it’s one of the few that insists on acknowledging that, in the Land of Milk and Honey, it’s the small ways the Man has us by the balls–his endless capacity for packaging every last detail of our existence–that matter.

“Good Thing”–If White Boy Stomp was all there was, and this was the only example, would we know what we were missing? (And I’m not sure whether the video I linked is the apotheosis of the White Boy Stomp Ethos or the reason it had to die. Both maybe?)

“Why, Why, Why? (Is It So Hard)”–Fang sings…Why, why, why?

“Louise”–And what would an anthology of the greatest garage band be without a weird blend of wistful thinking and hostility towards a mysterious femme?

“Him or Me-What’s It Gonna Be?”–Back to business (i.e. Return to Stomp). “I can still recall when you told me I was all….everything you looked for in a man.” Bet you can guess how the title question gets answered! Love the “what’s” instead of “who.” Love the stinging guitar lick in the intro. Love the whole thing actually.

“Mo’reen”–Bit of a placeholder. Except for the part where I can’t figure out whether Mo’reen looks green or clean. In any case, she’s neither. Just jailbait. Else the little sister of the girl from “Poison Ivy” carrying on a family tradition. Or…both?

“Gone-Movin’ On”–A thumper with one of those stereo-typical break fades that meant the times were a changin’. Before that, weird, discordant echoes of the Nashville Sound and the Everly Brothers….There’s a reason they lasted folks.

“Tighter”–Okay now we’re dipping into the pop psychedelia bag (the one where the records were made by people who didn’t take drugs…or else didn’t pay any attention to the effects). If you ask me how I know, I’ll just say I know my fellow abstainers when I hear them. That said, not the worst of it’s type.**

“I Had a Dream”–They still hadn’t taken any drugs…but this one did have an addictive melody. There was a reason they lasted folks…when so many others fell away.***

“Ups and Downs”–Back to stomp (with a lovely teaser intro just to keep everybody a little off-balance….). And yes, the girl’s still got him on a string (their great theme). And he’s still not sure how he feels about it.

“Peace of Mind”–Be sure to attend the strangled scream of “Well I’m talkin’ about peace” just before the long fade.

“Too Much Talk”–One of those period records that sounds like it starts in the middle and features a touch or two of fuzz-tone guitar. Unlike a lot of others, this one works–mostly thanks to an epic bass line that works like a lead guitar.

“Cinderella Sunshine”–”Windy’s” younger, tougher sister?

“Don’t Take It So Hard”–Okay, this time he’s definitely leaving her….by trying to appeal directly to the teeny-boppers who were ready to abandon the Monkees?

“Mr. Sun, Mr. Moon”–This is my fave of their late 60’s “pop” direction…shoulda been bigger!

“Let Me!”–Angry lust…as Stomp. Whatever assurances had been offered by the previous few singles was withdrawn. “I know that, my love is going somewhere….But, I’m sure, that it ain’t being got by you.” Indeed. Let me do what now?

“Just Seventeen”–Just in case you missed the point of about half the entries so far. Never mind that this time she’s hunting him!

“Indian Reservation “–(The Lament of the Cherokee Reservation Indian)”–The apotheosis of Pop Protest–statement records that sounded like (and were) natural Pure Pop #1’s. (See Cher’s great “Half Breed,” Three Dog Night’s “Black and White” among others). Plus one of the greatest arrangements ever on a hit record. And don’t think Pop Protest Mark Lindsay had forgotten his garage band roots when it came to digging in on the chorus.

“Birds of a Feather”–One of Joe South’s lilting melodies and a fine pop-rock vocal. Imminently pleasurable, especially the bridge. A bit lightweight next to their greatest, but you could live a step down from that height and still be pretty fine.

“Country Wine”–One last diversion…into some blend of Aesthetic Pop and Countrified pop. Could have been a modest hit as a folk rock record in 1966. All of which meant….

“Power Blue Mercedes Queen”–It was time to Stomp. And time for an age to end. Though if this had been the big hit it deserved to be, who knows how much longer the fun might have lasted? A mid-chart disco record perhaps? A singer-songwriter knockoff? Who knows. One thing you can bet. Wherever they ended it….it would been set to Stomp.

**NOTE–Ace commenter Neal Umphred–who, believe me, has forgotten more about the sixties than I’ll ever know–ran this by a friend whose an expert on the Raiders and has been assured that various members of the band were experimenting with drugs at the time. I covered myself a bit on this (that’s what the “or else didn’t pay any attention to the effects” was for)–but I should have been clearer. If they weren’t taking drugs, then they pulled off a masterpiece, because they made a record that sounds exactly like squares pretending. I also shouldn’t have further muddled it by suggesting they were abstainers, which is a whole other thing and something I really couldn’t know. What I should have said is “Poor lads. They were trying to do things that were hardly worth doing when they were already better at what they did best than practically anybody else.” In any case mea culpa!

***On the followup, “I Had a Dream,” Neal’s friend says it was mostly session men backing Mark Lindsay. Who knows what those weirdos were into!

 

TRACK-BY-TRACK: Hot Rocks 1964-71

Hot Rocks 1964-71
The Rolling Stones (1971)

Starting something new…

[NOTE: The links below are a mix of studio and live cuts….I just picked a version that conveyed the mood.]

As my long-time readers will have guessed by now, I’m not fond of doing straight up record reviews. I’ve done a few, but not as many as might be expected given the concerns of this blog. For reasons I can’t quite put my finger on, and unlike movies and books, traditional record reviews seem to lack easy connections to the broader context I prefer.

But more of my free time is spent listening to music than anything else so it makes sense for me to find a way to comment more on individual records.

I’m not giving up on highlighting singles in the How Much Can One Record Mean category (“Brown Sugar” really is due), or singers in the Vocalist of the Month category. But those essays require maximum effort and concentration. Any writer only has so much of that to give.

Especially with a large part of mine going to fiction (and a fifty-hour-a-week job  on the side to pay bills and such), I’ve been looking for a way to get more music writing on here in a focused, album-oriented form. Upshot is a new category called Track-by-Track, whereby I just roll out the tracks from some classic album and say whatever comes to mind during a latest listen.

Unfiltered, I hope….

History: Hot Rocks 1964-71 is by far the biggest selling album in the Rolling Stones’ catalog, moving twelve million copies to date. The album was meant to grab money and did. The Stones had just fallen out with their manager, Allen Klein, who had reportedly duped them out of their early catalog. Mick’s deal with Beelzebub evidently didn’t prepare him for Business Mangers.

Knowing he wouldn’t have access to the band’s future material, Klein’s label (ABKCO) released Hot Rocks to cash in on the moment .

I’m sure the mercenary nature of the release was well known to the rock press of the time, and I assume it helps explain the opinions ranging from a decided coolness (see Dave Marsh in the Rolling Stone Record Guide) to outright hostility (see Robert Christgau’s contemporary B- review in the Village Voice, since collected in Christgau’s Record Guide to Rock Albums of the 70s).

Whatever their real objections, the basic stated objections to the album as a Rolling Stones’ record, was that it was both too skimpy to convey the Stones’ real significance and too obvious to be of any use to those who already understood that significance.

Well, maybe.

But Hot Rocks, while not everything it might have been, is still an essential album. All these years later, you can learn things from it.

In the “not perfect” column:

-A pedestrian front cover. The picture on the back–a Dark Angel surrounded by Cro-Magnons–is the essence of the early and mid-period Stones represented on the tracks within. As a front cover it would have been one of the best ever. The Five Haircuts look that’s there instead is neither here nor there. Not terrible but certainly not memorable. Mostly, it’s appropo of nothing. That’s something no album cover–let alone one representing the cream of a great band’s greatest period–should ever be.

-Track selection: Though it was a big hit, I’d of dropped the atypical “As Tears Go By” (done better by Marianne Faithfull anyway) and added “It’s All Over Now.” “Play With Fire,” “Ruby Tuesday”  and “Wild Horses” are all great and plenty enough to represent Mick’s ballad singing.

-And a bit of bad luck: The band co-owned the Sticky Fingers tracks with Klein/ABKCO, so “Brown Sugar” and “Wild Horses” were available to close out the album. But one more album (Exile on Main Street) and one more year and this could have closed with “Tumbling Dice”….which would have been perfect in every way. That not being an option, whoever was making the track selection and sequencing decisions for ABKCO should have reversed the final two tracks and concluded with “Brown Sugar.” The greatest side opener in the history of albums would have made an even greater closer here…and a perfect capstone on the themes the Stones had explored from the beginning and were to become trapped by in the long years to come.

Like I say, it needs it own essay…

But against all that, there’s this. Far from being inessential to people who loved the Stones (because, per Christgau, it offered nothing not already available on their great albums), Hot Rocks had much to offer even the acolyte, then and now. “19th Nervous Breakdown,” “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” and “Honky Tonk Women”–all huge hits and three of their (or anyone’s) most essential–weren’t on any original album. “Mother’s Little Helper” hadn’t been on any original US album. The live version of “Midnight Rambler” was stronger than the (still great) studio version on Let It Bleed and only available on a live album Christgau did not recommend. That meant nearly twenty percent of what Hot Rocks placed in the company of the band’s greatest and most iconic music was, at the time, either not available on albums of similar quality…or any album at all.

Sounds like a bargain to me.

It’s still a bargain.

1st Disc:

“Time Is On My Side”–Perfect. The Stones’ first American top ten. Irma Thomas still claims they swiped it from her and that it was her big chance for a pop hit. That’s nonsense. It was her B-side of an A-Side that went #52 Pop. Anyway, she had swiped it from Kai Winding, the whiter-than-white big band leader who recorded the original the previous year. Her version was fine, (love the spoken word part). But even if they’d gone head-to-head, the Stones would have won the old-fashioned way–by being better. Especially great here, because you don’t have to hold your breath waiting to find out if it’s one of Mick’s epic fails–which were not infrequent in the days when he was learning Black American English phonetically.

“Heart Of Stone”–The Great Theme arrives, best summed up as: Just Try It Bitch. With a searing guitar break, of course. Those were already the band’s other great theme.

“Play With Fire”–Did I mention a Theme? The boy’s quick, too. Only took him a heart-of-stone beat to move up from Street Lollies to the Aristocracy. Minor Aristocracy maybe, but still. He hates her worse, too. Just like a poor boy should. Especially if the poor part was faux.

“(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”–The great leap, especially the vocal. Servants to the Blues no longer. From now on, they would play master. Or, if they felt like it, “Massa.” Just try and stop them. And, of course, they did it with a lyric that pretended they weren’t getting what everybody knew you weren’t getting, even if you made it with three chicks the week they (or was it their chick?) were on a losing streak. Didn’t tell any of your chicks not to play with fire, did you? No matter how bad you wanted to? Didn’t think so.

“As Tears Go By”–The closest thing to a weak track. Not really weak, but no aspect of it–lyrics, music, vocal–fit the Stones’ ethos and that makes it a drag on any album, even it it always sounded okay on the radio.

“Get Off Of My Cloud”–Lethal. Just Try It Bitch switched out for hare-brained politics. Just Try It World! I’ll make you feel so-o-o-o-o bad. And who lives on the ninety-ninth floor anyway? Surely not the Aristocracy.

“Mother’s Little Helper”–Their side-wipe at Middle Class Hypocrisy. Mom whines about the kids and everything else, but is on her way to OD’ing on Tranquilizers. Ha, ha, ha!. A touch obvious and nothing Shaw hadn’t done better decades before. But they sounded exactly like an addled American garage band catching their one moment of inspiration and that was a huge part of their cachet.  Also a neat sideways bend into the folk rock that would define them in ’66 and ’67 as Brian Jones set out to prove that you didn’t have to be a hypocrite to wind up in the bottom of the swimming pool, not breathing.

“19th Nervous Breakdown”–A perfect fusion of their purely musical R&B roots and their lyrical misogyny, which was just left-field enough for those who needed them to be something other than louts to project as irony…or, better yet, “irony.” You know, the kind no one gets but you. But they really did walk a fine line between empathy and assault….for a while.

“Paint It Black”–A whisper-to-a-scream call to the stalker lurking inside Everyman. Shaded by the possibility that, in 1966, Everyman was, like as not, a nineteen-year-old clearing a rice paddy with an M-16.

“Under My Thumb”–The Aristocracy nailed. Then ruled. Not by you….but you could dream, if you were so inclined. This is probably what Harvey Weinstein–fourteen in the summer of ’66–meant when he said things were different when he was growing up.

“Ruby Tuesday”–A rare and beautiful exception to the rule, perhaps because Keith wrote the lyrics about someone (a Show Biz kid named Linda Keith) for whom he had enough affection to alert her English actor dad when she was on the verge of disappearing forever. Into the underbelly of New York city and the arms of Jimi Hendrix as it happened. A rescue operation was launched. She was saved. Whether it was written before, during or after, this is about the hope that she–and the thousands like her who were a new phenomenon of the culture that enabled the Stones, and which they enabled in turn–would be. That’s still what it’s about.

“Let’s Spend The Night Together”–Ode to a one night stand with someone who is probably not Ruby Tuesday. Back on track, back on the sly, and a perfect close–musically, lyrically, spiritually–to the first period.

2nd Disc:

“Jumpin’ Jack Flash”–The end draws near for the Brian Jones era with (coincidentally or not) the first entry in the Stones’ advanced efforts to find (or was it create? and from what?) the perfect rock and roll record by fusing straight up rape-and-pillage music with a stance on the era’s politics that had something for everyone. You could be one with them (by pretending they were merely being “ironic”) or you could be appalled by them (by believing they meant what they said, even if they remained at arm’s length from everyone, including themselves). But good luck trying to ignore them.

“Street Fighting Man”–And then they doubled down…Worth remembering they turned the sixties back on themselves before Altamont.

“Sympathy For The Devil”–Brian Jones now reduced to “backing vocalist.” On Wikipedia, this is referred to as “samba rock.” Of course it is. Is that why I can still hear Satan laughing? Then again, if ever a record could constitute its own category….

“Honky Tonk Women”–MIck Taylor introduces himself, and, unbelievably, a harder edge, abetted here by Reparata and the Delrons, among others. The Shangri-Las, alas, were not available. Just as well. If they had been, the world might have cracked open. Not especially memorable in its “Country Honk” incarnation on Let It Bleed (where it didn’t bleed a bit). Here it bleeds. And, for those counting that’s four “most perfect ever rock and roll records in a row”…and, for once, just possibly ironic, no matter how often MIck and/or Keith had ever met a gin-soaked barroom queen, in Memphis or anywhere else.

“Gimme Shelter”–Make that five in a row….irony grows distant. It can’t keep company with dread. If it’s not really a celebration of rape (and the destruction of everything)–or at least of the victim learning to want what the rapist wants (which is one way for everything to end)–it’s not really scary is it? But at least they hired a woman to talk back.

“Midnight Rambler (Live)”–Longer, looser and tougher than the excellent version on Let It Bleed. And if “I’ll stick my knife right down your throat” has ever sounded “ironic” anywhere, it certainly isn’t here. The theme seems fully formed by now….As though there could be no further developments. There were to be further developments.

“You Can’t Always Get What You Want”–Donald Trump’s theme song, from Day One of his campaign to date. It’s now obvious they wrote it for him…and only him. Steve Bannon he sent packing. Not this. There are those who believe its selection could only have been focus-grouped. They’re the same people who have spent thirty straight months getting their teeth kicked in and promising tomorrow will be different. Somewhere or other, somebody once said “Childhood living is easy to do…” I’ll keep listening. It’ll come to me.

“Brown Sugar”–Further developments. Slave rape. The irresistible joy of it no less. Top Five all over the English-speaking world in 1971. #1 in the U.S. (I have no idea what this says about them, or us). And, if irony, meaningless. I still expect them to play it with gusto at Trump’s second inaugural. Not only that, it has a good beat and you can dance to it! This probably should have closed…but it sounds great coming from the fade of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” as if they were re-purposing themselves for one last great thrust.

“Wild Horses”–And, finally, the rapist wants what the victim wants…”Now you’ve decided to show me the same.” Lolly? Aristocrat? Super model? Royalty? I still wonder.

Maybe it’s just as well it closes here.