Tag Archives: SOME GIRLS

Happy Birthday Keith Richards!

Today is Rolling Stones guitarist/mummified junkie Keith Richard’s birthday.  It’s sad that Richards (who turns 70 today) has become a bit of a joke simply because he’s managed to not-die.  Although to be fair, the joke isn’t that Keith Richards the musician is still alive, it’s that Keith Richards the vagabond-druggie is still alive.  There’s cheating death and then there’s dropping your pants and taking a huge dump on Death’s chest–Richard’s been doing that for decades.

Kids these days are more likely to know him as Johnny Depp’s pirate-dad than for “Satisfaction.”  That bums me out because Richards has contributed a lot to the world of rock n’ roll beyond his off-stage antics.  It’s widely accepted that Keith Richards is a fantastic guitarist and that his ability to write amazing riffs is second to none.  What’s not so widely-accepted is his ability to sing songs.  Since 1967’s BETWEEN THE BUTTONS Keith has been allowed to sing lead on at least one song per Rolling Stones album.  This has been viewed by many as a bit of rock n’ roll charity, similar to an arrangement The Beatles had with Ringo Starr.  But I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that, with all due respects to Mr. Jagger, 80% of my all-time favorite Stones songs are sung by Richards.

Keith is 70 and doesn't look a day over 700.

Keith is 70 and doesn’t look a day over 700.

Does Keith Richards have a pleasant singing voice?  No.  But there’s a haggard, raw quality to it that Mick Jagger’s voice lacks.  When Keith sings about hard living and late nights alone, you can hear his suffering in the timbre of his voice.  Time (and cigarettes) haven’t been especially kind to Richards voice, but in a way his rougher sound serves to accentuate his songs with a extra layer of desperation.  Much like with Bob Dylan, another take-him-or-leave-him vocalist, I find that hearing Richards sing his own songs adds an extra dollop of sincerity.  I’m sure Mick Jagger could have sung all the Stones tracks, but we’d be much poorer for it.

To that end, I present to you my Top 10 Keith Richards songs.  These feature Keith on lead vocals and while they may not have set the Top 40 charts ablaze, have a special place in my heart.  Here’s to 70 great years!

My Top 10 Keith Richards Songs

1. “Before They Make Me Run” off SOME GIRLS.  First off, this song has an amazingly good guitar riff.  The song is all about Keith’s legal problems following numerous drug busts.  At the time, Richards was facing the real possibility of doing some serious jail time.  So of course he writes a boozy song about “walking” before he’s forced to “run.”  It’s a badass song.

2. “Happy” off EXILE ON MAINSTREET.  This is Richards signature song, the one you’re guaranteed to hear him sing if you see The Rolling Stones live.  It’s heralded as his best song and with good reason.  Despite being recorded during one of the darkest periods in Rolling Stones history, “Happy” is bouncy and well…happy. There’s a real off-the-cuff aspect to his singing on the song, it’s almost like he’s making it all up as he goes.  This joyous spontaneity and the bright horn section make “Happy” truly great.

3.  “Wicked As It Seems” off MAIN OFFENDER.  This track is not a Rolling Stones song but rather a straight-up Keith Richards solo-song.  The song’s a slow burn with a  great groove.  This is the track that convinced me that Richards really was the heart-and-soul of the Rolling Stones.

4.  “You Got The Silver” off LET IT BLEED.  Keith Richards may be a rocker but he’s got the soul of a country artist.  In fact, my all-time favorite Rolling Stones affectation is when they do a country song. “You Got The Silver” is a mix of country and dirty blues, it’s simple but damn earnest.  I still get chills when I hear it to this day.

5. “Coming Down Again” off GOATS HEAD SOUP.  A gentle piano ballad sung by Keith Richards? Yep.  Add a knowing nod to drug abuse and you’ve got yourself a fantastic song.

6.  “Little T&A” off TATTOO YOU.  People give TATTOO YOU a lot of grief, and while it’s not the best Rolling Stones album it does have this tight little gem on it.  Many considered Richards past his prime by 1981, but Richards proves on this track that he’s just as spry as ever.

7.  “Locked Away” off TALK IS CHEAP.  Another Keith Richards-solo track, “Locked Away” almost sounds like a serious Traveling Wilbury’s song.  Richards is full of self-doubt and this track which also makes reference to prison/jail which like death has always loomed threateningly over the guitarist.

8. “Hurricane” off VINTAGE VINOS.  A short little acoustic bonus track recorded during 2002, “Hurricane” finds a creaky-voiced Richards quietly singing with just a guitar.  Even though it’s just a short, dashed-off track the song is endlessly compelling.  I think it’s the world-weary voice.  Keith sounds sound beaten it’s kinda heartbreaking.

9. “We Had It All” a bonus track recorded during the SOME GIRLS sessions. Another bonus track, “We Had It All” is a gentle ballad drenched with regret and sorrow.  Not quite country, not quite blues, the song wasn’t right for SOME GIRLS but it’s still really good.

10. “This Place Is Empty” off A BIGGER BANG.  The most recent track on my list, this song also has the roughest sounding Keith Richards vocals.  It’s a little creepy to hear old-man Richards ask his lady to “bare your breasts” I’ll admit, but this is a good song.  The song’s I-miss-you sentiment pairs well with Richards voice and somewhat halting delivery.

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Rock ‘n Read: Some Girls (33 1/3)

I recently finished Cyrus Patell’s book on The Rolling Stones 1978 album SOME GIRLS.  Patell’s book is part of the 33 1/3 series, which for those of you unfamiliar, are short little books written by one author and are dedicated to one classic album.  It’s basically a long-form version of my Classic Albums Revisited posts, which I once did on this very albumThis is the third or fourth book in the series that I’ve read, though currently there are 80+ books in the series.  The 33 1/3 series covers more than just classic rock, there are rap, metal, and country albums in the series as well.

3313somegirls

The books cover the behind-the-scenes/making of-aspect of the albums in addition to providing a track-by-track analysis.  Typically the book will be constructed around a theme of some sort, and of the small sample I’ve read, include a personal story from the author’s life.  Patell’s book on Some Girls is built around the conceit that The Stones record is basically all a love-letter (of sorts) to the late 1970s version of New York City.  Most but not all of the songs, Patell points out, are in some way about New York.  It’s pretty obvious, but strangely enough I never really made that connection.

Some Girls also is structured around Patell’s childhood in New York, around the time of the album’s initial release.  The death of one of his beloved teachers, the author’s first brush with death, plays a pivotal part of the first few and last chapters of the book.  Although I did find it interesting, I almost wish Patell had just stuck to The Rolling Stones.  Had this book been a typical long format book I wouldn’t have had as much of a problem with Patell’s personal connection to the record—but Some Girls (like all the books in the series) is a very short, very compact book.  I had a similar issue with the series entry on PET SOUNDS, but unlike that book, I walked away enjoying Some Girls.

My enjoyment of Patell’s book is two fold: he provides an excellent history of the band and the band’s efforts to record SOME GIRLS while at the same time giving a great history of late 1970’s New York.  He doesn’t just tell us that “Miss You” was written as a nod to the current disco culture, he explains to us that Mick Jagger and company were hanging out the infamous Studio 54.  Then Patell proceeds to give us a brief, but informative history of the club.  Patell’s deft ability to balance band history and history-history is what makes Some Girls such an enjoyable read.

There was one minor annoyance that almost got me to stop reading the book, and that was the author’s reliance on Keith Richards memoir Life.  At the start of the book there were so many long quotes taken directly fromKeith’s book that I nearly put the book down because it seemed like I was basically re-reading Life.  Thankfully, once the author turns away from basic band history and starts discussing the album in detail these direct quotes from Life are less intrusive.  Look, I get it, Patell wasn’t able to actually talk with Keith Richards…but some of the quotes are ridiculously long, taking up damn near an entire page.  I’m glad I didn’t give up on Patell’s book because it really is a good read.

Even if, like me, you’ve read five or six books on The Rolling Stones you should still check out Some Girls.  Patell’s analysis of the songs both lyrically and musically (he gets pretty deep into chords and tuning) is worth a read. If like me you’re a big fan of SOME GIRLS you owe it to yourself to check out Patell’s book, it’s a quick but insightful read.

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Classic Albums Revisited: SOME GIRLS

There are two kinds of Stones fans–ones that think 1972’s EXILE ON MAINSTREET is the band’s greatest album…and those who differ to 1978’s SOME GIRLS. I fall into the latter category. I think EXILE is a fine album, but SOME GIRLS is more fun. The album came out in a very strange time for music, both punk and disco were in full-swing–and rock acts from the 1960’s were beginning to be pegged as “dinosaurs.”

Yes, that’s right–the Stones were being branded dinosaurs all the way back in 1978. Were those boys ever NOT teased in this manner? But I digress. Mick Jagger and company put out a hell of a record in response to the growing criticism that rock’n roll was dead. SOME GIRLS takes what was best about the era (the dance-ablity of disco, and the raw/primal aggression of early punk) and merges it with the Stones classic blues-rock sensibilities.

Some girls look like boys with wigs on...

The band recorded the album over a period of several tense months in 1977. While most of the world was enjoying STAR WARS, guitarist Keith Richards was sweating a possession of heroin charge (he was busted up in Canada). Suddenly, with the prospect of losing their lead guitarist for several YEARS–the Stones got serious and recorded 50+ songs. It was during this time that Jagger, with Richards distracted, took up the bulk of the song writing duties. SOME GIRLS was a product of his frantic writing/recording period.

The album opens with “Miss You,” a bluesy-disco tinged song that became the band’s final #1 song in the USA. Unlike a lot of music from this era, the song remains catchy and cool as hell–despite the disco influences. I think the reason for this is simply, the Stones didn’t do a full disco song. The rest of SOME GIRLS is an interesting mix of punk and country (believe it or not). “Far Away Eyes” being an extreme, almost country parody and on the other end “Lies” tips closer to blind aggression of the early punk scene. Somewhere in the middle falls the rest of the album. It’s this middle where the magic is.

I have three favorite songs on this record, which in itself says a lot about its overall greatness. They are as follows (in no particular order):

1. “Beast of Burden”
2. “Before They Make Me Run”
3. “Shattered”

“Beast of Burden” with its crazy-ass falsetto and rolling guitar licks is a masterpiece. I’ve read that some of the lyrics were improvised by Jagger on the fly…I’m not sure I buy that, but part of the song’s greatness is how laid-back/casual it seems to flow. On the other end of the spectrum, is the precision and edginess of “Shattered.” Jagger’s practically spitting the verses at you, while the guitar chugs along in the backroom…before BAM! Awesome fucking solo (with hand-claps, which is always important).

There’s a theory that the reason this record sounds so good is because the band finally got a third guitarist–SOME GIRLS marks the first appearance of Jagger the guitar player. Not sure how much water that theory holds, but the music side of things does seem more complex than earlier Stones records.

And while he’s not the world’s greatest singer, I do love the Keith Richards “Before They Make Me Run.” Of course it has an amazing, holy-grail-like guitar lick. The song, though not sung my Jagger, is probably (in my opinion) the best example of a “Rolling Stones Song.” All the elements are there: killer guitar, hooky-but simple lyrics, a bluesy-country feel…it’s awesome. It makes me wish Richards had given up smoking cigarettes (his voice sounds like crap now, way too raspy). He might have even turned into a hell of a vocalist–we’ll never know. I think its funny how confident Richards playing is, but how almost quiet the vocals are. You can tell he knew he wasn’t a very good singer–I’ve noticed this on a lot of the early Clapton solo records, too. I took Clapton a long time to get the nerve to belt out “Layla.”

SOME GIRLS is a classic album, and arguably the last great record from one of the world’s greatest rock bands. Most people have actually heard 65-70% of this record via classic rock radio (which plays damn near everything on it). The damn thing is practically a GREATEST HITS for their 70’s period. This one is definitely on my “Desert Island” List of great records. Go check it out–or if you have it (like me) go give it a re-listen.

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