Having ditched Miller, who helped steer the band’s golden era, the Glimmer Twins decided to self-produce for the first time since Their Satanic Majesties Request. Unsurprisingly, the muddy sound is somewhat lacking, and by most accounts the album’s sessions were in disarray as nobody was there to take charge.
Still, the album that emerged from the drug rampant (nothing new there) sessions is in my opinion better than what has often been reported, though there are reasons why this album is often overlooked and is primarily remembered for three things: the anthemic title track, which was actually a chart disappointment (#16 U.S./#10 U.K.) but has since reached iconic status as a long time stage favourite, for being the first post-Miller album, and for being their last album with Mick Taylor. Though his fluid, graceful playing elevated certain Stones songs immeasurably, Taylor apparently never felt completely comfortable in the band, and he was rankled by not receiving what he felt were proper song writing credits.
His departure was a major loss for the band, what with him being their only traditional lead guitarist and quite simply the most talented player they ever had, but at least he makes his presence felt on It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll, which truth be told like Goats Head Soup is a pretty hit or miss affair. Still, there are few flat out bad songs on the album. Among the lesser songs is the leadoff track “If You Can’t Rock Me,” a funky riff rocker that never really catches fire, though it is still moderately enjoyable. “Luxury” has really annoying reggae affectations from Jagger, though at least it has some tasty riffing and is pretty catchy.
“Dance Little Sister” is a Stones-by-numbers boogie rocker, and “Short and Curlies” is another short boogie that’s among their silliest songs ever (my friend calls it “the dumb ‘she’s got you by the balls’ song”). Though I appreciate the ambitiousness that is too often lacking elsewhere, the funky wah wah infused “Fingerprint File” is also only semi-successful, in part because like several songs here this one is longer than necessary (6:30, to be exact). Still, it was tracks such as this one (whose paranoid lyrics I actually really like) and the earlier “Dancing With Mr. D” that paved the way for their later massive disco hit “Miss You.”
As for the songs I like, and again I don’t really dislike the lesser efforts, let’s start with their cover of The Temptations “Ain’t To Proud To Beg.” Well, it’s certainly better than the earlier “My Girl” (if not as good as the later “Imagination”), and it’s notable for a rare Richards (as opposed to Taylor) solo, but though it’s quite enjoyable the song’s mere presence indicates a certain cruise control mindset that permeated The Rolling Stones at this point. The band does seem to be trying their hardest on certain songs, such as on the classic title track, but this tune is very telling, too. Although tongue in cheek to a degree, Jagger’s provocative lyrics (i.e. “if I could stick a knife in my heart, suicide right on stage, would it be enough?..”) indicate that he feels put upon, that rock ‘n’ roll has become a job.
It’s only rock n’ roll, after all, he doesn’t need to do this anymore, but it pays the bills (handsomely) so he and his bandmates continue onwards. Heck, maybe I’m reading too much into it, and either way I certainly like the song’s slashing guitars, and it’s quite catchy and rocking (in a T. Rex sort of way) as well. As for other songs that I’d consider highlights, “Till The Next Goodbye” and “If You Really Want To Be My Friend” are two of the band’s better ballads. The former song is a twangy, regret-filled acoustic ballad on which Hopkins (whose elegant playing is all over the album) adds delicate decorations and Taylor also shines.
The 6-minute latter song is a soul ballad with support from the vocal group Blue Magic; the song takes awhile to get going, and it’s not as inspired as some of the churchier attempts on Exile, but it’s still quite enjoyable, with Taylor’s solo again providing the icing on the cake. Speaking of Taylor, his lack of a co-credit on the albums second best song, “Time Waits For No One,” which also exceeded 6 minutes, was reputedly the last straw that ensured his departure. One can see why, as even though Jagger supplies the philosophical lyrics, Taylor musically dominates the song with his beautiful soloing, though some critics had a point when they said that it sounded more like Santana than the Stones. This was in no small part due to percussionist Ray Cooper, who also has a significant presence throughout the album, though the horn section of Keyes and Price, recently so prominent, is mysteriously absent.
Anyway, on the whole this is an enjoyable album, but it’s also true that with this album, or maybe the previous one, The Rolling Stones became just another good working band whose transcendent peaks from here on in would be few and far between.
The critical consensus of It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll is unanimous, or about as unanimous as these things get. This is widely known as the worst Rolling Stones studio album of the ’70s. Of course, this being The Rolling Stones in the ’70s, that still means this album is pretty dang good, and it should be owned by Rolling Stones fans the world-round! Nevertheless, it hasn’t been since December’s Children that these guys have released something so woefully uneven.
The unfortunate thing about it is that it really shouldn’t have been a lacking album. It’s been touted by the band members as a return-to-form (which makes it about the third so-called return-to-form of their career this far), and they concentrate mainly on pure, Stones-style rock ‘n’ roll. Good for them, I say! Not that I didn’t love Goats Head Soup where they experimented pretty extensively with funk and mysticism, but when it comes right down to it, I’d prefer these guys spend their resources on a straight rock ‘n’ roll album. If it’s for no other reason, it’s because my favorite albums of theirs tend to be the ones with all the fun concert staples in it!
Unfortunately, despite their multiple attempts here, they only succeeded at creating one major concert staple, which is the title track. I remember they played this song at their concert I went to in 2006, and everyone joined in the chorus even though nobody could remember the verses. (That, by golly, is part of the criteria for a great rock ‘n’ roll concert song!) Keith, being the universe’s ultimate master of the riff, comes out with another one, and the guitars all throughout it are fantastic to behold. Indeed, it is a Rolling Stones classic. It might not be a “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” but that only goes to show us how great of a song “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” is!
The opening two numbers are pretty good would-be concert staples—they rock fine and they have good riffs—but they’re just not memorable. The melodies are not very striking, and they also seem to be played much more stiffly than a Rolling Stones song should. Where’s that legendary Rolling Stones drive? “Dance Little Sister” has a nice beat that you can dance to and it seems like it could have been morphed into a great Rolling Stones concert song, but it also never catches fire. There was something amiss going on with the Rolling Stones… My guess is they were worn out. Nobody can blame them for that.
I haven’t even talked about the bad stuff yet. “Short and Curlies” is a big old hunk of disappointment. It’s definitely an attempt at a good-time rock ‘n’ roll song, but all it does is flop around like a fish on the dock trying desperately to breathe water. The sluggish instrumentals don’t let it catch fire, and the simplistic melody is waaaay too dumb. I’m also scratching my head over the song called “Luxury,” which I suppose is supposed to be a melding of hard-rock and reggae. Er… I guess it could have been worse, but I don’t think I’m saying anything controversial when I say that these two genres go together about as well as boogars and fries.
There’s one ballad on here, which is a bit of a change from the previous album that had three. “Till the Next Goodbye” is very nicely written with a nice melody and pleasant instrumentation. It’s not greatly memorable and it certainly pales next to “Angie,” “Wild Horses,” etc. etc. etc., but it’s all in all quite a nice song. If you’re a fan of Rolling Stones’ ballads, yer gonna like it. Probably the real masterpiece of this album is the closing “Fingerprint File,” which shows us that even though their songwriting powers have gotten a little patchier since their heyday, they could still jam up a storm when they put their minds to it. That’s a terrific funk-inspired song that begins with a pretty devastating pop hook and an exciting lead vocal performance from Jagger, and it ends as a fast-and-furious funk-jam. The atmosphere it creates is almost as frightening and compelling as “Street Fighting Man,” and the tightly knit guitar groove they come up with is almost as mesmerizing as “Midnight Rambler.” Much more importantly, that song is just fun as hell to listen to! Good show, boys!!
I mentioned it above, but I feel it warrants a reiteration: Even though this is The Rolling Stones’ worst album of the ’70s, it’s still a very good album that I love listening to. In case you didn’t get this impression through the multiple Rolling Stones reviews I’ve written so far, I firmly believe that this is the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band that ever LIVED! They’re so awesome that pretty much everything they did deserves to be heard by you! (Sans some of their ’80s stuff. But even their ’80s stuff is pretty good. Relatively speaking, that is. I have reviewed Michael Bolton albums, lest you forget.)