Before I start joining the general chorus of violent rave-ups on the absolute greatness of Some Girls (rave-ups which are not that far from the truth, actually), I want to say that I really don’t know why this record is so much praised and Black And Blue so universally despised.
Because, to be fair, Black And Blue was a heartfelt, inspired, joyful groove with an experimental and even somewhat uncommercial edge, whereas Some Girls, immaculate as it is, is in its essence nothing but an excellently produced piece of pure commercial product. While Keith was dealing with his drug problems (the infamous Toronto bust of 1977 and the ensuing cold turkey), Jagger took the lead, listened to some contemporary music like the Ramones and the Sex Pistols and… er… Kool & The Gang? – and crafted this album.
It’s certainly brilliant, chockfull of hits and sustaining the level of energy and professionalism even throughout the more obscure songs, but it just don’t have that heartfelt feelin’ I’m a-likin’ the most. ‘Commercial’ is the word for it: it was obviously made up specially for the public, to show that it was yet too early to write the Stones off as ‘dinosaurs’ (there I go with that stupid word again) and that they could still find a niche among the younger generation while managing to sound steady, self-assured and definitely non-self-parodic.
In a stark contrast with the past, all the fast rockers on here are based not on the boogie formula, but on the punk rock one: ‘When The Whip Comes Down’ is, as its title implies, no sissyass love song, and both ‘Lies’ and ‘Respectable’ feature terrific guitar interplay between Keith and Ronnie set to (sometimes) completely gross lyrics.
The amazing thing is not that the Rolling Stones are perfectly comfy with their punk image – they really aren’t, as close listens to these tracks show that the band’s handling of the guitars is still way too professional and R’n’B-ish to be compared to the sloppy headbanging of Joey Ramone or Mick Jones – but that their strange ‘hybrid’ of R’n’B and punk perfectly combines the values of both genres. Just listen to the sonic hell of ‘Respectable’!
While Bill Wyman holds up the groove with the fast, rapid-fire bassline, a typical punkish ‘chainsaw’ guitar is holding up the rhythm – but instead of pushing that chainsaw sound into the foreground like most punks would do, they bury it slightly deeper into the background. Is it Mick pushing out the ‘chainsaw’ chords? He actually started playing guitar around that time himself, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it were him. On the other hand, the foreground features Keith in one speaker and Ronnie in the other, blazing off tremendous solos and isolated lead phrases off each other, and so the song has it all: standard punk energy from the chainsaw buzz and the classic Stones interplay from the two main guitarists.
On top of that, the lyrics – ‘Well now you’re a pillar of society/You don’t worry ’bout the things you used to be/You’re a rag tag girl you’re the queen of porn/You’re the easiest lay on the White House lawn’. They’re actually said to refer to Mick’s ex-wife, Bianca, but they can actually work as a standard misogynistic rant all the same.
And while we’re on the punkish thematics, what about ‘Shattered’, an incredible rap about the Big Apple? Although in the live set it was speeded up and actually worked better, it is still a fascinating tale about ‘laughter, dreams, and loneliness and (of course) sex and sex and sex!’ Don’t forget the wild (phased?) guitar tone and Charlie’s menacing beat on that one. And if you’re initially put off by Jagger’s barking and ragged phrases and sparse vocalizing, don’t worry: this is one case of ragged phrases that will definitely grow on you.
Still, the Stones would never be a typical punk band – and Some Girls captures just about every musical fad of the late Seventies. The ballads here are either disco (the wonderful ‘Miss You’, definitely one of the best disco songs ever written – and most certainly the best disco song ever written by a primarily non-disco band, putting those wrinkled Bee Gees guys to absolute shame) or more traditional guitarry Stones (‘Beast Of Burden’): both are classics and deservedly so.
The lack of true emotion in the former is compensated by catchy melodies and special vocal efforts by Mick, while the latter is essentially a guitar show – I can’t even start explaining what fascinates me so much about the playing on that song, but it’s the only number on Some Girls that gets me crying (and the live performance of the song is one of the few redeeming, and almost cathartic, factors of the infamous Let’s Spend The Night Together live video).
In addition to that, we have the controversial title track whose lyrics were the object of so much critique (‘black girls just wanna get fucked all night’), but, believe it or not, this is probably the only reason it was ever written. It’s the worst cut on here, actually: very weak melodically and very dependent lyrically.
Still, it’s all compensated with Keith’s ‘Before They Make Me Run’: if you try and ignore the whiny vocals, it’s actually a very good song about his conviction. ‘Far Away Eyes’ is a hilarious parody on redneck music, replete with Jagger’s Southern accent and mocking lyrics. And, finally, the cover of the Temptations’ ‘Just My Imagination’ is quite nice, although overlong.
Overall, this album gives the impression of a ‘special gift’: it reinstated the fans’ hopes in The Rolling Stones, started their ‘silver age’ and, even more important, solidified their status as Un-Old Farts among the newer generations. But, frankly speaking, I must state that whoever thinks this is a better album than Black And Blue should probably check up the meaning of the word ‘better’ in any dictionary he can find!
That’s not to denigrate Some Girls – rather, it’s just meant to give some credit to that unhappy period in the Stones’ mid-Seventies career that’s so often written off just because the media only went crazy for that old chainsaw buzz and disregarded everything else. To hell with the media.
The Rolling Stones were public enemy no.1 when punk rock arrived in 1976 and attempted to lay waste to the rock decadence evidenced on post-Exile On Main Street albums Goat’s Head Soup and It’s Only Rock N’ Roll, but the Stones weren’t beaten yet and in 1978 they released Some Girls and the result was ten short sharp songs incorporating rock, disco, soul and country.
Where else do you start your response to punk rock but with a disco song? The disco beat, the funky bassline, the four-to-the-floor drumbeat, the harmonica riff and Mick’s weary, horny voice sings “I’ve been holding out so long, I’ve been sleeping all alone, Lord, I miss you”. The gorgeous vocal as Mick takes an audio cold shower, trilling “oooh oooh oooh oooh” which turns increasingly into “aaah aaah aaah aaah”. However, Mick becomes increasingly desperate as the slinky wah-wah guitar comes in and he recounts a ‘phone call from a friend who wants “to come around twelve with some Puerto Rican girls who are just dying to meet you.”
Mick’s not interested and whines “oh, everybody waits so long!” before demanding “Won’t you come on! Come on!” The Rolling Stones were influenced by New York currently and in an echo of “Midnight Rambler” he breathes “I’ve been walking in Central Park, singing after dark, people think I’m crazy, I’ve been stumbling on my feet shuffling through the street, asking people, “What’s the matter with you boy?””. The instrumental break featuring sax from Mel Collins and Sugar Blue’s harmonica fits into the groove so well you can barely hear Ian McLagan’s electric piano.
Mick tries to trick himself into thinking she’s just another tease but he admits at the end, “Lord, I miss you child”.
Miss You is one the Stones’ best songs and a strong opener.
When The Whip Comes Down is more straightforward, a hard-rocking, raunchy riff from Keith before Mick, drowning in the sound, delivers a brilliant testimony of a rent boy but the music keeps assaulting him and obscures the subject just enough for radio play. The pedal steel guitar from new member Ron Wood is great before in the last minute, the thrash becomes a thunk and gathers new energy for a chaotic close.
A cover of the Temptations’ Just My Imagination (Running Away From Me) is next and it’s more up tempo than the original and the electric guitars are more prominent making it rougher and tougher, but it’s still a faithful and reverential version, in fact the Stones liked it so much it appeared on the 1982 live album Still Life.
If Some Girls was to out-punk the punks, the title track definitely steals The Stranglers’ crown of gross misogyny. Jagger drawls a list of racial stereotypes that utterly fails as a mockery of the stereotypes placed on women, as Jagger has stated as its intention. The only thing that saves it is the curious arrangement and strangulated harmonica solos.
Lies isn’t much better with its bitch-dissing, but the music speeds past you don’t care and strangely when Mick hollers “LIES, LIES, LIES, LIES!” it echoes the Sex Pistols’ “Liar”. Far Away Eyes is another unfunny piss-take, this time turning it onto the bible belt of the southern states of America, Mick putting on an ultra-sarcastic country drawl for the performance, despite Keith singing it on the demo. The strange thing is some of the very best Stones songs are country-based, “Honky Tonk Women”, “Wild Horses” and “Sweet Virginia” to name but three and Keith Richards’ own love of country and their friendship with Gram Parsons. Ron Wood delivers some of the best pedal steel guitar this side of Bakersfield. Maybe Some Girls was handbags-at-dawn for Mick and Keith.
Respectable is a breathless, rollicking 12-bar sprint in the style of earlier song “Bitch” and is usually heard as a slag-off of Mick’s wife Bianca. It’s also self-deprecating in its context, especially the line about shooting up with the President. The best thing is how it’s a real band effort, with Mick contributing guitar himself.
If you’ve read up to now, you’re probably wondering where Keith is, well his very own Before They Make Me Run is next and it’s one of the best on the album, a rousing rebel rock song about his riskier lifestyle choices and increasingly wizened appearance summed up when he sings “I wasn’t looking too good but I was feeling real well”.
Beast Of Burden is a hurt, glowering soul ballad which seems to be about begging a woman for a shag, especially the gorgeous trill of “You’re a pretty pretty pretty pretty pretty girl” but it was actually written as a “thank you” from Keith to Mick for giving him a shoulder during Keith’s drug problems in the mid-1970’s. You can take it straight with Mick’s self-questioning and defiance, though. Ron Wood also contributes a great solo.
The final track Shattered is almost post-modern in its punkishness and over a New York Dolls-like thrash Mick surveys the carnage, despite being from Dartford himself. The “people dressed in plastic bags directing traffic” are punks. However, when he hollers “ain’t you hungry for success, success, SUCCESS, SUCCESS! Does it matter?! Does it matter?” Yes, it does because “pride and joy and greed and sex, that’s what makes our town the best! Pride and joy and dirty dreams and still surviving on the street and look at me – I’m in tatters, yeah!” and he invites us to “go ahead, bite the Big Apple, don’t mind the maggots!”. The excellent backing vocal “shadoobie” is the cherry on top.
An example of Mick’s extraordinary ability to inhabit other personalities and one of Keith’s best riffs, it’s one the very best Stones songs and a brilliant and fitting closer to a superb album.
Some Girls is the best post-Exile On Main Street Stones album and an essential purchase.