Classic Rock Review

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According To The Rolling Stones by The Rolling Stones (2003)


The recent publication of “According to the Rolling Stones” to coincide with the Forty Licks Tour, is classic Stones-style media manipulation. Looking back over their career & my collection of Stones videos, books & CD’s, it is obvious that once again Jagger (& to a lesser extent, Richards) are attempting to revise their personal history and somehow cleanse themselves of their bad-boy image. This particular effort is the penultimate revision of a well-documented history.

From the outset, the choices made by the books’ editor (Dora Lowenstein, daughter of the financial advisor to the Stones, Prince Rupert Lowenstein) as to whom to include make it obvious this will be a trip thru the past brightly. The single most glaring omission is that of Bill Wyman; yes, he’s not currently a Rolling Stone, but one would think that 25+ years as an official Stone would count for something.

Obviously, Dora & Co. didn’t agree. Other omissions include Mick Taylor (only the spark for the finest Rolling Stones guitar interplay recorded), Andrew Loog Oldham (even Jagger/Richards admit they probably never would gone beyond the Crawdaddy Club without ALO), Bobby Keys (Keith’s best friend for many years & the leader of the Stones horn section since 1969) and the Stones women, past & present.

Marianne Faithfull & Anita Pallenberg were considered adjunct members of the Stones for many years, most of them the most productive and artistically satisfying of their career. The list of those Missing In Action could also include dead, but on-the-record Stones members such as Brian Jones and (especially missed!) Ian Stewart who was the original founder with Jones of the band. Stewart knew where all the bodies were buried, and never failed to take the Jagger/Richards egos down a peg or 10. Ian’s contributions to the Stones legacy are glossed over at best.

Instead, in the tween-chapters essays, we have represented two journalists (one of whom has no claim to any contact with any Stone at any time), Peter Wolf of J.Geils Band, Sheryl Crow, Prince Rupert and Ahmet Ertegun. Needless to say, their contributions tend more towards the sycophantic than the enlightening.

Many excellent photos, a number of them full-page, are reproduced here, but again, almost none of Wyman, and very few of those in the inner circle. The majority of the photos are (in descending order) Richards, Jagger, Watts & Wood. Poor Ronnie, although a Stone now since the mid-70’s, is still attempting to rationalize the fact that he has almost never been giving song-writing credit even when he was the primary catalyst of a riff.

The main pleasures of “According to the Rolling Stones” are hearing Charlie Watts speak out openly, especially concerning his period of substance abuse in the 80’s. He analyzes and philosophizes on many aspects of the Glimmer Twins collaboration, as well as the contributions of some of the more ignored members of the organization. It’s as much a pleasure to read Charlie’s words, as it is to hear his lovely, economical drumming.

Ronnie is his usual entertaining self, & Keith comes up with some classic quotes as usual. Jagger’s contribution is to once again prove what a jerk he’s become in the past 20 years. “Exile on Main Street” not a good album? Apparently Sir Mick thinks the sound too muddy. I hate to mention this, your Lordship, but you did start out as a blues band, after all. “Exile” is one of the greatest blues albums ever recorded by anyone.

The Mick of 1962 thru 72 would have adored this album. Just goes to show….(and of course, we all know what Mick’s solo work has sounded like). Mick is quoted at one point as justifying the Stones later work by saying “as long as it works live, that’s all that matters”. Keith, on the other hand, offers that he can’t stand playing such recent dreck as “Emotional Rescue” or “Undercover of the Night”. At least someone in the band still has some musical integrity left!

So there it is. “According to the Rolling Stones” won’t change anyone’s mind about any of the band members, although Mick & Dora might wish it would. I am just praying, that we, the “peeps” in the audience, won’t be subjected to a 50th Anniversary Tour/Commemorative Book. The thought of a 70 year old Sir Mick wiggling his geriatric fanny is really too grotesque to bear!

May 30, 2013 Posted by | Book According To The Rolling Stones by The Rolling Stones | , | Leave a comment

The Rolling Stones Brussels Affair (1973/2011)

61UmjLZ5zeLFrom The Guardian

One of my albums of the year has just arrived, and it pains me to say it’s by the Rolling Stones.

I know, merely mentioning them these days conjures up the acrid smell of their current incarnation, not even a shadow of a ghost of an imitation of their former selves. Moreover, they are maintaining the shameless and unsatisfactory burst of nostalgia that began with last year’s Exile on Main Street reissue, presumably to keep the money coming in while they decide whether or not to haul themselves around the planet for yet another tour. The latest superfluous item is this week’s re-release of the chronically overrated Some Girls. Fancy some 34-year-old out-takes not even good enough to be included on 1981’s odds-and-sods collection Tattoo You, spruced up with new Mick Jagger vocal parts? You really do not.

And so to the online side of their operation. has recently been launched, with the standard-issue promises that these days pass for white-knuckle rock excitement: “Unheard music”, “rare merchandise”, “signed lithographs”. But wait! By way of bringing all this to our attention, this new enterprise has begun with the online release of the 1973 live bootleg known as Brussels Affair – put to tape in the well-known R&B heartland that is Belgium, long whispered about as a glimpse of the group at their all-time onstage peak, and put up in fragments on YouTube. Not that anyone seems to have noticed, but it’s on sale for what currency converters today put at £4.46, which was enough to tweak my curiosity.

It is, as I half-expected, unimpeachably great: a beautifully recorded, often unhinged 70 minutes during which the Stones manage to sound like the Platonic ideal of a rock band: simultaneously tight, unhinged, absolutely convincing, and gloriously ludicrous. Stones lore has long held that even at their height, they could swing between being awful one night and inspirational the next, and what this recording proves is just how jaw-dropping the latter occasions could be.

At the risk of sounding like the man from Jazz Club, the bass and drums are so wonderfully lithe and interlocked as to sound supernatural. As opposed to his 21st-century habit of just about managing the riffs in between letting loose an open-tuned “clang” once in a while, Keith Richards’ rhythm guitar lives up to expectation and drives the whole band, while Mick Taylor’s soloing threads itself through the rest of the music with grace and understatement. Mick Jagger, looking back, was at the juncture beyond which lay pantomimic absurdity and a reluctance to sing in what you and I would recognise as English, but everything here is pitched exactly right: in between addressing the crowd in schoolboy French, he growls and hollers to pretty thrilling effect; on the slow songs, he’s simply great.

This was late 1973, when Goat’s Head Soup had just been released – and, according to retrospective received opinion, the Stones had exited the run of form that stretched from 1968 to 1972. To my mind, this view of things omits how good large swathes of GHS actually were, a point underlined here by versions of Dancing With Mr D, Star Star (or, if you prefer, Starfucker), Angie and Doo Doo Doo Dooo (Heartbreaker). The only shame is the non-appearance of Winter, one of my favourite Stones songs – though Taylor inserts hints of it into a gorgeous 11-minute reading of You Can’t Always Get What You Want, so all is well.

So, some concluding thoughts. Leaving aside a disappointing go at Gimme Shelter (which has never worked live, even then), Brussels Affair is better even than 1970’s Get Yer Ya Ya’s Out – and, unlike that record, apparently unsullied by post-production cheating. It shreds such other Stones in-concert albums as Love You Live, the woeful Still Life, and the even more miserable Flashpoint. Only one mystery hangs over the whole thing: why did they take the best part of 40 years to release it?

May 13, 2013 Posted by | The Rolling Stones Brussels Affair | | Leave a comment

Up And Down With The Rolling Stones by Tony Sanchez (1979)


Pretty much any book about the Rolling Stones in the 1970s, such as Robert Greenfield’s book on Exile on Main St, will mention Spanish Tony (he’s also named in the toilet graffiti on the cover of the Beggar’s Banquet album).

Tony Sanchez knew the Rolling Stones in swinging London in the 1960s, meeting first Brian Jones, and then the rest of the band, their hanger-ons and girlfriends, various other rock stars like John Lennon (who used to badger him for drugs) and Eric Clapton. Sanchez is often described as the Stones’ favourite drug dealer, although Sanchez never admits to dealing drugs, preferring to describe himself as someone who used to help the Stones get their drugs (while eventually also becoming a junkie himself). The book was likely ghost written by someone else, as it seems unlikely that Tony himself would have had the skill to turn some of the better phrases and descriptive passages of the book himself, or the socio-political commentaries that litter the book. First published in 1979, but updated to include Ron Wood’s wedding in 1985 and Bill Wyman’s marriage and divorce in 1989 and 1993 respectively, the book has a lot of overlap with Bill Wyman’s Stone Alone, published in 1991. Some reports say that Sanchez died in 2000.

The book contains very little information about Sanchez’s background, other than that he really was Spanish, and that he had cousins and other family members involved in organised crime; a wife and a child are mentioned. He also only appears in two of the many photos in the book. Sanchez apparently, ran the Rolling Stones’ night club Vesuvio for a time, before becoming Keith’s hired man. Otherwise, the whole book is about the Rolling Stones.

Not so many real revelations here, other than some description of the bands’ dabbling in the occult and black magic, with Anita Pallenberg especially becoming involved in curses. Sanchez claims that she once mopped up the blood of a man who was dying after being hit by a car, using the rag with the dried blood to curse others – seems that the blood of a man dying of violence having powerful magical qualities. He also tells strange tales of Kenneth Anger, who hung out with the band at one point, teleporting in and out of their meetings (Sanchez also tells weird tales of Aleister Crowley’s life, including his battle for control of a magical society from head warlock Samuel Mathers). According to Sanchez, the phrase “Get Yer Ya-Yas Out”, the title of the Stones’ live album of 1969, “is based on a phrase which recurs regularly in African Voodoo”.

Then there is the rise and fall of so many strange relationships (both Anita and Marianne Faithfull sleeping with at least three of the Stones – Brian, Keith and Mick… surely they would have slept with Bill too, though, right?), a few weddings, great bits about the power of Bianca Jagger, Brian’s wooing of Jerry Hall away from Bryan Ferry and their eventual Hindu wedding in Bali. He also talks about Brian Jones’ secret passion for buses, with an encyclopedic knowledge of bus models, sometimes sneaking out to go bus spotting, even going so far as to buy full buses for his collection! Sanchez writes a bit about Mick Taylor, although he derides him as having “about as much character as Bill Wyman (and you can’t have much less than that)”, putting down both Stones in one shot. Incidents that are described in Greenfield’s book on Exile on Main St and in Keith’s book Life are also mentioned here, in slightly different forms. Greenfield has open contempt for Sanchez in his book, but Sanchez only mentions Greenfield neutrally. Sanchez describes Keith and Anita as regularly turning people on to cocaine, and the linked drug heroin (when cocaine brings you up too high, you need heroin to bring you back to sanity), adding to the pile of 1970s junkies.

The interesting parts of the book are where Sanchez talks about the state of mind of the Stones, and how they were dealing with their increasing fame and power, and also how their lives became a combination of severe persecution by legal authorities and immunity to the law. One example Sanchez gives is that of Keith Richards on one US tour being supplied by the tour’s sponsors with a steady supply of pure pharmaceutical heroin so that he wouldn’t need to chase it from outside parties, any one of which could be sent from a US authority intent on busting the band. In other busts the band “got lucky” and police didn’t prosecute, nor did they get thorough searches any more in the 1970s. Sanchez has great descriptions of the madness surrounding the 1967 drug trials, and offers one interesting quote from Mick Jagger:

In the year 2000, no one will be arrested for drugs and those sorts of things. It will be laughable, just like it would be laughable if people were still hanged for stealing sheep. These things have to be changed, but it takes maniacs obsessed with individual microcosmic issues to bring it about. I could be ever so obsessed about the drugs thing, and if I really worked hard at it, I might speed up the process of reform by perhaps ten years or five years or perhaps only six months. But I don’t feel that it’s important enough.

Well, obviously it was important enough to ramble on about. But it’s now well past the year 2000, and Jagger’s prediction hasn’t come to pass. Sanchez also says that Jagger was at one point nearly tempted to enter politics and run for a Labour party seat, but decided against it and remained a rock `n’ roll ringleader preaching entertainment and potty humour instead of revolution.

One area where Sanchez diverges from Wyman is in matters of money, and it seems that Mick and Keith and Bryan had millions at their disposal in the 1960s, while Wyman contended that management choked off any real money. But maybe it was different for Brian, Mick and Keith.

The book is still full of typos, despite having been published by many different publishers in various editions over the years (you’d think that they would have cleared these up by now). Early on, Sanchez calls Keith Richards “Richard” instead of Richards, then he talks about the “Rolling Stones roch and roll circus”. When recounting the death of Gram Parsons, he talks about the crazed fan, Philip “Kafuran”, who snatched Parsons’ body, although the fellow’s name was Kaufman. Weird.

May 9, 2013 Posted by | Book Up And Down With The Rolling Stones by Tony Sanchez | , | Leave a comment

The Rolling Stones Hot Rocks 1964-1971 (1971) review by Lester Bangs

the%20rolling%20stones%20-%20hot%20rocksFrom Lester Bangs Rolling Stone

It would be nice to be able to call it something like The Rolling Stones’ Golden Decade, for the Stones have been the most enduringly prolific highwire act of their time, both reflecting and surpassing the era with a deadly accuracy that can make them seem more dangerous than they really are. But somehow this album merely falls into that venerable Stones tradition of supra-throwaway albums, collections like December’s Children and Flowers that by their very slapdash cynicism validate themselves and charm us into feeling that they’re as sure a representation of the Stones ethos as brand-new and more unified efforts like Let It Bleed.

Hot Rocks (London 2PS 606-7) is even crasser than Flowers and Children, because it’s the first Stones album on which every track has been represented on albums previously released in this country. Some of them, in fact, like “Let’s Spend the Night Together,” are on their fourth go-round. So in part Hot Rocks is, however beautifully packaged, a purely mercenary item put together by the Stones’ former record company to cash in on the Christmas season and wring some more bucks out in the name of the Mod Princes they once owned.

As historical document of Greatest Hits culling, Hot Rocks takes almost no chances, and if the Stones or London sometimes display an unexpected sense of what may be the band’s most important statements (as in the inclusion of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”), there is also much left out. The absence of “Lady Jane” makes sense in the light of its being on three albums already and not that good in the first place, and considerations of space make “Not Fade Away’s” freezeout seem reasonable until you reflect on how severely the derivative but vital R&B (their best work, really, until Let It Bleed) of their first five albums has been under-represented here. Maybe it’s sensible to cut “The Last Time” in favour of its flip side “Play With Fire,” but the absence of “It’s All Over Now” fairly glares at you.

Either “She’s a Rainbow” or the great, roaring “Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow” would have been more fun than the always lame “As Tears Go By” and the socially incisive but musically slight “Mother’s Little Helper,” both of which were included. And “We Love You,” the brilliant “jail-single” of the summer of ’67 which may be the most musically adventurous thing the Stones have ever recorded, has never been on an album released in this country (There are also the great B sides like “Who’s Drivin’ My Plane,” “Child of the Moon” and “Sad Day,” but they deserve a different sort of album. Maybe someday they’ll get it.)

So when we look past the magnificent cover depicting the Stones in their numerous roles as ragtag rogues of Merrie Olde, Tangierian travellers, fashion plates, etc., what do we find? The evolution of a rock & roll band from superlative interpreters of mostly borrowed R&B in a style that was never far from pop, to being pop artists, philosophers and social commentators couching their vision and fantasies in a style that seldom gets all that far away from R&B.

The Stones have never been far from Chuck Berry stylistically, and in the beginning he was as predominant an influence as Ray Charles was for the early Eric Burdon and Joe Cocker. But the Berry-Diddley-Jimmy Reed phase of the Stones’ genesis is overlooked in favor of two songs deriving much more from the traditions of uptown soul and pop. Nevertheless, “Time is on My Side” and “Heart of Stone” are vintage Stones, with the arrogant persona that is largely the subject of the first half of their career and the first half of this album already emerging unmistakably, and cemented in “Play With Fire,” first entry in the Stones’ continuing sometime dalliance with the folk traditions of their native land. “As Tears Go By” derives from those traditions too, but in much more cornball fashion, and one imagines the Stones could have only recorded it to prove they could carry it off, Delsey tissue strings and all.

The crucial thread running through almost all of the Stones’ early work, and much of what has followed, is the tension in the alternation of themes of utter arrogance and disdain, and of the sense of ennui and frustration deriving from living, however highly, in these desperate times. “Get Off Of My Cloud” brought the former razzberry to a pinnacle of derisive noise that many, including Jagger himself, found excessive, while “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” was, of course, the primal and perhaps still definitive statement of the latter condition. The balancing of these two senses is at once the strength and limitation of the Stones: strength, because nothing is more universal now than boredom and dissatisfaction and the Stones’ particular brand of charismatic swagger has been affected by more adolescents than any other posture of the generation: limitation, since yesterday’s outrageous strut is today’s cornball signal to get the hook, and keeping a sure grasp on the shifting modes in malaise o’ the day is one of the most difficult feats for any artist to maintain in this fast-mutating era.

The Stones have maintained, of course, radiating a semblance of constant change while mainly just reworking the most tried-and-true elements in their arsenal. Along the way, they’ve juiced up the process by turning now and then from their narcissistic role to cast a caustic eye at the society around them, as in “Mother’s Little Helper,” and borrowing whatever was handily trendy, from the sitar in “Paint It Black” to the Memphis horns in “Brown Sugar” and Sticky Fingers, to garnish their basic sound. And, in “Let’s Spend the Night Together” they brought the stud role to a double-entendre — whether the song is actually about sex or about being too wired to make it and knowing that nothing needs to be proved anyway — as brilliant as the utter sexist dominance of “Under My Thumb” is devastating. “Let’s Spend the Night Together” also represented the apotheosis of noise evolved into an arrangement of perfect clarity and unorthodox form, and effortlessly pushing, pulsating, almost mechanical sound that could go on forever.

It’s on the second record of Hot Rocks, however, that the big thematic shift in the Stones’ music becomes unmistakable. Almost all of the previous songs had been in a more or less tangible sense autobiographical, but now the ongoing persona ballooned into something at once stranger, more surrealistic and yet perhaps more universal. “Jumping Jack Flash” was unmistakably Mick Jagger, but also a creature of myth, a new mask to wear. “Sympathy For the Devil” cemented this process, of course, and helped give the Stones the “bad-vibes” patina which led so many to lay the blame for Altamont solely at their feet.

Always theatrical, the Stones had found a way of moulding their basic profile into and out of various synonymous figures. We always sensed that they were basically lower-class street-punks who used to get out and mix it up on Friday nights, even if it may not have been entirely true, but not until “Street Fighting Man” did they take the trouble to play out the role in the most overt fashion possible, and what was even better was that the time was ripe for them to do it in the fashionable context of revolution. They can hardly be blamed for not following through politically, since, just like Dylan and most of the other giants in this business, they are basically involved in finding roles, playing them out and projecting them, and then moving on to new ones. And at least they never pretended, as Lennon does today, to be doing more than that. Listening to “Midnight Rambler” still gives me chills today, but I hardly think Mick Jagger thinks of himself as “a proud Black Panther.”

So the Stones, beginning with Beggar’s Banquet, moved into a strong new phase where they are beginning to let their fantasies run free, and, if something like “Memo From Turner” from Performance is any indication, Jagger may have even darker dreams than “Midnight Rambler” in store. Unhealthy, perhaps, but undeniably pertinent.

The other, and even more important, recent phase is the Stones’ interest in songs, the kind of triumphs hinted at in “Satisfaction” and “Mother’s Little Helper,” that deal in searingly explicit terms not just with sexual conceits and power fantasies, but with the conditions under which all of us are living today. “Gimme Shelter” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” may be the two most crucial and enduring things ever laid on wax by this band; certainly they demonstrated an unprecedented maturity, a view of the world as it is and a promise that the Stones’ most vital work may well lie ahead of them. And even the much maligned “Brown Sugar” is an almost perfect crossbreed song in the new Stones vocabulary, combining a forceful picture of colonial racism with another Jagger fantasy which has offended some people but strikes with undeniable power.

The direction of the Stones’ future is clear, though perhaps less predictable than ever before. I doubt if they’ll ever stop writing songs like “Bitch” and “Live With Me” any more than they’ll ever stop copping licks from Chuck Berry. It doesn’t matter. They are the most creative and self-sustaining rock & roll band in history, and, despite what some observers say, not tired at all yet. “Gimme Shelter,” “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” and “Brown Sugar” point the way, and if Jagger & Co. are perhaps the most decadent or even, in the words of some, evil of our heroes, they also have the surest grasp of who we are and where we are going. The Stones will not quail from reflecting it; it’s up to us to do something about it.

May 8, 2013 Posted by | The Rolling Stones Hot Rocks 1964-1971 | | Leave a comment

The Rolling Stones It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (1974)

The Rolling Stones - It's Only Rock and Roll (1974)From

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.

May 7, 2013 Posted by | The Rolling Stones It's Only Rock n Roll | | 1 Comment

Mick Taylor Mick Taylor (1979)


Mick Taylor’s solo debut is surprisingly good. No, I mean it, really: not ‘great’ or ‘groundbreaking’ or ‘amazing’, just a good, normal, inoffensive record that would be heavily recommended for Stones fans and, of course, especially Stones fans of the Taylor period.

To tell you the truth, I never even expected that quality; in his Stones days, the only thing Mick excelled in was immaculate soloing, and I was really somewhat afraid that, being separated from the Riffmeister’s basis and Jagger’s sly hooks, Taylor would just go down the drain. In a certain sense, he did: Mick Taylor was his only complete solo album with original studio material that he had recorded until the very recent A Stone’s Throw, and most of the other time you almost heard nothing of him.

He sometimes rose out of the mist to play with Dylan (esp. on his Infidels album and the supporting tour, check out Bob’s Real Live for that), and on one occasion he even reunited with the Stones on stage, resulting in a concert whose quality is universally panned by fans (on the 1981 tour). And later on, he had a few remarkable (or unremarkable) collaborations with Carla Olsson, but that’s not being discussed at the time.

Anyway, this debut album will pose quite a few surprises for the listener. Out of nine songs, four are instrumentals, and the other five are pleasant pop/roots-rock tunes featuring Mick on vocals. Now he may not have a great voice, and actually, people like to bring on the vocals as the downside of the record, but I find few problems with that – his singing never really grates on you, and he’s got enough of a human touch to sound convincing on numbers like ‘Leather Jacket’ or ‘Baby I Want You’. In fact, sometimes I could easily describe him as a ‘Dylan without the hoarse’; that’s not a compliment, because ‘Dylan without the hoarse’ is actually not too interesting, but it’s not a putdown either.

And the songwriting is tons of fun. He follows the Stones in trying to diversify his approach while at the same time never really venturing out of ‘normal’ rock – cool experimentation you will find NOT. But he takes on several distinct genres and sounds self-assured and steady in most. ‘Leather Jacket’ is the most Dylanish tune on the album, a soulful folk rocker with a warm, live guitar tone and a catchy structure – I can easily imagine that one in the hands of the Bobster as one of the better tracks on something like Planet Waves. ‘Alabama’ steers us into country, and it contains a major misfire in its lyrical content: I can almost imagine Mick punching his head and trying to bash out something that would come out as ‘authentic’ and failing. Instead, he turned to Colin Allen to provide the lyrics, and the dude couldn’t come up with anything better than ‘only halfway through Louisiana/on my way home to Alabama’. Ooh, that rhyme makes my hair stand on end. Luckily, Mick compensates for it by inserting a marvelous, inflammatory guitar solo recalling some of his work on Exile On Main St.

‘Baby I Want You’ probably has some Dylan influences, too, but eventually it comes out as a slick pop song in the vein of, say, something Christine McVie used to write (he even shares the fabulous ‘McVie intonation’!) That’s okay; I’m a big fan of good old Chris, and if Mick had been listening to a little Mac on his way through the record, well, that’s… you know… that’s good. What else can I say? The guitar is fine and pleasant, the vocal melody is enthralling, and the rhythm is held all the way through. It’s better than some of Keith Richards’ balladeering stuff, that’s for sure.

Now ‘Broken Hands’ is more or less the only Stones-sounding track on here – a typical Exile-era rocker underpinned with ferocious slide rhythms and absolutely Stones-like electric licks. Actually, the number it reminds me most of all isn’t any Exile track, but rather ‘Hand Of Fate’ off Black And Blue: some licks are almost played in the same way as on that song, and even the guitar solo is similar. That’s all the more funny since I have no information about ‘Hand Of Fate’ being a Taylor era outtake (remember that Black And Blue was recorded already after Taylor had left). Did they conceive the song pre-1975 with Taylor taking the idea with him as he was quitting? Or did he just rip it off from Black And Blue post factum? Feedback, please! Finally, ‘S.W.5’ returns us back to folk-rock territory, and it’s a good number, this time highlighted by Jean Roussell’s piano and a high-pitched solo guitar.

Now I actually have mixed feelings about the instrumentals – don’t even know why, they’re all quite solid. Maybe it’s because I was expecting some tremendous guitar heroics but didn’t get it? I mean, ‘Slow Blues’ bloozes along nicely, but is it all that special? Not at all. ‘Spanish’, at seven and a half minutes, drags on for too long, and while at times it does give us Mick playing, well, Spanish, it can’t really overshadow his Santana stylizations on ‘Can’t You Hear Me Knocking’. And I don’t particularly care for the piano-dominated ‘A Minor’, either, nice as it is. I suppose this has a lot to do with my passion for Steve Hackett and his Spectral Mornings of the same year – an album in which the man clearly demonstrated that the possibilities of the electric guitar were not yet entirely spent. Taylor, on the other hand, just often plays generic muzak, forgettable ear-candy that’s good for one seance and that’s about it.

That said, I really enjoy ‘Giddy Up’. It’s not too long, it rocks, and with that marvelous descending guitar riff, it just might qualify as my favourite number from the album. It doesn’t pretend to be ‘highly emotional’, like ‘Spanish’, and it doesn’t entirely rely on cliched blues formulas like ‘Slow Blues’; it just contains a brilliantly constructed solo that flows perfectly, never grates, and, I suppose, is a great thing for beginning solo players to learn. One thing I always liked Taylor for when he was in the Stones was his inventiveness with his instrument – he was always able to find new fascinating chord progressions and arrange them without having to rely to Hendrix- or Townshend-type gimmicks (in this he qualifies as my second-best preferred guitarist of the type after John Fogerty), and this is the track that best proves this on the album.

Ah, well. ‘I believe it’s time to go’. Kudos to Mick for not really disappointing us. I don’t know anything about his backing band (except that one of the drummers was an ex-member of the British prog-rock Gong, if you’re interested), so I won’t be naming them – what’s in a name, after all? Unless that name is Mick Taylor, of course. Recorded at the Rolling Stones Mobile, by the way – what a friendly gesture.

May 6, 2013 Posted by | Mick Taylor Mick Taylor | | Leave a comment

The Rolling Stones Black And Blue (1976)


Badly, badly, oh so badly, underrated. The trademark Stones’ ‘groove’ album, Black And Blue doesn’t have any concept, any message, frankly speaking, it doesn’t even have too many songs – just eight, and most of them are grooves. Okay, so it’s obvious that the Stones gave up on “messages” two or three albums ago (depending on your personal views), but nowhere is this so blatantly obvious as on Black And Blue that ‘it’s only rock’n’roll but I like it’ indeed. Only ‘Hand Of Fate’ and ‘Memory Motel’ can be treated as serious compositions brought to finish, and even then they’re not very typical.

Recorded in 1975, right after Mick Taylor got the message (or, rather, sent it – nobody still understands quite well what brought Mick to this decision exactly), this was a serious mess: tons of session players arriving and departing, lots of other friends like Billy Preston visiting, so that in the end you hardly hear the Stones themselves. You can actually see Ronnie Wood, the band’s new guitar player, on the back cover of the album, but there’s not that much Ronnie on the album: at the time of the sessions, he was just another in a series of persons invited for ‘guitar audition’, which included Harvey Mandel of Canned Heat fame, Wayne Perkins, Ronnie (all of which you can hear on selected tracks here), and – as rumours say – even both Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton, although I can’t really confirm that. It wasn’t until Ronnie’s previous band, the Faces, had officially split up at the end of 1975, that he took up the official position, and so most of the guitar work here falls on the shoulders of Mr Richards, making it a Let It Bleed of sorts. Joking, of course.

Despite all this, the resulting album was surprisingly strong. The typical accusation is that the compositions don’t really go anywhere – for the most part, things like ‘Hot Stuff’, ‘Melody’ or ‘Hey Negrita’ just represent the band having mindless fun in the studio. But don’t forget that this is not just any band: this is the Rolling Stones, and nobody can make a silly groove and turn it into a near-breathtaking experience as efficiently as these guys. The entire album feels so homely and cozy, as if the band were just sitting in a corner of your living-room and jamming away and you were there watching ’em and admiring ’em.

And if you ever complained of the ‘post-classic’ Stones albums being too slick and polished, here’s ample proof that this wasn’t really that obligatory. That’s not to say the album feels too rough or too underproduced: not at all. All the instruments are firmly in place, and the sound is crystal clear, allowing us to hear basically everything that’s going on, every single little grunt from Jagger and every single little guitar pluck from Keith. This is the Rolling Stones gracefully allowing us into the midst of their creative activities, and at the same time making the final product more ‘artsy’ and accessible.

Another interesting feature is that Black And Blue might just be the most diverse piece of product in the entire Stones catalog – apparently, with the controls set to ‘jam mode’, the Glimmer Twins paid no attention to the exact genre they were practicing. Out of the eight numbers, no two ones fall into the same category, and thus you’ll probably hate at least something on here. But hey, that’s what eclectic people like me are for – I’m perfectly able to identify with every one of these eight songs, and consider this album – together with Satanic, though that one was an entirely different affair – ample proof that the band was always able to reach far further than the ‘rootsy’ tag stuck on them by those who can’t see very far.

Let’s just have a brief overview to prove that. ‘Hot Stuff’ is the band’s first (but definitely not the last) excursion into the world of disco, with a complete mastery of the form – the main guitar riff upon which the groove hangs is impeccably creative, plus Harvey Mandel adds some wonderfully fuzzed-out guitar solos that make your head go round. Let not the length bother you – remember, disco grooves were supposed to be long (‘Love To Love You Baby’, anyone?). Then, a radical change of style with ‘Hand Of Fate’, a desperate bluesy rocker, a fine and passionate vocal performance from Mick, and Wayne Perkins’ ringing solos making a near-perfect replacement for Mick Taylor.

Then – another radical change of style with a reggae sendup, ‘Cherry Oh Baby’, which seems to be one of the band’s most universally despised songs, but I don’t really get why so many people pretend to take this obviously parodic, tongue-in-cheek, goofy number so seriously. I just go wild over the ‘yeh-ay-yeah-ay-yeah-a-a-yeah-a-a-yay-yays’ which might be the funniest moment on the album. And finally, another radical change of style with the moving epic ballad ‘Memory Motel’ with both Jagger and Richards at the piano. This one can bring you to tears.
And that’s just the first side.

The second side opens with the Latin-tinged rockin’ groove ‘Hey Negrita’ (Ronnie Wood’s participating – the first example of the classic Richards/Wood interplay), continues with the oddball jazz sendup ‘Melody’ (Billy Preston on keyboards) that’ll definitely have you caught up in all the fun with a terrific ‘chaotic’ coda, and culminates in the cute ‘soft-pop’ ballad ‘Fool To Cry’, which some also despise because it reminds them of Barry Manilow, but hey, once again, people just don’t feel the tongue-in-cheek character of the song. Hint hint hint: pay closer attention to the lyrics. Another hint hint hint: listen to Jagger’s wailings of ‘I’m a fool baby yeah’ at the end of the number, which is pure delight. Last hint: pay close attention to Keith Richards’ neat tricks on the guitar. The line which leads from the last refrain into the coda (right before Jagger starts wailing ‘I’m a fool’) is what I’d characterize as ’emotional killer’. And we fizzle out with a bombastic glam-rocker, ‘Crazy Mama’, which is more Slade than Stones, but since I have nothing against Slade, that’s all right by me.

As a deep lover of diversity – particularly successful diversity – I have no other choice but to give the album a 13. Simply put, this is one of the finest ‘lightweight’ albums in existence, and I applaud the Stones, and Mick in particular, for deciding to let it out as it was, without over slicking the performances and without depending too much on contemporary fashion to avoid any possible accusations of ‘bandwagon-jumping’. I don’t care that the songs are underdeveloped or unfinished, because this is what they’re meant to be – the record is so deeply adequate it almost hurts. This (and not It’s Only Rock’n’Roll) is a fine and respectable swansong to the Mick Taylor era, and no Stones lover should overlook it. As they – unfortunately – often do.

May 6, 2013 Posted by | The Rolling Stones Black And Blue | | Leave a comment

The Rolling Stones Let It Bleed (1969)


All right – if bleed we must, then let it bleed, guys! This album is bleeding so strong that it gets my vote for the best Stones album ever and one of the greatest rock albums ever made by mortal man. Brian Jones was already gone by that moment (he’s credited for harp playing on ‘Midnight Rambler’, but that’s an embarrassment), and Mick Taylor still hadn’t quite arrived, so Mick and Keith get the praises for this album. Nine songs on here, each one a small independent world, and even if the album is structured as close to a rip-off of Beggar’s Banquet as possible, it’s no big problem.

What I like about it especially is that everything is taken in the right proportion, every single idea is developed up to complete perfection and never overdone. The long songs are not boring, the short songs are not over lengthened, the sexy show-off and obscenity is still limited to a fairly sufficient amount (at this point they were still using metaphors to conceal the Rude and the Raunchy), and the melodies are even more well-crafted than those on Banquet!

First of all, it features two of the darkest and dreariest songs ever. ‘Gimme Shelter’ is a song about storms and floods (very convenient at the time, too, since everybody took it as an anti-Vietnam War protest song), set to a spooky Keith guitar line and backed up with scary vocals, plus Mick is aided by Mary Clayton whose angry, gospelish vocals on the chorus really give this song an epic feel. Indeed, the Stones aren’t really known for their ‘epic’ renditions, but if there is one definite epic to the Stones’ catalog, that would be ‘Gimmie Shelter’, the most ominous, dreary and shiver-sending piece of music they ever did – in fact, it might as well be the spookiest, the most dread-inducing piece of music I’ve ever heard. Black Sabbath can kiss my ***; compared to this, all their Satanism and darkness sports a blatantly goofy and fake character. Unfortunately, in my opinion, the Stones never mastered a truly impressive live rendition of it – because it is hardly possible to imagine the song without its storm-imitating production.

‘Midnight Rambler’, on the other hand, is a much more ‘intimate’ song: it features almost seven minutes of pure thrill, during which Mick sings some mean lyrics about a maniac killer, plays some terrifying harp lines, and leads us through a slow mid-section punctuated by acute drum bursts before speeding up again and ending up with the lines: ‘…I’ll stick my knife in your throat baby and it hurts!’ Cute, isn’t it? Just don’t play this song around midnight if you’re one weak-hearted person! This one, on the contrary, got several quite superior live renditions, primarily the one captured on Ya-Ya’s. Here, however, it again sounds different, with a spooky ‘midnight’ atmosphere: the harp lines often end up sounding like a wolf howling, and the dreamy, subtle guitars are frightening! How atmospheric!

Ballads-wise this is one super album, too. ‘Love In Vain’ is a great old blues cover, with Ry Cooder (wasn’t it?) on mandolin, and it’s oh so oh so oh so beautiful. Keith unearthed it from the Robert Johnson archives, and somehow perceived the beauty of it – but, while I haven’t heard the original, I may have to suppose that the true potential of the song was only unearthed by these Brit boys. The mandolin is tear-inducing, and its interaction with the gentle, soft slide guitars creates one of the most hard-hitting emotional masterpieces the Twentieth Century has seen. And if that’s not enough, there’s also the very first song featuring Keith on lead vocals for all its entirety: ‘You Got The Silver’ is a touching and nice ballad, tons better than all the weird wailing stuff he’s been throwing at us since Goats’ Head Soup. This one is really catchy and memorable, and not any less heartfelt or moving.

Then, just to remind you that this was still 1969, and not 1998 or anything, there is still that old psychedelic line hanging around. ‘Live With Me’, for instance, is a terrific rocker with simply crazy lyrics. Some say that the lines ‘my best friend he shoots water rats/And feeds ’em to his geese’ refers to some of Keith’s habits at his Redlands residence; regardless of this, the song features a ferocious bass line and the first ever saxophone solo by Bobby Keyes whom you still can see walking around these RS fellows even now. And ‘Monkey Man’ lyrics wise belongs to Satanic, not here; however, Keith’s riffing is so mature here compared to those earlier days! Ronnie Wood is said to have admitted the riff on ‘Monkey Man’ is his favourite Keith riff of all time; I may not agree with him, but I sure can understand him, as it was somewhere around this time that Mr Richards really turned into that aggressive riffage machine that we all know and love him for.

Any social comments? Sure! There’s the title track, which says anybody can bleed on Mick if he’s not feeling right, and the closing ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ is probably a bit overlong because of the lengthy chorus section in the introduction, but it really don’t matter much to me: yet another great song, ’tis all. And to top it off – we have a re-mastered ‘Honky Tonk Women’ presented as a country ditty (which, by the way, was the original design; as far as I know, the ‘hard rockin” version owns its existence to Mick Taylor)! And it works, even with the silly fiddle replacing the guitar: it’s a pity they never tried this version onstage. Due to the lack of fiddle, perhaps?

Any further proof that this is the Stones’ finest moment? Well, see, this album is so great there is no obvious classic on it, no outstanding piece overshadowing all the others. Beggar’s Banquet? ‘Sympathy For The Devil’! Sticky Fingers? ‘Brown Sugar’! Exile? ‘Tumbling Dice’! All of these tracks symbolize the entire record. While no track from Let It Bleed ever entered the Stones’ ‘golden stage dozen’: occasionally, ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ entered their encore set, but I wouldn’t call it a ‘crowd-pleasing’ number all the same. But that’s not because they’re inferior: it’s just impossible to choose. Still, most of these tracks (except ‘Country Honk’, naturally, and, for some strange reason, ‘You Got The Silver’) got enough onstage play – even ‘Monkey Man’ was unearthed for the 1994-5 tour, and it was great!

So go ahead – if you don’t own this record, rush out to buy it and you’ll be glad you did. This album closes off the Sixties, and still stands as one of rock music’s greatest accomplishments.

May 6, 2013 Posted by | The Rolling Stones Let It Bleed | | Leave a comment

A Journey Through America With The Rolling Stones by Robert Greenfield (1974)


Review Greenfield also wrote a book about the Stones’ Exile on Main Street sessions, a flawed tome about a fascinating moment in rock `n’ roll history (perhaps the most fascinating). And while that book has been derided and mocked somewhat, I somehow learned more about the Stones in it than I did in this book, which I had high hopes for but which ultimately disappointed me with its shapelessness and its many, many “who cares moments”.

The book hardly features the Stones, going more into the setup of touring, the mechanics of it, the madness, the insanity, the transportation and some of the parties. In this way, it’s a bit like some sort of nutty rock `n’ roll staging Apocalypse Now, complete with its very own new journalism McGuffin. There are a few incidents recounted, such as a scuffle with a photographer and an arrest in Rhode Island as Boston burns (the book’s most dramatic, feel-good moment). There’s the opening of the tour in Vancouver, the dates in San Francisco and hanging out with Bill Graham (who Greenfield has also written a biography of), there’s encounters with kids queuing up to buy tickets and girls like Cynthia and Jo-Ann, who are hitch hiking between shows; there’s the boredom and insanity of being in the middle of nowhere and there’s groupies like Renee being set up for the risque parts of the film that Robert Frank is making during the tour – hey, he gets as much screen time as any of the other principals. Greenfield quotes Charles Bukowski, on Mick Jagger, in the LA Free Press:

He tried. And he was wonderful. He spilled more blood on that floor than a five thousand-man army but he didn’t make it. He’d been tricked into acceptance… He was tired. He was too much money in. He was too famous. He sucked at the crowd He tried to remember how it was when he first worked it. How it was when he was really and purely real…

The book mistakenly notes that Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham had forced Bill Wyman to change his name from Bill Perks, I remember him saying in his autobiography that he’d done this on his own even before he joined the Rolling Stones. Nice interviews with Charlie Watts. Not much about Mick Taylor, who is still a mystery man. Printing goof-up on P137.

Transporting the Stones to parties, moving from city to city, getting stuck in traffic, all the mundanities of being on tour. Great description of life at Hugh Hefner’s Mansion in Chicago, including a reproduction of memos to the bunnies. Funny Truman Capote anecdotes (“They’re complete idiots… Intuition tells me they’ll never tour this country again, and in fact will not exist in three years.”), since he was there as a writer (although he decided later not to write the story he was preparing), Terry Southern also. Nice anecdotes with Bobby Keys about his days working with Buddy Holly, Bobby Vee, and Delaney and Bonnie. Greenfield describes a cool Keys anecdote of his days on the road with Vee, rehearsing in Moorhead, Minnesota:

This kid came in, asking for a gig as a piano player. He said his name was Eldon Gunn and he liked playing Hank Williams’ stuff. Everyone in the wand was into wide silk ties, high collar shirts, and Aqua-Net to keep their James Dean hairdos in place, and the kid just didn’t fit. So they told him to go home and practice some more and come back when your act’s together, and instead he went to New York and became a folksinger by the name of Bob Dylan.

There are also tales of real fear as the band gets their equipment dynamited in Montreal (four times!), and Jagger is terrified of being assassinated, either by Hell’s Angels still brimming over the Stones’ betrayal at Altamont or by Manson Family crazies. What a life, man, what a life, and the Stones have been doing this fifty years this year!!!

Review Some people, I swear. I’m getting not helpful reviews because I point out this guy’s very weak skills as an author and his pathetic research that yielded numerous factual errors? go figure. The book is crap and doesn’t even deserve 4 stars. Make it 2.

Greenfield’s first book on the Rolling Stones chronicling their North American tour of 1972 is far better than his recent “Exile On Main Street: A Season in Hell with the Rolling Stones”. I enjoyed the style of writing and the bird’s eye view of things that went on during the tour. I knew that the Stones’ touring party was typically fairly depraved but I really had no idea of the extent of that depravity. I hate to be all PC and all that but young women (girls really) were treated as something to use and throw away. There are several accounts of young women who, while not part of the Stones Touring Party, were highly visible throughout the tour, used up for sordid entertainment, allowed themselves to be completely humiliated without even realizing it (the airplane film incident), and discarded like garbage. It’s very sad the things that some of these young women did in order to be near that glittering star. I wonder how they feel today? Everything had to be cleared by Jagger and Richards, these two men have much to atone for, really.

There are some really dumb and glaring mistakes and that fact that this is a second edition publication make them unforgivable really:

For example, on page 115 Greenfield tells us about how a young Mick Taylor took Eric Clapton’s place in Mayall’s Blues Breakers. Greenfield must have smoked an awful lot of dope in his day. Anyone who knows anything about the music of that era knows that Peter Green (who went on to found the original Fleetwood Mac) replaced Clapton. Mick Taylor replaced Peter Green. Duh? That’s rock-guitar history/appreciation 101 and Greenfield gets a big fat “F”

On page 117 Greenfield mentions men in Denver washing their cars in the drive way and wondering what kind of season the Denver Bears were going to have… What? While it is true that in the late 50’s and very early 60’s Denver did have a semi-pro football team called the Denver Bears (almost no one in Denver remembers this), by 1972, Bronco mania had long taken hold in Denver (I was there). The Broncos were just a couple of years shy of their first appearance in a string of many very disappointing Superbowl performances (thank God they got that monkey of their backs).

Didn’t this guy have an editor? Who proofed this darn thing? Presumably a member of the Stones Touring Party who was just as stoned as everyone else. Again, this is a second edition boys and girls. Mistakes like the two cited above are good examples of shoddy authorship and editing. Maybe some writing course will use them as examples.

Those two mistakes are glaring and it leaves me wondering about how many not so glaring mistakes this book also contains.

May 5, 2013 Posted by | Book A Journey Through America With The Rolling Stones by Robert Greenfield | , | Leave a comment

The True Adventures Of The Rolling Stones by Stanley Booth (1984)


“True Adventures” is a classic account of the end of the Sixties rock scene and the prime of the Rolling Stones.

Author Stanley Booth travelled with the Stones during their fateful 1969 US tour, when they had seemingly eclipsed the Beatles as the “World’s Greatest Rock ‘n Roll Band,” and conducted interviews with the band and various friends and family members to gather material for the book. Booth provides a real day to day sense of what it was like to be with the Stones and their travelling party at the time, including the famous Thanksgiving concert at Madison Square Garden that was the source of the highly regarded “Get Yer Ya Ya’s Out” live release. Along with the music, there’s of course a lot of drugs and sex, and a overlying sense of exhaustion for most concerned.

The layout of the book alternates between an account of the 1969 US tour, culminating in the disastrous free concert at Altamount Speedway, and a description of the Stones’ history up to that point which gradually focuses in on Brian Jones’ problems and eventual death. A few short chapters describing the early scene at Altamount, before the concert started, are interspersed (including the opening chapter of the book), usually written in italics.

As others have pointed out, the book is not written in a traditional chronological narrative like most music biographies. It instead is written in a first person, stream of consciousness style which is very intense and condensed, similar to a novel. Even as someone who reads a lot, I found it helpful to not read more than a couple of chapters at a time. (In the meantime, I found a few internet interviews and articles on Booth which helped fill in some of his background and explain some of the brief references that probably otherwise would have slipped by.)

So, if like some of the other reviewers you are looking for a garden variety bio of the Stones that is easy to read, this book is not for you. Booth spent 15 years working on the book (well, with some drug bouts and other problems complicating things in the meantime…), and he obviously was trying to do more than just that. As Keith Richards said about the book, it took longer to write than the Bible. In Booth’s defense, the high quality of the book clearly reflects the amount of effort that he put into it, and in my opinion, the writing style suits the subject matter perfectly.

While some have objected to Booth putting himself in the book as a main character, I thought it was a great approach, similar to Cameron Crowe’s “Almost Famous.” Indeed, since both wrote for Rolling Stone magazine and Booth’s book predates Crowe’s work, I wonder even if “Almost Famous” may not have at least been partially inspired by Booth’s approach here.

The book’s two story lines eventually come together to conclude with the death of Brian Jones in the Summer of 1969 and the Altamount concert disaster near the end of that year. Booth’s account of the Altamount concert is vivid and nightmarish, even for readers who know from the start that this story is not going to end well. The Hell’s Angels were absolutely pounding anyone approaching their motorcycles or the stage, but many of the hippies, drawn by the music and wasted on drugs, could not seem to stop themselves from coming on into the Angels. It’s miraculous that only 1 person was killed by the Angels. Mick Jagger, who Booth clearly didn’t like and often comes off badly in the book, seems to be the only one in the band who recognized and reacted to the full extent of the problems once they took the stage. While Jagger’s recognition of the situation came far too late, he nevertheless admirably struggled to calm the huge crowd, to no avail. Having seen the Hells Angels up close and in action, Jagger would never again dabble in the satanic imagery he had previously used, nor would he allow the band’s future shows to be so chaotic.

Even taken on its own terms, though, the book is not without its faults. Booth does not seem to fully acknowledge the terrible toll of the heavy drug use of many concerned, including himself. Drugs of course played a major role in Brian Jones’ death, as well as the fatal overdose of Gram Parsons, who by most accounts became a heroin user through his friendship with Keith Richards. (Parsons, coincidentally, was from the same small Southern town as Booth and was present during many of the events described in the book; according to various interviews, Booth has been working on a Parsons bio, but like this book, it has been in the works for many years, and has not yet appeared). Keith Richards would later admit in interviews that his heavy drug use damaged his own abilities. He might have learned to ski on heroin, as he claimed in interviews, but his great song writing ability was never really the same once he became a full on heroin junkie after Exile on Main Street. Even in the afterword that was written for the book’s later republication, there are passing references, but Booth does not really mark the full cost of all the drugs.

Booth also seems to have a dismissive attitude towards Mick Taylor, who had just joined the band in 1969 and was then very young. Taylor certainly did not have a strong personality like Richards (who apparently did not get along with Taylor very well), but in terms of sheer playing ability, Taylor was the best guitarist the Stones ever had, by a wide margin. While that was often acknowledged by other members of the band, Richards for a long time used interviews to downplay Taylor’s abilities and input. In recent years, however, even Richards has admitted otherwise and expressed regret at Taylor’s departure from the band – e.g., in the recent Rolling Stone magazine feature for the 40th anniversary reissue of Exile on Main Street, in which the band’s engineer Andy Johns also states that Taylor “played rings around” Richards. Even though Booth was close to Richards, by the 1984 publication of this book, let alone when the afterword was done for the book’s republication many years later, Taylor’s contribution should have been obvious to someone as musically astute as Booth.

All in all, though, the book is a tour de force account of a moment in time when rock music probably had its greatest public influence – and the danger and excess that came with that influence.

May 5, 2013 Posted by | Book The True Adventures Of The Rolling Stones by Stanley Booth | , | Leave a comment