Rolling Stones, Connection

They were showing Shine A Light in the park tonight on one of those big blow up screens, and, it turned out to be a fantastic sound system. Nothing better in the middle of a heatwave to see the Stones outside in somewhat cooler air.

I thought I’d seen the movie before but I was wrong. The nexus of Stones and Scorcese had someone how slipped past me.

Here’s the review. If you like the Stones, you will like this show. The songs are arranged a little differently, but the rearrangements are astute and advantage all the supporting players, so the front guys can play their rote parts, hit their marks with passion, and even if the ravages of age a little apparent, make us forget that this is 50 years later. It’s a great performance.

In the middle of the show Mick hands off to Keith for You’ve Got The Silver, which is a terrific tune that advantages Keith’s game but less than full voice. And then, surprisingly, the show move on to Connection, one of the oldest songs they played, one of my favorites from Between the Buttons. This is a pop hit that has a more insidious pop hook than the overt grabbers of Satisfaction or Get Off My Cloud or Paint It Black, and was never released as a single, so was never a hit.

But it lives on. Scorcese obviously understands the limits of a non-pop historical song from an audience perspective and uses that to glide into Keith interviews when he was young and when he was old. Good stuff, all, but it diverts our attention away from the performance, which is remarkably winning in spite of its limitations.

I particularly like that dynamic, so I wanted more of the performance, but what I can share is this Italian version of the song and intercuts. I hope it suffices. By that I mean, I think this is fun.

The first two Cure albums

The career arcs of bands are not always controlled by the players. Or they spin out beyond local expectations.

The Cure became an international pop sensation, and in many ways deservedly so. I have no idea if that is what they aspired to, but they got it.

But all we ever listened to were their first two elpees, which are wonderfully clear and direct and poetic. Not unpopular, but pure art in a way.

If you’re at all studious about life in our modern world, you should read Albert Camus’s The Stranger, and listen to this song by the Cure. Obviously not the whole story, but a bit of perspective.

Part of the brilliance is you don’t need to know the book to love this song, and wonder about it.

 

A Bob Lefsetz Anecdote about Gregg Allman

I’ve quoted Bob Lefsetz’s newsletter before. He’s a former music industry guy who, in his later years writes about a range of topics in an energetic and provocative way. Provocative mostly because he states his opinions directly. You can read and subscribe to his stuff here. In a post this week he wrote a history of the Allman Brothers and Gregg, and his first personal encounter with Gregg. I quote:

ANYTHING GOES

My favorite cut on the “I’m No Angel” album, there’s a moment, after the break, when Gregg Allman reaches down deep and at the top of his lungs screams…ANYTHING GOES! It’s at 3:20in the song if you wanna check it out, and it’s moments like these that are personal, that keep you going, putting one foot in front of the other, so when we were hanging out before the show…

Yes, I ain’t got no money, but I’m rich on personality, and that has allowed me to meet all my heroes, get e-mail from them, it thrills me, and about an hour before they took the stage at the Greek I was introduced to Gregg and I had to ask him, about that emotive explosion.

Now you’ve got to understand, they’re not like you and me.

First and foremost, he was wearing his boots, the original American rockers never got over the Beatles. And he’s towering above me, and he leans down to my ear, his long hair almost falling on my shoulder, and he starts whispering, telling a story, sotto voce, like we’re the only two people in the universe, like he’s gonna reveal a deep dark secret.

“I can’t hit that note every night. But there are certain evenings, when I’m sitting on the piano bench, and I reach over to hit a note and my left nut gets caught under my leg and I yell ANYTHING GOES!”

I swear to god, just like that, that’s about an exact quote.

And he backs off, stands straight, but gives me a poker face, and I’m not sure if he’s making fun of me, pulling my leg, putting me down, or initiating me into the ways of the road, making me an honorary insider, but one thing’s for sure, he was still COOL!

I don’t know. You be the judge. I remember this album, and it seemed Gregg modernized and wrapped in frou frou. Not terrible, his was a great voice, but this was not music from our roots.

But if Gregg explained this moment to Bob this way, it’s very swell, no matter if it is actually true. A fine ad lib. Check it out:

 

Rolling Stones, Gimme Shelter (on Ed Sullivan)

That ranking of Stones’ tunes I posted about earlier in the week ends, if you get that far, with You Can’t Always Get What You Want edging Gimme Shelter because it’s less of a cliche about the Stones. Happy song wins, dark song finishes second.

Fair enough.

But then there is this clip. The Stones on the Ed Sullivan show promoting Let It Bleed. And they do a version of Gimme Shelter without Merry Clayton! Still a good song, but stripped down, without the fire, is this close to the Stones’ best song?

I leave that for you to decide for yourself. For me the issue is how much does what we love hinge on the tangential, or not the core of the tune or the performance. Is it the singer, the song, or the backup singer and the mix? Each and every cut varies because the circumstances of the performance, the particulars of its creation, differ.

So, why rank them? If something can be both this and that, and something else also, isn’t the ranking of them a narrowing of vision, a squinting (in this case with the ears) that restricts the experience?

Shane McGowan and the Popes, The Snake

This is an album, not a song.

It was the product that McGowan produced after being ejected by the Pogues.

The Pogues, with McGowan, were a fantastic band. Lots of that was songwriting, much of it McGowan’s, some was approach, and a lot was an intense commitment to making real Irish music, sometimes in a punk framework.

When the Pogues, an ongoing enterprise, kicked McGowan out, it was at least partly because his rather self-destructive and theatrical love of the drink was disruptive to an ongoing enterprise. To find an equivalent, think of the Stones kicking Brian Jones out of the band. McGowan was of similar importance to the Pogues, and similarly dangerous.

What came next, for the McGowan, was the Snake.

It’s an Irish-y record, not that dissimilar from his Pogue’s stuff, but heavier. And after McGowan wasn’t a Pogue, the Pogues went more international. Less intense. Lovely tunes, often pot infused, but without the edge that McGowan often brought simply by showing up.

This is the first song from the Snake, the first song on McGowan’s answer record. It rocks as hard as the first song on the Pogues’ first album. I’ll post both. Enjoy.

The Sickbed of Cuchylainn.

 

 

 

The High Numbers, “You Gotta Dance To Keep From Crying”

This is the High Numbers, an early detour into mod by the Who, covered with professional film. Careers are made of this, though the band didn’t fit the fashion and soon reverted to their original name.

But this is also a great cover of a Miracles tune, a Holland-Dozier-Holland composition, something that can make a career, too.

In this case, however, it wasn’t this great cut but what came later that made the career. And the film of their live performance ended up in a documentary that earned a Grammy nomination in 2009.

 

 

 

The Rolling Stones’ 364th Worst Song. Now I’ve Got A Witness (Like Uncle Gene and Uncle Phil)

This Nanker Phelge instrumental is off of England’s Newest Hitmakers. It features lots of Ian Stewart on the organ, Jagger on the harp (I presume), and a rank and kind of exciting guitar solo.  Stewie seems to be a recurring theme in these low-rated songs. Judge for yourself:

The tune is from the same sessions and was released on the same album that produced this cover of Marvin Gaye’s hit, which was written by Holland-Dozier-Holland. Can I get a witness is judged to be the 324th worst song by the Rolling Stones.

 

Ranking Every Rolling Stones Song. Beginning to Think About That. First Up: Short and Curlies.

I came upon this project today. It was published today. A guy named David Marchese has published his ranking of all 373 Rolling Stones, from last to first, in Vulture, which is the culture blog of New York magazine. Presumably the print edition will feature some of this stuff, but what caught my attention is that I know all this music.

I’ve seen people ranking all of Bowie’s songs, or Prince’s, and I’m naturally interested, but as closely as I followed parts of their careers, I’ve also ignored parts. So, I’m not an expert.

And while I lost touch with the Stones albums in the 90s and onward, I did listen to them all, and I know lots about all the classic phases. So, every decision, I figured, in this list, would matter.

But how to approach such a massive thing?

I read the introduction and discovered some parameters. I also discovered that the Stones wrote some songs that were offensive to less privileged people, that is those without a penis and white skin. This is certainly true.

When I went off to college, in 1974, I was immediately challenged by the women on my floor, for loving the Stones. Jack Kerouac, too. Their gripe then about the Stones was Under My Thumb and Stupid Girl. And Brown Sugar, obs. And all those objections have a point.

When you’re making a list ranking the songs of a band, or a person, or a genre, or whatever, balancing the viscerally pleasing with the culturally objectionable is the biggest challenge. The story, the attitude a song expresses, the context of its release, its cultural moment all come into play.

Which David Marchese tackles in his intro to his list. He writes: “The Rolling Stones have multiple songs that are lyrically reprehensible to women and people of color — often both at the same time. If I were questioned about this topic at the Pearly Gates, I’d suggest that the Stones’ offensive attitudes had more to do with a craven desire to be provocative than any fundamental malignant worldview, but maybe I’m a fool. Whatever the true motivation behind them, a handful of the band’s songs have been tarred by Jagger and Richards’s sex and race insensitivity. There’s no getting around it.”

The question is still how to approach this massive thing. You should read Marchese’s piece and make up your own mind. I waded in and found the bottom ranking of Sing This Song All Together (See What Happens) as a bit polemic, but perfectly reasonable. Especially since he notes just how good the rest of Their Satanic Majesty’s Request can be.

Then comes awfulness. Indian Girl, from Emotional Rescue, has all the awfulness of Jagger’s line about Puerto Rican girls just dyin’ to meet you, from the title track, without the groove.

Going Home, from Aftermath, is a great three minute song extended for some reason. Is it this awful? I would have to revisit. Not time for that. The song is too long.

Melody, from Black and Blue, is a curious jam featuring Billy Preston. The Fifth Beatle and the Sixth Stone. Not a great tune, but hardly awful or deserving approbrium.

Harlem Shuffle, from Dirty Work, offended me the day it came out. In those days a new Stones single got radio play. It’s a cover, and a not particularly felicitous one.

Which brings us to Short and Curlies. This is from It’s Only Rock and Roll. Marchese calls Ian Stewart a frequent sideman, but Stew was actually in the original band and was jettisoned for craven reasons. (Not handsome enough?)

Short and Curlies reminds me of the delightful Jamming With Edward, which is basically a jam session with Mick, Charlie and Bill with Ry Cooder and  Nicky Hopkins (playing the Stew part). A piano fronted jam band playing rollicking (mostly) blues.

Allmusic hates on Jamming, and Marchese hates on Short and Curlies, which does exhibit women-hating tendencies, but if this is the Stones 368th best song, you’re not listening to how strong this jam is. Even if it doesn’t really go anywhere.

If this is the shit, I’m looking forward to making my way through the rest.

 

World Premier: The Public image is Rotten

My buddy Rael was going to be in town on Friday, and the Tribeca Film Festival was premiering a new movie about PiL and Johnny Rotten. Neither of us were big PiL fans, but this seemed like a fun date. I bought tickets.

Fast forward a few weeks, and Rael is sick. He can’t come into town. So I call my musically adventurous friend Julie. I know she is not a PiL fan, not a Sex Pistols fan, but I’ll have fun with her in any case. Plus, it turns out, there will be a discussion with Lydon/Rotten after the screening. More show biz!

We both order fish and chips at the venerable Tribeca institution, Walkers, and the fish is great, the cole slaw is fine, and the chips are very tasty. That’s a win.

Here’s the deal on the movie, in a few short bites:

If you love PiL you will chew this movie up with delight. It not only fetishises each version of the band, it exalts the Rotten process. Your taste is reified.

If you come from a more historical perspective, the movie does a pretty fine tick tock of the whys wheres and wayfores of the band over a long career.

If you enjoy watching John Lydon sing PiL songs, there’s lots here for you.

If you enjoy watching John Lydon talk about his life, there’s a good amount of that for you.

If you were an observer of PiL, and not a fan of the music, I think you might find a lot of fun in the music. More than you might expect. Less in Lydon’s memorable vocals than Wobble’s bass, Levene’s skronky guitar, and the similarly discordant and yet powerful music all the iterations of this band made.

So, there’s lots to like about the movie, but when you think about it as a movie, it starts to pale. This is a movie that seems to get Johnny Rotten talking emotionally and revealingly about his life. It’s a movie that chronicles many internecine wars among the various configurations of PiL. And it is, most tellingly, a movie that buys John Lydon’s version of the story.

Lydon’s version is a good story, but all the other voices in the film have other stories. And they’re allowed to tell them up to a point. That’s the point where Lydon/Rotten decides to drown them out.

What I’m describing is not an indictment. Rotten/Lydon, in the post-screening chat, talks about how he aspires to be a valued songwriter. He is saying he doesn’t think he’s there yet. He’s right about that, and wonderfully honest to admit it.

But the history of PiL the film describes is the arc of moving from talented and disorganized non-professionals to, over 20 years, the hiring of professional musicians who can actually play. And then marvelling at how everything got better.

And in many ways it did, but what seems to me most revealing is how all the aesthetic challenges disappeared once the band was competent. And this idea of competent musicians versus energetic amateurs is an invigorating discussion for everyone, but the movie glides over the issues.

It’s easy to see why, but without a discussion about talent, expression, experience, professionalism, talent and creativity, plus other stuff, I’m not sure how much what they produced matters.

I love PiL, I went to the screening tonight, because of this appearance I saw one morning in 1980 on American Bandstand:

Nuff said.