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.