Friday 14 December 2018

It's only rock 'n' roll - but we like it

With The Rolling Stones soon for these shores, Barry Egan finds plenty of satisfaction in some of the band's classics down through the ages

Dublin-bound Mick Jagger sings with a convincingly wise tone
Dublin-bound Mick Jagger sings with a convincingly wise tone
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

In 1994, supernatural ladies man Mick Jagger robbed fellow rock star Eric Clapton's girlfriend Carla Bruni.

"Please, Mick," Clapton allegedly told Jagger as Clapton sniffed betrayal in the air, "not this one. I think I'm in love." Clapton's pleas fell on deaf ears as Jagger marched off with his latest conquest.

Written as a plea to David Bowie's then-wife Angie to appease her when she allegedly caught her husband and Jagger in an alleged bed together doing something that I need another 'alleged' for, Angie (from 1973's Goat's Head Soup album) is one of the Stones's top-notch tracks. There are, in fact, hundreds of top-notch, timeless even, songs by The Stones.

The reason I mention this is that I recently wrote a long piece about the band and concentrated on their personal lives rather than their illustrious output as musicians.

It was remiss of me, primarily because I try not to let a day pass in my life without listening to a bit of Exile On Main Street from 1972. It is a ritual. As is a little bit of Some Girls, the band's 'disco' album from 1978. His Satanic Majesty himself Jagger singing "We're talking heroin with the president" on Respectable never fails to raise a smile, as does Keith Richards's vocal on Before They Make Me Run: "Gonna find my way to heaven, 'cause I did my time in hell." Or even the hilarious call to arms of It's Only Rock 'n' Roll from 1974.

Despite being as English as treason, Mick 'n' Keef still sound like they are poor boys from Mississippi. They are exponents of cosmic American music; black music-appropriators like Elvis Presley before them. Midnight Rambler (the version from 1970's Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out! live album not the studio rendition from 1969's Let It Bleed) is the Stones at their bluesed-up menacing best, granted singing about a serial killer.

Morality also needs to be put aside for a moment listening to the grim racism and even grimmer misogyny combined - "hear him whip the women, just around midnight" - on Brown Sugar about sex and slavery and sleaze from the 1971 Sticky Fingers album. Sleaze is the Stone's leitmotif, of course. Stray Cat Blues from Beggars Banquet in 1968 was once described by Bob Geldof as: "It's an absolutely filthy song, you don't know how they got away with it. The sleaze is spread all over it like butter melting on toast."

Jagger is a sexist pig but then I'm hardly telling you something you didn't know already. That said he has had some good lines in him over the years (no cocaine jokes please.)

Take his singing - with a convincingly wise tone - "I shouted out who killed the Kennedys?/When after all it was you and me" from the apocalyptic Sympathy for the Devil from the Beggars Banquet. Released that same year (1968), Jumpin' Jack Flash is another piece de resistance of the age; supernatural Delta blues by way of Swinging London, as someone dubbed the song, not unreasonably.

Even at their age, the Stones have earned the right to sing without irony: "But what can a poor boy do/ Except to sing for a rock 'n' roll band" from Street Fighting Man. Although Townes Van Zandt's cover of it is beautiful, the Stones' original of Dead Flowers (from Sticky Fingers) is one of the true classics.

The opening riff of Start Me Up from Tattoo You is almost as good as (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction or Paint It Black from a long, long time ago (1965 and 1966 respectively.) I also have a soft spot for Waiting on a Friend from 1981's Tattoo You, Fool to Cry from 1976's Black and Blue, even the much-despised Emotional Rescue from the album of that name in 1980.

Hey, I even love Country Honk, the countried-up re-jigging of Honky Tonk Women from 1969's Let It Bleed and the cartoonish countrified cringe of Far Away Eyes from Some Girls: "So if you're down on your luck/And you can't harmonise/Find a girl with far away eyes."

Find a ticket to the Stones at Croker on May 17.

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