23 Tamuz - Year 5768
Yep, it's official, Sir Michael Philip Jagger turns 65 today (..and I missed writing a "When I'm Sixty-Four" post for Sir Macca's birthday a couple of years ago..). Mick's a pensioner now..not that he actually needs it. I get a chuckle from picturing him standing in the queue for his bus pass.
I won't go into the whole cliched observation about "growing old gracefully in a rock band"...that's been done so often that the cliche itself doesn't seem graceful anymore. Still, it seems strange to think of the man who wrote Sympathy For The Devil and Brown Sugar being able to get a 'senior discount' at shops. Apparently, he's toned down his debauchery over the years....maybe. He is currently 'dating' a Yank model who's about 40 years younger than himself. What was that about cliches? Ah well, more power to him, I suppose. From counter-culture revolutionary to knighted-by-the-establishment in the span of 3 decades. The bloke's an icon and an example of the triumphs and failures of the baby-boomers--like Macca as well.
I concede that the Stones haven't made a solid record since Some Girls in 1978 (I do find some of Tattoo You bearable and can even point to a few decent tracks on Steel Wheels, especially the 'return to psychedelia' of Continental Drift) and Jagger's solo stuff..well...the less said, the better. He's out-lasted a lot of 'em, though--even Jerry Garcia. The tunes may be bland and hackneyed now, but the man can belt out the classics with gusto. I'm glad he's still around.
To celebrate ol' Mick's arrival into pensioner-hood, a list of some of my favourite Stones tracks:
Can't You Hear Me Knocking (Sticky Fingers album, 1971): I suppose this one's more of a guitar-fest than a showcase for Mick's vocals--what with Keef and Mick Taylor trading riffs in the coda jam. Jagger commands the first part of the song, though, especially when he snarls "Y'all got cocaine eyes/you got speed freak jive" and then pleads "Hear me baby, ain't no stranger" seconds later. My fave track on one of my favourite albums.
2,000 Light Years From Home (Their Satanic Majesties Request album, 1967): One of the almost-universally agreed-upon "good" tracks on of their most divisive records. Personally, I like "T.S.M.R."--if you can get by all of the "wannabe Sgt. Pepper" derision, it may reward you, with multiple listens. "2,000 Light Years..." seems to be in the same mold as Pink Floyd's Astronomy Domine--highlighting the fear and apprehension of space travel. Jagger's understated vocal and Brian Jones' queasy mellotron figures combine to create an atmosphere of unknowing dread. Leaving the planet can be exhilerating, but terrifying, too. Check out this groovy promo clip, filmed in 1967.
Jumpin' Jack Flash (single - released 1968 - also found on Hot Rocks 1964-1971 collection): This is not only one of my favourite Stones tunes..it's one of my all-time fave tunes. Seriously, there's not a single bum note or second in this entire song. From the initial acoustic guitar stabs (courtesy Keef) to the organ trills as it fades out, everything seems completely economical. No frills, just the chugging rhythm and Jagger's hard-as-nails lyrics and vocal delivery. "I was raised by a toothless bearded hag/I was schooled with a strap right across my back.." "Jumpin' Jack Flash" perfectly sums up the chaos and turmoil of 1968--possibly even more than The Fabs' Revolution. Jagger offers a sliver of hope with the "It's all right now, in fact it's a gas.." line--but sadly, for him and the rest of the Stones (and indeed, the counter-culture in general), things wouldn't be alright for a long long time. Some credit should go to the late Jimmy Miller for his excellent production. Here's a '68 promo clip for the song--featuring a slightly more menacing Stones..dig Charlie Watts' Egyptian eye make-up and Jagger's war-paint.
Rocks Off (Exile On Main Street album, 1972): As tax exiles living in France for most of 1972, our heroes holed up in a decrepit mansion...Keef's smack habit accelerating and Jagger nearly matching him for decadence. Eventually, they released a double album of woozy blooz/rock tunes, shot through with weariness and heartache. There were a couple of bright moments here and there (Sweet Black Angel, a shout-out to African-American activist Angela Davis...and Shine A Light, done all gospel-stylee)--but mostly it seemed like the Stones were watching age catch up with them and trying to take stock. "Rocks Off" is the lead-off track to Side 1 (in the old LP days) and it's a kicker! If they were trying to let folks know not to write them off just yet, they succeeded..with Sir Mick spitting out lines like "What's the matter with ya boy/She don't come 'round no more/Is she checking out for sure/She ain't gonna close the door on me.." The horn section is right on and I even like the weird, 'psychedelic' break in the middle--where Jagger's voice skitters across the speakers in a strange filtered echo. Top notch!
I'm Free (Out Of Our Heads album - also December's Children (And Everyone's) album, 1965): An earlier track now, back to 1965. I like the optimism of it...very mid-60s, when rock bands and rock audiences still thought they were going to change the world. Admittedly, the lyric seems pretty simple...but wedded to the near country-shuffle of the music--the whole becomes much greater than the parts. Cream would record a tune with a similar theme a year later, called I Feel Free, which appeared on their debut album. The Soup Dragons hit pretty big in 1990 with a cover version of the Stones song--but to me, still didn't improve on the original.
....and a bonus section of a few more obscure ones:
Memo From Turner (single release, 1970 and on the Performance soundtrack, 1970): This is billed as a Jagger solo tune..but it's pretty much Stones in all but name. Raunchy slide guitars and a very Charlie Watts beat skank along with Mick's very-un-PC lyrics about "faggy little leather boys" and "shorter bits of stick". It sounds like it could be an out-take from the Let It Bleed sessions (maybe it was).
When The Whip Comes Down (Some Girls album, 1978): Another Jagger 'provoke-'em-if-I-can' slice of life about an L.A. gay man who moves to New York City and gets involved in 'the scene' (I'm guessing the S&M scene--judging by the song title). The rest of the band get credit for the taut riffs and solid beats. Part of it does reek of trying to "out-punk the punks", but hey, if that's what motivated them out of their mid-70s stupor--it was well worth it.
Citadel (T.S.M.R. album, 1967): One from the psychedelic era that I really like as well--with a catchy, spiralling saxophone line and a chiming bell sound throughout. The lyrics have the usual hippie, "get out of the city, man" vibe--"Through the woods of steel and glass" and "In the streets are many walls". Keef's insistent guitar riff also propels the tune forward and keeps things focused. Jagger's vocal has the right amount of rock-n-roll snarl, balanced with acid daze, to make it one of his better performances on the album.
Factory Girl (Beggar's Banquet album, 1968): If you can forgive Jaggs the poor imitation of an American country drawl--this song will put a smile on your face every time--it does mine, anyway. The acoustic guitars are almost playing clipped ragas and apparently, Charlie Watts is playing tabla with drumsticks (!) for the beat. Ric Grech (in the band Family at the time) provides the keening fiddle runs. The lyrics are a completely middle-class view of poverty, but though they may seem cloying--they show a sense of devotion and even happiness amidst hardship. A bit of a rarity, as they never really recorded anything like this again (aside from Country Honk, the acoustic version of Honky Tonk Women, that appears on "Let It Bleed").
100 Years Ago (Goat's Head Soup album, 1973): This one's a bit of wistful, country-tinged ballad on an album that's sorta all over the shop. The Stones has started to believe in their own press and cranked out stuff like Dancing With Mr. D, just to freak out the squares. There's a definite Gram Parsons influence on "100 Years Ago" and it seems a bit out of place on "Goat's Head Soup" (compared with Angie--the other ballad on the record). Jagger hits all the right notes to convey the heartbreak and the band back him in classy fashion. Honourable mention also goes to Can You Hear The Music?, an early 70s version of psychedelia that I figured the Stones would never even attempt.
As the Ramones said to Montgomery Burns.."Happy birthday, you old bastid!" Raise a glass for Sir Mick, the O.A.P.