Welcome to our Second Disc Holiday Gift Guide, in which we review some titles we might have missed over the past few weeks! The titles we’re spotlighting in this occasional series just might be candidates on your own holiday shopping list!
In a vintage clip that brings one of the biggest laughs in Martin Scorsese’s 2008 concert film Shine a Light, Mick Jagger tells an interviewer that he doesn’t anticipate getting old as a Rolling Stone…yet, nearly fifty years after the band first formed, Jagger and co. are doing just that. But however many jokes come their way, The Rolling Stones prove time and again that they still, indeed, have what it takes.
Some still consider 1978’s Some Girls the last great Rolling Stones album. Whether that’s the case or not, the fact remains that the album has avoided the “dated” stigma despite its pronounced nods at then-current trends like punk and disco. When the famously aggressive Stones turned their attention to these “fads,” they did so with a ferocity that the youngsters might have envied. So much a product of its time, Some Girls has been reissued in a variety of formats including a Deluxe Edition and the inevitable Super Deluxe Edition. But unlike so many other Super Deluxe Editions of late, all of the core audio content (the original, remastered album and a bonus disc of twelve unreleased recordings) is available on the 2-CD version, so this is a reissue that is, happily, both deluxe and affordable.
Of course, Some Girls will always be most remembered for “Miss You,” to date the group’s final U.S. Number One pop hit. Its stomping, danceable four-on-the-floor beat alluded to familiar disco rhythms, but the glossy production was applied to a fundamentally tough groove. “Miss You” stood out, and still makes an electrifying album opener, from the wordless wailing to Ian McLagan’s electric piano and Mel Collins’ saxophone. But disco wasn’t the only New York phenomenon of which the Rolling Stones took notice. Punk occupied an equally significant place in the music climate of the time, and like disco, came from the underground in its purest form. “When the Whip Comes Down” tapped into the seamy New York street scene in the lurid and brutal tale of gay hustler, sung by Jagger: “Yeah, mama and papa told me I was crazy to stay/I was gay in New York, a fag in L.A./ So I saved my money , and I took a plane/ Wherever I go they treat me the same /When the whip comes down .” The song’s sleazy setting was perfectly captured in Jagger’s droning vocals, although the singer always has enough magnetism in his voice that nobody would mistake him for another poet of the streets, Lou Reed! Still, the song’s repetitive, simple chords churned out on electric guitars feel a bit like the Stones in a Velvet playground!
If “When the Whip Comes Down” wasn’t for the faint of heart, though, what could have prepared listeners for the title song? It’s the essence of why the band is so easy to parody, but it’s so completely true to the Rolling Stones’ persona that it defies to odds, and works. “Some Girls” at its heart is a “list song” of the kind Cole Porter used to write, but that’s where the similarities end! It’s loaded with (winking?) misogynistic vitriol, rendered bluntly: “White girls they're pretty funny, sometimes they drive me mad /Black girls just wanna get fucked all night/I just don’t have that much jam!/Chinese girls are so gentle, they’re really such a tease/You never know quite what they’re cookin’/Inside those silky sleeves!” Despite these politically correct times (and let’s face it, the Stones were the only ones who could have gotten away with these lyrics, even in 1978!), the song hasn’t aged.
That raw mean spirit continues on the garage rocker “Lies,” and even a cover of The Temptations’ gorgeous “Just My Imagination” turns lascivious at the hands of the Glimmer Twins, Bill Wyman, Ronnie Wood and Charlie Watts. But if that doesn’t win the “Most Bizarre Song on the Album” trophy, “Far Away Eyes” certainly does, with its exaggerated country pastiche of the Bakersfield sound, made famous by the likes of Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. Jagger adopts a country accent, and the song even refers to that California town in its opening lines, just in case the listener wasn’t already in on the joke! The lyric is, alas, as exaggerated as the delivery, but the song is a more-than-credible recreation of the style!
After the jump: Keith makes an impression, and the Stones open up their vaults!
One shouldn’t think that Some Girls is just Mick’s show, though. As if his coruscating guitar throughout the album wasn't enough (including smoking Chuck Berry-esque licks on the ironic “Respectable"), Keith Richards even provides the lead vocal on the semi-autobiographical “Before They Make Me Run,” inspired by his 1977 bust for heroin and subsequent rethinking of his lifestyle. Richards has said that, after the incident, his thrills came from watching the disappointment on the faces of those who offered him drugs…as he turned them down!
The twin pieces de resistance (and opposite poles!) of Some Girls, however, may be “Beast of Burden” and “Shattered.” The former is one of the Stones’ finest, most incisive writing accomplishments, while the latter song would likely sound ridiculous being played by any other band! But Jagger’s leering lead vocal combined with those ragged, catchy backing vocals and funky band interplay makes for an anthem for that thankfully-buried era of New York history (though some do still long for it!)
Chances are, though, you won’t be shattered by the unheard material that makes Disc Two of the new set, because it perfectly complements the original Some Girls and stands as a fine album in its own right. Not every song is authentically an outtake from Some Girls, but it hardly matters, as the carefully-curated presentation makes these disparate tracks into a compelling whole
This bigger bang is kicked off with Ian Stewart’s boogie woogie piano on “Claudine,” a nasty, potentially libelous song about Claudine Longet. Andy Williams’ ex-wife and a fine singer in her own right, Longet is remembered most today for fatally shooting her lover, Spider Sabitch. She was convicted of “misdemeanor criminal negligence.” Jagger sounds downright jovial on this track: “Claudine’s back in jail again! The prettiest girl I ever seen, I saw you on the movie screen/Hope you don't try to make a sacrifice of me/Claudine!” He drips with sarcasm, asking “Now only Spider knows for sure/But he ain't talkin' about it any more/Is he, Claudine?” It’s a scathing portrait of both Longet and our society’s celebrity culture. For our part, we’ll prefer to remember Ms. Longet for her silky recordings of Randy Newman’s “Snow” or Bonner and Gordon’s “Small Talk.” But the Stones’ “Claudine” sure is wild!
A number of songs here are in the country vein that briefly surfaces on Some Girls. “Do You Think I Really Care” is country-and-western-flecked, but rocks harder. Stewart brings the honky-tonk piano home, complementing Ronnie Wood’s pedal steel in an offbeat contrast to the New York-centric lyrics: “I saw her eatin' a pizza, on 75th & Broadway/I saw her on the subway…Need a Yellow Cab/Help me get out of this rain…” And only Mick Jagger could make “Put your umbrella up your ass, baby!” sound like a come-on!
The lead single off the reissue, “No Spare Parts,” is another country outing, with the kind of pain that’s squarely in the tradition: “Daddy drunk, daddy drunk himself to death when he was 35 years old…”, then follows the narrator on the open road. It’s easy to see why the song was discarded as Some Girls evolved into The Rolling Stones’ quintessential “punk” album with its debt to the milieu of the Velvet Underground, but “No Spare Parts” is timeless, with a clever chorus: “You know, lonely hearts, they’re just made to break/There ain’t no spare parts, there ain’t no oil to change…”
We get another Keef vocal on “We Had It All,” a Seals/Fritts cover. It leads one to believe that the Stones could have come up with a killer country LP if they’d so wished! Richards’ vocal is soulful and emotional in his low-key manner, without a hint of the irony or drawl Jagger employs on the album proper. Hank Williams’ “You Win Again” is given a greasy makeover, and “Tallahassee Lassie” makes the most of its amped-up rockabilly feel. Reportedly one of the tracks released with no modern overdubs, it offers a particularly throaty vocal from Jagger.
“When You’re Gone” is a greasy, gnarled blues that’s also a riposte to Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer’s song referred to in the lyric: “Accentuate the positive, that’s what the people say…But there’s so many negatives that pass along the way…throw them in the river, let ‘em drown!”
“So Young” was already liberated from the vaults in 1994, on two maxi-singles, but the 1978 song is further reworked from that version for its album debut here. “Don’t Be a Stranger” might be familiar from non-commercial sources, but it’s one of the more radically reworked tracks. The song’s calypso feel makes it a standout. “I Love You Too Much” is a crisp rocker with a solid hook that would have fit comfortably on the original album, but the closing cut, “Petrol Blues,” certainly wouldn’t have. This piano-and-vocal exercise could be a demo, with an untouched original vocal (although its length has been pruned from previously circulating versions).
The standard deluxe edition of Some Girls offers an essay, “Love and Hope and Sex and Dreams,” written by Anthony DeCurtis. The booklet also features the musician/songwriter credits for each song, as well as the original LP artwork elements, but not much else. (Still, it’s a less skimpy book than that which accompanied last year’s Exile reissue.) The remastered sound, engineered by Stephen Marcussen and Stewart Whitmore, emphasizes the punchy quality of the songs, with bold, crisp guitars assaulting you; it’s also on the louder end of the audio spectrum. The Super Deluxe Edition expands the book, adds a DVD (containing music videos and excerpts from Live in Texas 1978, the full version of which is available separately on both DVD and Blu-Ray, and in combo editions with CD) and a seven-inch replica single, among other swag. There are only twelve major reasons to buy the new Some Girls, however, and those are the twelve “new” tracks, subtly altered by the band but filled with authentic 1970s grit and spirit. As those tracks are all available on the Deluxe Edition, you won’t want to miss it!