Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Rolling Stones' "December's Children (and Everybody's)"

I wouldn't call myself a Rolling Stones fan. Maybe it's because my ex-wife was such a big one. Maybe it's because I was always kind of indifferent to hotshot singers. (I wanted to be the guy behind the guitar.) Still, when I was starting to play in the early '70s, it was the Stones of Get Your Ya-Ya's Out and Sticky Fingers that everybody around me was trying to emulate -- the sound of those guitars and the sloppy-tight band dynamic. And for boys a half a generation older than me, the Stones were the Ur-role models of sartorial rebellion. (When I interviewed Ron Asheton, he went on at some length about Brian Jones' hair, boots, etc.) They spawned a wave of garage band imitators, too, although like Allen Lowe, I have a hard time understanding why anyone would bother with the Stones after the Chocolate Watch Band existed. Watch 'em on the T.A.M.I. Show, having the audacity to follow James Brown (and Jagger copping his moves). Then quick cut to Gimme Shelter, the Maysles brothers' documentary record of the '69 tour, Mick in his precious little Uncle Sam suit playing at being "the devil," until Altamont taught him 'n' the boys the real difference between "bad" and Evil.

Brian was _the guy_, though. "The undisputed leader" until there was something worth fighting over. Looking at old video now, it becomes apparent how many of the really cool guitar parts he played. Ultimately, it was the songwriters who surpassed him, leaving him to recede into drug-addled irrelevance, until he drowned in his swimming pool, or maybe was murdered by a shady building contractor, the first in what'd become a litany of drug casualties. But even as late as Beggar's Banquet, he contributed beautiful slide and harp. Sure, Mick Taylor was a superior technician, but what did mere _technique_ have to do with being in the Rolling Stones? Keef ran out of inspiration not long after that (even Chuck Berry, Ry Cooder, and Gram Parsons will only get you so far), and has spent the next 40 (!) years going over and over and over the same ground. I tried hard to convince myself I liked Some Girls, but in the fullness of time, what I really liked was the spirit of the young Texans I met when I moved here the summer it came out. Tattoo You had some good moments, and I'll forever have the memory of seeing 'em play in the piss-pouring rain in the Cotton Bowl right before we moved to Memphis in '81 (not to mention Keef tossing his cups onstage with the New Barbarians at the Tarrant County Convention Center, 1979). But I say again, Brian was the guy. After him: sound and fury, signifying not one goddamn good thing.

December's Children was their fifth American album, from 1965, anchored by their Dylan "Like A Rolling Stone" ripoff "Get Off My Cloud," which Nik Cohn posits was their most archetypal early hit. Because U.S. and U.K. release schedules were so different, the LP took its cover from the Brit Out of Our Heads but only a third of its content -- two covers and two originals. Larry Williams' "She Said Yeah" is the most frantic-sounding thing they ever recorded, replete with Wyman's monstro fuzz bass. The roots of MC5 are audible here. "Talkin' 'Bout You" is a slow, sexy, swampy Chuck Berry number, almost as great as "Down Home Girl" from sophomore LP The Rolling Stones, Now! (arguably the pinnacle of their early R&B phase), which Josh Alan still covers in his live set. "Gotta Get Away" and "I'm Free" are archetypal early Jagger-Richard originals, which are really based on soul music forms (cf. the Arthur Alexander cover "You Better Move On") but don't hit that way because the singing's not that good. They finally got a whole album of originals out with Aftermath in 1966, the U.K. version of which is probably my favorite Stones album. All of these songs are pretty similar, in sound and subject matter. Of the ones on December's Children, "Singer Not the Song" and "Blue Turns To Grey" are my faves.

My absolute favorite tracks on December's Children, though, are the two retreads from the Brit Got LIVE If You Want It EP, which also supplied the version of "It's Alright" that appeared on the 'Meercun Out of Our Heads. Shabbily recorded, with armies of screaming girls in the background (but not overwhelming the music like on the U.S. GLIYWI LP or, say, the Kinks' Live At Kelvin Hall), Bobby Troup's "Route 66" and Hank Snow's "I'm Movin' On" embody everything that was admirable about the early Stones (and provided fodder for bands at least as late as the Lazy Cowgirls): energy, sleaze, and an affinity for American roots. Bless them and their Moment.


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