Monday, January 02, 2012

The Rolling Stones' "Some Girls Live in Texas '78"

The Rolling Stones, a band about which I've always been ambivalent (Con: overhyped and preening; Pro: the template for '60s-'70s white rock 'n' roll), have been well represented cinematically.

Their early R&B cover band phase is documented in The T.A.M.I. Show, where they had the unenviable task of following James Brown, but their lead singer rose to the occasion, stealing some of Mr. Dynamite's moves, if not the show.

The moment of their apotheosis as Everyhipi's Embodiment of Evil was caught in Jean-Luc Godard's One Plus One, which juxtaposed the recording session that produced "Sympathy for the Devil" with staged vignettes depicting the social upheaval o' the times, while the Maysles Brothers' Gimme Shelter captured the moment when that image collided head-on with the reality of 1969 America. While the latter's a great concert film, its most memorable sequences are those that show the Stones at their most impotent, watching the Hell's Angels murder an audience member and then viewing the footage of the event after the fact. (For my two cents, the Jefferson Airplane's Marty Balin put every other musician onstage to shame that day, entering the crowd to try and stop the carnage and getting his lights punched out for his trouble.)

The Rolling Stones' Rock and Roll Circus, filmed for British TV in 1968 but not released until almost 30 years later, showed the Stones as a shell of a band, with Brian Jones on his last legs; the film is mainly valuable for the opportunity to see the Who ramping up for their own operatic apotheosis with "A Quick One While He's Away," and to a lesser extent, a lip-synching Jethro Tull with Tony Iommi (!) on guitar. A more satisfying document of the 1972 Exile on Main St. tour -- an apogee in retrospect -- was filmed at four concerts in Houston and Fort Worth (where Jagger had sworn never to play again after being served cold hot dogs backstage in 1965) and released theatrically as Ladies and Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones in 1974.

Which brings us to the artifact in question, filmed in my adopted hometown the year I moved to Texas, when Some Girls was an important part of my summer's soundtrack. (Sure, there are subsequent tour documentaries, including one directed by Martin Scorsese, but who cares? The Stones' historical Moment had passed. They even gave indications that they realized it, titling a greatest hits collection Sucking in the Seventies. Proof: Can you name one Stones song from any album after Tattoo You?)

At the time, Some Girls seemed like a return to form after three crummy albums, the most memorable songs from which were 1) a song that sounded like Santana (no, not "Can't You Hear Me Knockin'," the _other_ one), 2) a ballad about David Bowie's wife, and 3) a disco track with a backward guitar solo by, um, was it Harvey Mandel? Quite a comedown for the avatars of teen rebellion who'd once tossed off generational anthems like "Satisfaction" and "Get Off of My Cloud," whose '69 live incarnation was the model for just about every band I was hearing when I first picked up a guitar in 1970.

In contrast with its enervated predecessors, Some Girls had more of a Noo Yawk City street vibe, the Stones' riposte to the punk and hip-hop developments that were making them seem old hat. And it was _funny_; in songs like "Miss You," "Some Girls," "Respectable," and "Far Away Eyes," it really seemed like ol' Mick was taking the piss out of himself.

When the Stones hit Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum, site of the '65 cold hot dog debacle, on July 18th, I'd been in Dallas for about three weeks, and was trying to hold onto the money I'd saved over the past year and a half to escape from Lawn Guyland, so attending the show wasn't an option. Truth be told, I might not have gone anyway: I was never a Stones fan per se. I found their "world's greatest rock and roll band" hype as hollow as the Clash's "only band that matters" (and I _liked_ the Clash), and thought Jagger was a joke as a singer and dancer. (Isolating his vocal track would be a cruel trick.)

Some things don't change: I laughed out loud for ten minutes watching Mick flounce around with an obviously unplugged guitar, which he wears for a surprising amount of the Will Rogers set. My favorite description of him comes from the comedian Richard Belzer, who said he looks like "a rooster on acid." Watching Some Girls Live in Texas '78, it was impossible to ignore the physical resemblance between Jagger and...Don Knotts. (There, I've said it.) In my mind's eye, I imagined I was watching Barney Fife on acid.

I'd forgotten, too, how trebly the sound on Some Girls was. There's a lot of twang in the Stones' sound -- which at this point owed as much to Gram Parsons as it did to Chuck Berry -- and when both Keef and Woody are playing lead (as they often do), the sound borders on the shrill. It's a stripped-down band, minus the horns but with both Ians (Stewart and McLagan) on keys, a good thing. Still, you really miss the horns on "All Down the Line," which sounds like a shadow of the Exile original.

In fact, the Stones don't really hit their stride until midway through the set, when Mick apologizes for the band's lack of energy, which he attributes to their being "busy fucking last night." (Gasp!) Then they tear into "Respectable." "Far Away Eyes" is straight country, with Woody on pedal steel, still a piss-take, but elevated by Doug Kershaw's fiddle solos. "Love In Vain" is fine, but not the tour de force it was on Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out; Ron Wood's a competent slide player, but his sound doesn't flow like liquid silver the way Mick Taylor's did. The five song sequence that starts with "Tumbling Dice" and ends with "Jumpin' Jack Flash" is the gold here, the band energized and on fire.

My favorite moment is when Keef steps up to sing "Happy." He was awaiting trial for his Toronto drug bust then, and the Stones' future looked uncertain. He'd even written a song about it for Some Girls, "Before They Make Me Run," but he didn't sing it in Fort Worth. He probably figured it would have been too maudlin. He did sing it, though, when I saw him the following year at the Tarrant County Convention Center with the New Barbarians (on the "conditions of probation" tour). My ex-wife, who was also there, denies it, but I swear I saw him toss his cups onstage that night, while he was singing. No Johnny Thunders run back behind the amps for this boy; he just leaned over away from the mic and let it spew. Uh, rock 'n' roll, I guess. He looked like warmed-over death in '78, but he'll still probably outlive all of us.

In 1978, it would have been impossible to imagine a rock 'n' roll future where Black Sabbath was the most influential '70s band, most up-and-coming rockers wouldn't know a I-IV-V progression if it bit them on the ass, Sir Mick Jagger's a knight, and Keef Richards is a best-selling author. But that's the world we live in today, half a century since the Rolling Stones' scuffling bohemian beginnings. If you don't own any Stones DVDs and are looking for consumer guidance, I'd probably stick with the classics (that'd be Gimme Shelter and Ladies and Gentlemen), but I'm glad I have this for the second half of the show and the views in the opening sequences of the city I love around the time I first set foot in it.

BONUS FEATURE: By now you probably think I'm a negative Nelly when it comes to the Stones, but there are actually lots of things about 'em I like. Let me count the ways.

1) The influence of Brian Jones' hairstyle on everyone from the Yardbirds' Keith Relf to the guy in the Shadows of Knight to legions of teenage American boys, including Ron Asheton.

2) The guitar interplay between Keef and Brian on the first side of 12x5.

3) The Rolling Stones, Now!, which is probably the strongest LP by any of those vintage '63-'64 Brit R&B imitators, of whom I consider the Stones the weakest.

4) Their version of Larry Williams' "She Said Yeah," a blaring, fuzzed-out garage-punk explosion that opens December's Children.

5) "19th Nervous Breakdown," the evilest-sounding single of 1966, and their overuse of fuzz tone in general.

6) The "little" songs on Aftermath: "Doncha Bother Me," "Flight 505," "High and Dry," "It's Not Easy."

7) The second side of Beggar's Banquet, especially "Street Fighting Man" (the cassette-recorded cardboard box drums), "Factory Girl," and "Salt of the Earth."

8) From Sticky Fingers: "Sway" and "Moonlight Mile."

9) Driving across the Whitestone Bridge in NYC and the Mississippi bridge in Memphis with "Rip This Joint" from Exile blasting on the cassette player.

10) The second ("mellow") side of Tattoo You.

So there.


Blogger lastangelman said...

"Tattoo You" was the last memorable Stones album, and that LP was what engineers and producers call a "mop tape" - a collection of orphan tracks from the seventies mopped into one LP and rerecorded, sweetened and mixed into a cohesive whole.
"Undercover" was better album art than music and "Dirty Work" was such a failure, it felt like a betrayal. I stopped paying attention to the Stones cold, didn't care latest tours or new albums, whether live or studio. They are very much a three ring circus and patent medicine show (does that make ELP and Yes incarnations Cirque du Soliel?"), and I'd rather check out what the younger blood is either re-hashing, re-mashing or regurgitating.

3:35 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home