Covers Of The Rolling Stones (Aftermath)

In April 1966 the Rolling Stones released “Aftermath”, their 4th (well, in the UK anyway) LP, a marked departure from the previous three in that all 14 tracks were composed by Mick Jagger & Keith Richards. The repertoire of every British Beat Boom group was a mix of Rock & Roll & R&B favourites, often new US songs were quickly covered & became bigger hits than the original on both sides of the Atlantic. After a couple of years this was a little played out & a second wave of groups (the Kinks, the Who) included talents who, like Lennon & McCartney, wrote their own songs. “Aftermath” came between “19th Nervous Breakdown” & “Paint It Black”, self-penned smashes. Now there were these fresh potential hits. Just like new LP’s by those Beatles & that Bob Dylan there was a queue, a long one, to cover these songs.



Image result for chris farlowe thinkChris Farlowe had an inside line to the new songs by Mick & Keith. In 1965 the singer signed to the new Immediate record label founded by Andrew Loog Oldham, the publicist-turned-Stones manager, by their side in the rapid elevation from “England’s Newest Hitmakers” to one of the biggest groups in the world. Farlowe’s version of “Think” was released as a single in January 1966, four months before “Aftermath”. Produced by Oldham, Jagger & Richards & isn’t that the Stones’ singer on the closing backing vocals, Farlowe’s strong mature voice set off with a brassy, sassy, Soul arrangement. There’s no doubt that Chris had one of the most distinct voices around but his debut LP,  “14 Things to Think About”, is a little heavy on big ballads that had been done better elsewhere rather than the bluesy Soul to which he was more suited. “Think” made the Top 40 in the UK, next time around another “Aftermath” cover & he hit big.


Image result for chris farlowe mick jagger“Out of Time” is one of the strongest tracks on “Aftermath”, Brian’s light, imaginative marimba introduction leading into Mick’s restrained vocal & an instantly memorable chorus. Chris, produced by Jagger, gave it the Big Beat treatment & made the UK #1 spot in July 1966. It was perhaps an over reliance on the Stones connection, an easy option, that prevented Farlowe consolidating such a success. There were three more 45’s by Jagger-Richards, “Ride On Baby”, “Yesterday’s Papers” & “Paint It Black” which all missed the Top 30. He got first crack at Mike d’Abo’s “Handbags & Gladrags”, a great song which sure sounded like a hit but wasn’t. When Immediate folded in 1970 he became a voice for hire with Prog bands Colosseum & Atomic Rooster. In 1966 groups performing original material was the thing, that’s why the Stones moved away from the R&B covers. British singers like Joe Cocker & Rod Stewart were appreciated for their individual interpretations of discerningly selected material. This came a little too late for Chris Farlowe.



Related imageTime was when the Searchers were bigger than the Stones. After an apprenticeship which, like the Beatles, included a residency at the Star Club in Hamburg, they were caught up in the Mersey Mania &, under the guidance of producer Tony Hatch at Pye Records, 3 of their first 4 singles were UK #1 hits (the 4th “Sugar & Spice” was only #2). The departure of bassist Tony Jackson, lead vocals on the earliest hits, had no real effect & with 3 US Top 20 songs in 1964 the group were part of the British Invasion. Their harmonies & John McNally’s 12-string jangle were an influence on the upcoming Folk Rockers. “When You Walk in the Room” was a perfect Pop record & there were a few of those around in 1964. A dependence on other people’s songs in an industry where you were as only as good as your last record meant that it was difficult to keep up.


Image result for searchers take it or leave itAfter 1965’s “Goodbye My Love” the Searchers were no longer hitting the UK Top 10 & when drummer/harmoniser Chris Curtis, on & off stage a strong personality, left the group they lost a little individuality. They were looking for more modern material but covering a Stones song was still a little surprising. “Take It or Leave It”, gentler than the original & pleasant enough, just failed to reach the UK Top 30. Subsequent singles, in a variety of styles, made less impression & the Searchers were finding gigs on the cabaret circuit. Later these progenitors of Power Pop found a new, deserved lease of life with Sire Records. I caught a show of theirs in the early 80’s before an appreciative young audience. They did all the old hits, “Needles & Pins” was demanded twice, an evening of melodic Mersey Beat was thoroughly enjoyed by all.



Related image“Would you let your daughter marry a Rolling Stone?”. Andrew Loog Oldham’s Situationist mischief positioned the group as the evil twins of the Beatles. Long hair, being rude to journalists & peeing in public was rebellious enough but the band’s recreational drug use made them a target for the Sunday tabloids & Scotland Yard. After a raid in February 1967 the following June Mick & Keith were sentenced to 3 months & a year in prison respectively. Meanwhile Brian had been charged with possession in May. The Who, prompted by Pete Townshend, pledged their support by rush-releasing a double A-side of Jagger-Richards songs, the first, they said, of a monthly series for as long as the pair faced doing time.


Image result for the who under my thumb


“Under My Thumb”, possibly the most misogynistic of the “Aftermath” songs (there’s a few but the Stones disliked everybody not just women) was covered first by Wayne Gibson, a favourite in the Soul clubs up North & finally a hit in 1974. In the US rock & roller Del Shannon made a pretty good stab at it. Released on June 30th 1967 the Who’s version is a rush propelled by Keith Moon’s drums while, with bassist John Entwistle away on honeymoon, Pete plays everything else including those great stabs of fuzz guitar. The single, coupled with “The Last Time” was both the first & last in the series as in July Keith’s conviction was overturned & Mick given a conditional discharge. Still, it’s the thought that counts & it was a pretty great thought.



Related imageOK, there’s room for one more & this is from 1979, hardly jumping on the Stones bandwagon but my what a track. Ellen Foley had duetted with someone called Meatloaf on “Paradise By the Dashboard Light” from something called “Bat Out of Hell” which I believe was quite a big deal. Like many attractive, intelligent American women she was an Anglophile & chose two experienced British musicians to produce her debut LP “Night Out”. Ian Hunter & Mick Ronson were touring & recording together after leaving successful bands, Mott the Hoople & the Spiders From Mars respectively, & they did a fine job.


Image result for ellen foley mick ronson

Ronson, Foley, Jones, Hunter.

Mick Ronson (that’s the great…) was no stranger to a crunchy Keith Richards riff,  there’s  “Rebel Rebel”, “Jean Genie” & that’s just a start. “Stupid Girl” is a full-on Glam assault & it’s great to hear. In fact Ronno’s guitar flourishes & perfect solos allied to Hunter’s attachment to a bit of Rock & Roll drama makes for a most listenable album. Ellen became romantically involved with Mick Jones off of the Clash & on “Spirit of St Louis” (1981), recorded after “Sandanista”, she was backed by the band. With 6 Strummer/Jones songs included that’s definitely one to check out.


Sumpin’ Funky Going On (Donnie Fritts)

Donnie Fritts, the songwriter & musician who sadly died this week, once said that he would retire if Ray Charles ever recorded one of his songs. When this actually did happen Donnie cried tears of joy & thankfully for us all, kept on doing the thing he’s always done. He may not be as familiar a name as some of his contemporaries but the frequency he shows up on record label credits endorses his reputation as a reliable & influential personality beyond his Muscle Shoals base.


Donnie Fritts was born in 1942 in Florence, Alabama, a teenage drummer, part of a scene raised on Country & Western, influenced by the Rock & Roll of Elvis Presley & by the R&B played by disc jockeys like Hoss Allen on WLAC in Nashville. This crew of young white boys had a local studio where they could learn how a song went. When Tommy Roe, a teen idol, was sent to the Muscle Shoals FAME (Florence Alabama Music Enterprises) studios to record Donnie & his old band mate Dan Penn had a song for him. “Sorry I’m Late Lisa” became the b-side of “Everybody” a 1963 Top 10 hit. Donnie was in at the very start of something big.



He was around again when Penn moved across to American Studios in Memphis & broke big with a trio of hits for the Box Tops. The bluesy “Choo Choo Train” kept the run going. I liked the Box Tops & I liked this song. So, evidently did Quentin Tarantino as it turns up in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”. Donnie always had a song, usually written with someone, for whoever was around. “Behind Every Great Man There’s A Woman” is a great re-write of “When A Man Loves A Woman” for Percy Sledge, all the better for not having heard it a million times. There were others for Percy, a single for Sam & Dave, an album track for Tony Joe White. When Dusty Springfield came to Memphis in 1968 Fritts & regular partner Eddie Hinton brought the languid “Breakfast In Bed”, the next best known song, after “Son of a Preacher Man”, on a landmark record. The following year Atlantic repeated the trick & brought Lulu to Muscle Shoals where the same pair had “Where’s Eddie” waiting for the Scottish songstress.



Image result for donnie fritts kristoffersonDonnie was a piano player now but there were others, Spooner Oldham, David Briggs, around at Muscle Shoals. As a songwriter the deals were done up in Nashville & it was there he got the gig, which lasted for 25 years, of playing in Kris Kristofferson’s band. Theirs was a close friendship, “Funky” Donnie Fritts is name checked on the introduction to Kris’ “The Pilgrim” (used by Scorsese in “Taxi Driver”) & he had co-writing credits on the early albums. The KK connection took Donnie to Hollywood for small roles in “Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid”, two other Peckinpah joints & Monte Hellman’s fantastic “Cockfighter”. Nice work.



Image result for donnie fritts dan pennIn 1974 Donnie made his own LP. The title track of “Prone To Lean” was written for & about his economy of movement, the Alabama Leaning Man’s propensity to find the nearest wall for support, by Kristofferson. A Muscle Shoals all-star band, including the impeccable rhythm section, David Hood, Barry Beckett & Roger Hawkins, showed out for a swampy Shoals Funk session, a self-possessed’ easygoing, heartfelt collection with no lack of dry humour. Donnie now had a portfolio of melodic songs, simply but strongly constructed, which lent themselves to the full spectra of Country & R&B. Dozens of artists wanted to record them.



Ray Charles was not the only one who recorded “We Had It All”. Written with Nashville Hall of Famer Troy Seals the ballad originally appeared on “Honky Tonk Heroes” the 1973 album by Waylon Jennings, a milestone of Outlaw Country. It’s been covered by an extensive & diverse range of artists, Bob Dylan, Dolly Parton, Tom Jones, Scott Walker, Tina Turner, I’ll stop there. Oh yeah, in 1978 while recording “Some Girls” Keith Richard showed his love & respect for Heartbreak Country with a wonderful version which didn’t make the final album but is the one that makes the cut here.


There was another solo record in 1997 when many of Donnie’s friends, John Prine, Willie Nelson, Waylon, happily gave assistance. In 2004 the old gang had a reunion as the Country Soul Revue, something would have been missing if he had not been involved. He was given the opportunity to to record again in 2015 & was joined by younger artists, Alabama Shakes, Jason Isbell, who had grown up listening to & admiring his work.



Image result for donnie fritts dan penn

Arthur, Dan & Donnie

Donnie met Arthur Alexander Jr when he was 16. They became teacher & student, friends & collaborators, as “June” made the first hits from Muscle Shoals with his thoroughly modern, influential (the Beatles & the Stones!) Pop Soul songs. In 1972 he contributed to Arthur’s marvellous eponymous LP & again to 1993’s “Lonely Just Like Me” which included their stunning “If It’s Really Got To Be This Way”. Last year, 2018, aged 75, Donnie released a tribute to his friend, a gorgeous, sincere, of course sentimental collection of Southern Soul which makes me smile & then chokes me up.


Image result for donnie fritts dan pennDonnie Fritts lived a long & happy life making the music he loved with his friends. Back in the 1950’s, when the alternative was picking cotton, he couldn’t have imagined that his weekend hobby would make him a living, take him around the world & that his songs would endure for & affect generations. He was part of a small, talented group who rode their luck & made their mark on American music. I apologise if there are too many clips in this post, I could have chosen twice as many & I’m sure there are others to be discovered. Funky Donnie Fritts was one of the good guys.


Covers Of The Rolling Stones (Beggars Banquet)

In December 1968 the Rolling Stones released “Beggars Banquet”, their 7th LP. A new record from the group was always a big deal but this was an important time for them. Exactly a year earlier their preceding LP, “Their Satanic Majesties Request”,  met with less critical acclaim & commercial success than was customary. Now tracks such as the baroque “She’s A Rainbow”& the cosmic “2000 Light Years From Home” are essential to your Best of the Stones playlist but in 1967 all new music was judged against the seismic “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”. The Stones, dealing with drug busts, drug use, a lack of focus & productivity in the studio which saw Andrew Loog Oldham check out on his producer/manager duties, undoubtedly reacted to this Beatle blast with an increase of experimentation & added psychedelia. The group had always been leaders in rock & roll innovation, there were plenty of followers of the Fab Four already & the Stones had always been tougher than the rest.


We were still processing the 30 tracks on the Beatles new “White Album”, released 2 weeks before, when “Beggars…” came around. The signs were good. In the summer “Jumping Jack Flash” had enough gas, gas, gas to propel it to the top of the world’s charts. The classic 45 was the first with new producer Jimmy Miller whose work with Stevie Winwood in the Spencer Davis Group & Traffic had caught the ear. The outer wrapping of the LP was almost as plain as the other lot’s after cover art showing a graffiti covered toilet was rejected. The important stuff, the music, hit the spot from the very first track.



“Sympathy For the Devil” Woo-Woo ! Everybody knows it. Mick Jagger’s lyrics, a collision of Baudelaire, Bulgakov & Dylan on the enduring, alluring nature of evil set to an hypnotic samba groove. Film maker Jean Luc Godard was at Olympic Studios to capture the creative process, the construction of an intense, instantly iconic piece of Art. The final version convinced many that the group had fallen in with a bad lot. In the early 1970s we met an American girl (raised on promises ?) who believed that Jagger was the Devil. It would have disappointed her if we had passed on our opinion that he was just a bloke from Dartford with a very acute way with words.


The Attack were around from 1966 to 68 just as the Mods turned psychedelic. They released 4 singles on Decca which pinged about from Freakbeat to camp whimsy. A combination of bad timing (Mickie Most nicked “Hi Ho Silver Lining” from them for Jeff Beck), a revolving door line up & the lack of a consistent style on record conspired to deny them success. Guitarist David O’List had left to join the Nice before this cover, replaced by John Du Cann, later of Atomic Rooster. It’s a no-frills version, the vocal lacking Jagger’s menace & malice, the muscular backing giving it plenty. This track was remained unreleased until 2006, the Attack had had their shot. A pity because it’s a fine example of the British Beat in 1968.


“Sympathy…” has been much covered since then. Laibach released a whole LP of versions. In 1969 shoeless songstress Sandie Shaw, her credibility severely battered by winning the lame Eurovision Song Contest with a lamer song, gave it a good go in 1969. In the same year Arif Mardin, Vice President of Atlantic Records, included the song on a solo album. It would take finer tuned ears than mine to explain the attraction of Bryan Ferry’s  1973 version (I’m sure I will get that explanation).


“Street Fighting Man” had been a US single, though not in the UK, in the Autumn. It was not a big hit because in 1968 rock & roll was still considered to be subversive & radio stations were reluctant to air what seemed to be an exhortation, an invitation across the nation, to rioting in the street. The incendiary, ambiguous lyrics are matched by a marching, charging Keith Richards riff, thunderous drums from Charlie Watts & Brian Jones’ tamboura drone. Events in Paris, Prague & Chicago, even “sleepy London town”, had widened the generation gap & shaken governments. The Rolling Stones captured this energy & confusion in a pop song just over  3 minutes long. It was expected that a commentary on a changing world would be provided by musicians. It seemed a more reliable way of getting information than most. A great song from different times.


When Rod Stewart & Ronnie Wood left the Jeff Beck Group to link with the 3 remaining Small Faces their rambunctious, uplifting take on rock & roll had an instant appeal. The Stones, the Who & Led Zeppelin were conquering the world leaving Faces to claim the title of best live band in the UK. Rod’s solo LP “An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down” was already in the shops before the band’s debut. This arrangement worked fine until his 3rd album “Every Picture Tells a Story” went stratospheric & his colleagues were not inclined to be his backing band. “Street Fighting Man” seemed a risky choice to open that 1st record but one of the most appealing facets of those early releases was Rod’s astute selection of songs to cover. Another was that despite Rod having made his reputation in both the Rhythm & the Blues there was always a place for Folk music in his heart.This version is less portentous than the original though drummer Micky Waller drives it along. There’s sterling contributions from Facemates Ronnie Wood, on guitar & bass & Ian McLagan on keyboards. Rod Stewart’s early LPs are to be ranked with the best British music of the time.



“Beggars Banquet” is a return to what the Rolling Stones knew, Blues-based music. It wasn’t a retreat from psychedelia, nor giving the people what they wanted, it was what they did better than anyone else. The record is a springboard & a template for their run of LPs that established them as “the greatest Rock & Roll band in the world”, music that fans still want to hear when they show out to see the Stones almost 50 years along. “Salt of the Earth”, the closing track, is a proletarian anthem to the “uncounted heads”. It’s a simple song filled out with a gospel choir, Nicky Hopkins’ piano & the sure hand of producer Jimmy Miller who was to stick around for the next 5 LPs.


Johnny Adams was from New Orleans. He had worked with Dr John & Eddie Bo before having a peripatetic career throughout the 1960s. By 1971 he was with staff producers Dave Crawford & Brad Shapiro at Atlantic Records. There was no LP, just 4 singles one of which was “Salt of the Earth”. What a terrific version it is too, great Blues-Soul vocals, classic horns & who can resist that sitar-guitar ? I’m sure that Keith Richards approves of such a sympathetic take on one of his songs.


The Rolling Stones were not entirely back on track with the release of “Beggars…”. In the same week they filmed “The Rolling Stones Rock & Roll Circus”, a TV special where a tired performance (particularly on a self-conscious “Salt of the Earth”) was eclipsed by supporting acts including the Who & Taj Mahal. It would be 1996 before ringmaster Jagger invited us to see the show. There were increasing concerns about Brian Jones.The founder of the Stones had first become isolated by the developing songwriting partnership of Mick & Keith. His musical imagination & multi-instrumental talent added texture to many of their songs but his contributions were becoming sporadic, his behaviour made more erratic by drug use & emotional problems. The estrangement was complete when a projected tour was complicated by his legal problems & his health. In June 1969 Brian was fired from his group & just a month later was unfortunately found dead in the swimming pool at his home in Sussex. The Stones rolled on.





I Like It, Like It, Yes, I Do (Rolling Stones)

I have been lucky enough to see many of my musical favourites in concert. I say lucky, I had to buy the tickets, turn up at the right place at the right time on the right day, so I’ve been coordinated enough really. OK it’s a list…the Who,Captain Beefheart, Neil Young, Van Morrison & a bunch of others. I’ve seen & heard great artists deliver  little slices of transcendency but there has only been the one time when a singer of a band walked on to the stage & I thought “Bloody Hell. I’m in the same room as Mick Jagger !”

In May 1976 the Rolling Stones paid some attention to that terrible North-South divide we have in the UK…the Midlands. Birmingham has always had pretensions to being our “Second City” but could provide no adequate venue for the “greatest rock & roll band in the world”. The last time around, 1973, the band played 2 nights at the Odeon, admittedly a big cinema but a cinema. Stadium Rock was not here yet but  was inevitably coming. To see the band Brummie fans would have to travel  the 20 miles to the Bingley Hall, Stafford. Our little gang gathered at the train station to board the special train. I say special, there was no John Pasche “tongue & lip” logo on a Silver Train to take us all down the line (oh, oh). The ready-to-be-condemned rolling stock was rammed. We took our beer & our smokes into a gap between carriages & had our own party. At Stafford station we were transferred to buses for the final leg of our trek. We were too high to be this close to these people.

The new LP was “Black & Blue”. Nowadays the 3 records after  “Exile”, “Goat’s Head Soup”, “It’s Only Rock & Roll” & this one are excluded from the pantheon of great Stones records. To lose one guitarist, Brian Jones, may be regarded as a misfortune but to lose another, Mick Taylor, looked like carelessness.  “Rehearsing guitar players, that’s what that one was about” said Keith about “Black & Blue”. A parade of contenders passed through the studio, 3 of them made the LP but Ron Wood, surely born to be a Stone, got the job. In 1976 a new Stones LP was still a big deal. Critic Lester Bangs thought it was all over for the band in their “old age”, Robert Christgau wrote “not dead by a long shot”. 4 weeks at #1 in the USA meant that everybody was earning. “Hand of Fate”, “Memory Motel”, “Fool To Cry” & some other good ones, that’s “Black & Blue”.

On arrival at the Staffordshire County Showground our eyes told us we were in a big basic building. Our noses contributed the info that it had recently been in use as some sort of cowshed ! With the grubby train & now this we were rolling strictly second class tonight. No matter, we found our own piece of concrete floor & listened to the support act, the Meters. You heard mate, Art, Leo, George & Zigaboo, Allen Toussaint’s houseband. “Cissy Strut”, “Look-A Py Py”, “Just Kissed My Baby”, all that good stuff & more. They were great.There was a long wait before the Stones arrived. I think that Keith & Ron were into a game of Scrabble or Bill had some knitting to finish. People were getting impatient, the lack of any comfort or distraction was not helping. We were used to standing on football terraces on a Saturday afternoon & we knew why we were here. What was wrong with these people ?

Then it was the “Bloody Hell” moment. From right here, right now in 2013 I could tell you that Keith stroked out the opening riff to “Honky Tonk Woman” & the crowd went wild. He did & we did. It was when the singer walked to the microphone & acknowledged the herd that we knew that everything was going to be just fine.  “I met a gin soaked, bar-room queen in Memphis”, slurred Mr Charisma & away we went. I’m not sure for how long but it could not be long enough. This version of the Stones lacked the satanic majesty of “Get Yer Ya Yas Out”. I think the debacle at Altamont, while hardly the end of the 60s, finished the “Devil’s Ringmaster” palaver. Neither were they the drug-fuelled murky magnificents of “Exile”. That much ennui, it’s gonna be the death of you. What we got was a toughened, professional unit, one that was built to last. A Stones that could roll & has rolled forever.

There were a few contenders for that “greatest band” title & the Stones made a strong case for, at least, a podium finish. Keith & Ronnie were a natural fit, they knew just how that dual guitar went. Keith could confidently flow into just pure riffage (perhaps the greatest sight in rock), even investigate whatever had been chopped out onto his amp, knowing that the notes were in capable hands. It was a vigorous sound, the new songs were well built if not intense. “Starfucker”…hell yeah! “You Can’t Always Get…” leading into two from “Exile”, “Happy” & “Tumblin’ Dice” was an irresistible crescendo orchestrated by Jagger. Billy Preston (that’s the Billy P…) got two solo tunes while we & the band caught a breath. The enormous finish of “Midnight Rambler”, “Brown Sugar”, “Jumping Jack Flash” & “Street Fighting Man”, Jagger astride a giant inflatable penis, confetti cannons showering the crowd was as exciting as any concert I have ever attended. Not because of the big prick onstage but because of the music.

The Stones were giving their audience what they thought we wanted. The set list for the 41 gigs was fairly static. They were right about the live shows, we did want the hits. We also wanted another Stones LP that we had to play when we got in the house, In 1978, with a scoop of the new energy in British music, “Some Girls” was just that. It was the last great Stones record & the much publicized tours of the world’s stadiums became a parade of past proficiency with elements of persistence, even pantomime. In 1976 we could not give a flying one about the future.

We were on the cruddy train back home, picking coloured paper out of each others hair like a troop of grooming chimps. Only now were we playing the “Oh, they didn’t play…” game. Seriously, the transport was poor, we had no beer, we were tired & we really did not care. We had been to more than a gig. It had been an event, one of a kind, we had seen the Rolling Stones. Some years later we were walking down the Charing Cross Rd in London’s glittering West End. It was around midnight & as we passed the entrance to the Marquee Club a very bedraggled figure was dragged /carried by 2 burly minders right in front of us into a waiting limo. “Bloody Hell !”, we said, “that was Keith Richards”. Those Stones had still got it !

Music And Movies (Adults Only)

These 3 films were rated “R” in the USA because of scenes of a sexual nature, violence or offensive language. I do now want to shock or offend anyone so  if you are not of an age to watch this or are offended by such scenes, please check out the rest of my blog which is much more wholesome. Now…on with the filth !

In 1995 Christopher McQuarrie wrote a script that was a hard sell in Hollywood. “The Usual Suspects” is about 5 guys who meet in a police line-up. It is a dialogue heavy, multi-layered story, the plot is set out on Wikipedia if you have an hour to spare. The movie’s budget was $6 million & the box office take in the USA was over $23 million. McQuarrie won the Oscar for Best Original Script so he had a little leverage. It was though 2000 before a “written & directed by” was released. “The Way of The Gun” is another crime film & it starts like this.

Well all right, that’s rated “R” for restricted right there ! The frenetic rockabilly bluster of “Rip This Joint” thrusts the viewer into the world of two not-so-wise guys played by Ryan Phillippe & Benicio del Toro. (” So, you the brains of this outfit, or is he?” asks James Caan in a reprise of his seen-it-all turn in “Bottle Rocket”. “Tell ya the truth, I don’t think it’s a brains kind of operation” replies Benicio). An ill-planned kidnapping of Juliette Lewis, the crazy, beautiful ingenue of choice in the 90s, & away we go.

Any violent movie at this time was inevitably labelled “post-Tarentino” but there is a lot more to “The Way Of The Gun” than dogging the trail of “Reservoir Dogs”. In this pulp fiction there are no heroes, the relationships between all the characters are complex. There are double-crosses, puzzles & the dialogue is as smart as a whip. Oh &, as we saw, Sarah Silverman gets her lights punched out ! The progenitor of this movie is the work of Sam Peckinpah , the hard-boiled “The Getaway” & the Modern West of “Junior Bonner” not just the famed Westerns. I make no claim that the “The Way Of The Gun” is in the class of these classics but from a sound base the violence is proper, there is intelligence & flair on the screen. Christopher McQuarrie… Wha’  Happened ?

So Vincent Gallo, painter, rapper, model, musician, Renaissance Man, does a fair turn in that movie about the dorks who try to rob a jewellery shop & get doughnuts (Palookaville, 1995). From this he gets to write, direct & star in his own film. “Buffalo 66” (1998) is a gem of an independent movie with a simple plot, a fine cast & cinematography by Lance Acord, who now works with Spike Jonze & Sofia Coppola. Billy (Gallo) is released from prison, he will return to his parents (Ben Gazzara & Angelica Huston…enough said) & will take revenge on Scott Norwood the kicker of the Buffalo Bills who missed a game-winning kick in the 1991 Superbowl &, indirectly, caused Billy’s imprisonment. He kidnaps Layla & presents her to his parents as his fiancee. Er…that’s it.

Billy’s violent fantasy of revenge in the strip club is accompanied by “Heart Of The Sunrise” by Yes. It’s by no means my kind of music but the movie is Gallo’s thing. His slacker, self-indulgent, whiny character, unable to recognise or respond to any genuine emotion is a dickhead but respect to Vincent for showing out. The heart of the film is Layla, played by Christina Ricci, the ingenue of choice in the 00’s. Another bruised individual she is just so attractive in this film. Little Wednesday Addams, who knew ? Here she awkwardly performs a self-absorbed tap dance to King Crimson’s “Moonchild”.

I did not see Gallo’s follow-up film “The Brown Bunny” (2003). By this time his narcissism, performance or not, had become tiresome & I did not want to see what he & Chloe Sevighny had going on. I may have been wrong & it is worth a view but “Be careful what you pretend to be because you are what you pretend to be” (Kurt Vonnegut). Come on Vincent too cool is just not cool.  “Buffalo 66” is a fine personal vision of stunted masculinity & a memorable movie.

Atom Egoyan, the Canadian film maker, made a breakthrough movie with “Exotica” in 1994. The film revolves around the lives of characters who coincide at the eponymous nightclub. It was promoted as an erotic thriller but it’s a  complex non-linear intrigue with a lot of sadness & tragedy. I preferred Egoyan’s mature films to his contemporary US directors like Soderbergh for example. “Exotica” is a tough watch but rewarding. Elias Koteas, as DJ Eric, proves he is some actor.

Christina (Mia Kirshner) dances to “Everybody Knows” by Leonard Cohen from the “I’m Your Man” LP which added orchestration to his caustic, spare lyrics. Cohen’s sardonic & arch commentaries on the modern world and its strange ways are perfect for the tone of “Exotica” They are often very funny. That line in “Closing Time”, “she’s a hundred but she’s wearing something tight” is so perfect. His songs are in so many films now. “Pump Up The Volume” used this same one. There are two in both “Natural Born Killers” & “Watchmen”. “Secretary” has Maggie Whatsit crawling around to his music. These films aspire to a similar accurate & pithy observation as the songs. “Exotica” does the trick & other films will continue to use Cohen’s music but please, not “Hallelujah” again. Here is a full length video to “Everybody Knows” which I find most alluring.

I wasn’t Looking Too Good But I Was Feeling Real Well (Keith Richards)

Keith Richards off of the Rolling Stones was in the Speakeasy Club in London’s glittering West End one night in 1974. His group had almost finished that year’s LP (1 a year between 1971-4) & there was no tour scheduled. He was invited to the house of Ron Wood by Ron’s then wife Krissy. Ron’s group, the Faces, had split, after playing with Rod Stewart since 1967 he had his own album to do. Mick Taylor was around, so were Ian Mclagan from the Faces & the best rhythm section of the time drummer Andy Newmark  & bass player Willie Weeks. Keith had a good time. He stayed for months & moved into the guest room.

In July 1974 Woody “and friends” played 2 gigs to promote the LP “I’ve Got My Own Album To Do”.  Keith had contributed 2 songs to the record & took the lead on one of them.

“Sure The One You Need” is a Jagger-Richards composition though when it was performed on the Stones’ 1975 tour it was introduced as a song what Keith wrote. Whatever, I’m sure that Chuck Berry had something to do with it. The band never recorded the tune, more because Ron had used it than any lack of quality. It’s great to see Keith, young, standing upright,  not so elegantly wasted and playing with fine musicians where it’s not his show. The focus though is on him. No-one brings the rock and the roll with such a natural facility. At a time when guitar “heroes” were admired for an increased velocity or for the effects they could wring from their instruments the best guitarist in the world is a rhythm player.

Mick Taylor left the Stones & Keith has described the 1976 LP “Black & Blue” as an audition for guitarists. The guy with the inside track had to be Ron Wood & he became the new member. We saw that 1976 tour &, Holy inflatable phallus, even if there had not been a classic record since “Exile”, it was a very special event. 1978’s “Some Girls” revitalized the band while Keith & Ron toured with the New Barbarians, in support of another solo LP by his co-guitarist, in 1979. The quality of “Some Girls” was not maintained & by 1986 Keith was estranged from Jagger. A solo Mick LP had annoyed him, the pair’s involvement with Live Aid was separate & only 3 songs on the latest record was by credited to them. Finally in 1988 Keith Richards released a solo LP.

What a record “Talk Is Cheap” is. The last great Rolling Stones LP. Keith felt that Jagger had become a pop singer & there must have been a competitive edge to the making of the record. There are songs about the deterioration of the two lasting relationships in his life, with his singer & Anita Pallenberg. There are those long, logical, galvanic riffs , “How I Wish” just never fails to delight. OK Jagger would have made a better job of the Al Green tribute “Make No Mistake” but “Talk Is Cheap” is a proper LP, one that should be listened to from start to finish.It was a great band too, including guitarist Waddy Wachtel, a Neville brother on keyboards, drummer & collaborator Steve Jordan. I wish that I had seen one of these shows.

As the Glimmer twins got to 50 they reunited & the Rolling Stones became an institution that recorded infrequently, making records that no-one remembers. (The lead single from “Bridges To Babylon” was “Anybody Seen My Baby ?”…anyone ?). The world tours became lucrative media events &, at least’ you got to see Keith & Charlie Watts play together, surely the greatest thing in music over the last 50 years. During the first hiatus Keith had the taste for recording & made a 2nd solo record with Jordan & Wachtel. “Main Offender” (1992) has some good songs but lacks the drive of “Talk” & seems a little over-produced. he didn’t need to make another Stones record but it is what he does best. “Wicked As It Seems” though, didn’t that song go to #1 ? Should have done.

That was it for the solo records. While others had turned blue in the bathroom & fallen by the wayside Keith swapped the smack for the Jack. He took all the drugs so that we didn’t have to & has become an international treasure. Deservedly so, he has been the heart & soul of the great rock and roll survivors. When I see the geriatric Stones I am reminded of the final image of the band from Guy Peellaert’s “Rock Dreams” with the inseparable pair of troupers keeping on keeping on & Keith, presciently, as a pantomime pirate. Then I put on “Exile” or “Get Yer Ya Ya’s Out” & listen to one of the best bands  I have ever heard.

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Aftermath (Rolling Stones)

In 1966 the Rolling Stones released their first LP to consist of all Jagger/Richard compositions. The early records had been reliant upon the Chicago blues and Chuck Berry songs which had formed their repertoire on the London club scene. 1965’s “Out Of Our Heads” included  compositions by Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, Barbara Lynn, even Sonny Bono. So “Aftermath” was a move forward for the band. The Beatles, Bob Dylan & other new musicians wrote their own material, it was time for the Stones to  contribute their lyrical take on a tumultuous decade.

In the UK both the Beatles and the Stones did not put their singles onto LPs. “Aftermath” was released between “19th Nervous Breakdown” & “Paint It Black”. There is not the same crepuscular density as these singles but there is some pretty good stuff and “Under My Thumb” is one of the best. There is an element of misogyny in more than a few of the early Stones lyrics. This, “Stupid Girl” & “Play With Fire” are all acerbic but the band were sneering at everything in 1966, it was what they did, better than anyone else.

The Stones were still a blues band on “Aftermath”, there was an 11 minute jam to close side one. They were, though, looking for a new sound and on this record they gave Brian Jones free range in the music shop. Brian’s imaginative contribution to this record, like the sitar on “Paint It Black”, introduces touches of psychedelia and the baroque. “Under My Thumb” is propelled by the marimbas, I don’t think they had any of those in the Chess studios at 2120 South Michigan Avenue.

For “Lady Jane” it’s the Appalachian dulcimer! It’s interesting to see the wild men of rock, in their new dandy finery, sitting down to perform a courtly song of Elizabethan chivalry. I never really “got” this song, “I pledge myself to…” what’s all that about  ? The dulcimer…that’s OK, Brian was not writing songs but was playing his part in the band’s developing sounds. The experiments of the next two studio records are often a result of his involvement. By the time of “Beggars Banquet” (just 2 years after “Aftermath”)  Jones was a spent force, marginalised from the band he formed and too stoned to roll. Next time around the band got this mellow sound just right on “Ruby Tuesday”, “Lady Jane” was a step on the way.

The overall quality of the Stones’ songs at this time could be a little patchy. When they got it right though they made some classics and here’s one now.

It’s back to “Ready Steady Go” the 1960s British TV programme that brought the excitement of the music to our living rooms. They had a head start because the Beatles and the Stones were only too eager to appear on something outside of the confines of the standard variety show which was still anchored in the 1950s. The show was very sharp and spoiled for choice by the music explosion in the UK. As an untroubled young boy in 1964 the only thing that could have improved my life would have been allowed to stay up late enough to watch it !

The dulcimer is around again for “I Am Waiting”. This song is less honeyed, a little ominous and one of the best on the record. At this time the Stones were unable to finish most concerts they played because of the hysteria and chaos they induced. They must have been happy to play these new, more polished songs properly. “I Am Waiting” is used very well by Wes Anderson in his movie “Rushmore”. Anderson is obviously an Anglophile when it comes to music, I was pleased and impressed that he’d selected such a quality but more obscure Stones track.

With “Aftermath” and “Between The Buttons” the Rolling Stones were attempting to find their own voice. The records are inevitably compared to “Rubber Soul” and “Revolver” and come up short against two songwriters at the top of their game. Jagger and Richard did get to it by asserting their blues roots and becoming lyrically more sophisticated. From “Beggars Banquet” to “Exile On Main St” they made records for the ages. These two earlier works are pop experiments and sometimes not successful. They are though pretty pretty good.