Lezbeonest. I don’t care what it is (or who, for that matter). Doing it (or him or her) for 50 years…in a row…is worthy of significant celebration. It is a rare feat, celebrating a 50th anniversary of any kind. And the half century the Rolling Stones have endured and bestowed upon us is no exception. In fact, it borders on incredible…the stuff of myth. I mean, the band had to overcome the incarceration of its two primary songwriters (in 1967, Mick and Keith were jailed for drug possession and shortly thereafter were released on bail), the “firing” and subsequent death (by drowning but due to drug abuse) of a founding member and close friend (Brian Jones), the resignation of another band mate and talented guitarist (Mick Taylor), the ubiquitous shadow of the Beatles the Stones were relegated to live in (the band was basically labeled the “evil” or dark yang to the Beatles light, angelic yin and were viewed as ruffians parents should never let their daughters date, a characterization these well-schooled middle class musicians took a few years to fully embrace), the unfortunate and horrifying experience that was Altamont (where unruly, drunk and drugged up Hell’s Angels provided “security” (read: incited a riot) while a fan was murdered by throngs of out of control concert-goers and the band feared for their own lives), a self exile to the South of France for financial reasons (mostly exorbitant back taxes owed), a massive heroin problem that enveloped some members of the band (notably Keith) as well as many important crew members, and finally, the imprisonment in Canada of Keith for heroin possession (he faced a lifetime sentence, but was released upon a vow to go straight)…and that was all in the first 15 years of the band’s existence. The subsequent 35 years were similarly rife with highs and lows, the worst of it stemming from a tumultuous and deteriorating relationship between Richards and Jagger, the de facto leaders of the band.
And yet here they are, fifty years later…mostly intact, and somehow still churning out the best soundtrack you are likely ever to hear at a Golden Anniversary party (not that there’s anything wrong with a one-man band’s rendition of In The Mood, The Way We Were, Unforgettable, I’ve Got The World On A String or any of Frank Sinatra’s great love ballads). So in anticipation of the American leg of the Stones 50 & Counting mini-tour, which will culminate with a Pay Per View-streamed performance on Saturday, December 15 at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, I felt it was high time to give the original bad boys of rock and roll their due. Having already dedicated a post to that other mega-success story of a band from England, the timing couldn’t be better to roll out the red carpet, and fittingly paint it black, for the only other band in history besides the Beatles that arguably deserves its own wing in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Sure, scoff all you want. Insert a joke or two here under your breath regarding said wing that evokes images of a nursing home…the wing should be in Florida; its snack bar should offer an early bird special; hope there’s round the clock medical staff on call. Blah, blah, blah. If you could throw down on stage like the Stones at any age, you would, and you know it.
While I agree that the Stones are old (arguing this fact would be as foolish as arguing that water is not wet), the band’s two stalwarts, both nearly 70 years of age, continue to defy the odds. Mick, who inspired a song regarding his moves, has the energy of a man fifty years his junior, and the waistline of an anorexic supermodel. And Keith…what can I say? What can anyone say really? He is a medical marvel that continues to mystify… with blatant disregard for logic and the laws of science. (To get a taste, I do recommend his autobiography, Life, if you haven’t yet read it.) So perhaps it isn’t such a conundrum that these relics continue to bring it while on stage.
So in honor of the centuries of combined rock experience that is the Rolling Stones, I felt a list was in order. Lists are great because they demand thought, from both the writer and reader(s). There is always room for debate, particularly in a good, well-reasoned list, but generally the conversation is lively and worthwhile. And that is why we’re here, right? At least it’s why I’m here. Tapping on the keys like Thelonius Monk in the wee hours of the morning, eyes bloodshot, head pounding, but thoughts racing…ahh. And the Stones are incredibly list-worthy. Exile on Main Street could be its own list. So could Let It Bleed. So in the spirit, of Rob Gordon from High Fidelity, from whom music-themed lists seemed to flow like cheap beer at a frat party, we begin.
My top ten Stones tunes of all time (at least for today):
10) I had a hell of a time choosing among Miss You, Emotional Rescue and Salt Of The Earth, but for the sake of a clean list, I am going with Emotional Rescue. Perhaps my list would be different on any other day. I dig the disco influence. And the tune is catchy as hell. This is not your typical Stones song, but that doesn’t make it a bad song.
9) Sweet Virginia. Raw, gritty and heartfelt. This will not be the lone gem from Exile to crack my top ten, but a great tune in its own right.
8) As Tears Go By. An oldie but goodie. Penned by the Jagger/Richards dynamic duo, this classic was first recorded and released by Marianne Faithful in 1964, and then by the Stones a year later. Just a beautiful song, emotional and powerful despite the restraint that was a trademark of that era. I would put this tune up against almost any from the mid-60s, and it holds up well, even today.
7) Loving Cup. Just give me little drink. Please.
6) Shine A Light. Wow. Just Wow. Maybe this one should be higher on the list (probably), but the bottom line is, it needs to be on the list. Such a powerful message. Marty Scorsese named his 2008 Stones documentary after this tune, and we all know what Marty thinks of the Stones.
5) Gimme Shelter. That creaky floorboard percussion effect is eerie as hell. And speaking of Marty Scorsese, we all must thank him for recognizing the genius in the Stones in this tune, and for marrying its theme to your own particular genius (Scorsese used this song in 3 of his films…thus far). Violence and war is everywhere; not just on the battlefield, but on the mean streets of every city across the world.
4) You Can’t Always Get What You Want. Can’t help but think of The Big Chill opening here, but the message is clear and pure, and the melody is perfection personified. Interestingly, it seems Brett Morgen, the director of the most recent Stones documentary, Crossfire Hurricane, drew inspiration from Lawrence Kasdan as he used this song during his own post-death funeral procession music to honor Brian Jones’ passing.
3) Sympathy For The Devil. Perfection in capturing and breathing life into a theme by overlaying incredible lyrics on transcendent music. Timeless.
2) Waiting On A Friend. Profound emotional ballad capturing man’s need for companionship after his wild oats have been sown.
1) Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’? Here’s the thing…I love music. And even before this tune kicked off the great mini-mix on my iPod shuffle that ushered in the greatest day of my life, it would have topped this list. The meaning behind the song is murky, like the drug-addled paranoia some of the lyrics evoke. But if your ears could smile, this song could have that effect on them, from start to finish. The jam toward the end of that track is so incredible it has moved me to tears on numerous occasions. Everything was clicking there, from Keys’ blistering sax solo to Richards’ guitar. And then Mick Taylor steals the show with a completely improvised virtuoso performance lasting nearly 4 minutes to end the song. There are hints and influences of numerous other great musicians and musical genres intertwined in the rich, mellifluous orgy of musical delights. To quote Richards, “the band’s music was influenced by everyone from Mozart to Marley.” That is clearly evident in this song alone, a virtual microcosm of the Rolling Stones vast and impressive oeuvre. And make no mistake, Charlie gets the last “word,” which is quite fitting for a tune titled “Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’?”
So that’s my list. Hope nobody was offended by my selections. I would love to hear some of yours, so feel free to share below.
As always, thanks for reading.
Oh, and for another blogger’s take on the same subject matter, feel free to click here.