A Very Cursory Review of The Stones’ “Blue and Lonesome”

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When I was a teenager, I came awfully damned close to becoming an idolater, a worshiper of Mick Jagger, whom I considered the coolest cat in non-Christendom. He provided non-athletes like I-and-I a deviant path to popularity. Rather than snagging winning touchdown passes on the gridiron, we could pump and grind on the dance floor, slouch down the halls instead of swagger, ditch rah! rah! rah! for so what.

Plus Jagger somehow transcended his ugliness. Livered-lipped and as muscular as a spear of asparagus, his charisma, aided and abetted by that 200-watt grin of his, dazzled away those physical shortcomings. He made us ugly boy children with pepperoni complexions feel as if we had a shot.

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Actually, as far as music went, I preferred the mid-60s Animals to the mid-‘60s Stones, but when “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Honky Tonk Women” hit the airwaves, I became a true Stones believer. In fact, even now when I hear Charlie Watts hit the cowbell that initiates “Honky Tonk Women,” I let loose a beatific smile.

A string of Stones’ albums of the Late ‘60s and Early ‘70s are arguably the greatest rock-n-roll records in the history of the genre – Beggers’ Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, and Exile on Main Street – a series of masterpieces. In both sound and sense, they expressed my anger, my disdain for society. I can remember fantasizing in high school about taking over the main building and blasting “Midnight Rambler” over the intercom system as a clarion call for destruction.

However, as the hormones settled down, my fascination with Jagger and Company waned. Truth be told, I haven’t bought a new Stones album since Tattoo You. Let’s face it: in the realm of rock, it’s hard for performers to maintain their creativity past middle age.

On the other hand, in the realm of the blues, it is not only possible but not all that unusual for a bluesman or woman to continue to improve –like Yeats, to continue to create masterworks right up to the end. Sure, Etta James lost some of her range over the years, but it didn’t diminish her artistry. She had so much more heartache to tap into. As they say, you got to suffer if you want to sing the blues, and I’m here to tell you getting old is all about suffering – looks fade, loved ones die, minds go bad, civilization declines.

As Willie B himself put it:

An aged man is but a paltry thing,

A tattered coat upon a stick, unless

Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing

For every tatter in its mortal dress.

Old age is all about tatters, and so is the blues.

Blind Willie McTell

Blind Willie McTell

So when I heard the Stones were going to come out with an album dedicated solely to the blues, I looked forward to it. Jagger actually plays a pretty mean harp. Charlie Watts is a great drummer. Keith and Ronnie can hold their own. However, after one, albeit cursory, listen of Blue and Lonesome, I have to express some mild disappointment.

The tracks sound to me – how should I put this – like approximations – maybe mannered? – though I wouldn’t go far enough to say inauthentic. My favorite cut on the record, “I Hate to See You Go,” is a fine rendition, but then again, as Mick himself once said in an interview way back when, “Why listen to us do ‘King Bee’ when you can listen to Slim Harpo do ‘King Bee?’” – or in this case, why listen to Mick do “I Hate to See You Go” when you can listen to Little Walter do it?

 

You can check out the Stones’ version here.

Maybe the problem lies in that the Stones tried to make these tunes sound too authentic instead of making them sound fresh. Certainly, their cover of “I Should Have Quit You, Baby” pales, not only to Little Milton’s version, but also Led Zeppelin’s.

That said, I’ll probably end up buying Blue and Lonesome anyway. Maybe it will grow on me. I wouldn’t be surprised.  When it comes to records, sometimes not being wowed at first is good for longevity’s sake.

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50 years of Comparing the Beatles and Stones

Yes, it was half-a-century ago that George, John, Paul and Ringo slinked onto the stage on the Ed Sullivan Show to launch the British Invasion, a significant cultural event not so much because of the lasting impact of bands like The Dave Clark Five or the Mersey Beats or Herman’s Hermits  but because bands like the Stones and the Animals reintroduced American listeners to R & B and the blues by covering the likes of Slim Harpo, Jimmy Reed, and John Lee Hooker.

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Also, 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of the Rolling Stones first LP. The half-century commemoration of these cultural milestones has spurred John Covach of the Huffington Post to wonder if, “Five decades later and after proving themselves one of the most popular and durable rock bands of all time, are the Stones once again taking a backseat to the Liverpool mop-tops?” [gag]

Comparing the Beatles and Stones is a time-honored tradition among my generation, and, of course, existentially, people fall into either camp according to their predilections. Some might prefer the catchy tunes and wider range of the Beatles to the Stones’ grittier R & B based sound and vice versa.

1f8d36378a9c8c681880b2f32dc234d1And, of course, who is better depends on the criteria by which we judge, and any critic worth his salt must follow Matthew Arnold’s example and establish the principles by which he or she determines who is better.

Well, I have spent this rainy Saturday afternoon following Arnold’s dictum that the critic must embrace “disinterestedness [. . .] by keeping aloof from what is called ‘the practical view of life.'”

So I compiled a list of the Beatles’ 12 albums and the first 12 of the Stones in two columns for easy cross-referencing. I’ve included original hit songs from the albums and have omitted all covers. In fact, many of the Stones’ first hits were covers, so you could argue that this listing favors the Beatles because who over the age of ten would prefer “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” to “Time Is on My Side?”  Click here for my post 5 Best Covers of All Time”

Scrolling down, we can see the difficulty in coming to any definitive judgment because some of the Beatles’ albums released in a year are better than Stone albums [e.g. Sgt Pepper’s versus Their Satanic Majesty’s Request (a slaughter)], but some Stones’ albums are better than Beatles” albums (e.g., Out of Our Heads versus Beatles for Sale.

Please Please Me (’63)                                    The Rolling Stones (’64)

“I Saw Her Standing There”                               “Tell Me”

“Love Me Do”

With the Beatles (’63)                                      12 x 5 (’64)

“It Won’t Be Long”                                             “Good Times, Bad Times”

“All My Loving”

A Hard Day’s Night (’64)                                  Rolling Stones, Now! (’65)

“A Hard Day’s Night”                                       “Heart of Stone”

“I Should Have Known Better”                         “Off the Hook”

“Tell Me Why”

“Can’t Buy Me Love”

Beatles for Sale (’64)                                       Out of Our Heads (’65)

“I’ll Follow the Sun”                                                “The Last Time”  “Play with Fire”

“Eight Days a Week”                                                “Satisfaction”  “The Spider and the Fly”

Help! (’65)                                                           December’s Children (’65)

“Help!”                                                                      “Get Off My Cloud”

“You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away”                    “I’m Free”

“Ticket to Ride”                                                        “As Tears Go By”

Rubber Soul (’65)                                                   Aftermath (’66)

“Michelle”                                                                “Paint It Black”   “Stupid Girl”

“Norwegian Wood”                                                “Under My Thumb”

Revolver (’66)                                                Between the Buttons (’66)

“Eleanor Rigby”                                                “Let’s Spend the Night Together”

“Yellow Submarine”                                          “Ruby Tuesday”

“Good Day Sunshine”

 Sgt. Pepper’s (’67)                                           Their Satanic Majesty’s Request (’67)

White Album (’68)                                            Beggar’s Banquet (’68)

Yellow Submarine (’69)                                    Let It Bleed (’69)

Abbey Road (’69)                                              Sticky Fingers (’71)

Let It Be (’69 released ’70)                                Exile on Main Street (’72)

Once you hit the late ’60s and Early ’70’s it’s really almost impossible to judge between two masterpieces like the White Album and Let It Bleed.

So let’s just call it a tie.

That said, I think the early Stones stand the test of time better than the early Beatles, but neither in the mid-Sixties can hold a candle to Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, or James Brown. As Mick Jagger himself said, “Why would you listen to us doing ‘King Bee’ when you can listen to Slim Harpo do “King Bee.”