Monday, March 11, 2013

The Rolling Stones, Part 1

The Rolling Stones - Complete Discography

Top 10 Albums:
1) Exile on Main St.
2) Let it Bleed
3) Sticky Fingers
4) Beggars Banquet
5) Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out!
6) Flowers
7) Brussels Affair
8) Some Girls
9) Between the Buttons
10) Tattoo You

        Yeah, they're my favorite band. Why? Well, there's obviously the whole "country and rock" thing, but my main reason is this -- they've been around for 50 years, and you can find something at least decent on any given album from pretty much every period of their career. There's just SO MUCH stuff to listen to, and it's all pretty much worth sifting through! That's absolutely amazing, isn't it? I mean, only half of The Beatles' career is classic! Same for The Who and Bob Dylan! And The Clash! Sure, I suppose I would say that The Beatles were overall a "greater" and "more important" band, but I'd rather listen to The Stones 8 or 9 times out of 10. 
       And why is that? Well, they're just so gosh-darn fun, that's why! They're melodic geniuses, I absolutely ADORE both Mick's and Keith's voices, throughout their entire career the lead guitarists have been brilliant, Charlie's drumming is among the most solid EVER, nearly every period of their music sounds completely different -- I LOVE THIS BAND. 
       The only perceivable flaw that I can see in the band is the dreaded mid-to-late-80s period...but meh, we'll get to that eventually. I could go on for AGES about these guys, but I've got some serious reviews to write. Most of my views on the band will come out in those. So, let's dive on in, eh?

England's Newest Hit Makers (1964)
Rating: 8
"Get 'cho kicks / on Route 66"
Best Song: Walking the Dog
Worst Song: Honest I Do

       I was originally planning to give this a 10, but...let's be honest. Nearly everyone who gives this album a high score does so merely because it's The Rolling Stones, and it was made in 1964. Well, you know what...that directly contradicts my reviewing mission statement. What is that, you ask? Well, I believe that every album should be reviewed not for importance, but for sheer enjoyment. A slightly controversial point of view, I guess, but that's just how I feel. 
       Sure, yeah, this was the first time that rock and roll was played both aggressively AND somewhat neatly, but as far as how much enjoyment a modern listener will get out of it? An 8 it is. 
       The main draw of this album, to my ears at least, is simply the energy/fun of the whole thing. If not for this grinning freneticism that the entire album displays, it'd be pretty much worthless, honestly. Oh come on, admit it! None of the songs have any memorable hooks or catchy melodies, do they? I mean, seriously! What, "I Just Want to Make Love to You"? It's not really that melodically catchy, it's just fast! And filled with grinning freneticism! And THAT is what makes it a good song!
       Nearly every one of 'em on here is like that; i.e., fast and fun, so it maintains a level of solidity throughout. The only times that this doesn't happen are on the ballads "Tell Me" and "Honest I Do". "Tell Me", the band's first original composition, is actually pretty good, but "Honest I Do" is dreadfully boring...eesh.
       Individual songs? Well, "Walking the Dog" probably has the best hooks on the album, plus the whistling and yelling is a hoot. "Carol", "Route 66", and "Not Fade Away" are all fun covers, as is "Can I Get a Witness?". The instrumental version of the same track, "Now I've Got a Witness" is merely decent.
       Again, everything on here can pretty much be summed up in "it's fast, it's fun, it's tight, and it chugs along nicely". I find it hard to call a "classic", but it's also hard for me to dismiss it completely. There are loads of Stones albums that are better than this one, but if you're interested...I think you'll find it is indeed listenable.  

12 X 5 (1964)
Rating: 9
"She used to run around / with every man in town"
Best Song: It's All Over Now
Worst Song: Grown Up Wrong

       Better. This isn't exactly the "popular" opinion -- most people prefer the "hard'n'fast" stylings of the debut to this one's more poppy leanings -- but to me, at least, this is a pretty obvious improvement. For one thing, there are actual melodies on this here slab 'o music, and that helps significantly in the listening department. Secondly, I vastly prefer the overall sound of this one to the original -- the guitar tone is way better, and generally the band as a whole sounds much clearer and, well, just flat out better than they did on Hit Makers
       The obvious big highlight here is what is my and many others' favorite early Stones song, "It's All Over Now". The guitar work is completely revelatory, sounding more like something from 1968 than 1964, and the vocal melody is absolutely genius. Classic.
       Nearly classic is the band's cover of Chuck Berry's "Around and Around", which sounds absolutely fantastic. Dig that Jerry Lee Lewis piano and the rollicking guitar riffage! Of course, the start-and-stop nature of the verses gets a bit irritating after awhile...but still, it's pretty great. "Susie Q" is a fun, tight cover that's more in the spirit of the debut, but it's even tighter and more rockin' than most anything on there! "Confessin' the Blues" also sounds similar to the debut, but this one is more along the lines of "I'm a King Bee" than "Walking the Dog". I don't know why, but it just sounds so much more well played and convincing than anything on Hit Makers! Really!
       There's also the acoustic slow-shuffle of "Good Times, Bad Times", which is actually quite similar to the kind of rootsy things they'd be performing on Exile and Beggars Banquet. One major point of contention between critics is the aforementioned pop covers. Personally, I find them to be harmless, catchy little ditties that cause no harm to the album whatsoever. I particularly like "Under the Boardwalk", and while I can see someone finding it a bit cheesy, it's still really pretty and pleasant, to my ears. Same goes for the Motown "If You Need Me".
       The original "Congratulations" is a decent, repetitive jaunt, but the instrumental "2120 South Michigan Avenue" is pretty much a throwaway, but hey, at least it's a little better than "Now I've Got a Witness". "Empty Heart" has a REALLY cool, unique groove, but sadly, it's wasted on a directionless mess of a song. Whoops.
       So yeah, very solid. Heck, it's nearly a 10, but sadly, the relative lack of stylistic variation and the whole "dated" aspect limit this one to merely a 9. Not one of my very favorites, but it's still a very pleasant listening experience. If you're desiring some early Stones...I'd definitely recommend it. 
The Rolling Stones, Now! (1965)
Rating: 11
"But she'll never break this heart of stone"
Best Song: Heart of Stone
Worst Song: Everybody Needs Somebody to Love,  I guess...

       After all the pop experimentation on 12 X 5, it seems that the band wanted to return to the dirty (I say that in a good way) rock'n'roll stylings of the first album. Of course, I wasn't too crazy about the first album, and I quite liked 12 X 5, so you'd think I would be a bit disappointed by this...but I'm not. Heck, it's the best album the band would make up until Aftermath! Simply put, the first album was just straight, no-frills rock'n'roll, but on this one, the band decided to throw in a bunch of really interesting touches on top of the already perfectly decent "grinning freneticism" and tightness of the original.
       I mean, take "Mona (I Need You Baby)". It's just a regular ole jam with a Bo Diddley riff, but the groove is absolutely AMAZING. Psychedelic, completely whacked out guitars and some of Jagger's best singing from this early period come together to make for one of the very best songs in this style that the band ever did. Oh, and did I mention that this is *just* an outtake from the debut?!?!?! Why they didn't include it there is anyone's guess, but whatever the case, I'm glad it's here.
       And there's also "Heart of Stone", which is probably the first ballad ever performed by the band that I would call truly great. At first glance, it's not much better than previous efforts like "Tell Me", but if you look closely, you'll notice that Jagger's vocal melody is really, REALLY great. And then you'll pick up on those amazing guitar licks in the right speaker...and then you'll hear Keith's awesome harmonies...and get the idea. 
       "Down the Road Apiece" is another one of the band's Chuck Berry takeoffs (dig that piano and that riffage!), "Down Home Girl" has a great vocal melody and some tasty brian licks, and "Off the Hook" is a decent pop-rocker. Oh, and "Pain in my Heart" is another great ballad, and "Oh Baby" is a ridiculously catchy rocker with a great delivery from Jagger.
       Flaws? Well, "Everybody Needs Somebody to Love" is a bit overlong (even if there is a nice groove in there), but other than that...well, it's just 40 minutes of early 60s rock/blues. There's not really anything *wrong* with the majority of these songs, but then again, there aren't many moments on here that make me go "Wow!" either. Still though, it's a solid 11, and if you want a taste of the early period, definitely check here first. 

Out of Our Heads (1965)
Rating: 9
"Baby, baby come back a-maybe next week / Can't you see, I'm on my losing streak"
Best Song: The Last Time
Worst Song: Cry to Me

       Well, we finally have some real classics. The Jagger/Richards written "Play with Fire", "The Last Time", and "Satisfaction" are all absolutely fantastic, and, in all honesty, are the first real hints that the band has some major songwriting talent. Heck, these aren't hints, they're proof! All three of them are truly amazing.
       But funny enough, I actually consider "Satisfaction", usually considered to be one of the all-time greatest rock songs, to be the worst of the three. Sure, the riff is genius, and it's a total classic, but...I like the other two better. "Play with Fire" has a fantastic vocal melody (as well as some cool lyrics), but the main draw of the song is the amazing mood that it creates. That harpsichord is just so ominous, and the dark acoustic guitar line that continues through the song is absolutely beautiful. Such a great song.
      However, as great as "Play with Fire" is, I still think that the album's most obvious winner is "The Last Time", an awesome poppy rocker with an even BETTER riff than "Satisfaction". And aren't those harmonies in the chorus breathtaking? And isn't that vocal melody absolutely awesome? Mmm, it's great.
      And of course, I can't forget the other three originals on here -- "The Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man" is both catchy and a hoot, "The Spider and the Fly" is a great, sleazy little bluesy number, and "One More Try", while maybe a bit too repetitive, is still a load of melodic fun. Oh, and the frenetic live cover of "I'm Alright" is an absolutely awesome blast of energy. 
       But sadly, the rest of the album, consisting of nothing but covers, is really bland to me. "Mercy Mercy" and "Hitch Hike" are both decent, but eh...they'd done far better covers at this point, and in all honesty, they're kind of a bore. Same goes for the Motown of "That's How Strong My Love Is" and "Cry to Me". "Under the Boardwalk" from 12 X 5 absolutely blows either of those tunes out of the pun intended. (Get it? Under the boardwalk, thus, water? hahaha.....)
       It's probably the best of any of the other non-Now! albums from this part of their career, but that's by a very slim margin. Half the album is pretty great, and the other half is quite mediocre. Get it for the classics...but you can leave those covers alone. 

1 comment:

  1. Well, first of all, great site!! hope you get to review some of my favourite bands (Beatles, allman brothers, the band, the kinks...).

    Regarding the stones, they're my favourite band. Every album they put out from 1964 to 1972 (or 1973, depending on my mood) is amazing, and almost all of the things they have done afterwards are pretty good, if not as mesmerizing as their early work. You should listen to the british versión of their albums, they are much better paced, have less filler, and you can find the singles on any self respecting compilation.

    Anyway, here's my ratings for the (british) albums:
    The Rolling Stones: A high 11 or a low 12
    The Rolling Stones No.2: A high 13
    Out Of Our Heads: A low 12