Monday, May 24, 2010

Rolling Stones: Sticky Fingers

With all the hoopla surrounding the recent re-release of Exile on Main St, one hears the rehash of all the accolades that have piled up over the last 38 years as Exile being the best Stones album ever recorded. With respect to those many who have pronounced Exile as the best thing ever committed to vinyl, let me just say this: YOU’RE…ALL…WRONG! The best album the Stones recorded was the one that came immediately before Exile, namely Sticky Fingers. Like Exile, Sticky Fingers has a mixture of blues [You Gotta Move, Sway], country [Wild Horses, Dead Flowers], R&B soul [the Stax-soundalike I Got the Blues], a world-weary ballad [Moonlight Mile], and lots of rock ‘n’ roll. As with many great Stones songs, the lead-off track Brown Sugar derives its greatness from a memorable riff. Lyrical references to interracial sex, slave rape, and losing one’s virginity abound [drug reference implied: “Brown Sugar” is another name for heroin]. Sway is one of two showcases for new guy Mick Taylor. This slow blues features a bottleneck slide solo in the middle of the song with Mick Taylor soloing for over a minute at the end, which is a lot considering the song is less than four minutes long. Wild Horses, according to Mick Jagger, is not about his old flame Marianne Faithfull. Keith Richards originally wrote the song about the pain of being separated from his son Marlon, originally wrote the melody and played the song in “Nashville tuning.” The heavier strings of an acoustic guitar [EADG] are replaced with lighter-gauge strings and tuned an octave higher, hence the song’s distinctive acoustic sound. In my opinion, the only bum note on Sticky Fingers is the only cover, Fred McDowell’s You Gotta Move. Mick Taylor’s acoustic Delta blues slide is authentic enough, but Mick Jagger’s singing doesn’t make it. He sounds so...English. Then there’s Bitch – there’s the riff, the horns, and Charlie Watts kicking the band’s ass. What else needs to be said? It’s a great track.

Sticky Fingers has several songs with a drug reference or two. Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’ [drug reference: “You got cocaine eyes…”] is the second of two showcases for Mick Taylor. Play this one back-to-back [this one first] with Sister Morphine. The classic Keith Richards human-riff rhythm playing sets the table, and then keeps the song going while first Bobby Keys delivers a blistering sax solo, to be followed by Mick Taylor soloing out of his mind. By the time it’s over after seven minutes of jamming, you think the song was over too soon. It ends with you wanting more. Sister Morphine is best heard while driving around Los Angeles at night. If you can’t get to LA, just turn off all the lights, sit back and enjoy this very dark and scary drug overdose tale. Can you imagine being in a hospital bed and seeing the hallucination of your doctor not having a face? Spooky stuff…Ry Cooder plays the slide guitar, Jack Nitzsche on piano. Both of these contributions contribute to the scary atmosphere [which seems to work better for me after dark]. Dead Flowers is a light-hearted, country-flavored tongue planted firmly in cheek ode to an ex [drug reference: “I'll be in my basement room, with a needle and a spoon…”]. Moonlight Mile [drug reference: “head full of snow...”] is one of the best ballads the Stones ever recorded. It’s about life as a coked-up rock star keeping up appearances on the road that gently closes Sticky Fingers. It’s an oriental-sounding piece with a string section courtesy of Paul Buckmaster. There’s no Keith in sight on this one – there doesn’t need to be as both Micks have the musical end covered very well.

So there you have it. Exile on Main St has gotten all the notoriety of being the best thing the Stones have ever done. For me, Exile is more like the Beatles’ White Album, a sprawling work that covers many musical bases, just not all of them equally well. As good as Exile is [and make no mistake, it is an outstanding piece of work], Sticky Fingers is a more coherent work with it being a single album. What Abbey Road and Sgt Pepper are for the Beatles [concise, coherent statements of purpose], Sticky Fingers serves the same purpose for the Rolling Stones.

Sister Morphine - video by ChristineHate

Bitch - video by morenaspin

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