Some Girls (Rolling Stones, 1978) was the last great Rolling Stones record. Some will argue that Tattoo You (Rolling Stones, 1981) was the last, but Tattoo You was comprised of outtakes from several previous recording sessions going back to Goats Head Soup (Rolling Stones, 1973). It was released as an excuse for the 1981 tourbetter than fair and captured on the all too brief Still Life (Rolling Stones, 1982)rather than a fully-conceived unit as was Some Girls.
Some Girls was the manifestation of the band's battle strategy on two fronts: one as an answer to pedestrian-popular, empty-calorie disco music and the intensely passionate and completely directionless punk movement, both of which were crowding the Stones' critical market in print and on the air. Having drawn criticism from both quarters, singer Mick Jagger and guitarist Keith Richards set out in 1977 to record a Rolling Stones answer to both, with New York City as musical ground zero. The two generated an impressive number of songs, nine of which made their way to Some Girls, which was considered with Bruce Springsteen's Darkness on the Edge of Town (Columbia, 1978) and Bob Seger's Night Moves (Capitol, 1976) to be, "the last nail in the coffin of punk rock."
Sadly, the "Greatest Rock and Roll Band" had little more to say after Some Girls, but what a way to go out. The Deluxe Edition of Some Girls adds a full disc of outtakes from the sessions that indicate that the final product could have been very different had the band programmed differently. Released a short time later was Cyrus R.K. Patell's 33 & 1/3 series book dedicated to the recording, shedding an academic's bright light of one of the last great "classic" rock albums.
Keith Richards was on the descending arc of his heroin experience in 1977. He had evaded any real legal consequences until February 27, 1977, when the guitarist was arrested for heroin possession in Canada and as a result faced several years in prison. His trial was continued during the Some Girls sessions and remained a pall over the recording process. Where heroin fueled Exile on Main St. (Rolling Stones, 1972), making it "Keith's album," it also greatly hindered him during the recording of Black and Blue (Rolling Stones, 1976) and Girls making these much more "Mick" recordings.
The recordings released between Exile on Main St. and Girls and were mostly directionless when compared to the earlier recordings with guitarist Mick Taylor. Goat's Head Soup (Rolling Stones, 1973) and It's Only Rock and Roll (Rolling Stones, 1974) were Mick Taylor's swan songs. Unhappy and mistreated by the two principles, Taylor flew the coup in December 1974, leaving a floundering Richards and a rejuvenated Jagger. It took Black and Blue to work out interim leadership kinks and to select Taylor's replacement, ultimately The Face's and Rod Stewart's guitarist, Ronnie Wood.
Before the Sex Pistols experienced their own well-deserved implosion, lead singer Johnny "Rotten" Lydon boasted that the Rolling Stones should have retired in 1965. This thrown gauntlet and the meringue popularity of disco lit a fire beneath Jagger, who had recently been spending time in New York City. These confluences joined to inspire the last greatest commitment by the Stones. Some Girls was Jagger's love letter to The Big Apple and his erect middle finger raised in tribute to punk and disco.
The band dispenses with disco right off the bat with the "four-on-the- floor" beat of "Miss You." Chicago street-harmonica player Sugar Blue slathers a thick layer of Southside all over the song, helping the Stones thumb its noses at the effete dance music. That is all that disco deserved as it was never taken seriously. Punk rock was something else altogether. "Lies," "Respectable" and "Shattered" amply demonstrated that the punk attitude could be expressed with both intelligence and musicality, two commodities in short supply with the Sex Pistols. Punk rock's primary cultural gift was to shock the rock establishment out of complacency and into action. With regards to the Rolling Stones, it can be considered the spark that started the fire.
"Before They Make Me Run" and "When The Whip Comes Down" are cast-in- iron Stones rockers, the former Richards' expression of fear regarding his upcoming trial. These belong to that long Stones tradition that gave us "Honky Tonk Women," "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and "Gimme Shelter." The remaining songs"Some Girls," "Far Away Eyes" and "It's Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)"are remnants that have always been present in the Rolling Stones book. The title piece is molten blues- rock, again coated with that over-driven Maxwell Street harp. The subject matter is urban and base, making the fact that the song is a satire a moot point. It is a continuation of the famous rock and roll misogyny that gave rise to "Under My Thumb," "Stupid Girl" and "Brown Sugar."
"Far Away Eyes" is Jagger's vamp on country music, something Richards had aways been much more serious about. It was preceded by "Country Honk," "Dead Flowers," "Sweet Virginia" and "Loving Cup." The majority of songs on the bonus disc are country ("Do You Think I Really Care," "No Spare Parts," "You Win Again") or rockabilly ("Claudine," "Tallehassee Lassie"). This is more of England reminding the United States of its musical roots, even when presented in a campy way, as on "Far Away Eyes."
Likewise for the presence of the Temptations' 1971 hit, "It's Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)." The Rolling Stones began with Solomon Burke's "Everybody Needs Somebody to Love," from The Rolling Stones No. 2 (Decca, 1965), rounding up the Temptations' "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" on It's Only Rock and Roll and moving onto "Going to a Go-Go" from Still Life. The group proved itself capable in a variety of genre and the musicians did like to shake things up with their echoes of Motown.
But the real treat here is the bonus disc. This is refined, post- Exile music, showing the real value of Ronnie Wood to the band, particularly his capable pedal steel guitar playing. Besides the plethora of country music, there is the blues: "So Young," "We Had it All," "Keep Up Blues" and the stark "Petrol Blues"just Jagger and the piano lamenting the first energy crisis, lest we forget that there was one. "I Love You Too Much" would have been punk enough to include of the actual release were it not such a Rolling Stones song. No, this was the last relevant word from the "Greatest Rock and Roll Band." The later music was made at a mostly high level, but never with that last fire of youth that once gone, cannot be reclaimed anyway or anyhow.
Cyrus R.K. Patell is an Associate Professor of English, Faculty Fellow-in-Residence at University Hall, and Associate Dean of Humanities, NYU Abu Dhabi. In his contribution to the Continuum (soon to be Bloomsbury) 33 & 1/3 series' The Rolling Stones' Some Girls, Patell expounds at length on the origins, preparation, execution and aftermath of the last great Rolling Stones record. He does this with an academic's attention to references and details, only occasionally hitting wrong notes: Kenney Jones and not Charlie Watts played drums on "It's Only Rock and Roll" and the Byrds' album is Sweetheart of the Rodeo not Radio. But these are only Emerson's "hobgoblins." The author is intent and serious about his subject.
Patell echoes Some Girls Deluxe Edition's liner notes author Anthony DeCurtis by emphasizing the three pronged inspiration of disco, punk rock and New York City in the heady late 1970s as the prime motivators that sharpened the Rolling Stones' flagging resolve. Patell details each song on the original recording and places each against the three-pronged backdrop. The decadence with which the Stones began the 1970s had turned into a certain directionless malaise of too much of a good thing. The band responded by breaking out of previously established modes by sharpening its recording practices and engineering, producing a more pristine product without giving up its original edge. Patell emphasizes the the roll of Jagger's guitar playing, particularly on the title cut. This added a denser layer to the two-guitar stones sound, one that was to continue into the 1980s.
Some Girls is certainly a worthy book, joining Bill Janowitz's The Rolling Stones Exile on Main St. (Continuum, 2005). While Patell's exhaustive treatment of the subject almost overstates his case, he does provide a decent perimeter within which to re-examine this important recording.
Tracks and Personnel
Some Girls Deluxe Edition
Tracks: CD1: Miss You; When the Whip Comes Down; Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me); Some Girls; Lies; Far Away Eyes; Respectable; Before They Make Me Run; Beast of Burden; Shattered. CD2: Claudine; So Young; Do You Think I Really Care; When You're Gone; No Spare Parts; Don't Be A Stranger; We Had it All; Tallahassee Lassie; I Love You Too Much; Keep Up Blues; You Win Again; Petro Blues.
Personnel: Mick Jagger: vocals, guitar, harmonica; Keith Richards: vocals, guitars, keyboards; Ronnie Wood: guitars, pedal steel guitar; Charlie Watts: drums; Bill Wyman: bass, synthesizer, marimba; Sugar Blue: harmonica; Ian McLagen: keyboards; Mel Collin" tenor saxophone; Simon Kirke: congas; Ian Stewart: piano; Chuck Leavell: piano; Don Was: bass.