The Rolling Stones: Still Outlaws (1978)
With the Rolling Stones making the rounds this week (and a possible Coachella appearance looming in April), we revisit this piece from the August 1978 issue of Relix.
The Rolling Stones are called the greatest rock and roll band in the world. That’s a simple description rather than hype. The Stones are in no need of promotion; their reputation alone is heavy enough to grab the world by the balls. Music critics and headwaiters fawn on the Stones from a discreet distance. Politicians’ wives, though, come to touching range before falling, legs agape, at their feet. Most governments avoid tangling with them, since the Stones can afford better lawyers. Even so, police departments world wide keep watch in faint hopes of spotting some truly gross illegality. And sometimes they luck out. The Stones’ lead guitarist was busted in Canada in possession of a personal smack stash weighty enough to keep Harlem on the nod for a week. Their lead singer drifts across the society pages, staying cool enough to rate a diamond crusted welcome at Studio 54. The other three band members aren’t notorious, or even particularly famous. Just rich. Collectively these five men trail more mystique than many religions.
They’ve earned their honors by surviving a sixteen year long round of eliminations. The current Rolling Stones tour began in June 1978; it was in June 1962 that Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones and a couple of others long forgotten first played at London’s Marquee Club as the Rolling Stones. In lifting that name from a low down Muddy Waters blues, they defined their image perfectly. When Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman came along early in 1963, the Rolling Stones were a real band. These white boys from England played the blues like a bunch of old black men from the south side of Chicago, as well as the nasty variation known as rhythm and blues (a.k.a. rock and roll). They ground that musical mixture out blacker than coal, all dirty, gritty and rough edged as sandpaper, and sexy. They didn’t play smooth pop pap.
The English press loves nothing so much as a good scare story. The Stones were pretty damned frightening in their earlier years, and so the papers took them to task immediately, in a campaign to save clean living British youth from devil rock and roll. Years later, in one of his lighter moments, Kris Kristofferson wrote a song called “Blame It On The Stones.” In 1962 society saw the Rolling Stones as no joke. Fortunate attitude, that. Without the sex, drugs, and rock and roll backlash, this band could never have obtained their present status.
There were two possible paths from the Marquee Club; one being the straight and narrow; and the other the darker trail the Stones took. Branded as outlaws, they lived their part. Brian Jones even died in character, drowned downed out in a swimming pool. And the Stones got busted regularly in the sixties. From all this they distilled great, gut grabbing music. Most of their original material draws some inspiration from their ongoing battle against respectability, but I think “Connection” captures the feeling best. In part that song goes like this:
My bags they get a very close inspection
I wonder why it is that they suspect them
Could it be they’re trying to add me to their collection
Well I don’t know if they’ll let me go
And all I want to do is get back to you
Connection, no I just can’t find my connection. . .
Keith Richards goes to trial in Canada this October, on his heroin bust. He might get tossed into jail for a long, long times; and his band may find themselves without a lead guitarist. Sixteen years down the road from the Marquee, the Rolling Stones are still outlaws.
In past years, the Stones have produced their finest work when goaded by the spurs of possible disaster. If ever they released an absolutely classic record, one no breathing human should be without, it was Beggar’s Banquet. Following that peak they lost Brian Jones, first through his dropping out of the band, then through his death.
Once more the Stones stand in danger, this time of losing Keith, and again they’ve rallied to record a classic album. Some Girls may be the best Rolling Stones record since Beggar’s Banquet. To my taste, it’s certainly their best since Let It Bleed (an LP which Some Girls very strongly reminds me of). “Faraway Eyes” excepted, all ten tracks are overwhelming rock and roll. That song is a brilliant piece of tongue in cheek country and western monologue. Gram Parsons, could his ashes be woken, would love it. “Faraway Eyes,” “Miss You” and “When The Whip Comes Down” all bear the stamp of instant familiarity. I was fortunate enough to hear an advance tape of this new album a month or so before its release, and at that first listening I felt I’d heard it all before. I hadn’t. All the tracks simply seemed so right at the time that listening to the album was like greeting an old friend.
Some Girls is almost a concept album. It’s New York City all the way. Manhattan’s streets, people, and scenes are woven so deftly into its fabric that the disc might as aptly have been called “Some City.” Time will prove this one significant. I, at least, love it. Were I appointed to select the album of the year for 1978, nominations would be closed right now.
The Stones have taken another positive step in defiance of their crisis. For the first time in three years they’re doing an American tour, quartering these states in the oddest assortment of rock and roll bookings ever put together, The tour opened at a 10,000 seat venue in Lakeland, Florida; but the next two dates were at the Fox Theater in Atlanta, and the Capital Theater in Passaic. Twelve hours from the time I’m writing this the Stones will take their show to RFK Stadium in Philadelphia; capacity almost infinite.
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