Joe Bonomo on rock & roll and art. Essays and essaying. Looking and listening. Synonyms for memory. Synonyms for thinking about memory. Nostalgia versus skepticism. The distance between bygones and bitrates. Books and CDs. Chapbooks and vinyl. 45 and 33 1/3 and 320. Photography. Thoughts. Arguments. High in between low. Mythmaking.
Thursday, December 1, 2011
Some Memories, Deluxe Edition
The past is now.
Between October of 1977 and March of 1978, the Rolling Stones gathered at Pathé Marconi Studios in Boulogne-Billancourt, France and recorded dozens of tracks, ten of which were completed and mastered forSome Girls. Among the remaining songs, several were mostly-finished, some were merely sketches, and some ("Summer Romance," "Start Me Up," "Hang Fire," "Black Limousine") would show up on albums over the next few years. Recently, the Stones released a "deluxe" version of Some Girls appended with a dozen extra songs cut during those extended sessions in France and sweetened with new vocals and instrumentation. This isn't a new gimmick for the band: a couple of years ago they did the same with Exile On Main St. Then, I was struck by two things: how decent the new, previously ignored songs were, and how well 2009 Mick Jagger—after nearly four decades of voice wear, persona-swapping, and life changes—approximated the vibe of his 1971 singing. I'm pleasantly surprised by the new Some Girls tracks, too. "No Spare Parts," Hank Williams' "You Win Again," and Keith's great take on Waylon Jennings' "We Had It All" are lived-in, loose country in the boozy, late-70s Stones vein, and "Keep Up Blues" is cool, basic, and propulsive grunt blues with attitude. Yeah, had these tracks been finished for release at the time they would've likely been relegated to b-sides of singles and 12"s (as was the wild, sloppy, chaotic "Everything's Turning To Gold"); with the exception of "We Had It All," which at the very least ought to have replaced Keith's "All About You" on1980's Emotional Rescue, these songs aren't quite album-worthy. And I'm not sure that Some Girls in its original 10-song release could've been improved, anyway. But as rejected tracks, these new songs stand up well. Even chasing and cutting stray grooves and cover songs, the Stones in 1977/78 were hitting hard.
A brief aside from the Historically Irresponsible Department: I've been fantasizing lately about what if the Stones had released Some Girls as a double album. It would've been commercially risky, perhaps invited inevitable comparison to Exile's sprawl, and certainly not been in keeping with the verve of the original album as a "response" to Punk; the country material wouldn't have fit with Jagger's vision for what Some Girls was. But: in some respects it might've been a very Stones thing to do, releasing a double-album as New Wave was ascending, and, after all, the newly unearthed material reveals that the Mick and Keith (the latter especially) were very into honky tonk at the time, so a double album would actually have been a more accurate barometer of where they were musically at the time, Jagger's image-concerns notwithstanding. Anyway, here's how I imagine the running order:
When the Whip
I Love You Too
Do You Think I
We Had It
Make Me Run
Snotty album cover and back cover artwork remain the same; inside are Warhol-esque photos of the band posing in a dive honky tonk somewhere, Charlie grimly posing with a ten-gallon hat. Smirks and sneers all around. What a record this might've been.
Enough geek; back to the real world.
Rock and roll: it's personal. What interests me most about the Exile... and Some Girls reissues is the way they attempt to revisit, reanimate, and re-present the past. Some Girls was released in June of 1978. My indelible memory of the album is "Miss You" playing at Wheaton Pool at Wheaton High School, in Maryland, where I went in the summers, splashing elbow-to-elbow with what seemed like a thousand other kids. As I wrote a little about here, I had sex on the brain that summer, and "Miss You"'s four-on-the-floor thump and salacious vibe was working its way in and out of me at will, as girls in bathing suits walked around everywhere, vanishing in and out of painfully bright sun like myths. The song, and the album, remain for me touchstones of that sensual summer, and of erotic possibilities. Time, place, era. Mick Jagger has said often that Rolling Stones albums exist to his mind as products of their era, and no more, but here he is recording new vocals against tracks recorded thirty or more years ago, tracks quite redolent of their eras (in the case of Exile... in the basement of Keith's house, Villa Nellcote, during a steamy, drug-hazy summer in Villefranche-sur-mer, France; for Some Girls, suburban Paris in the autumn of '77 as Punk was roiling on the Continent and in the U.K.). It's interesting to hear Jagger in the fall of 2009, in some recording studio in New York, Los Angeles, or London, sing on top of the old tracks. Is he consciously trying to sound like he did in 1970, 1971, 1977? Or is he trusting that the mystery of the notes and chords and grooves as arranged, accidental or deliberate, will lead him inevitably, wholly into the past? There are clanging cliches in the new lyrics Jagger's written—the late great Ian MacDonald once wrote that when the Beatles were
dozing as lyricists they went on about baubles and rings; when Mick's
dozing it's strictly card playing metaphors—and definite 21st Century Jagger tics in the added vocal tracks in the self-conscious nasal styling, the affected phrasing. But in places ("Pass The Wine [Sophia Loren]),""No Spare Parts") he sounds to my ear as if he's singing not simply like he did thirty-plus years ago, but as if he couldn't help but sing that way. That may be simply the veteran singer's equivalent to the professional actor who can rely on craft, rather then Method, to bring characters to life, or it may be something else altogether, an aural time machine of sorts into which Jagger effortlessly steps, led by music.
Unsettlingly, I wonder if I like the new Some Girls tracks because
I know that they were originally cut during the band's (end-of) high
streak, at sessions that would score a season for me. The Some Girls tracks were cut in a certain place and era, and released to me via the radio at the cusp of a formative summer when adolescence and teenagedom did early battles, wars raging in my body and my head. In a recent interview, Keith said that when he was laying the new guitar parts down onto the old Some Girls-era tracks, he had to remind himself, This is 1977, the implication being that he had to resist relying on licks or an aesthetic he learned or cultivated in recent decades, lest he...what, deceive us? Deceive himself? Break some law in the time-space continuum? There's an intriguing clash between late-70s and early-21st Century ethos in these Some Girls tracks. In the middle, I'm pulled between memories of a certain summer, and revisiting that summer with music recorded then, but tweaked now. What are the implications of revisiting the content of the past with contents from today? Ethically, we're in dangerous territory, not too far from a wholesale representation of the past as filtered, and amended, through today's ideology. (When the Beatles reissued new material in the mid-90s, they used an image of the group posing circa 1965, digitally erasing the cigarettes that Lennon and Ringo were holding. Rest assured, the Beatles do not promote smoking!) If I were to take an overexposed Polaroid of myself from the mid-70s, my face blurred into whiteness, and fill in my facial features, trying to get it right, resisting the impulse to correct, to add, to subtract—is that an image of me-as-then, or of me-as-then-as-now?
It's a curious exercise, and I'm not quite sure why the Stones are doing it, certainly not to fortify thinning bank accounts; they either feel the need to keep Stones product on a forgetful market, or the desire to pull old clothes out of the closet and see if they still fit. ("We had this idea that we'd reinvigorate certain albums
by finding other songs recorded in that time that would hold up," Jagger
says. "That sounded like a better idea than doing mindless compilations.") Is this simple indulgence, or something more generous? Producer Don Was, who helped with the new recordings, has asserted that he next wants to revisit the sessions that produced Beggars Banquet (1968) and Let It Bleed (1969), promising more nuggets from the vaults which Mick and Keith will hold in their hands like moon rocks, like materials from another planet. How will Mick channel the late-60s? With a script, avoiding references to cell phones and texts? Meanwhile, my curves-and-Coppertone memories of the summer of 1978 are undimmed. The new tracks on Some Girls give me a new, befogged window through which to view them.
One dubious souvenir of the Stones' revisiting Some Girls: the advertising campaign and the unconscionable erasing of bassist Bill Wyman from the promotional imagery:
I can handle new vocals and guitar over old tracks; I can't see ushering one of the principal musicians into the dustbin of history. Silly Mick.