Given Nelson King’s usual rate of output, I was thinking of sending out a search party, having not had anything by him land in the in-box for quite a while, but thankfully Life Ain’t No Movie Show turned up as if to assure me that he is still very much in the game. Though its all relative I guess as even with this recent breathing space he would still finish in medal position compared with today’s average artist.
There are certain places, which just resonate with the spirit of a time and a sound. All along Mathew Street in Liverpool you can hear the sound of pop, as we know it today music taking it’s first tentative steps and Bleecker Street in New York still oozes with the primordial juices that gave birth to a certain strain of street punk. There are certain dark corners and forgotten alleyways that are still haunted by the ghosts of the 60’s rock and roll boom and in particular its most famous sons…The Rolling Stones.
Suburban boys they may have been, stealing into the blues clubs and bars to sit in with established bandleaders such as Alexis Korner and learn their trade, but from the moment they had found their musical soul mates, they were at the heart of London’s music scene and the sixties could really get underway.
Flamingo Club, 33-37 Wardour St, London
If the story of The Stones as a gigging band starts anywhere, it starts here on 14th January 1963. There had been formative versions of the band throughout the previous year but this was the first time Mick, Keith, Brian, Bill, Charlie and the soon to be sidelined Ian “Stu” Stewart played their first full live gig together. It’s now just a regular chain pub but you can still have a pint and dream about those heady days.
Ken Colyer’s Studio 51, 10 Great Newport St, London
And anyone on the Rolling Stone’s trail will want to find themselves at the place where things really took off for the band. Outside what was then called Studio 51, manager Andrew Loog Oldham bumped into Lennon and McCartney and talked them into donating one of their songs to help put The Stones on the map. The result was top 20 hit, I Wanna Be Your Man, which both launched their career and proved that any rivalry between the bands was just clever marketing.
Hyde Park, London
Hyde Park has gone down in Stones lore as an iconic marker, coming as it did 2 days after the death of Brian Jones. Mick Taylor was recruited to the band and the show did indeed go on…to half a million punters.
Olympic Studios, 117-123 Church Road, London
And if The Beatles are synonymous with Abbey Road, The Stones are associated with Olympic Studios. After recording in America where the technology had advanced beyond what the UK had to offer at the time, this was the site of the band coming home and finding a new sound. It is a sound typified by songs such as Sympathy For The Devil and is highlighted by Jean-Luc Godard’s famous footage of the band’s recording of that track. The building is once again the site of a recording studio and art house cinema.
Munro Terrace and Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, London
And once the money was rolling in, they did what every self –respecting rock star does and bought a nice swanky house in Chelsea. There, members of the band have owned property here; hence it’s nickname of Rolling Stones Row! Keith bought No 3 in 1968, Mick moved in to no 48 the same year and Ronnie owned 103 for a couple of years in the early 2000’s. Munro Terrace is also of interest as it was the bands office and a Stones throw away from their residences.
Given the work rate and sheer quality of the Rolling Stones, particularly during the first two decades of their career, it is a near impossible task to nail down just 10 songs from their 60’s back catalogue. Ask me again tomorrow and I would probably different ten, music is such an emotive thing and depending on my mood on the day by preferences would probably be very different. But for now this is my choice. Yours own list might be radically different and the reasons why are the stuff of debate, good natured argument and musical celebration, the stuff that sets music fans like us apart from the rest of the world. So, hold on …we’re going in.
10. Midnight Rambler (1969)
Written with “The Boston Strangler” Albert DeSalvo in mind, this seven minute blues opera took on a whole deeper resonance after the Manson murders that year. It is also the last song Brian Jones recorded with the band and was described by Richards as “A last flare from the shipwreck.”
9. Get Off of My Cloud (1965)
Following on from the big hit of Satisfaction, the band returned with a shout of frustration aimed at the trappings of fame, American, people, phone calls and all the stuff that now went with their celebrity status. Born out of a slower, funkier song, but in the end rocked up, this is the Jones era Stones at its finest.
8. Honky Tonk Woman (1969)
With Taylor now in the band due to the self-exile of Brian Jones, this was the first taste of what would become The Stones raunchy twin guitar attack. It is also a song entwined with the last days of Jones as right after the mixing session for the track the band drove to his house to tell him he was out of the band. It was also released only a few days after his death. History aside it has stood the test of time.
7. Under My Thumb (1966)
With it’s questionable subject matter about an forceful women broken to the will of the narrator, this is a song which would have a hard time if it was written today, but the music has a wonderfully sublime if slightly sinister Motown vibe.
6. Jumping Jack Flash (1968)
This song can be seen as the primal scream which marked the end of the pop band Stones and start of the darker and more experimental period to come. It is a wonderful blend of Delta blues and Swinging London, a sort of Thames Estuary roots sound. Not bad for a song inspired by Richards’ gardener.
5. Paint It, Black (1966)
At it’s birth, the song was written with more comedic overtones but by the time it had been bounced around the studio it was nothing less than one of the most frightening tracks of the decade. It heralds the birth of psychedelia, features droning sitars and rolling bass lines and is as strange and puzzling for its day as the use of grammar in the title.
4. You Can’t Always Get What You Want (1969)
Their final statement on the sixties, appearing as it does as the final track on their last album of the decade. The band where in a bad place personally, Jones was gone, relationships were problematic and heroin was seeping in. But rather than dwell on the dark stuff they wrote a slightly tongue in cheek message of hope and forged a beautiful musical juxtaposition…just like the sixties had been.
3. Sympathy For The Devil (1968)
At a time when the band were being increasingly seen as a diabolical force by those who didn’t understand what rock and roll was on the verge of becoming, this was The Stones side swipe at their critics, but one which also had something to say about the gathering storm clouds of the world around them. And it is a storm, a perfect storm of samba grooves, rock and blues and Jagger plays the diabolical role to a tee.
2. (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction (1965)
One of the most recognisable riffs in, certainly The Stones musical arsenal and arguably the Rock and Roll canon and a song which singlehandedly took the genre out of the realms of teenage fad and propelled it somewhere far heavier and more dangerous. The fact that it was the bands first No 1 in America says something about their ability to re-appropriate all those early blues records from their youth.
1. Gimme Shelter (1969)
The Stones swansong for the death of the sixties, an apocalyptic statement on the state of the world, a eulogy, a bad trip and a truly all time great song. Not a bad way to spend half and hour, the amount of time legend has it that it took the band to get the basics of the song in place. The song resonates with a ghostly soul, a trance driven blues sound and marked a new era for the Stones as they embraced a grander, darker design.
Being a site that deals mainly in new and under the radar music, breaking artists and unsigned acts, to review a solo album by the ex-bassist of one of music history’s biggest bands might seem a bit outside the brief. A case can be made from the fact that it is his first release in 33 years, a time span longer than the current age of many of the acts musicians we write about, so I thought I’d put it under the microscope.
As the name would suggest it is stripped back, rhythmically driven and tipping its hat more to the barroom idioms of the likes of Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen and the uncompromising minimalism of JJ Cale than the big riffing Stones ethic. Wyman vocals may be the acid test for a lot of people, fans of his previous solo albums will already be familiar with the breathy, gruff delivery, newcomers may just feel like Ian Dury had this style covered. It’s a style that does however work for the songs but by the time closing number I Got Time rolls into earshot you may find that it is starting to wear thin and thinking that a bit more dynamic variation may have made things more palatable.
But it is the sort of record Bill Wyman makes, take it or leave it, an album of songs whose qualities don’t jump out at you straight away but which will undoubtedly grow with every successive play. It’s nice to see Wyman return to the musical grind stone after years writing books and pursuing his art, but it may be an album that appeals mainly to Stones completists and Wyman fans rather than a wider audience.