Friday, June 23, 2017

Peter and Gordon – "Lady Godiva" (1966)

Her long blonde hair
Falling down across her arms
Hiding all the lady's charms

Godiva, Countess of Mercia – better known as Lady Godiva – was a real person.

Godiva was the wife of Leofric, the Earl of Mencia, who was one of the richest and most powerful men in 11th-century England.

A 1586 painting of Godiva by Adam Van Noort
According to legend, the mothers of Coventry – a town that was part of Leofric’s realm – told Godiva that the taxes that he had levied upon them were so oppressive that their children were starving.  Godiva took pity on them and nagged her husband to reduce their taxes.  

Hoping to shut her up, Leofric told Godiva that he would grant her request if she stripped naked and rode a horse from one end of the city to the other.  

John Collier's "Lady Godiva" (1897)
Godiva surprised her husband by doing exactly that.  Her hair was long enough to conceal her front bits and fanny, but Godiva wasn’t taking any chances: she issued a proclamation directing the townspeople to stay inside with their windows shuttered during her ride.

The good people of Coventry were so grateful to Godiva that they happily complied with her request – even the men.

Except for one man, that is – a tailor named Tom, who forever thereafter was known as “Peeping Tom.”  

A poster for the 1955 movie,
"Lady Godiva of Coventry" 
Legend has it that God punished Peeping Tom by blinding him.  From Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s 1842 poem, “Godiva”:

[H]is eyes, before they had their will, 
Were shrivel'd into darkness in his head, 
And dropt before him.  So the Powers, who wait 
On noble deeds, cancell'd a sense misused . . . 

Leofric was supposedly so moved by his wife’s courage that he not only acceded to her request to lower the tax rate, but also got religion.  He began to make generous contributions to religious orders, and endowed several monasteries, including one in Coventry (where he and Godiva were eventually buried).  

*     *     *     *     *

I heard Peter and Gordon’s 1966 hit, “Lady Godiva,” on the Sirius-XM “Beatles Channel” a few days ago.

I don’t think I had heard the song for close to 50 years.  I remembered it as soon as it started to play, but I would have bet money that Peter and Gordon’s version wasn’t the original one.  (I would have lost that bet.)

Why was “Lady Godiva” being featured on the “Beatles Channel”?  According to Peter Asher, the SiriusXM host who played it, the songwriter who wrote “Lady Godiva” – Mike Leander – also did the string arrangement for the Beatles’ “She’s Leaving Home.”

That’s a pretty tenuous connection.  I suspect that the real reason that “Lady Godiva” was featured is that Peter Asher is the “Peter” of Peter and Gordon.

Peter’s sister Jane dated Paul McCartney for several years, which may explain why McCartney gave Peter and Gordon several of his songs to record – including “A World Without Love,” which became a #1 hit for them.  (Jane and Paul eventually became engaged, but Jane called the wedding off when she caught Paul in bed with another woman.)

Jane Asher and Paul McCartney
“Lady Godiva” was Peter and Gordon’s last top ten hit in the U.S.  When the duo disbanded in 1968, Asher became a very successful record producer.  He discovered James Taylor and produced his most successful albums.  He also produced several of Linda Ronstadt’s best-selling LPs.

Here’s “Lady Godiva”:

Click below to buy the from Amazon:

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Albert King – "Born Under a Bad Sign" (1967)

If it wasn't for bad luck
I wouldn't have no luck at all

Last September, a 70-year-old man walked into a Kansas City, Kansas bank and handed a teller a note that read, “I have a gun, give me money.”

In fact, the man did not have a gun – he was armed only with nail clippers and a hairbrush.  The teller didn’t know that, so she gave him $2924.

But instead of fleeing the bank with the loot, he took a seat in the bank lobby waited for police to arrive.  

After he was arrested, Lawrence John Ripple told police that he wanted to go to prison so he could get away from his wife.

Lawrence John Ripple's mug shot
Ripple could have been sentenced to up to 37 months in prison, which would have suited him just fine.  But like the singer of today’s featured song, Ripple was born under a bad sign: the judge who heard his case sentenced him to six months of home confinement!

Ripple’s lawyer told the judge that his client’s crime was the result of the undiagnosed depression he had suffered since undergoing quadruple-bypass heart surgery in 2015.  He argued that Ripple should not be sentenced to prison for his crime.

The bank teller appeared in court to urge the judge not to send Ripple to the poke.

Ripple told the judge that a prison sentence would be more of a punishment for his wife than for him.

(She doesn't look that bad,
but looks can be deceiving)
When Ripple said that, his wife had her arm up his ass and was working his mouth like a puppet.

(OK, I made that up.)

Did the judge sentence Ripple to home confinement instead of prison because he believed that sending him to jail would serve no purpose?  

Or because he believed that not being able to leave the house and get away from his wife for six months was a much worse punishment than prison time?

I'm SURE it was the former – not the latter.

*     *     *     *     *

“Born Under a Bad Sign,” which was co-written by William Bell and Booker T. Jones (of Booker T. and the M.G.’s), was recorded by Albert King in 1967.  

A lot of people have covered “Born Under a Bad Sign,” including Cream, who released the song on their 1968 Wheels of Fire album.

Here’s “Born Under a Bad Sign”:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Rolling Stones – "Before They Make Me Run" (1978)

Booze and pills and powders
You can choose your medicine
Well, it’s another goodbye to another good friend

Almost all of the obituaries for Anita Pallenberg – who died on June 13 – described her as the Rolling Stones’ muse.

Pallenberg certainly influenced the Stones’ music.  She appears to have been the inspiration for “You Got the Silver,” “Dead Flowers,” “Beast of Burden,” “Gimme Shelter,” and perhaps other Stones songs.  (I’ll have more to say about Pallenberg and “Gimme Shelter” below.)

Anita Pallenberg
And some say the Stones remixed the Beggars Banquet album because she didn’t like the way it sounded, and they took her opinion on such matters seriously.  (She sang backup vocals on the most memorable song on that album, “Sympathy for the Devil.”)

Even more significant than her influence on the music of the Stones was her influence on the image the Stones presented to the world – they way they looked and the way they lived.

If Pallenberg had never met the Rolling Stones – she talked her way backstage at a Stones concert in Munich 1965, offering to share her marijuana and hash with the band – Jagger, Richards, et al., would undoubtedly have turned out very differently.

From Rolling Stone:

[S]he was a rock & roll legend in herself, a style icon, a crucial part of the Stones' mystique.  She taught Keith her sinister glare, taught Mick Jagger her wiggle, taught Brian Jones how to wear floppy hats. . . . She was the flower of evil in the Stones' orbit, the baddest of bad girls – her grin declared she knew more about sin than any of these English schoolboys had ever imagined.

Pallenberg with Brian Jones
Pallenberg was a globetrotting model while still a teenager.  She had rubbed elbows with Fellini and Warhol and many of the icons of the “Swinging London” culture before meeting the Stones, who quickly adopted her boho-chic look.

From the Guardian:

You can see the effect of her fashion background on their appearance by comparing the cover of 1965’s Out of Our Heads with the photos Gered Mankowitz took in late 1966 for the cover of Between the Buttons.  In the former, they’re dressed in standard tough R&B band uniform – jeans, suede jackets, striped shirts – but in the latter they’re louche and dandified, a riot of extravagant tailoring, purple and orange trousers and mirrored shades.  A month later, publicizing the album at a photocall in Green Park, Jones and Richards in particular literally seem to be dressing like Pallenberg: floppy hats, fur coats, jewelery.  “I started to become a fashion icon,” Richards later noted, “for wearing my old lady’s clothes.”

Anita’s relationship with Brian Jones ended after it turned violent.  He reportedly broke his hand while beating her, but Pallenberg gave as good as she got: “Every time they had a fight,” Keith Richards later wrote, “Brian would come out bandaged and bruised.”

Pallenberg with Keith Richards
Pallenberg then hooked up with Richards.  They were together for 12 tempestuous, drug-filled years, and had three children together.   (Their third child, a son, died in his crib when he was just ten weeks old.) 

Shortly after she and Richards became a couple, Pallenberg was hired to star with Mick Jagger in the movie Performance.  (She also appeared in two other iconic movies of that era, Barbarella and Candy.)  

Richards became convinced that Pallenberg and Jagger had an affair while Performance was being made.  While they were being filmed dallying together in a bathtub, Richards was writing the Rolling Stones’ greatest song: “Gimme Shelter.”   (In Richards’s autobiography, he called the movie’s director “a pimp,” described Performance as “third-rate porn,” and said that Jagger had a “tiny todger.”  He wasn’t too bitter, is he?)

Pallenberg in the bathtub with Mick Jagger
Anita and Keith went their separate ways shortly after the 1979 death of Scott Cantrell, her 17-year-old lover, from a gunshot to the head.  At the time of Cantrell’s demise, he and the 37-year-old Pallenberg had been canoodling at the Pallenberg-Richards manse in Westchester County, NY, while Richards was in Paris recording with the other Stones.

Cantrell’s death was officially ruled to have been suicide, but the rumor was that Cantrell and Pallenberg had been playing Russian roulette.  (Pallenberg later said “I didn’t feel anything” when Cantrell died: “That's one of the wonders of drugs and drink.”)

The other Stones weren’t sorry to see Keith kick Anita to the curb.  In their view, his 1977 arrest for heroin possession in Canada – which could have landed Richards in prison for years – was her fault.

(You can click here to read the detailed account of the Toronto bust that Chet Flippo wrote for Rolling Stone.)

After she and Richards broke up, Pallenberg earned a degree in textile and fashion design from a prestigious London art school.  A newspaper described her designs as a “triumph of style over substance abuse.”

Pallenberg in 2014
She eventually kicked her heroin addiction but ended up with hepatitis C.  Her son Marlon told the press that complications from that disease caused her death.   
*     *     *     *     *

Some Girls, the Stones’ 16th American studio album, was released in 1978.  Mick Jagger did most of the heavy lifting on the album because Keith Richards was up to his neck in legal problems after his Toronto heroin bust.

But “Before They Make Me Run” was the creation of Keith Richards, who sang lead on the song.

The “it’s another goodbye to another good friend” line quoted above may be a reference to the overdose death of Richards’s close friend Gram Parsons in 1973.  Or it may be Keith saying good-bye to heroin.  (After his arrest, Richards went through rehab and overcame his addiction.  as a result, Canadian authorities did not seek serious prison time for his offense.)

Here’s “Before They Make Me Run”:

Click here to buy the song from Amazon:

Friday, June 16, 2017

Rolling Stones – "You Got the Silver" (1969)

You got my heart, you got my soul
You got the silver, you got the gold

In 2010, the BBC’s online magazine ran a story titled “Who, What, Why: How is Keith Richards Still Alive?”

Keith Richards – then and now
Here’s an excerpt from that article:

His name is synonymous with rock 'n' roll excess, his memoirs detail a lifetime spent ingesting a Herculean quantity of illegal drugs and he only gave up cocaine, aged 62, after he split his head open falling from a tree while foraging for coconuts.

At 66, Keith Richards' continued survival is a source of widespread bafflement.

According to addiction expert Dr. Robert Lefever, director of the Promis recovery centre in Richards’ native Kent, there is only one possible explanation for his longevity: “He must have the constitution of an ox.”

Keef with Johnny Depp in 2007's
"Pirates of the Caribbean"
Seven years later, Richards is still going strong.  Sure, he has the face of an exhumed corpse.  But despite taking a licking over the years, he just keeps on ticking.

*     *     *     *     *

I recently heard Dana Carvey tell a fabulous story about Keef to Howard Stern.

Richards hosted Saturday Night Live once when Carvey was a cast member.  During a lunch break one day, Carvey saw the Rolling Stone walk up to a horse who was tied up backstage.

“Look at you,” Richards said as he held the horse’s chin and looked directly into its eyes.  “You’re a fookin’ horse!”  Then he walked away.

I use this line at least once a day.  For example, I might say, “Look at you . . . you’re a fookin’ baby!” to my ten-month-old grandson.  Or when I’m at the farmers’ market, I might intone, “Look at you . . . you’re a fookin’ cantaloupe!”

*     *     *     *     *

The first Rolling Stones song to feature Keith instead of Mick Jagger as the lead vocalist was “You Got the Silver,” from Let It Bleed – certainly the best Stones album ever, and arguably the best rock album ever.

Some sources say that Richards wrote “You Got the Silver” – the last Stones recording to feature Brian Jones (who played the autoharp, of all things) – about his longtime partner, the actress and model Anita Pallenberg.

Pallenberg died a few days ago.  I was writing this post when the news of her death broke.  (I’ll have more to say about Anita Pallenberg and the Rolling Stones in the next 2 or 3 lines.)

Here’s "You Got the Silver”:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Bobby Vee – "Suzie Baby" (1959)

Is your lovelight shinin' bright? 
Will you love me or leave me tonight? 

In a 2010 interview, Joni Mitchell had some harsh words for Bob Dylan:

Bob is not authentic at all.  He's a plagiarist, and his name and voice are fake.  Everything about Bob is a deception.

Mitchell with Roger McGuinn and Dylan
The Bob Dylan moniker is certainly fake: Dylan was born Robert Allen Zimmerman.  But that’s not the only pseudonym that Dylan used.  At various times, he’s called himself Dedham Porterhouse, Blind Boy Grunt, Robert Milkweed Thomas, Boo Wilbury, and Sergei Petrov.

His earliest nom de guerre seems to have been Elston Gunnn.  (No, I didn’t accidentally type an extra “n” – he spelled “Gunnn” with three of them.)  That’s the name he used when he played piano for teen idol Bobby Vee’s band, the Shadows.

*     *     *     *     *

Between 1959 and 1970, Bobby Vee released no fewer than 38 records that charted on the Billboard “Hot 100.”  His biggest hit, “Take Good Care of My Baby,” made it all the way to #1 in 1961.

The Big Bopper, Ritchie Valens, Buddy Holly
Bobby Vee was born Robert Thomas Velline in Fargo, North Dakota.  He was a 15-year-old high-school student on February 3, 1959, when Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper died in a plane crash while en route to a concert in Moorhead, Minnesota – which is just across the Red River of the North from Fargo.

Velline, his older brother, and several friends put together a group called the Shadows, which performed in the place of Holly and his band that night.  

Bobby Vee and the Shadows (sans Elston Gunnn)
Later that year, Vee met Elston Gunnn – that is, Bob Dylan – in a Fargo record store.  Dylan told Vee that he was a piano player and that he had just finished a tour with Conway Twitty, which impressed Vee enough that he asked Dylan to join the Shadows.  

Dylan – who could only play the piano in the key of C – didn’t stay with the band for long.  But Vee made a lasting impression on Dylan.

At a Twin Cities appearance in 2013, Dylan had this to say about Vee, who was in the audience:

I’ve played with everybody from Mick Jagger to Madonna, but the most beautiful person I’ve ever been on stage with is Bobby Vee.

Dylan then performed Vee’s first single, “Suzie Baby,” which he and the Shadows had recorded just before Dylan had joined the band.

Bobby Vee and Bob Dylan in 2013
A year before that 2013 concert, Vee had stopped performing after telling his fans that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.  He died in 2016. 

*     *     *     *     *

“Suzie Baby” was released by a small Minneapolis label, and it sold well enough in Minnesota and the Dakotas to get Vee a recording contract with Liberty Records, a large national label.

Here’s the original Bobby Vee recording of “Suzie Baby”:

He re-recorded the song in 1962.  That version went a little heavy on the strings:

Click below to buy the 1959 version of “Suzie Baby” from Amazon:

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Cyrkle – "Red Rubber Ball" (1966)

The roller-coaster ride we took is nearly at an end
I bought my ticket with my tears
That's all I'm gonna spend

Imagine you’re standing on a subway platform, thinking about nothing in particular as you wait for your train to arrive.

Suddenly you notice that someone who is standing ten yards down the platform looks exactly like you.

Before you can react, she steps off the platform directly into the path of the oncoming train and is squashed flatter than Wile Coyote after an encounter with an ACME asphalt roller.

That’s how Orphan Black –a Canadian sci-fi TV series that airs in the U.S. on BBC America – began.

It turns out that the two doppelgangers on the subway platform are actually a couple of clones left over from a failed collaboration between the military and some renegade scientists.

And those two aren’t the only clones.  New ones keep popping up.  

*     *     *     *     *

I’m not really a science fiction guy.  But I was looking for a new TV series to watch a few weeks ago, and New Yorker television critic Emily Nussbaum had given Orphan Black a positive review.  

My local library had its first four seasons available on DVD, so I went for it.

Nussbaum’s favorite thing about Orphan Black was its star, Tatiana Maslany:

[Maslany] delivers a performance so magnetic that it transforms the show into something with staying power, a near must-watch.  Maslany plays eight clones.  Through digital trickery, her characters play scenes with one another – bickering, bonding, and strategizing. . . . This could easily come off as a circus trick, a gimmick.  And yet it doesn’t: with her observant black eyes, wide smile, and an array of wigs, tics, and accents, Maslany makes herself invisible in a situation that practically demands hammy showmanship.  It’s a tour de force of subtlety.  She has chemistry with herself.

Five of Maslany's clones
Jill Lepore was equally ga-ga about Maslany in a New Yorker article that appeared a year after Nussbaum’s review:

“Orphan Black” stars the prodigiously talented twenty-nine-year-old Tatiana Maslany as a small population of clones. Maslany is the best thing about “Orphan Black,” with the writing a close second. . . . Really, she is breathtaking. 

Nussbaum thinks Maslany’s standout characters are Alison (a suburban-soccer-mom-turned-drug-dealer clone) and Helena (a crazy, abused-by-nuns Ukrainian assassin clone). 

But Alison is something of a caricature.  She's part Breaking Bad, part I Love Lucy.  

And Helena is about as realistic a character as Boris Badenov.  (It’s hard to say whether Helena or Boris has a less convincing accent.) 

Don’t get me wrong: Alison and Helena are as entertaining as all get-out.  But Maslany’s portrayal of them is hardly the “tour de force of subtlety” that Nussbaum thinks it is.  I don’t believe in either one of those characters.  Consequently, I don’t feel for either one of those characters.

*     *     *     *     *

From Lili Loofbourow’s lengthy piece about Maslany and Orphan Black in the New York Times Magazine:

In its subject matter, “Orphan Black” broods on the nature-nurture debate in human biology, but in its execution, the show cleverly extends the same question to matters of genre.  What does the exact same woman look like if you grow her in the petri dish of “Desperate Housewives” or on a horror-film set in Eastern Europe?  What about a police procedural?  The result is a revelation: Instead of each archetype existing as the lone female character in her respective universe, these normally isolated tropes find one another, band together and seek to liberate themselves from the evil system that created them.

By structuring the story around the clones’ differences, “Orphan Black” seems to suggest that the dull sameness enforced by existing female archetypes needs to die.  Early in the first season, there is a serial killer hunting down the clones ­– it turns out to be Helena, the Ukrainian – who ritualistically dismembers Barbie dolls after dyeing their hair to match that of her next victim.  It’s a creepy touch, but one that can also be read as a metacriticism of how women are used on TV: the punishing beauty standards to which they’re held, the imposed uniformity. . . . Our low tolerance for difference among female characters means that they will almost always be less interesting, less memorable and less beloved than their male counterparts.  In this context, Helena becomes a kind of hero, slaughtering televisual conformity and constituting, in both her savagery and her warmth, a radical expansion of what women on television can be. 

Archetypes . . . tropes . . . metacriticism?  Gee, I thought Orphan Black was just a science-fiction thriller.  I didn’t realize that when crazy-pants Helena slaughtered her enemies that she was actually plunging a knife into television conformity and expanding the scope of what a female television character could be. 

Jill Lepore agrees with Loofbourrow that most television series do very badly by their distaff characters.  She finds Maslany’s performance to be notable because she portrays a plethora of interesting females:

On television, women don’t usually play grownup human beings; they play slightly oversize children, helpless and pouty, driven by appetites they can’t possibly understand. . . .

There are very few good roles for women on television, and Maslany plays nine of them.

(If you’re paying attention, you may have noticed the discrepancy between Nussbaum’s statement above that Maslany plays eight clones, and Lepore statement that she portrays nine.  That’s because new clones keep popping up every season, and Lepore’s article was written a year after Nussbaum’s.)

Lepore then jumps a couple of more sharks in the service of gender politics, claiming that the show is “obsessed with female reproductive organs,” and stating that “the show’s go-to wound is the puncture: the act of penetration.”  (Which isn’t really true.  Some Orphan Black characters do get stabbed, but others get shot with guns or blown up with hand grenades.  And most of the stabbing is performed by females – which makes it a stretch to view it as “penetrative.”)

*     *     *     *     *

After making it to the end of the third season of Orphan Black, I’m beginning to have second thoughts about my choice of viewing material.  The show’s plot twists and turns are becoming hard to swallow with a straight face.  

Orphan Black has a “Perils of Pauline” quality – the cliffhangers follow one another in rapid succession.  No sooner does one of the clones untie herself and walk away from the railroad track just before the train comes than a different one frees herself from the sawmill conveyor belt just before she is rent asunder.

Plus you almost never know whether a character is a good guy or a bad guy.  There’s so much double-crossing and triple-crossing going on in Orphan Black that you are rarely confident that you know what’s going on.

This kind of dramatic sleight of hand is intriguing up to a point.  But I think the writers have lost track of which of the cups that the red rubber ball is hiding under.   

Be that as it may, I don’t change TV shows in midstream.  Once that I’ve gotten all the way through the first episode of a series, I will stick with it to the bitter end . . . which is my plan for Orphan Black.

*     *     *     *     *

If you watch Orphan Black, you’ll notice that the episodes have rather odd titles.

For example, the titles of the season one episodes are quotes from Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.  Given the subject matter of the series, that makes sense.

The third season’s episode titles are taken from President Eisenhower’s farewell address, which famously warns the nation to be wary of the “military-industrial complex.”

And the titles of the fifth and final season’s episodes are quotes from the poem “1695,” which was written about a hundred years ago by the American poet, Ella Wheeler Wilcox.

Wilcox’s best-known poem, “Solitude,” opens with these lines:

Laugh, and the world laughs with you;
Weep, and you weep alone.

*     *     *     *     *

The Cyrkle were managed by Brian Epstein, the manager of the Beatles, which may explain why the group was chosen to be the opening act for the Fab Four’s final American tour in the summer of 1966.

The Cyrkle was formed by Don Danneman and Tom Dawes, who met while they were students at Lafayette College.  Both men later wrote advertising jingles for a living.  (Dawes wrote the “plop, plop, fizz, fizz” jingle for Alka-Seltzer, among others.)  

“Red Rubber Ball,” which was co-written by Paul Simon and Bruce Woodley (of the Seekers) made it to #2 on the Billboard “Hot 100” in July 1966.  “Paperback Writer” kept the Cyrkle out of the top spot.  

Here’s “Red Rubber Ball”:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Friday, June 9, 2017

Rolling Stones – "Play With Fire" (1965)

But don't play with me
’Cause you're playing with fire

The previous 2 or 3 lines discussed David Marchese’s ranking (on of 374 Rolling Stones songs.  Click here to see Marchese’s picks.

One thing that struck me after I pondered Marchese’s list is just how many forgettable songs the Rolling Stones recorded.  

I think the Stones are the crème de la crème of all rock groups.  But out of the 374 songs on Marchese’s list, only two or three dozen could be called masterpieces.

Of course, the same is true for the other great classic sixties bands – the Who, the Kinks, the Beach Boys, and even the Beatles.

Yes, you heard me right.  The Beatles recorded many enjoyable pop songs in their early years.  But most of those songs are too lightweight to be thought of as “great” by anyone who wasn’t a 14-year-old girl when the Beatles first toured the United States.  

And the Beatles recorded a fair number of absolute stinkers.  “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” “Octopus’s Garden,” and “When I’m Sixty-Four” are just a few of their truly terrible songs.  And while Sgt. Pepper and the “White Album” are considered by many to be the Beatles’ two best albums, both are full of songs that are mediocre at best and godawful at worst.  

But the Stones’ best album, Let It Bleed, doesn’t contain a single stinker.

*     *     *     *     *

With the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, it’s clear that the smartest thing the Beatles ever did was break up when they did – which was clearly after they had peaked, but not by long.  The Stones’ post-Exile on Main St. albums have some good songs, but the dross on those records overwhelms the gold by a wide margin.  (Be honest.  If you had a chance to see the Stones perform live tomorrow, would you be the least bit upset if they said they weren’t playing any of the songs they recorded after 1972?)

The Beatles recorded a lot of crap as individuals, but the group’s reputation didn’t suffer as a result because the albums those songs were released on weren’t Beatles albums – they were John Lennon albums, or Paul McCartney albums, or George Harrison albums, or Ringo Starr albums.  

*     *     *     *     *

The Beatles as a group released 17 studio albums in the U.S.  (Fourteen of them went to #1 on the Billboard album charts, while the other three peaked at #2.)  

The Beatles as individuals released almost four times as many studio albums than the Beatles released  as a group.

John Lennon released eleven studio albums before he was murdered in 1980, while George Harrison released twelve before his 2001 death.  

Would you believe that Ringo Starr has released 18 studio albums?  (Only two made it to the top ten.)

And Paul McCartney has released a whopping 29 studio albums in the U.S.  (That includes five “classical” albums.)

I think that one CD would easily hold all the individual John, Paul, George, and Ringo songs that I’d ever want to listen to.  

The same is true for the dozen studio albums the Rolling Stones released subsequent to Exile on Main Street.

*     *     *     *     *

Marchese ranks three post-Exile songs in his top 25: “Start Me Up” (#18), “Miss You” (#11), and “Beast of Burden” (#3).

None of the three would be in my top 100.  (“Beast of Burden” at #3?  Are you kidding me?)

There are seven early Stones songs – that is, songs that were released when I was in junior high – in Marchese’s top 25: “19th Nervous Breakdown” (#25), “She’s a Rainbow” (#23), “Let’s Spend the Night Together” (#20), “Ruby Tuesday (#14), “Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow?” (#9), “Satisfaction” (#8),  and “Paint It Black” (#6). 

That’s not bad.  “Paint It Black” and “Satisfaction” definitely belong in the top ten.  (Sure, we’ve all heard “Satisfaction” a zillion times, but it’s a one-of-a-kind song.  And it has as much attitude as any song before or since.  It has held up very well.)

Then . . .
I’d move “Let’s Spend the Night Together” and “19th Nervous Breakdown” down in the rankings a bit.  (They have “Satisfaction”-ish attitude, but rely a little too much on Sturm und Drang – “Satisfaction” is a much smarter song.)  I think Marchese ranks “Ruby Tuesday” too high as well – it’s an interesting song, but it’s really more of a Beatles song than a Stones song.

Marchese doesn’t include a single pre-“Satisfaction” song in his top 25.  He does rank “She Said Yeah” at #27, which is about right.  (It’s a stick of dynamite – the best of the Stones’ early R&B covers.)  But “It’s All Over Now” (#75), “The Last Time” (#90), and especially “Play With Fire” (#125) deserve to be  much higher in the rankings.

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The remaining 15 songs in Marchese’s top 25 come from the Stones’ peak years – 1968 to 1972 – when they released Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, and Exile on Main St.

Marchese is correct to say that the golden age of the Stones began with the release of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” in 1968.  (It was recorded at the same time as the songs that ended up on Beggars Banquet, but was not included on that album.)  Marchese ranks it #4, and I can’t argue with him.  It’s an iconic Stones record – perhaps only “Satisfaction” is more iconic.

“Honky Tonk Women” is another iconic Stones song that wasn’t included in a studio album.  (A country-western version titled “Country Honk” was released on Let It Bleed.)  Marchese ranks it at #7, which I think is way too high.  I was never a huge fan of this song – Jagger works hard to sell it, but I’m buying it.  And I don’t think it has aged particularly well.

“Sympathy for the Devil” and “Street Fighting Man” are the obvious Beggars Banquet to put near the top of the rankings, but I think you have to include “Stray Cat Blues” in the top 25 as well.  It’s a song you rarely heard on the radio, probably because of concerns that the FCC would come down hard on any station that dared to play such an unapologetically sleazy song.

Which is exactly why “Stray Cat Blues” would be in my top 25.  It’s a very unsettling song – especially to parents of teenaged girls.

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Only one Exile on Main St. song – “Tumbling Dice” – makes Marchese’s top 25.  I agree with him that Exile doesn’t have a lot of first-rank songs, but “Soul Survivor,” “Torn and Frayed,” and several other tracks from that album are clearly better than “Tumbling Dice.”  (“Soul Survivor” is a very underrated song – it’s definitely top-25 material.)

Marchese has high regard for Sticky Fingers, ranking no fewer than six songs from that album in his top 25.  I wouldn’t put “Brown Sugar” at #10 – it’s a quintessential Stones song, but I don’t think it’s one of their very best.  And I’d move “Wild Horses” – which is not a quintessential Stones song – down from #12.  (Ditto for “Moonlight Mile,” which Marchese puts at #16.)

“Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” and “Dead Flowers” (#15 and #21, respectively) are also atypical Stones tracks, but I like both of them.  (I think “Dead Flowers” is the best of all the Stones’ country-style songs by far.)

That leaves “Sway” at #22, which I might put ahead of all the other Sticky Fingers songs instead of bringing up the rear.

Let It Bleed is the consensus choice for the best Stones album of all time, and Marchese ranks four songs from that album in his top 25.  

I’m not sure that “Let It Bleed” deserves the #24 spot, but that’s close enough for government work.

“Monkey Man” is an excellent choice.  I might even move it up a few spots from #19, which is where Marchese placed it.  

“Live With Me” is just as good as “Monkey Man,” and should be ranked much higher than #74.

Marchese ranks “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” as the best Stones songs of all time.

If you ask me, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” tries to do a little too much.  It’s seven-plus minutes long, and contains “at least four ecstatic peaks,” according to Marchese – the Stones pull out all the stops and throw in everything but the kitchen sink (including the 200-odd voices of the world-renowned London Bach Choir). 

What’s my choice for the #1 spot?  “Gimme Shelter” – no ifs, ands or buts about it.

The Stones’ bark was often worse than their bite, but there’s nothing phony about “Gimme Shelter” – it’s as menacing as all get-out.

There’s a reason that the Maysles brothers named their famous documentary about the deadly Altamonte concert Gimme Shelter:

Here’s what Marchese has to say about the song:

As they were in 1969, as they are now, rape, war, and murder are just a shot away, and the band plays to that evil truth with savage intensity.  Mick’s distorted blues harp and vengeful singing and Keith’s serrated lead guitar burn, eternally, with prophetic heat.  And Merry Clayton’s astonishingly intense vocals represent backup singing at its height.  Ominous and forever dead-on, “Gimme Shelter” isn’t just apex Stones . . . it’s as apocalyptic as rock music gets.

Marchese knows that “Gimme Shelter” deserves the numero uno spot, but he wimps out and ranks it #2:

Look, maybe “Gimme Shelter” was the band’s true peak, and that song lives in the darkness the Stones knew so well, knew better than any other band, but I’m putting [“You Can’t Always Get What You Want”] at the top.  It lets a little light in.
Light, schmight.  2 or 3 lines isn’t afraid to give itself to the dark side.  It can handle the truth.

And the truth is that “Gimme Shelter” is the #1 Stones song of all time.  

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2 or 3 lines featured “Gimme Shelter” some time ago.  (You can click here to read what I had to say about it.)  So today’s featured song is “Play With Fire,” which was released in 1965.  

David Marchese ranks it as the Stones’ 125th-best song, but it deserves to be ranked much higher than that.

Jagger and Richards are the only Rolling Stones to appear on “Play With Fire,” which was recorded in Los Angeles the day before the group left to tour Australia.  Phil Spector played bass – actually, he played a tuned-down electric guitar – and frequent Stones collaborator Jack Nitzsche played harpsichord and the Chinese gong known as a tam-tam.

“Play With Fire” is about a rich London girl who is slumming around with a guy from the wrong side of the tracks.  She’s playing with fire, and she’s going to get burned.

Do you remember when the Stones – especially Mick Jagger – seemed menacing and dangerous?  I think a lot of us really felt that way fifty years ago, although it seems almost laughable today.

Here’s “Play With Fire”:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon: