Monday, 23 January 2017

Neil Young "Everybody's Rockin'" (1983)





Neil Young "Everybody's Rockin'" (1983)

Betty Lou Got A New Pair Of Shoes/Rainin' In My Heart/Payola Blues/Wonderin'/Kinda Fonda Wanda//Jellyroll Man/Bright Lights Big City/Cry Cry Cry/Mystery Train/Everybody's Rockin'

'When I was a young boy back in '83, I went out and bought me this here LP, it cost me around a buck a minute, and the Neil Young sound was barely in it, the LP hit the charts like a ton of bricks, with Neil on the cover with his hair all slicked, didn't make a lot of money which gave Geffen a fit and included absolutely nothing in the way of kicks, people wondered what the hell was going on and complained to Neil but the kid had already got gone...'

I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall at the meeting between Neil and record company when Geffen heard the 'rock and roll' album they'd asked for and Young had been recording with glee. The first year between artist and label had been a complex and difficult one, with Geffen rejecting the first album Neil submitted to them ('Island In The Sun') and having a fit when Neil presented an ambitious second ('Trans') before rejecting a third (the country-tinged 'Old Ways', a project revived in 1984). David Geffen, a longstanding friend of Neil's took him aside and asked for a 'rock' album for the following year, meaning that what they really wanted was a 'Crazy Horse' style rock album in the line of 'Rust Never Sleeps' or the track 'Like A Hurricane'. Neil though didn't think of that sound as rock and roll and wasn't used to being told which of the many muses juggling in his head to follow, so half-seriously, half-mischievously, recorded a 'rockabilly' album instead. Because to Neil that's what rock and roll was: it was a 1950s world full of slicked back hair and pink jackets (as demonstrated on the hilarious front cover - never has Neil got so deeply into character than here as the 'leader' of a fictitious 1950s band named 'The Shocking Pinks'), doo-wop harmonies and saxophone solos and lyrics about girlfriends trying on shoes, payola and jellyroll. Geffen, who'd been told that yes absolutely this was a 'rock' album, must have had a fit while Young probably felt like a kid handing in his homework knowing that he'd spent the summer break making ugly sketches of the teacher. Against all odds, Neil was allowed to put it out, the record label perhaps thinking that at least the singer was using his actual voice this time instead of a vocoder. So was the joke on them or on Neil - or just on the fans like us who had to buy the flipping thing? And somebody is surely laughing, even if it's only the saxophone squeal at the end of the final song.

The general consensus amongst fans was that this album - recorded within a couple of hours, so legend has it, on April Fool's Day 1983 which might be a clue - was a kind of extended joke. Neil bashed out ten songs (six originals, four favourite cover songs) as quickly as possible and handed them over while smirking that he'd caught Geffen out. But that's to reckon without taking into account just how deeply Neil goes into character sometimes. Neil later described this period as 'like being in a movie' and that he drew on his rock and roll loving uncle in his depiction of the leader of a fading 1950s band who still thought they were hip idols when they were clearly past it. Neil, after all, wanted to escape from being Neil Young for a bit. While his son Ben wasn't getting quite as much full-on care as he had been across 1980 and 1981, Neil still had plenty of reason to want to 'escape' from the difficulties of being a dad to a son with cerebral palsy. The last tour he'd been on, with the Transband, had been the most difficult in a decade with a combination of musicians from Neil's past who never quite gelled and a bass player in Buffalo Springfield's Bruce Palmer who found it hard to keep pace after fifteen or so years away. Neil had to be given 'shots' by a doctor to keep going through the final dates - he wasn't going through that again. Things were better in the olden days when at least people were open about being exploited...

This fleeting thought took hold at the end of that tour when Neil sent an SOS call to an old school-friend named Alex Reid and the pair reminisced about the 1950s bands they used to watch and watching Alan Freed on TV before he was disgraced (it was discovered the DJ would only play new bands for payment, the subject matter of 'Payola Blues'; this is the 'Alex' who gets the rare album dedication from Neil, alongside wife Pegi). The 1950s were in vogue in the era too - think 'Grease', if you must - and in another decade of style over  substance and home comforts the era came with extra appeal. After all bitty glamorous pop lovelies who didn't write their own songs: that's what the world needed in 1983 and what the average record-buyer bought in droves. In a way Neil was just pointing out the current cycle for what would sell wasn't new and had been done before, pointing out to Geffen that he understood the stupidity of pandering to a marketplace that kept changing it's mind what it wanted. Rock and roll covers were plentiful too, with such legends as John Lennon and David Bowie making their own in the years before this and Paul McCartney recording two in later life. For Neil, slowly feeling his way back into music after years away, the songs he used to listen to in his early years must have also been of some comfort to him. The rock and roll setting also enabled to sing about empty-headed teenage ideas without getting funny looks or having anyone asking why he wasn't writing from the heart anymore, because nobody did on those kind of LPs back then (instead most people were giving him looks for having the idea in the first place - and Neil was a lot more used to that). If fans got the 'joke' about what he was delivering to his record label then that was ok too. As ever, though, Neil took things too far, refusing to release a pure covers album or make this a single or an EP but a full blown LP. On the other hand though he didn't take things far enough. 'Everybody's Rockin' didn't just feature vaguely retro songs it was designed to be exactly like an album from the 1950s, right down to the short playing time of 24:55 (barely worth getting up to change over if you own the LP version!) This album has gone down in history as the one not only Geffen had problems with but fans too - actually our biggest problem is more that there's so little on offer here, not what that something is.

'Everybody's Rockin' is, after all, not intended to be substantial. It's a palette-cleanser from a writer who feels written out but wants to record something anyway and deliberately lighter in tone and retrospective and 'cosy' in mood to make up for the heavier, more pioneering album just released. It's a typical Young tug of war about veering to the other extreme from the one he's just offered us and a technique that he's followed for much of his career. Heard individually and in that context, it's a lot of fun. Neil once sang about the end of the Aztec empire, wrote perhaps the most painful obsessive song about love ever written ('Like A Hurricane') and still had room left over for the nervous breakdown in sound 'Dangerbird'. On this album he's singing about the fact his girlfriend has bought a new pair of shoes as if it's on a similar level of importance. Elsewhere 'Wonderin' finally finds a proper home for a sweet but insubstantial song that's been kicking around since the early 1970s but would have been trampled and overshadowed on any album before this. 'Cry Cry Cry' is such a good and spot-on 1950s pastiche (early Elvis songs especially) that I've just had to check that it isn't in fact an oldie but a whole new Young song (interestingly 'Try Not To Cry' is one of three original songs Paul McCartney added to his nearest album 'Run Devil Run' in 1999 which sounds similarly of the period; I never knew the 1950s was such a sad time). The title song is the one track here that acknowledges the 1980s but takes back the years anyway with a tale of the then-president Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy 'bopping on the White House lawn' the way they would have done had they taken office in the 1950s when he was a young actor. Then there's the one note of sourness and darkness as Neil spoofs up what the 1950s was really about - money - for a decade who are becoming just as obsessed about it as the wickedly funny 'Payola Blues' sports backing singers intoning 'cash-a-wadda-wadda' throughout the song.

And then there's the rest. Neil is not a natural interpreter and has yet to match the sheer amount of cover songs on this album except on 'pure' cover records like 'Americana' and 'A Letter Home' (and they aren't even as substantial as this record is). All his covers of Jimmy Reed, Elvis and Bobby Freeman songs do is make you want to listen to the originals, by someone who knows how to sing them. Neil just sounds like a karaoke night at the local 1950s pub - and not a particularly good night either. As for 'Jellyroll Man', it sounds like it took longer to sing than it did to write and may well have the silliest chorus in the Neil Young canon (basically the title repeated over and over...and over some more). Neil treats his voice to period echo, which helps with the period sound but makes him sound even further away from 'us' and reality than the vocoders on 'Trans' and that's a problem because for this album to work we need to believe that the tracks that are meant to be spoken to 'us' (like 'Payola Blues' especially) really do come from the heart. Instead they just sound like a man who thinks he can get away with anything and doesn't care if he can't - that's Geffen's problem, not his.
What I'd have loved to have seen is the 'Everybody's Rockin' we have here as merely the backbone for a bigger LP Neil would have returned to after the tour was out the way. There were a number of songs introduced to the setlist in 1983 that would have made this a far more productive and fulfilling experience for artist, fan and record company all round without Neil having to compromise on his ideals or give way to his stubborn-ness at giving Geffen what he thought they wanted. Two of them are the highlights of the Geffen compilation 'Lucky Thirteen' released in 1987: 'Get Gone' lasts for a fifth of the album running time in fact, a wise-cracking 'story song' about the 'story of The Shocking Pinks' that goes  from failing exams to getting spotted by a big-time promoter to dying the ultimate 1950s rock star death in a plane crash. Then there's a couple of songs revived from the Squires days when Neil really was a teenager dreaming of the big-time and his band getting discovered in just the sort of way The Shocking Pinks were (fictitiously), 'Ain't That The Truth?' and 'Don't Take Your Love Away From Me'. Having been written at a time when the 1950s had only just become the 1960s, they sound like far more convincing period songs than anything the 38-year-old Neil can come up with in 1983. Add these three songs to the running order, throw in another couple of covers as well (personally I'd have loved to have heard Neil revive his first ever performed vocal, on The Beatles' 'It Won't Be Long', while Young surely has the voice and passion for a deeper 1950s writer like Arthur Alexander or The Bryant Brothers at their most substantial more than he does as a failed Elvis singer).The trouble with 'Everybody's Rockin' is that not everything rocks and when an album only lasts half the length an album of the day normally does you really do need everything to be rocking or at any rate rolling. Unlike Betty, Neil just doesn't try on enough pairs of shoes across the making of this album and it shows.

As a result many fans are content to ignore this album and pretend it doesn't exist. That's understandable but would be a shame. Forget what Neil's doing up front if you need to and concentrate on the backing, with The Shocking Pinks one of the best-drilled of Neil's 1980s bands, lighter on their feet than both the International Harvesters and the 'Landing On Water' rhythm section. The poor band were actually hired to work on a 'country' album and had most likely never played any rockabilly in their life, so it's impressive to report just how good they sound (even if everything is lost in a production echo that can only be a 1980s creation). That goes double for Anthony Crawford, a singer who'll pop up on many an album in the future and who grew especially close to co-backing singer Pegi Young (appearing on all of Neil's wife's solo albums too), while this album's co-singer Rick Palombi deserved a second more 'normal' Young album to strut his stuff. Larry Byrom does a fair Jerry Lee Lewis pastiche across the record. With a focus Neil lacks as a singer and a bright-as-a-button tone, he's what prevents this album from being pure pastiche and parody. Tim Drummond, usually the star bass player on Neil's saddest and weirdest songs, has fun trying to swing. Ben Keith, always prepared to go as far out as Neil does, even learnt to play the alto saxophone to appear on this album, performing with a quite different approach to the melancholy he brings to the pedal-steel. He also played an ordinary guitar, for the first time ('What I want is someone who sounds like they can't play and they're just learning' Neil said in the studio at the start of the sessions - 'Hey, Ben, you don't play, you're perfect!') Karl Himmel also throws in some sturdy drumming that would have gone down nicely at the Cavern or Casbah Clubs back in the Merseybeat days. Neil is the one who sounds the most out of place, which is a bit of a nerve given that this album is his idea, but even he manages to find a way of adapting his traditional guitar playing to a more streamlined, precise and 1950s approach, particularly on 'Mystery Train', the only song that sounds as if Neil had a rehearsal first.

The result is an album only a fan could love (and even then not many) and a record label like Geffen were designed to hate, so no wonder everyone jumped up and down on it when it came out. Neil, already confusing most people after the more heartfelt 'Trans' in 1982, was never going to win anybody over with this album and it was savaged, leaving the singer to comment on his reviewers 'Do they think I'm stupid? Of course I know this record wasn't the greatest thing I ever made - that was the whole point!' One magazine, early in the life of CDs, called this 'the worst sounding album of the year' when it was issued in the mid 1980s, which only suggests they hadn't heard the original LP (the production of this record is by far its worst feature, making every track sound the same and robbing it of any life; typically Neil used a hybrid of obsolete 1950s and  cutting edge 1980s technology that wasn't designed to fit together; even more typically this is one of the few Young CDs that hasn't been re-released or re-mixed down the years). All of this is true: 'Everybody's Rockin' sounds dreadful, is often all too clearly recorded in a single sessions without the recourse of rehearsals and never quite loses it's 'less piss off the record company' status and grow into a full album of its own violation. However, the nadir of Young's catalogue? When that catalogue includes such what-the?' moments as 'Chrome Dreams II' 'Fork In The Road' and flipping 'Greendale'? Nope, nope, nope. 'Everybody's Rockin' works because it doesn't take itself seriously, from the cover to the contents and it's best moments are either hilariously funny or  impressively forthright. You'd have to be a real grump not to appreciate the pretty soft-shoe-shuffle of 'Wonderin' or 'Kinda Fonda Wanda' and 'Payola Blues' has a sting in the tail only a triple Scorpion like Neil could write (it's the most shocking song by the Shocking Pinks, that's for sure - and any band with a pun-worthy name like that can't be bad). Given that it was more or less written on the spot (to entertain Pegi and annoy Geffen in equal measure) and recorded even quicker than that, it ought to be far worse than it is. Instead Neil's half-vision is almost rescued by his backing band and his instinct for songwriting, with the only part of the album that sounds truly rushed is the mixing. I just wish there was more to it - more songs, more running time, more recording sessions and a lot more thinking going on. Oh and less Elvis covers, that would definitely be a good thing. Clearly not every fan is going to rock to this album and it's not the place to start your Neil Young collection. But surely the only one who can really hate this likeable collection of rock and roll covers, standards and soundalikes is Geffen and that, after all, was the whole point.

'Betty Lou Got A New Pair Of Shoes' is Neil Young doing Bobby Freeman doing Jerry Lee Lewis and the result comes out sounding more like a gorilla let loose in a shoe shop. Neil isn't built for 1950s rock (this single was a #37 hit in 1958) and that's never better shown than here where he lacks the lightness of a touch for a song that goes 'ooo-wa-ooo' for hours on end. You'd never claim the original was exactly classy and it's a confusing song anyway: why is the narrator telling us his girlfriend got a new pair of shoes? Is he pleased because he bought them for her? Is he horrified because he had to wait an eternity while she tried them all on? And why does she end the song escaping the attentions of first an undertaker and then a guy at a party who both think she should be wearing 'studebakers'? (Neil probably decided to do this song just because he could name an ancient make of horse-and-wagon coach. You can bet your own shoes Neil would have owned one of these had he lived even a few decades earlier than he was). At least the original had a certain joy and exuberance however which was the whole pont of the song, not what shoes Betty Lou was a-woo-wearing. Without that same joy this version has nothing to (shoe) lace the song together, though that said the band are having a great time behind Neil with the 'Red Hill Boys' providing some glamour in the backing vocals and Ben Keith shocking everyone with a saxophone solo that's halfway competent, more 'Yakkety Yak' than falling flat. 'Betty Lou's Got A New Pair Of Shoes' is, after all, rather fitting for a song choice that seems to be designed for no other reason than Neil keeping his band on their toes.

Even the band sound lost on the interminable cover of 'Rainin' In My Heart' though, a hit for blue singer Slim Harpo in 1961 (not a very obvious choice, but The Rolling Stones do a few of his songs too; he may have got the title from the Buddy Holly song out in 1959). Considering that the mood of most of this album is upbeat and 'fun' and daft and silly, this slow weepie always sounded out of place. At least Neil's gone to town on the arrangement, however, turning this song from a pure blues into more of a Fats Domino/Elvis hybrid. Neil almost nails the vocal, with a little boy lost vocal we're so used to from other vocals across his career, but the mood of the song is false and the plastering of echo makes even this vocal sound insincere, especially the 'spoken word' part. And this is a hard lyric to make sincere at the best of times: Neil's sad, his girl's left him, it's as if it's raining but the sun will come out if his lover agrees to come back to him. yeah because that always works in songs like this one. Even Neil's brushed-off harmonica playing seems out of place here, wild and yet somehow flat. You have to feel for the poor piano too, which is really taking a pounding here on this simple 12 bar blues (the sort of thing 10cc would normally be parodying) and the 2:12 it takes to hear this song often feels like an eternity. Every 1950s cliche under the sun wrapped up in one forgettable cover, the best you can say about this song is that at least we can hear the words, unlike most of the noisy 'Americana' or muffled 'A Letter Home'.

'Payola Blues' is much more like it, as Neil manages to do several things at once on a multi-layered song. On one level it's a parody of just how easy it was to get a song on the radio in the 1950s: you just handed a lot of money over to the DJ! On another it's a protest that the same thing is happening in 1983 with MTV stations more interested in big budget music videos and 'grooming' people into becoming celebrities whether they can do anything or not (Neil could never get any of his videos seen until much later in the decade - he made two for this album which are about his best, with a re-appearance of that pink jacket from the cover in there too). The opening lyrics turn on Alan Freed who was caught up in a payola scandal in 1959 that ended his career (unfairly really - everyone was doing it, but as the least 'helpful' member of a committee set up to investigate it he became the 'fall-guy'); many people felt particularly bitter because Freed seemed much more 'one of them' than the elder DJs and he went out of his way to be 'fair', refusing to play soppy white cover versions of songs that were hits and digging out the African-American recordings originals, for instance. The fact that he'd taken money seemed to go against all of the rock and roll spirit he'd ever shown. On another level, though, this song is another dig at Geffen, giving Neil a chance to air his latest grievance, that 'if a man is making music they ought to let his records play' and that 'no matter where I go I never hear my record on the radio'. Neil has a 'great new record' a 'new manager' and a 'new label' but still he can't 'get through' to his audience because the promotion men have made the decision that it won't 'sell' and have blocked it - something that makes more sense of this album somehow, as if Neil is still hurting over the poor advertising budget for 'Trans' and the abandoned first version of 'Old Ways' (why bother crafting genius when a record won't sell anyway - why not rattle it off in a couple of hours?) With all this going on both Neil and the band sound more committed than normal, turning in a great performance that sees Neil actually singing from the heart for once while 'The red Hill Boys' get to chant cash-a-waddah-waddah with a straight face. Sounding like a cross between 'Great Balls of Fire' and 'Blueberry Hill' this is nevertheless the one moment here that truly sounds like pure Neil, hinting at the commercial-taunting song 'This Note's For You' to come. Neil makes a stand here that he'll always be 'real', whatever else he is  - even if that statement is made rather less empowering given that he sings it to us while wearing that suit and singing to a derivative melody and arrangement.

'Wonderin' is perhaps the best song on the album though, a sweet song that was originally written for 'Homegrown' in 1974 and signified Neil's slight upturn of hope during the period in between wives number two and three. Neil manages to get in a pun on the title as his body wanders lost round a neighbourhood and his mind wanders somewhere else, wondering is his 'baby' will ever come home and whether things will stay the same as they are - or is it now time to move on? A second verse adds that Neil has been 'talking' all night long as well, distracting himself to keep his 'heart from sadness', which sounds like a very un-Neil thing to do but works in context, this narrator choosing to do anything he can but admit defeat and that he is going to have to move on with his life. The original version of this song ends on a hopeful note, with some sweet uplifting harmonies adding unity and brotherly love as they whisper 'knowing that I need you to save me' over and over'. Though simple, bordering on stupid, there's a sweetness and lightness of touch to the original that makes it one of the better songs that 'got away'. Sadly the 1983 rockabilly version loses touch with all these things, adding some heavy handed touches such as some 'woo-wah talk talk' backing vocals and a drum that sounds as heavy as the metal thrash that's soon to be unleashed on 1986 Young album 'Landing On Water' (and yet which sounds even more out of place here in the middle of a 1950s record). It's as if Neil realised his record was running short and looked through his bag of unreleased songs for one that was deliberately simple and sounded like it might fit - but the trouble is it doesn't. This song may be simple but it's also heartfelt, the sound of a man not that sure where the next roll of the dice of life will take him and unable to think about anything else until the matter of his love life and where he's living is settled. Neil seems to have belatedly realised that here, adding a vocal that's big on emotion and low on laughs, which just makes him sound more incongruous in this party atmosphere than ever, successfully remembering what it felt like in the year before he met future wife Pegi (the fact that this album is partly dedicated to her - and not many of Young's albums are compared to other composers - suggests that Neil realises just how 'lucky' he got with that roll of the dice and that he wouldn't have changed it for anything, even with all the extra problems he's experienced since that his 1974 self wouldn't have been expecting). This song is too good to waste in the middle of a rock and roll covers album, but at least it adds a belated sense of realness and drama to the album which otherwise would have been pure frosting.

Talking of which 'Kinda Fonda Wanda' is the reason why the 1950s had to change into the 1960s and music had to get away from empty-headed songs that meant nothing. Neil is having a ball, writing a silly lyric that does the old 1950s trick of name-checking every girl with every rhyming character flaw he can think of, apparently to amuse his wife and school-friend while out on the road more than anything else. Neil knows a lot of 'Lou's - this one's Mary Lou, not Betty Lou though, while he also dated a whole range of musical heroines: Peggy Sue (Buddy Holly), Barbara Ann (The Beach Boys), Donna (10cc), Short Fat Fannie (Little Richard via Larry Williams), Skinny Minnie (Bill Haley and The Comets) and Runaround Sue (Dion), which in the real world shows that Neil owns a lot of rock and roll records and in the song world shows that his narrator has probably had more sex than any other character in any other Neil Young song. He ends up settling for Wanda, who he's kinda fond of, but never tells us why, preferring instead to point out the other girls' flaws compared to hers. A silly song that should be a lot of fun, it's a shame that Neil continues to sing in such an edgy serious monotone, the way he did on Betty Lou kicking her heels: this is a song that needs to either think it's the wittiest thing ever composed or so straight-laced it's even more hilarious; instead this song is kinda in the middle with the backing singers getting the better of Neil until he finally gives up on the last verse and simply sings 'twiddlydeedee!' while the Redhill Bills don't miss a beat and just sing 'Fonda Wanda' the way they always do. Is it just my ears or did Neil 'steal' this song from an unlike and not actually very 1950s source too - it's the entire melody of Linda McCartney's equally 50s-decorated song 'Cook Of The House' from 'Wings At The Speed Of Sound' in 1986 only instead of listing ingredients it lists girls instead. For all its flaws though, this is exactly what Neil should be writing for this kind of flimsy album (if not necessarily the way he should have been recording it) and I'm still kinda fonda it myself.

I'm less sure about 'Jellyroll Man', which seems like a joke too far. While the backing singers intone 'rock rock' and 'right now right now', Neil returns to one of his favourite themes of addiction, heard previously on anti-drug songs 'The Needle And The Damage Done' and later on 'No More'. Here, though, this obsessed narrator loves jellyroll - basically swiss roll if you're not American, with jam in the middle. He probably means sex, with 'jellyroll' heard in many a blues song as a sticky euphemism that's about as close to the real thing as musicians could get at the start of the 20th century. The glorious harmonica solo that Neil plays - clearly the highlight of the song - hints at some desperate need that will never be satisfied like all the best blues songs do too. However even for this album this is Neil running on empty. All we learn across two verses and a mangled, over-repeated chorus is that when you feel the need for something you have to satisfy your cravings 'right now', whatever the cost. That might explain why Neil ran through so many girls before settling on Kinda Fonda Wanda but this song doesn't tell us whether the narrator thinks this is a good or bad thing, whether he's boasting like he would in a Rolling Stones song or guilty about it the way Neil will later on albums like 'Are You Passionate?' and 'Storytone'. Of course this song is meant to be a comedy and not a confessional - and yet, once again, it doesn't raise even the slightest bit of laughter and Neil could have made it so much funnier if he'd wanted to.

Neil was a big Jimmy Reed fan growing up and it's inevitable one of his songs would end up on this record somewhere. However 'Bright Lights Big City' is sung with all the reverence of a drunken pub singer. What with the assault on a bootleg-audio version of 'Baby What You Want Me To Do?' on 'Broken Arrow' the Reed cover songs in the Young back catalogue begin to look like sabotage. The song should suit Neil, being a sleepy blues propped up by a heavy backbeat, the kind of thing he performed with Crazy Horse all the time. The melancholy of the lyrics which seduced his girl into running away and checking out the big time in the city is also a theme we've heard a lot from Neil in everything from 'Country Girl' to 'Here We Are In The Years'. However Neil doesn't sound at all comfortable here, almost yawning his way through the song even though once again the backing band are at least trying to do him proud, with some particularly natty drum rolls going on in the background. The 1961 original is one of Reed's better recordings, smoky and low-key and shadows, but Neil's version ironically ruins the effect by having too many 'bright lights' glaring at us. Along with 'Raining In My Heart' the lowest ebb of the album.

'Cry Cry Cry' is better, with a wailing - in both senses of the word - melody and a quick-stepping riff that sounds like the most authentic 1950s moment on the album even though Neil wrote it especially for this album. Which is interesting because this soggy tale about having too many feelings spilling over to keep them all in couldn't be less like the average 1950s macho type of male narrator forcing himself to be strong. Neil really goes for it too with a 'boo hoo hoo' chorus that really does feel sorry for itself while simultaneously trying to rock his blues away. Neil's Carl Perkins style guitar is amongst his best on the album, electrifying a song that shouldn't sound anywhere near this good being so simple once again. Neil sounds more committed here than he does for most of the album, perhaps because this is another song aimed at Geffen which has been only slightly re-written to disguise the fact. With the record label not interested in the music he wants to make and more interested in artists who can bring in the big bucks, Neil sighs that he's 'tired of standing in this line' and sighs that 'somewhere there's a rainbow for me' but it isn't 'here', perhaps dreaming of the day already when he can go back to Reprise. Though the song steals it's melody wholesale this time from Eddie Cochran's 'twenty Flight Rock'. this still manages to be one of the more original songs on the album and throws in an extra something many of the other songs this album lack.

Everybody has covered Elvis' 'Mystery Train'. Everybody. Even I'll probably get round to issuing my own version one day and I can't flipping sing. Neil's at his best on this album when he's digging out the more obscure side of 1950s Americana and he's clearly no Elvis, so this song was always going to struggle, especially the anodyne production which sucks even the little excitement Neil tries to give it out of the recording booth like a vacuum cleaner with ADHD.  There's a good performance in here somewhere though, with Neil doubling up on chunky acoustic rattle and quirky fierce electric which is actually a pretty good impression of the quick-stepping beat of the original. Full marks too to Karl Himmel's clever variations on the original's simple snare part. However the echo makes this whole song sound less like a train and more like someone drowning in an echoey bathtub, while the poor backing singers get lumbered with having to sound like a train whistle when you can tell they're straining at the leash to join in too. The production on this albums is bad everywhere, but this is the one classic-in-the-making it renders truly unlistenable and it's such a shame as there's clearly something good going on in here somewhere. Alas what that is remains a 'mystery' to the end.

We end with a final Young original, the title track, which while sounding as 1950s as every other song on the album (basically a boogie woogie version of 'Heartbreak Hotel') is the one track here that gives away it's young age. Imagining the 1950s youth all grown up, Neil fast-forwards to the time when they're not just middle-aged as they are now but Grandparents. Seeing the Reagan family (who Neil always seemed unduly fond of) as his ultimate example, Neil even pictures them bopping in the white house - which is more something you'd find the Obamas doing to be honest. The idea seems to be that the people who bop together stay together, that the 1950s value system taught the right things and that all the teenage hoodlums brought up on rock will still have the energy to stay alive into a ripe old age. It's a tribute to an era after an album that hasn't really taken the 1950s that seriously or that kindly up till now. However it's delivered by a man who, despite only being in his late thirties himself, sounds prematurely old and grumpy, Neil sliding over the notes and more or less barking them out rather than singing them. Neil's just too stationary on a song that demands he be light on his feet and boogie the night away, sounding instead as if he's got his slippers on in front of the fire. The rest of the band fare better, mainly thanks to the 'Redhill Boys' reviving their arrangement from 'Kinda Fonda Wanda' in the background and Ben Keith's impressive sax break and just about give this song the oomph it needs. Even so, this song is far from a classic and 'Everybody's Rockin' could do with rocking out some more to be honest, especially the writer/singer who seems to be refusing to take his own advice here.


Overall, then, 'Everybody's Rockin' is a sham of an LP made in a hurry to collect some dosh from a record label that didn't want to give it and to make Geffen think twice about messing around with someone as stubborn as Neil. That seems to be where plans for this album began and end which is a shame - had Neil kept to his quirky ideas and written a few extra songs on the lines of 'Get Gone' this could have been a fun semi-serious, semi-comedic album in the line of John Entwistle's affectionate but silly 1950s rock and roll solo albums of the 1970s. The trouble is there isn't enough of 'Everybody's Rockin' to get our teeth into and the serious moments are few and far between while the silly moments aren't as silly and funny as they might have been. The result is an album that fails everybody, making Neil rather than his label look like a cheapskate, making his fanbase question his sanity and making his record label even more determined to make Neil tow the line next time around (it's this album, not the equally idiosyncratic other album being made for Geffen, that force their hand into suing their artist for 'not making music that sounds like Neil Young!') However, much more than that it's the album that loses out: another twenty minutes of decent new songs, a remix job that drops the embarrassing echo and longer time to rehearse and record than a mere two hours and 'Everybody's Rockin' might yet have been a great LP: Neil proves he has a feel for the genre as a writer if not always as a singer while his band work miracles with the material they've been provided with at times. It's certainly far from being the worst Neil Young album, as so many fans like to think, simply because there are too many moments in this album that work to dismiss it. However at a mere 25 minutes, with four boring cover songs and only half the originals catching fire, you still have to put this record down as more of a 'failure' than a 'success' and you thank your lucky stars that Neil didn't respond to his least-selling album (since 'Journey Thru The Past' at least) and his most hated review the typical Neil Young way by releasing another four albums like this and killing off his career completely! You really don't need to own this album if you're a casual fan. And if you do own it, you won't play it much - it's too tiring to keep getting up and changing the CD over for one thing (doubly so if you own the LP). There are times when you'll feel like slinging it out the window. But there's a certain spark about this LP, the dry humour of 'Kinda Fonda Wanda', the full=-on sarcastic humour of 'Payola Blues' and the sweetness of 'Wonderin' that means that even at his worst Neil can't quite bring himself to ruin a whole LP. For that he's going to need Crazy Horse, a soap opera and an occasional car ride to write his songs in.

Other Neil Young related articles from this website you might be interested in reading:


'Neil Young' (1968) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/neil-young-1968-album-review.html

'Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere' (1969) http://www.alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/neil-young-and-crazy-horse-everybody.html

‘After The Goldrush’ (1970) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/neil-young-after-goldrush-1970.html?utm_source=BP_recent


'Harvest' (1972) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2016/07/neil-young-harvest-1972.html

'Time Fades Away' (1973) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/neil-young-time-fades-away-1973.html

'On The Beach' (1974) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2016/02/neil-young-on-beach-1974.html

'Zuma' (1975) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/02/neil-young-and-crazy-horse-zuma-1975.html

'American Stars 'n' Bars' (1977) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2010/08/news-views-and-music-issue-70-neil.html

'Comes A Time' (1978) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2009/04/news-views-and-music-issue-29-neil.html

'Rust Never Sleeps' (1979) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2014/01/neil-young-rust-never-sleeps-1979-album.html

'Hawks and Doves' (1980) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2009/03/news-views-and-music-issue-26-neil.html

'RelAclTor' (1981) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/neil-young-and-crazy-horse-re-ac-tor.html

'Trans' (1982) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-84-neil-young-trans-1982.html

'Old Ways' (1985) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2016/10/neil-young-old-ways-1985.html

'Life' (1987) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2010/03/news-views-and-music-issue-56-neil.html

'Freedom' (1988) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-92-neil-young-freedom-1988.html

'Ragged Glory' (1990) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2016/12/neil-young-and-crazy-horse-ragged-glory.html

'Weld' (1991) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-95-neil-young-weld-1991.html

'Harvest Moon' (1992) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2016/01/neil-young-harvest-moon-1992.html

'Sleeps With Angels' (1993) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/11/news-views-and-music-issue-121-neil.html

'Mirror Ball' (1995) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/06/news-views-and-music-issue-103-neil.html

'Broken Arrow' (1997) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/07/neil-young-and-crazy-horse-broken-arrow.html

'Greendale' (2003) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2016/05/neil-young-and-crazy-horse-greendale.html

‘Prairie Wind’(2005)  http://www.alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/neil-young-prairie-wind-2005.html

'Fork In The Road' (2009) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/neil-young-fork-in-road-2009.html

'Le Noise' (2011) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/04/news-views-and-music-issue-94-neil.html

'A Treasure' (1986/2012) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/news-views-and-music-issue-147-neil.html


'Storytone' (2014) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/12/neil-young-storytone-2014.html

'The Monsanto Years' (2015) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/09/neil-young-and-promise-of-real-monsanto.html

The Best Unreleased Neil Young recordings http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/07/neil-young-best-unreleased-recordings.html

The Rolling Stones: Live/Solo/Compilation Albums Part Two 1975-1988




"Metamorphosis"

(ABCKO/Decca, June 1975)

UK Version: Out Of Time/Don't Lie To Me/Some Things Just Stick In Your Mind/Each and Every Day Of The Year/Heart Of Stone/I'd Much Rather Be With The Boys/Walkin' Thru The Sleepy City//We're Wastin' Time/Try A Little Harder/I Don't Know Why/If You Let Me/Jiving Sister Fanny/Downtown Suzie/Family/Memo From Turner/I'm Going Down

The US edition omits 'Some Things Just Stick In Your Mind' and 'We're Wastin' Time'

"Why when the children grow up and leave do they still remember their nursery rhymes?"

A measure of just how strong the Stones' 19650s had been, this unsanctioned and unwanted collection of outtakes by old label Decca couldn't have come at a worst time. Compiled by the 'enemy', old manager Allen Klein, it was released to combat a run of bootlegs of similar material and 'replaced' one Bill Wyman had already spent quite some time compiling (effectively this album minus the run of demo sessions). Released in the gap between low points 'It's Only Rock 'n' Roll' and 'Black and Blue' this set of demos and abandoned studio takes suddenly seemed so full of life and imaginative, in comparison to the cul-de-sac the Stones had (thankfully temporarily) found themselves in. Most of the songs on the album dated back to 1964 and 1965 and half aren't strictly Stones recordings at all but demo sessions starring either Mick or Mick and Keith alone with session men (with a pre-fame Jimmy Page on lead guitar). Most of the songs they never returned to again (the exceptions being the charming first try at a country-style 'Heart Of Stone' and a noisier 'Out Of Time') and none of the covers charted (Chris Farlowe's 'Time' aside), making this a highly valuable set of compositions a little deeper and little more epic than the average Stones recordings of the day.  More than anything else the set reveals what a great vocalist Mick was even on a day when he was a Stone alone in an alien studio and only needed to lay down a basic vocal - he never gave less than his all, at least in this era and 'Some Things Just Stick In Your Mind' and 'Each and Every Day' in particular are amongst his best work. However the demo songs that make up almost all the first side are still eclipsed by the glorious full-on Stones rant of 'Don't Lie To Me', an R and B cover that most definitely deserved a release on period album 'Out Of Our Heads'.

Side two is patchier but still has its moments, gathering together a run of songs from 1966 to the end of the band's time with the label in 1969. Of these the best songs are a charming 'Aftermath' style folk ballad 'If You Let Me' (though it actually dates from the 'Button ' sessions), Mick's solo song from the 'Performance' song 'Memo From Turner', the glorious 'Let It Bleed' band jam 'Jiving Sister Fannie' that's far more fun than anything that made that record and the astonishing cover of Stevie Wonder's 'I Don't Know Why', which in terms of backing sounds like a gloriously joyous track. However it's the song the band were making in July 1969 when the phone rang to tell them that Brian had died and Mick's haunted, ghostly vocal is anything but joyous, the shrieks and howls of pain anything but acting. No wonder they left it in the vaults, but it's one of their most important covers. The rest of the side can't match it, but is still more important than most similar outtake sets odds and ends, most notably a guesting Stills guitar part on 'I'm Goin' Down'. The Stones may have been appalled by it, but actually 'Metamorphosis' was a welcome reminder of just how important and consistent a band the Stones had once been and came along at just the right time, with even their abandoned songs a level above most groups'. The title is a clever one too, with many of these songs in an abandoned half-state of completion, although the front cover (apparently adapted from Franz Kafka's description of 'Metamophosis') is typically Decca-ugly, with the band as a bunch of insects wearing human heads as masks. Oh well, perhaps we should be grateful that Decca didn't go with their original idea of an outtakes set named 'Necrophilia' - goodness only knows what sleeve we'd have got to go with that!

"Made In The Shade"

(Rolling Stones Records/Atlantic, June 1975)

Brown Sugar/Tumbling Dice/Happy/Dance Little Sister/Wild Horses//Angie/Bitch/It's Only Rock and Roll (But I Like It)/Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)/Rip This Joint

"Baby, Baby, I don't need no jewels in my crown"

A rather unnecessary bare-bones compilation, given that Rolling Stones records only had the rights to the post-Decca stuff, with this album covering just the 'Sticky Fingers' 'Exile On Main Street' 'Goat's Head Soup' and 'It's Only Rock 'n' Roll' years. It was put together simply to give the band something to promote during the 1975 tour when Ronnie Wood joined the band and needed to get up to speed and not really worth buying if you own any of the four original albums, with only 'shades' of hearing all four records complete. Luckily those three albums do cover many of the best Stones recordings, but alas not many of them were released as singles so what we get is the over-rated 'Brown Sugar' and 'It's Only Rock 'n' Roll' alongside flops like 'Doo Doo Doo Doo' and 'Happy'. We don't even have a complete singles collection here either, with 'Ain't Too Proud To Beg' going missing. Few fans would rate 'Dance Little Sister' or 'Rip This Joint' as the band's best album tracks either. What would have been far more interesting would be for Rolling Stones Records to have revisited each album in a double set quoting a side per album, padded out with period B-sides ('Bitch' is here, but 'Let It Rock' isn't). The packaging too is ridiculous: a woman in a deckchair with headphones sunbathing in front of the pyramids: not sure that's the image I got from listening to these records somehow. The pyramids have lasted several thousand centuries as the pinnacle of human engineering; I don't think this album will do the same, somehow. It did, however, sell enough copies to go top twenty in the UK and top ten in the States, which is more a sign of how many people the tour played to than this album's worth and oddly was re-issued in 2005 by Virgin when they bought up the rights to the band's back catalogue, even though they'd already released all the songs individually on CD in the previous few years. At least the Stones carried on their Decca tradition of giving their compilations daft names I suppose...


"L.A. Friday"

(Promotone, Recorded July 1975, Released April 2012)

Honky Tonk Women/All Down The Line/If You Can't Rock Me/Get Off My Cloud/Star Star/Gimme Shelter/Ain't Too Proud To Beg/You Gotta Move/You Can 't Always Get What You Want/Happy/Tumbling Dice/Band Intros/It's Only Rock 'n' Roll (But I Like It)/Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)/Fingerprint File/Angie/Wild Horses/That's Life (Billy Preston)/Outer Space (Billy Preston)/Brown Sugar/Midnight Rambler/Rip This Joint/Street Fighting Man/Jumpin' Jack Flash/Sympathy For The Devil

"Rip this joint, gonna rip yours too, some brand new steps and some weight to lose"

On the face of it this doesn't look very appetising: a complete gig from one of the ones mashed up for the official album 'Love You Live' and it's not even the La Macamba club session. An all too visibly fed up Mick Taylor has already handed in his notice - this is one of his last shows - and Keith is so far gone he's managing to stand up only through sheer will power. This is another one of those archive Stones CD and DVD releases that are much more enjoyable to listen to than to watch, where the band are struggling to hide up what they're suffering in sight more than sound. However, this is a fun little gig from a band at the end of a most marvellous run and of all the Stones tours this is the one that got the levels of excess and rockstar posing just right: Mick's got his routine down pat but isn't just going through the motions yet, while the interaction between the band is still strong, Mick and Keith having great fun making poses on stage. The set list is heavy on the classics as usual and bang up to date with one of the very earliest live performances of 'It's Only Rock 'n' Roll' (which already sounds like a parody of itself even in this early stage), but there's also an impressive range of more obscure material too - for more or less the last time. A rocky 'All Down The Line', a hard-hitting 'If You Can't Rock Me', a fun 'Star Star', a bluesy 'You Gotta Move', a moving 'Fingerprint File' and a fierce 'Rip This Joint' don't get played very often and on this evidence you wonder why - all more than hold their own against the classics, with many of the old war horses from the 1960s making room. Billy Preston shines too on his two song cameo, his reward for helping the band out on this tour and giving the Stones a chance to take a breather without letting the momentum of the gig die out with a full-on break. It's the classics though that still shine the best, with the greatest live 'Gimme Shelter' played more as a duel than duet by Keith and Mick Taylor, who seem to be playing out their annoyances with each other on guitar with Mick J uncomfortably trapped in the middle and a slightly slower 'Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)' which swaps menace for the daft harmonies of the original and ends in a voodoo boogie shootout, which sounds like a pretty good deal to me. There's not quite enough here to make this a Stones golden age or anything and the band aren't playing with quite the same telepathic powers as their 1970-1973 live work. But this is still a great band on fine form and hearing it in all its unedited glory is a lot more enjoyable than sitting through 'Love You Live' ever was. This LA Friday sounds like the start of a highly enjoyable weekend.


"Rolled Gold: The Very Best Of The Rolling Stones"

(Decca, November 1975)

C'Mon/I Wanna Be Your Man/Not Fade Away/Carol/It's All Over Now/Little Red Rooster/Time Is On My Side/The Last Time/( I Can't Get No) Satisfaction//Get Off My Cloud/19th Nervous Breakdown/As Tears Go By/Under My Thumb/Lady Jane/Out Of Time/Paint It, Black//Have You Seen Your Mother Baby Standing In The Shadow?/Let's Spend The Night Together/Ruby Tuesday/Yesterday's Papers/We Love You/She's A Rainbow/Jumpin' Jack Flash//Honky Tonk Women/Sympathy For The Devil/Street Fighting Man/Midnight Rambler/Gimme Shelter

The CD Re-Issue Adds: Tell Me/Heart Of Stone/Play With Fire/I'm Free/Mother's Little Helper/Dandelion/2000 Light Years From Home/No Expectations/Let It Bleed/You Can't Always Get What You Want/Brown Sugar/Wild Horses

"You can't always get what you want - but if you try sometime you might just find you get what you need!"

Decca weren't about to let the public buy a modern-day Stones album when they could be buying some old tracks too, so 'Made In The Shade' was shaded by yet another double album collection of old 1960s classics, hot on the heels of 'Metamorphosis' (1975 was a good year for Stones compilations). Though less admired or revered than 'Hot Rocks', this is an even better and lengthier collection of every single the band released, alongside most of the B sides and several classic album tracks. Frustratingly the original ran just too long to fit on a single CD, but Decca do the kind thing and in 2007 fleshed the album out with most of the more obvious tracks that didn't make the original. No rarities of course, but still quite a lot of gold in terms of musical currency for the price.The result is a far more palatable single-shop way of hearing the 60s stones than the discs on '40 Licks' and 'Grrrr!' and highly recommended. The re-issue even set new standards, being the first release by a mainstream rock and roll band available on a computer USB stick. Fittingly, it sold enough copies to go 'gold', rare for a re-issued compilation. 

Bill Wyman "Stone Alone"

(Rolling Stone Records, '1976')

A Quarter To Three/Gimme Just One Chance/Soul Satisfying/Apache Woman/Every Sixty Seconds/Get It On//Feat/Peanut Butter Time/Wine & Wimmen/If You Wanna Be Happy/What's The Point?/No More Foolin'

"Wobbling like jelly on a jelly plate, I know it ain't jam 'cause jam don't shake!"

Bill's second album comes with the usual clever hi-jinks (the funniest being the title, one so good he'll be using it a lot from now on) and the usual slightly detached air of bemusement. You can understand from these albums simultaneously why Bill was so angry that he felt his work was being overlooked for Stones records - and why the others felt his material would never have fitted in a million years. Many Stones fans have scratched their heads over this album's combination of modern electronic pop (years before it was fashionable) and arty humour (years after it was fashionable) and wondered how someone could have spent so long in a rock and roll band without showing any sign in his own music of rock and roll. However, eccentric as it is, mad as it is, unlistenable as it frequently becomes, there's an ambition and eclecticism at work here that makes 'Stone Alone' a far easier album to admire than, say, that year's Stones album 'Black and Blue'. Far from resting on his laurels Bill has left his laurels a world away on an album that only makes sense if you're speaking the same language: the question is whether you have the patience to learn the new language. If you do you'll find a hidden poet who actually does know it and is only a line away from a pun. There's no Chuck Berry riffs to get you out of trouble, no guitar solos to lighten the mood, no virtuoso instrumentation and only so-so vocals, while the songs are arty cold-blooded intellectual exercises rather than warm-hearted emotional responses. On its own terms though, based on its own rule structure, 'A Stone Alone' is probably Bill's best album and one of the better Stones solo records.

Like the first album this a 'parody' record in the grand 'Rutles' tradition, but rather than focussing on rock as before or the rock business as per later, here Bill laughs at just about everything. Doo-wop, jazz, blues, soul, pop, disco, reggae - it all gets the Wyman treatment and Bill's sharp ears generally pick up on all the right clichés: the chord structures, the up-itself egotism, the instrument sounds. If you ever need a jingle to be played in thirty different styles, Bill sounds like your one-man shop to go to as all the styles feel authentic and by giving himself a wider palette the bassist makes it clear he's laughing at everything, not picking on his own particular brand. The trouble, like the other Wyman records, is that this record spends so long laughing at what it's against that you don't get any real sense about what it's for: unlike 10cc, who add karma twists to their comedic wheels or hint at emotion underneath the humour, there's nothing really here to care about, no characters to side with, no plot lines to get emotionally attached to. Heard in small doses this is fine, but heard across a whole LP or even a sequence of them it can become wearing, like the bloke at a party who won't tell you anything about himself but keeps talking in one-liners and quips all night. Another record not for everyone, then, but if you want to start somewhere and don't want to fork out for the two-disc best of Bill set (schizophrenically divided between comedy solo and serious Rhythm Kings work) then this is probably your best bet: the lyrics are funnier, the styles add variety and the poppy electronica twinkle is impressively ahead of its time, sounding more at one with records made a full ten years later than period punk and prog.

'A Quarter To Three' is jazz-pop with a real 1950s sound as Bill dances until the early hours 'all over the room'. So authentic is the girl singer backing, the parping horns and the boogie woogie piano only Bill's delivery doesn't sound like the real thing.

'Gimme Just One More Chance' is a doo-wop parody with some of the snappiest one-liners on the record and another 1950s style backing.

'Soul Satisfying' is the soul genre's turn and equally spot on: 'If you choose me, don't abuse me, you can try me, gratify me, but baby don't deny me...' Of course the fact that Bill couldn't sound less like a powerful sexual soul singer and sings like a robot makes this track all the funnier.

'Apache Woman' sounds like funky Shadows or a more talented T Rex with the best hook on the album that in different hands could have been a hit single. The lyrics don't say much more than 'let's get it on', though, which is a shame.

'Every Sixty Seconds' is a country-blues, with Bill listing all sorts of times of the day and getting increasingly irate as he 'throws his life away' every sixty seconds, every twenty fours, every twelve months...you get the idea.

'Get It On' is a boogie woogie pastiche that sounds suspiciously like it has Stu guesting on the rockabilly piano, while the song comes suspiciously close to a Gilbert O'Sullivan song as Bill warns his missus to 'get out or get it on'. I can almost see a medallion flash from here.

'Feet' is the album's one cover song, with session veteran Danny Kortchmar (he of the Crosby-Nash record series) getting in on the joke with a song about, well, feet as you may have guessed. The narrator wants walk away but his wife has him by a rope and is about to hang him if he wanders too far. By now the laughs are getting a bit less to be honest.

'Peanut Butter Time' is the album highlight, a sly disco-funk fusion that sounds like Bill is having fun at his old friend Jagger, with some panting and over-exaggerated rock hooks as he 'looks for a pick me up'. Does he find it in sex, drugs or rock and roll? Nope. Peanut butter, which is the part of that list they always seem to leave out.

'Wine and Wimmen' sounds like Bill laughing at himself with the tale of a boozed-up sex maniac who wonders why he never gets called to parties anymore. It's the hardest, roughest, song on the album but together with Bill's hard, rough voice that's not necessarily a compliment.

'If You Wanna Be Happy' is another cover song, a daft hippie reggae song first released, as a serious song, by Jimmy Soul and sent up for all its trippy-dippy silliness by Bill. You sense that reggae purist Keith had a few words to say after this one, if he ever bothered to hear the album.

'What's The Point?' is a country spoof original because 'it suits my style' and 'the people round my way don't like me anymore. Cue fiddles and lyrics about getting back to the old honest faithful land even though the dog is sick and the chickens ain't laying...actually I think I added those last two points but you get the idea.

'No More Foolin' is another of the album's high points, a spot on jazz parody that probably had Charlie not speaking to him either. Bill's Louis Armstrong style vocals are surprisingly good and suit him more than his natural style, while the backing captures the floaty-mood-with-speedy-oboes groove pretty nicely too.

Overall, then, a pretty solid second album with some excellent pastiches and only one or two misfires, with 'Stone Alone' easily Bill's most consistent and eclectic album. Whether it's a good album depends on whether or not you consider aping other people's styles and stealing all the best/worst bits represents 'proper' music making or not. As usual with Wyman the effect is 'Why?' rather than wow, but there are some genuinely funny moments here. 

"Love You Live"

(Rolling Stones Records, September 1977)

Intro (Fanfare For The Common Man)/Honky Tonk Women/If You Can't Rock Me/Get Off My Cloud/Happy//Hit Stuff/Star Star/Tumbling Dice/Fingerprint File/You Gotta Move//You Can't Always Get What You Want/Mannish Boy/Crackin' Up/Little Red Rooster/Around and Around//It's Only Rock 'n' Roll (But I Like It!)/Brown Sugar/Jumpin' Jack Flash/Sympathy For The Devil

"I feel like stroking everybody! Billy's open for offers, Charlie is a sort of maybe, Bill just wants to take photographs of girl's legs, Ronnie Wood's gay, Keith of course is completely straight..."

The soundtrack of the Rolling Stones' decline from one of the most powerful bands of their generation, feared by establishments everywhere, to stadium-pleasing money-makers an awful lot of fans hate 'Love You Live' for an awful lot of reasons. Compared to 'Ya Yas' or even 'Got Live If You Want It' the band are low on power, ideas and inspiration and the fact that this album exists as a double when the other two don't seems like some cruel irony played on us by the music Gods. Ronnie Wood's arrival hasn't yet given the Stones the boost that they'll receive on 'Some Girls' and the band are clearly still feeling their way into their new era, afraid to take any risks or play anything too complicated (although an impressive 'Fingerprint File' that sounds noticeably tighter than the rest suggests either that the band could have pulled that sort of thing off rather better as it happened or a lot of overdubbing was going on). Mick sounds bored though and Keith sounds ill (no wonder really given the events of the year). Even Charlie isn't really all that good tonight, less in control of the band than usual and content to let the songs drift with half a percussive hand on the tiller. Keith's descent into drugs chaos hangs over the album like a wasted wayward ghost, slowing the rhythms and slurring the riffs, in stark contrast to the pure joy of the earlier two records, though it's another tragedy that marrs this album: engineer and tape archivist Keith Harwood had a lot to do with shaping and cataloguing this album, the band largely taking up his suggestions for the track listing from a variety of show stretching back as far as 1975; he died in a car accident, thought to be under the influence of drugs, shortly before the album's release and receives a special tribute back on the back cover, unusually warm-hearted for the Stones.

The bad vibes didn't end there: wanting to get an extra set of songs the Stones booked themselves  a short tour In Toronto, including a club date before the band's smallest audience in years at the El Mocambo (fittingly, it's known colloquially as the 'El Mo' in part after slide player Elmo Lewis, Brian Jones' big hero). Keith never made rehearsals and the band got worried. It turned out that he and wife Anita had been busted for drugs in his Toronto hotel room, an event that would have major repercussions for the rest of the decade. Far more serious - and less dubious legally - than the arrests of a decade before (Keith had so many drugs on him he was being charged for trafficking because it seemed inconceivable to non-rock and rollers that two people would need so much for a short stay), for a time it seemed likely that it would be the end of the Stones, with Keith likely to be behind bars for years. For a time 'Love You Life' looked like it was about to be the Stones' last. Only interventions by the Prime Minister's wife Margret Trudeau and a blind fan who'd Keith had befriended and made sure was looked after by Stones crew and wrote to the judge on her own merit saved him from jail time. Incidentally the supporting act, a local act named April Wine, enjoyed such a boost from being involved with this gig that they released a live album of their own using the tapes the Stones had made, released as 'Live At The El Mocamaba'. It's a better listen than the Stones' own, frankly.

Actually for all the record's shoddy reputation 'Love You Live' would have been a fitting conclusion, of sorts. Live albums generally look back more than they do forward, but out of all the Stones' concert albums this is the one that feels the most nostalgic - especially the highlights which all come from the 'new' club dates. While the Stones are on fumbling, bumbling form throughout this section (what was originally the album's third side in the days of vinyl) there's a cosy informality about this date that makes the band feel more like 'real' people than those dots in the distance singing old tunes on auto-pilot. The first recordings of two very Stonesy cover songs that used to be in their sets: 'Mannish Boy' and 'Crackin' Up' are worth hearing, while the unexpected return of 'Little Red Rooster' proves you can still teach an old hen new tricks. Had the whole album been recorded that way - in fact the 'Checkerboard Lounge' gig of 1981 released in the 'archive' series and 'Strpped' use a similar idea - it might have become a really great live album.

But alas there are those other three sides to go, all of which sound like 'Ya Yas' playing on a slower speed. It's not that the band play badly so much as they play apathetically: there's no meaning here, just a band trying to play without falling over while Mick - a more emotional singer than many give him credit for on his day - depends on the state of his band more than most singers and can't create feeling all on his own. Sticking so many mid-paced tempo songs together is asking for trouble too: the band just slide into too similar grooves with every song sounding the same, more or less, unless you know the songs really well. There are some terribly misconceived ideas here too: Aaron Copeland's 'Fanfare For The Common Man' must be the most pompous walking-onto-the-stage opening ever and really doesn't deserve to take up two minutes of the record as heard through tinny p.a. speakers, while the new addition to the Stones stage of female backing singers compounds the problems of the band sounding distant and emotionless.  Only on a few of the 'other' songs does the album finally find a groove: 'Hot Stuff' is hotter than the original on 'Black and Blue' simply because the band know it better and have turned it into more of a quasi funk-rock Stones song than the full-on George Clinton parody of the original; 'If You Can't Rock Me' features some great drumming at last, even if I'm not convinced by Billy Preston's piano solo or the segue into 'Get Off My Cloud'; 'Happy' features the ugliest gruffest vocal of Keith's career and he's rarely sounded so miserable or poorly either, which leads to a whole new level of meaning for this song about celebrating having nothing. Typically, these are the songs in the set that won't last until the next tour while everything else here pretty much, all played abysmally, will be in the Stones' set lists more or less untouched to the present day, sounding worse each time. 'Love You Life' features the worst version of all the many 'Sympathy For The Devil's though, turning a fascinating complex epic song about mankind's capacity for violence into a slow seven minute percussion-filled chug: the devil of that song is in the detail and this is just a very basic outlined sketch. Punk exists at least partly because of this album and that song in particular.

Another controversy surrounds the album: that cover. The band went back to Andy Warhol for a new sleeve for the first time since 'Sticky Fingers' and got a far more traditional cover this time around, a typically Warhol stencilled drawing with wavy lines and bright colours based around a caricature of Jagger seemingly eating his own hand.  Warhol was under the impression the Stones would do what they quite often did: keep the band and album name for the spine. Instead Jagger scrawled 'Rolling Stones - Love You Live' in his own handwriting over the top before it was sent to printers: Warhol was not amused and fell out with the band big time for 'selling out'. Most fans felt the same. Not the best or happiest live album in the Stones' canon, it remained until 'Live Licks' the longest and gets marks for quantity of not for quantity. Thankfully an awakening was at hand...


"Get Stoned"

(Arcade Records, October 1977)

Not Fade Away/It's All Over Now/Tell Me/Good Times Bad Times/Time Is On My Side/Little Red Rooster/The Last Time/Play With Fire/(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction//Get Off My Cloud/I Wanna Be Your Man/As Tears Go By/19th Nervous Breakdown/Mother' Little Helper/Have You Seen Your Mother Baby Standing In The Shadow?/Paint It Black//Lady Jane/Let's Spend The Night Together/Ruby Tuesday/Dandelion/We Love You/She's A Rainbow/2000 Light Years From Home//Jumpin' Jack Flash/Gimme Shelter/Street Fighting Man/Honky Tonk Women/Sympathy For The Devil/Wild Horses/Brown Sugar

"You know I used to love them - but since they left6 the label it's all over now!"

Yikes! This time Decca don't even release an album themselves but pass the rights over to the smaller Arcade label who don't have the means to put together a proper compilation from scratch so they simply repeat 'Hot Rocks' and move the tracks around a bit, while adding an accompanying front cover of a papier mache mouth complete with giant tongue. It's hard to challenge the idea that this is the band's old record label sticking their tongue out at the people who bought it or the Stones themselves, un-consulted as ever over how their old material was being marketed. It's a surprise, in fact, that there wasn't a sequel with two papier mache fingers. The music is of course is a delight. In fact by including 'Lady Jane' and 'We Love You' in place of a couple of the weaker songs from 'Hot Rocks' this record actually improves on perfection and beats even 'Hot Rocks'. Better yet, it's almost in order, though second single 'I Wanna Be Your Man' seems somewhat randomly inserted in the middle of a flurry of songs from 1966. At thirty tracks you can't complain that they weren't being generous either - but, lordy, is any of that worth it given the very negative fact that we collectors have to live with that sleeve? Suddenly that rejected artwork for 'Beggar's Banquet' seems the height of taste and respectability...

"Some Girls - Live In Texas '78"

(Polydor/Eagle Rock, Recorded July 1978, Released November 2011)

Let It Rock/All Down The Line/Honky Tonk Women/Star Star/When The Whip Comes Down/ Beast Of Burden/Miss You/Just My Imagination (Runnin' Away With Me)/Shattered/Respectable/Far Away Eyes/Love In Vain/Tumbling Dice/Happy/Sweet Little Sixteen/Brown Sugar/Jumpin' Jack Flash

"Uh! Shedoobee! Shattered! Shattered!"

The Stones' second archive release is another good  choice, taken from one of the earliest concerts with Ronnie Wood as an official member. Like the 'Some Girls' album the tour was the band's most energetic in years and is performed with a punkish energy all night, separated only by ballads that suddenly seem twice as slow by comparison. For once this is a show worth owning on DVD as well as CD, with a sweating Stones really putting their all into their performance and Mick on top form as he leers and cheers with the crowd. Ronnie and Keith are at the peak of their telepathy too, perhaps the last occasion when both looked they were really enjoying themselves at the same time. There's also a fun ramble through an exclusive cover of 'Sweet Little Sixteen', an obvious Chuck Berry number and it's a surprise the band hadn't recorded it before. The one slight downside is that the band are having such fun playing the new songs in their set, which all sound fabulous - a slinky slowed down 'Miss You' and a thrilling one-two punch of 'Shattered' into 'Respectable' taken at speed - that the oldies tend to get rather thrown away, with a garbled 'Honky Tonk Women' and a tired 'Brown Sugar' clearly less inspired. 'Far Away Eyes', unbelievably, sounds worse than it did on the record (Keith sounds like he's being eaten alive while he sings the backing vocals) and you can tell by the muted reception that the crowd haven't got a clue what to make of this country music parody. Only 'Happy' works well when played with the same intensity as the new numbers and it's easily the best the band have released so far, with Mick amiably growling alongside Keith's fading vocals.  Still, with this much energy going on the Stones had to take a break from this intensity level sometimes. The Stones at their energetic best, this might even beat the original album for an adrenalin rush, begging the question as to why so many of the other later Stones concerts seem so flat and lifeless by comparison. The Stones really should have ended their career, sounding even younger than they did at the beginning. If the punks weren't worried by a band twenty years their senior, they should have been - a candidate for the greatest Rolling Stones live set of them all.

"Slow Rollers"

(Decca, '1978')

You Can't Always Get What You Want/Take It Or Leave It/You Better Move On/Time Is On My Side/Pain In My Heart/Dear Doctor/As Tears Go By//Ruby Tuesday/Play With Fire/Lady Jane/Sittin' On The Fence/Back Street Girl/Under The Boardwalk/Heart Of Stone

"You can turn off and on more times than a flashing neon sign"

After Decca's set of rock and roll songs here, inevitably, are the ballads, though 'Soft Stones' would have been a better name given that songs like 'Dear Doctor' and 'Under The Boardwalk' aren't exactly slow, just slower than normal. Though impressively lengthy in terms of running time, this set features some curious selections all round, passing over, say, 'She Smiled Sweetly' and 'I Am Waiting' in favour of obscure early cover songs even the band themselves had probably forgotten they'd ever done. Nice to see 'Play With Fire' and 'Lady Jane' given another airing, though, and there's enough here to prove that even the Decca-era Stones were more than 'just' a rock band with a penchant for ballads that were cut above most period band's attempts.

"Time Waits For No One: Anthology 1971-1977"

(Rolling Stones Records, June 1979)

Time Waits For No One/Bitch/All Down The Line/Dancing With Mr D/Angie//Star Star/If You Can't Rock Me-Get Off My Cloud/Hand Of Fate/Crazy Mama/Fool To Cry

"Star crossed in pleasure, the stream flows on by"

I don't know about you, but to me 'Anthology' implies something big and epic, covering a momentous journey from starting point to a final ending several twists and turns later, across decades. Limiting it to six years and ten tracks seems more like a 'highlights' than an 'Anthology', but title aside this is the best of all the many goes the Stones had at trying to condense their difficult 1970s onto a single disc record. Impressively the band digs deeper than just the usual hits and offers at least a song apiece from every album from 'Sticky Fingers' through to 'Love You Live'. Curiously the album best represented is not 'Fingers' or 'Exile' but 'Goat's Head Soup' with three selections, but given what an unsung classic that album is in the Stones pantheon of classics I'll let that pass (though not before wondering why these three songs were chosen over 'Winter' '100 Years Ago' or 'Can You Hear The Music?') By and large the better songs are chosen and it's a relief to hear a 70s Stones set without having to sit through 'Brown Sugar' or 'It's Only Rock 'n' Roll' all over again. Unfortunately, though, the packaging leaves a lot to be desired (a questionable collage of Stones flyers and ticket stubs) and being a British-only release, never issued on CD, it's the hardest of the 70s compilations to track down as well as the best. Typical!

"Mick Taylor"

(CBS, '1979')

Leather Jacket/Alabama/Slow Blues/Baby I Want You/Broken Hands//Giddy Up/ SW5/Spanish/A Minor

"Where is the life that has actually been lost to the living?"

Even in his earliest interviews, Taylor wasn't talking about the Rolling Stones being the be all and end all of his career the way that Ronnie Wood was. Taylor, the shyest and quietest of all the Stones in private as well as public (though Charlie came close) was unusually adamant on that point, that this was a phase in his career, not the end of it. The rest of the Stones didn't notice or comprehend the idea - being a Stones was for life wasn't it? - but it shouldn't perhaps have been as big a surprise as it became when Mick decided to leave just five years and five albums into his time with the band. Legend has it that it was a dispute over songwriting credits on the 'It's Only Rock 'n' Roll' album but even the band have admitted that was too simple: Taylor just felt that he'd run as far down the same path with them as he could and go and needed to go somewhere else now - after all he'd never promised to live his life as a Stone. The general consensus amongst the Stones camp still seems to be one of lingering betrayal - Keith is defensive and Mick's successor Ronnie Wood oddly aggressive about what a chance the guitarist gave up. But it wasn't easy being the only non-original in one of the leading and most hedonistic rock and roll bands of their day and Taylor had given his all for as long he felt able, joining the Stones as a vegan tee-totaller and ending it with a drink and drugs problem that would have felled anyone with a constitution weaker than Keith Richards. The split was as inevitable as any split in a band can be - what wasn't inevitable was what came next.

Taylor was too clever a guitarist to just walk out after burning his bridges. He saw out all his contracts with the Stones (though they still complained that he'd left at short noticed before making a new LP in 1975), playing some of his best live work during his final tour in 1973 (as captured on 'The Brussels Affair'). He had a 'new' band to go to, as a double-act with bassist Jack Bruce who was trying to put together a new 'Cream' (which, sadly, like all his other new 'Creams' fell apart before recording anything of note - except for a great live gig recorded for the Old Grey Whistle Test in 1975). He'd hung around the sessions for the first Ronnie Wood album, easing his replacement and friend into the band. And he'd also got a lucrative solo contract with CBS on the back of his work with the Stones. The future seemed secure - so it seems ridiculous  with hindsight that it took five years from leaving the Stones to make this record - and that there wouldn't be a follow-up to this record for eleven years (and then only if you can find it!)
In many ways 'Mick Taylor' shrugs off everything the guitarist had learnt with the Stones - it's much more in keeping with his pre-Stones work with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers. While even the Stones had been woken up by punk by 1979, 'Mick Taylor' is one of those middle aged rocker albums that goes 'la la la I'm not listening!', with nothing here that couldn't have been recorded back in the bluesy sixties. That's both a strength and a weakness: you got the feeling with 'Some Girls' that the Stones had never really bought into the new genre but embraced it's energy and spirit as a reminder of their own beginnings now that the band was almost 'new' again anyway with Ronnie in the band. 'Mick Taylor' is often slow and sluggish, repetitive and flat while Mick is far from being a natural lead vocalist without even Keith's off-key charisma. However, one thing he always is is sincere and there's a real emotional connection across this album the Stones hadn't managed in years. Far from being an exercise in guitar solos, as expected, this is an album of real songs and heartfelt songs that you sensed Taylor had to release somehow - the idea of having a career off the back of them was immaterial. 'Mick Taylor' isn't an album to excite the blood the way that 'Some Girls' does with none of the flashiness you might expect from a former Stones and you can see that the Stones' drift into prog-rock through 'Goat's Head Soup' and 'It's Only Rock and Roll' may have had more to do than we ever expected with the band's lead guitarist. However 'Mick Taylor' is a nice album that repays close attention with some under-rated songs by an under-rated writer whose vocal also grows on you the more you get to hear it. Mick deserved so much more of a career than this, though against all odds this album did chart - briefly - and should surely have sold enough copies for at least a sequel. Unlucky with timing, Taylor was simply ignored by a musical movement that shouted much larger than he did - not for the first or last time, sadly.

'Leather Jacket' is reportedly a song started during the 'Exile' sessions - the Stones may well have been a bit miffed they couldn't 'recycle' it for 'Emotional Rescue' the next year as it's a very Stonesy song. The song may well be about his old group too, with lines like 'Rock and roll circus - best I've ever seen' and a chorus that runs 'it's time to be moving on' (the lyrics perhaps polished off later when Mick was leaving the band). 'You move through the world as though it's a dance' is also a pretty good summary of the Stones' touring troupe. A nice energetic start.

'Alabama' is an urgent upbeat blues that's played solo for the first half and is clearly a hark back to the Bluesbreaker days. Mick's vocal works well here on another song that seems to be trying to make sense of the big career break: he's spent the last few years 'living in big hotels, praying for something else' - yes this life is smaller and poorer now but it's a lot more 'real'.

'Slow Blues' is much as the title suggests, but it beats most Stones blues courtesy of some sterling guitar work and a tempo just fast enough not to be sluggish.

At five minutes 'Baby I Want You' is the epic of the album and sounds not unlike the melody for 'Time Waits For No One'. Mick had just got married to first wife Rose in 1975 and this sounds like a rare love song for her before their marriage turned sour all too quickly.

'Broken Hands' is the one track that tries hard to go for the old Stones sound, with a stinging guitar riff not unlike 'Soul Survivor' played on the steel guitar and some fascinating lyrics accusing someone of playing mind games. Presumably it's the Stones 'always hiding behind your shades' while Mick's sheer joy at having escaped such a confining time to 'run free' is infectious. Mick seems to agree with his old paymasters on something though: 'Life's so hard, hit and run'.

'Giddy Up' is the album's weakest track, a gutbucket blues that features some lovely guitar work but not an awful lot more, for five long-seeming minutes. Still, period Stones album 'Emotional rescue' would have probably made it the lead single!

'S W 5' is a tribute song to a postal area - the Ear's Court Square area of London. Mick can't quite bring himself to write a love song so instead he writes about how happy he is in his new home with a loved one by his side and a baby on the way. Sweet, though not that memorable.

The song ends on a 12 minute prog rock suite 'Spanish/A Minor' , which is basically a set of guitar changes that haven't quite coalesced into a full song. Had Mick released this immediately on leaving the Stones it would have slotted in well with the likes of Cat Stevens' 'Foreigner Suite' and Jethro Tull's 'Thick As  A Brick' but in 1979 music fans must have scratched their heads and thought Mick had lost the plot.

The second side isn't up to the first, then, but even that it well played and professionally recorded without the muddy sound or questionable subject matters of many of the period band songs. Though the album sleeve pictures Mick literally backed into a corner - with only his guitar for protection - this is a record remarkably free of recriminations or nasty bickering, just a sense of disillusionment with the music business replaced with the joy of turning family man. It's not enough to launch a truly great career, but there's enough here on this first record to make you wish there'd been a second an awful lot quicker than there was. 

"Sucking In The Seventies"

(Rolling Stones Records, '1981')

Shattered/Everything Is Turning To Gold/Hot Stuff/Time Waits For No One/Fool To Cry//Mannish Boy/When The Whip Comes Down (Live)/If I Was A Dancer (Dance Part Two)/Crazy Mama/Beast Of Burden

"Laughter, joy and loneliness and sex and sex and sex!"

A popular but rather basic compilation, 'Sucking In The Seventies' tries to sum up the second half of a difficult decade where 'Made In The Shade' left off. The drawback of this design is that the band have only released four albums since then, one of them a live record, with 'Time Waits For No One' thrown in from 1974's 'It's Only Rock and Roll' for good measure. Thankfully the compilation improves on 'Made In The Shade' if only because the Stones have their comeback 'Some Girls' to draw from and the burst of adrenalin from the three songs picked for this album makes it a more interesting and balanced listen, while the introduction of rarities such as 'Mannish Boy'  from 'Love You Live' and the non album B-sides 'Everything Is Turning To Gold' and 'If I Was A Dancer' make this a more rounded and useful set to the collector. There's even an exclusive version of 'When The Whip Comes Down' recorded on tour in Detroit in 1978 (a show that surprisingly isn't out in the archives series yet - it's one of the band's best). However be warned: all the tracks bar two were also pruned for release here, losing fades or solos along the way for no other reason than to stuff more tracks onto the original vinyl before losing sound quality and you can find all of this stuff (barring that one live recording) on other compilations now, making this set rather superfluous to the modern age Stone man. Bizarrely, too, the band's only real hits of this period - 'Miss You' and 'Emotional Rescue' - are both missing, which makes the idea of this being as 'best of' slightly ridiculous.


(With Muddy Waters) "Live At The Checkerboard Lounge"

(Eagle Vision, Recorded November 1981, Released July 2012)

Introductions/You Don't Have To Go/Baby Please Don't Go/Hoochy Coochie Man/Long Distance Call/Mannish Boy/Got My Mojo Workin'/Next Time You See Me/One Eyed Women/Clouds In My Heart/Champagne and Reefers

"Well you know they sure done hug and kiss me, telling me 'Muddy - you're the best!' "
Great as this gig is, I'm amazed that the Stones have sanctioned both the CD and particularly the DVD release. Band hero Muddy Waters effectively uses the band as his back-up group - but not all at once; instead Mick and Keith/Ronnie sit at separate tables, called up to do different jobs and barely look at each other all night. Recorded in the middle of a lengthy 1981 tour (plugging 'Tattoo You') the band have clearly simply had enough of each other and backing another singer just muddies the waters, as it were. Actually even Muddy himself gets little to do despite his star billing, with club owner Buddy Guy doing at least as much work. It's a welcome chance to hear where the band's influences started, although strangely despite the much-discussed match up there's only song that the Stones had already recorded (and then only on a recent live LP: 'Mannish Boy'), with a slightly lost opportunity to play, say, 'I Just Wanna Make Love To You' or 'Rollin' Stone' itself, the track that gave the band their name. Though everyone's all smiles on stage, you can't help but think that a few cases of professional jealousy and aggravation are taking place backstage and that this live set is ultimately a lot more revealing about the 'true' state of the Stones in 1981 than we were ever supposed to have seen. Once a legendary bootleg, hailed as the meeting of minds between father and sons, is actually a pretty boring listen by the standards of both acts.

"Live At Hampton Coliseum"

(Promotone, Recorded December 1981, Released January 2012)

Under My Thumb/When The Whip Comes Down/Let's Spend The Night Together/Shattered/Neighbours/Black Limousine/Just My Imagination (Runnin' Away With Me)/20 Flight Rock/Going-To-A-Go-Go/Let Me Go/Time Is On My Side/Beast Of Burden/Waiting On A Friend/Let It Bleed/You Can't Always Get What You Want/Band Introductions/Little T & A/Tumbling Dice/She's So Cold/Hang Fire/Miss You/Honky Tonk Women/Brown Sugar/Start Me Up/Jumpin' Jack Flash/(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction

"When her arms enfold me I hear her tender rhapsody"

A great set recorded on Keith's 38th birthday (you can hear Mick leading a reluctant crowd into a chorus of 'Happy Birthday To You!'), this is the complete version of the best of the handful of American concerts stuck together for the rather underwhelming 'Still Life' album in 1982. The only person who seemed to work hard on that album was the editor, who insisted on taking great chunks out of the songs the Stones were having fun stretching out, but hearing the full gig as part of the archives set reveals that the Stones were on better and more imaginative form as was heard on that album. Take the set highlight 'Just My Imagination' pared back to the basics on a three minute edit on 'Still Life', which soars here in all its unhinged unedited ten minute glory with saxophone solos and false endings galore. A clever re-working of 'Under My Thumb' is perhaps the best Stones set opener of them all, with the guitar weaving playing the marimbas part and Mick sounding more paranoid than patronising. Though the 'Some Girls Texas '78' show still wins the archive award for consistency and energy, the 'Some Girls' songs still in the set are played with some panache here too with no sign of the listlessness of the band's later live recordings or indeed large chunks of 'Still Life'. The show is remembered chiefly for three reasons. Two of them are musical: the exclusive performances of 'Going To A Go Go' (great!) and 'Twenty Flight Rock' (awful!) The third is physical: the moment a fan leapt on stage aiming to leap on Mick until Keith stood in front of him, guitar as a battering ram, to protect his colleague - about the last moment of friendship between the two until the end of the decade. Understandably the performance of the song that followed was slightly nervy and is best seen as part of the tie-in DVD, which leaves the incident in uncut. Musically only a wobbly 'Waiting On A Friend' and a sarcastic 'Let It Bleed', unexpected encores both, let the side down a bit but otherwise this is a fine reminder of a Stones period that's worth revisiting more than you might suppose. 

"Still Life"

(Rolling Stones Records, June 1982)

Intro (Take The 'A' Train)/Under My Thumb/Let's Spend The Night Together/Shattered/Twenty Flight Rock/Going To A Go-Go//Let Me Go/Time Is On My Side/Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)/Start Me Up/(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction/Outro: The Star Spangled Banner

"You tried giving me the velvet gloves,. you tried to give me the knockout punch, now let me go!"

Rolling Stones live album number four is much like album number three, another live album, this time a single, made up of all the hits that hadn't been used up on the last record along with some really big mistakes (this record's pointless 'played over the PA' opening is Duke Ellington's 'Take The A Train', suggesting Charlie was charge of picking the music this time, plus a finale this time with Hendrix's Star Spangled Banner as everyone shuffled out - probably Keith's choice - both of these tracks a complete waste of just a twelve track live album) and the occasional high ('Going To A Go Go' is a Miracles cover that works rather well in a live setting and was a surprise hit single when released as a trail for the album - this album probably came as a crushing disappointment when people didn't realise it was more of the same). The Stones are on auto-pilot throughout, all too audibly near the end of a tiring tour and Keith's vocals have gone from slightly weather-worn to battle-scarred. The extra burst that having Ronnie's enthusiasm had brought to 'Love You Live' has faded, with the band already firmly set in their ways and Mick only occasionally approaching his charismatic peak. Even the album cover is boring, with illustrator  Kazuhide Yamazaki given carte blanche to design whatever they wanted and what they wanted bizarrely, seems to be the ugly bland decoration from the set design on tour. More disposable than the fall-apart Stones T-shirts and badges being given out at gigs, this is perhaps the least interesting album of the Stones' entire run. Mick can yell 'rock and roll!' all he likes, but so little of this album comes even close to rocking; most of it can't even roll. The only things going for this album are the two 'exclusive' songs (though a 90 second 'Twenty Flight Rock' isn't exactly the stuff of which dreams are made either), the welcome return of 'Time Is On My Side' ironically shows up the ill effects of time on the Stones since the last time they played it back in the 1960s and two tracks taken from 'Some Girls' which work well live, though other releases in the archive series find both 'Shattered' and 'Just My Imagination' in far stronger health than this. The band were rightly ticked off for taking too many of the enjoyable rough edges of their sound away and yet the person who comes off worse on this set is the editor: the archive series released the full-length Hampton Coliseum concert from which this show was taken and against all odds it's pretty great, highlighted by a stunning ten minute version of 'Just My Imagination' that keeps running on and on. The fact that this album cut it down to the weakest three rather says it all. For once the title is more accurate than anyone supposed: this is the band caught still, filling in time between albums, a museum object captured for posterity rather than a living breathing rock gig. Thankfully better is to come in the live albums stakes.

"Bill Wyman"

(A & M, '1982')

Ride On Baby/A New Fashion/Nuclear Reactions/Visions/Jump Up/Come Back Suzanne/Rio De Janiero/Girls/Seventeen/Si Si (Je Suis En Rock Star)

"Turn the thing around and change the style of yesterday, mustn't try to do the same and get it all wrong"

It looks from the front cover like a high-concept work closely modelled on The Who's pin-balling 'Tommy'. It reads from the lyrics like a 10cc comedy record. It had a hit single whose top twenty chart position came close to matching the Stones' own 'Start Me Up' and actually outsold 'Waiting On A Friend' and 'Hang Fire'. It sounds like nothing you've ever heard in your life before (ET phoning home while playing a Fender Stratocast and dodging asteroids interrupting the phone signal is my best description). It is the third Bill Wyman album, one which takes eccentric to new levels. If 'Monkey Grip' was a spoof of the Stones and 'Stone Alone' the music business in general, then 'Bill Wyman' is the bassist's take on life in general. The record's strength is how engaged it is with the modern world, with its takes on cold wars, nuclear holocaust and new wave fashions - topics the Stones never even seemed to notice as a collective. Bill also seems to have understood how to make music in the changing sounds and textures of the 1980s rather better than his bandmates, with a more palatable 80s sound than either Mick or Keith's solo albums. He's also really doing all of this (or nearly all of it) himself, without hiding behind guest stars or female group choruses (which might be why this one is named after him - it's his one 'true' solo album) and it's clearly the way to go, suiting him much better than contrasting him against more traditional singers. 

Unfortunately the weaknesses are much the same: this album is so tongue-in-cheek that even when it's being serious (reading out a list of the ingredients of a nuclear bomb, for instance) it's hard to take seriously, while Bill's vocals are often as heavy-going as ever.
The album is best known for its hit single 'Si Si (Je Suis En Rock Star)', which believe it or not is still the best selling solo single any of the Stones have ever had. A witty, catchy parody of how daft rockstar posing is, more than a few fans have wondered if it's a dig at Mick, though really it's a 'You're So Vain' style track true of everyone with the arrogance to assume it's about them. However that's not the best moment on the album by any means: follow-up single 'A New Fashion' feels like more of the 'real' Bill with its mixture of retro and contemporary and call to arms about never repeating yourself (we know now, with the Rhythm Kings et al, that this side is very much the natural Wyman style, though Bill does a pretty good job at sounding young and trendy here too). Though there's a bit too much filler to make this album approach 'Stone Alone', it is another album that's stronger than many fans give it credit for and it's certainly a better response to a changing music scene than 'Undercover' or 'She's The Boss'. Just beware that this is one of those albums that sounds like nothing else you will ever hear again (it doesn't even sound like the first two albums!) rather than a hidden Stonesy classic.

'Ride On Baby' gets the album off to a slow start, sadly, a lumpy Stones-style rocker that sounds out of place in the new setting that makes it sound like a blender and a microwave having a threesome with a record player containing a Chuck Berry record. It's basically one long guitar solo with the title sung over the top.

'A New Fashion' is a clever song that manages to be absolutely at the cutting edge of what musicians were offering back in 1982, while simultaneously poking fun at the idea that this will stay in fashion - that everything goes in cycles and Bill's lived through most of them. Bill's gift for blending the old with the new is put to good use in this song which balances both while poking fun at every style in between too. One of his best solo recordings.

'Nuclear Reactions' is the most daring song on the album, sounding not unlike Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark or Gary Numan. A list of ingredients and an impassionate robotic speech that's icy and detached works well with the very human theme about all the suffering and death a nuclear war would involve. The icicle synth notes and the uncomfortably slow pace ratchet up the tension nicely too on another clever track.

'Visions' tries hard to be a genuinely warm song, a slow and sweet ballad without the usual humour or sarcasm. Oddly enough Bill was, for once, between girlfriends so might not have had anyone particular in mind when writing a song that would have sounded pretty good in Mick's hands.

'Jump Up' is a noisy ska song that seems to parody Madness and that ilk of bands: everything in life involves 'jumping' - Bill's euphemism for sex - and a whole chorus of hoodlums have fun jumping in. It's similar to Stones song 'Neighbours', but not quite as good.

'Come Back Suzanne' is more full on fun with new wave synths and is unusually aggressive compared to Bill's usual laidback style. The lyrics parody every new wave song ever: Suzanne's a gold-digging heartbreaking know it all but Bill still loves her really. Blondie got far more respect for writing far worse songs than this, though it's not exactly a classic.

Rio De Janiero is a fun holiday travelogue with shades of reggae and traditional Hawaiian songs where Rio comes complete with an 'ooh ooh ooh' before it's name every time Bill sings. This is more in his trademark laid back style and probably a little too chillaxed if truth be told.

Bill's mastermind subject would surely be 'Girls' and he promises to talk all about them here until he gets a Roger Daltrey style stutter and never really gets going. The aim is surely that we're meant to feel sorry for a narrator who feels anxious around the other gender, but given Bill's history it seems clear that this is just a case of acting.

'Seventeen' is a lazy 1950s pastiche about Bill's sadness at his former beautiful child bride turning old. The backing mixture of pure 50s and pure 80s is a fascinating ideas and the mixture of synths and harmonicas works well, but the lyrics are a little, well, bonkers and skirt the line of sexism (not that this has ever stopped the Stones before).

Finally 'Si Si Je Suis En Rock Star' (Or 'yes yes I am a rock star!') was a hit for a reason: it has a stronger hook and a better understanding of how to use the new 1980s technology for robotic effect than almost everything else in the charts, along with a large dollop of Bill's self-deprecating humour. Unfortunately, though, it's more of a one-joke song than 'New Fashion' and quickly becomes tiresome, so clever in parodying current trends that it sounds every bit as unlistenable as most of them. The song deserved its success, though, and is perfect for Bill's raised-eyebrow delivery.

Overall, then, 'Bill Wyman' is another of those albums that leaves you asking 'Why, man?' and cheering the bassist on in equal measure. It isn't quite the clever career highlight some 'hip' reviewers thought it was, but neither is it an awful record whose success was unexplainable, which is how Mick and Keith seemed to think of it. The result is an album that only a Wyman fan could love, but as the success of the single showed, there's more of 'us' than many people realise...

"The Story Of The Stones"

(K-Tel, '1982')

(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction/It's All Over Now/Time Is On My Side/Play With Fire/Off The Hook/Little Red Rooster/Let It Bleed/Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing In The Shadows?// Paint It Black/The Last Time/We Love You/You Better Move On/Under My Thumb/C'mon/I Just Want To Make Love To You/Honky Tonk Women//Jumpin' Jack Flash/Route 66/I Wanna Be Your Man/Mother's Little Helper/You Can't Always Get What You Want/Carol/Let's Spend The Night Together//Get Off My Cloud/19th Nervous Breakdown/Not Fade Away/Walkin' The Dog/Heart Of Stone/Ruby Tuesday/Street Fighting Man

"Now she gets her kicks in Stepney, not in Knightsbridge anymore"

A generous thirty track compilation of the Stones' 1960s material, 'The Story Of The Stones' was one of those cheapo sets marketed on TV by K-Tel. While it might look tacky and has since been replaced by bigger and better compilations many times over, at the time it was a valuable way of getting lots of hard to find classics cheap and offered a far more varied selection than any previous set outside 'Hot Rocks'. The real downside to this set is the deeply scattered running order, which swaps from mid-60s classics to early 60s faltering songwriting to late 60s anthems on the first side of vinyl alone. This may well tell a story, but it paints most of it in flashback, jumping around and around like Jack Flash on a pogo-stick. The amount of semi-rare tracks like 'Come On' 'I Want To Be Loved' 'Walkin' The Dog' 'We Love You' and 'Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby?' make it more palatable than some though and more of a thorough biography than a cash-in paperback.
The Story Of The Stones (1982).................
"Live At Leeds"

(Promotone, Recorded July 1982, Released November 2012)

Under My Thumb/When The Whip Comes Down/Let's Spend The Night Together/Shattered/Neighbours/Black Limousine/Just My Imagination (Runnin' Away With Me)/20 Flight Rock/A Going To A-Go-Go/Let Me Go/Time Is On My Side/Beast Of Burden/You Can't Always Get What You Want/Band Introductions/Little T & A/Angie/Tumbling Dice/She's So Cold/Hang Fire/Miss You/Honky Tonk Women/Brown Sugar/Start Me Up/Jumpin' Jack Flash/(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction

"Well, I'm leaning the ropes and I'm learning the trade"

Rolling Stones archive release number eight is another from the band 1981-1982 tour that had already resulted in the highlights set 'Still Life' and the 'Hampton Coliseum' set. Releasing a third volume from a tour where very little changed from night to night (there are, for instance, only two songs different to the 'Hampton' set) seems excessive, but actually the 'Leeds' show might will be the most enjoyable. The band are in an energetic mood and still enjoying the last rush of energy from the 'Some Girls' years, while there's also an increasing fluidity and confidence that shows itself best in some gloriously extended versions of old classics. There's a nine minute 'Just My Imagination' that scores over even the Hampton set in its cocktail of ringing weaving guitars, hypnotic drum shuffle and Mick's heart breaking that makes a mockery of the three minute version chosen for the official LP. There's an eight minute 'Beast Of Burden' with an extended finale that features Bobby Keyes going hell for leather with a sax solo that keeps swapping with Mick's refusal to let the song go, pushing for one more reprise after another. An eleven minute 'You Can't Always Get What You Want' takes slow and moody to a whole new level. An eight Jack Flash does a lot of serious jumping. A ten minute encore 'Satisfaction' pounds impressively hard and fast after a full throttle two hour gig. Best of all, an eight minute 'Miss You' finally lives up to the promise of the record, opening up into a multi-layered song that keeps on giving and sporting the greatest ever Bobby Keyes sax solo, rather than just a boring plod through some disco beats. If in truth the shorter songs seem horribly rushed and given throwaway performances by a band waiting for the good stuff to get their teeth into (with the exception of the most golden and anguished 'Angie' yet, possibly the first time Mick's ever sung the song as if he means it), that's still quite a collection. Though not quite up to the famous Who set which the title seems to be alluding to or indeed the Stones' own memorable gig at the University in 1971 (heard on the deluxe 'Sticky Fingers' set), this is a lot better and a lot hungrier than any band in their 20th year has a right to sound, what should have been a template for all the gigs that followed. The Stones tend to be at their best when short and sweet, but this their most 'Grateful Dead' style jam-style album reveals that at their best the band can be so much more. Why wasn't this excellent set the first archive release or - better yet - released in place of the cheekily basic and compact 'Still Life'? 

"Rewind 1971-1984"

(Rolling Stones Records/EMI, July 1984)

Brown Sugar/Undercover Of The Night/Start Me Up/Tumbling Dice/It's Only Rock and Roll (But I Like It)/She's So Cold//Miss You/Beast Of Burden/Fool To Cry/Waiting On A Friend/Angie/Respectable

CD Bonus Track: Hang Fire

The US version substituted 'Hang Fire' Emotional Rescue' and 'Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)' for 'She's So Cold' and 'Respectable'

"Always in a hurry but never stop to worry, don't you see the time flashing by?"

'Rewind' was the typical 1980s name given to compilations of music videos and that's exactly what this was meant to be: the 'soundtrack' to a period release of The Stones mouthing to their records, sometimes covered in foam while dressed up in sailor suits (you had to be there). You can't rewind vinyl of course, but you can re-hash old songs for the umpteempth time, which is what happens here on another compilation a mere three years and one album after 'Sucking In The Seventies'. This one 'wins' by virtue of the longer running time and the inclusion of 1980s highlights 'She's So Cold' 'Waiting On A Friend' and 'Undercover' itself, though that's a relative measure and this compilation has had no reason to tempt fans since the longer compilations like 'Jump Back' '40 Licks' and 'Grrrrrrr' came out. Released to mark the end of the Stones' days on EMI/Warner Brothers (depending on the side of the Atlantic you lied on), Rolling Stones Records will have found a new home on Virgin by the time of 'Dirty Work'. Oddly for such a low-key unpublicised work., effort was put into tailoring this compilation for both markets: the British EMI set gets 'She's So Cold' and 'Respectable', minor classic both, while the American Warner Brothers set got 'Emotional Rescue' and 'Heartbreaker', bigger but rather more generic and less interesting hits. Both territories got 'their' version released on CD. At least the album cover is worth a laugh: the Stones dressed up in tuxedos and pretending to be a jazz band! Shame the amount of images mean they're all so small though, especially on CD...
Mick Jagger "She's The Boss"

(Columbia, February 1985)

Lonely At The Top/1/2th A Loaf/Running Out Of Luck/Turning The Girl Loose/Hard Woman//.Just Another Night/Lucky In Love/Secrets/She's The Boss

"You see, passion has a funny way of burning down and running low"

I wonder if Mick would have pushed so hard to make his first solo album if he'd have known the aggro it was going to get him - with the fans in general and Keith in particular. Knowing him chances are the answer was yes; you get the feeling reading between the lines of the Stones' 1980s interviews that the Glimmer Twins had grown so far apart they were desperate to break away and were looking blame the first chance they got on the other. The 'problem' in Keith's eyes was two-fold: that Mick had taken up precious time and songs during sessions for the band's new album 'Dirty Work' away and that there was nothing un-Stones like on the record that couldn't have been done better by the Stones rather than a bunch of session men. On those terms Keith is right: 'She's The Boss' doesn't sound like the sort of album that couldn't have waited a few months or the sort of album that expanded Mick's artistic consciousness so greatly that it ultimately helped to a greater understanding of his role in the Stones (the usual guff given when people want to make Stones albums nowadays). Not that successful by Stones standards (#6 in the UK album chart, with single 'Just Another Night' peaking only at #32), it ultimately hurt Mick more than it helped him - not many fans stuck around for the second or third albums even though those really do represent a new Jagger (largely without the swagger) and everything you hope a solo album will provide. So why did he make this wretched album at all?
To be honest Mick probably just felt like working with a group of people who treated him with respect for once and weren't using every lyric he wrote or every interview he gave as a chance to laugh at him. Up until the end of the Mick Taylor years the balance of power in the Stones had been round about equal, shifting over slightly to Jagger's side when Keith goes through his darkest and heaviest drug period. By 1985, though, Richards is back to full strength and demanding to know what the hell's happened to his band after disco pop and novelty singles. Frustrated by a slight lack of direction, the rest of the band and Keith's new 'glimmer twin' Ronnie sided with Keith (as much as the Stones ever sided with anyone). But working on Keith's terms wasn't the sort of reward Mick deserved for keeping the band going during the dark stretches - it's the equivalent of Lennon  waking up midway through the 'White Album' sessions and declaring 'Sgt Peppers' and 'Magical Mystery Tour' 'rubbish'; many fans actually liked the shift and those that didn't disliked the albums more for the lack of Keith/Lennon than the amount of Mick/McCartney. Wanting to prove Keith wrong, that 'his' Stones was best and that, anyway, his new celebrity status had given him a stardom while the guitarist was only known to fans of the band and go back to making music fun again seem a fair reason for making this album to me. To be honest there's more reason for 'She's The Boss' to exist than Keith's even more Stones-like solo records, released despite his protests that solo albums hurt the brand.

It's a shame, though, that Mick was so caught up in the moment and intensity of that rivalry that he didn't settle back to think more about what he really wanted from this album. As time goes on he'll find out the way he should have made this one: a few Stonesy rockers to keep the fans happy, but with other tracks branching out into different territory he could never have explored with the Stones. 'She's The Boss' seems instead to have been stuck in 'Miss You' mode, with the same repetitive disco funk beat no match for Charlie Watts and the rock and roll missing the Stones guitars. Mick shines when the band behind him absolutely nail a song's emotion and allows him to go for it - when left to fill in half the story himself Mick always struggles (along with Keith's drug problem and the loss of Mick Taylor, the single biggest reason why the 1970s Stones never quite match the 60s Stones, song for song anyway). So what does he do here? He hires a drum machine and some very 80s synths that makes even 'Undercover' sound like a warm-hearted analogue creation and then wonders why his vocals don't convey the same sense of drama and character as before. 'She's The Boss' really had to stand out in an era when so many other fading 60s musicians and singers were doing the same, but there's very little here you can even get a hold of, with the whole album sinking into one similarly paced, similarly textured mess. Only the slightly bluesy feel on 'Running Out Of Luck', where Mick drops his strutting and pouting and plays the role of a loser shows the vocalist at his best, a lesson thank goodness he learnt nicely before the release of his next album 'Primitive Cool', which has more in common with this track than the rest of the album. There's also a case to be made that it's at the level of 'Dirty Work', though admittedly that's not a very high level (both albums would have been massively improved by greater contributions from Keith or Mick respectively). By and large, though, this is the weakest of Mick's four solo sets, too contemporary to stand out at the time and too mid-80s to stand up to repeated hearings for modern tastes. And why the off-putting title (in reality another of those borderline misogynistic Jagger rants) or the off-putting cover of Mick looking glum in his gym clothes, looking like he's just been sent back to the locker-room for forgetting his PE kit?

'Lonely At The Top' sets the tone: a noisy drum-heavy shouted song that sounds like a Stones track with the guitars taken out and leaving a big hole in the middle. Lyrically, though, it's one of the more interesting songs here with a lyric apparently written for an ambitious girl who wants it all which could be a 'Dirty Work' style coded reference to Keith. The song moves on, though, with Mick's character a wannabe actress nervous for an audition in an intimidating theatre and a clever middle eight that widens the song out to any role ('You could be a doctor, you could be a nurse - there's time to rehearse!') When the guitar does arrive too they're pretty fabulous with guest Jeff Beck providing a bonkers solo so different to anything any of the four Stones guitarists would ever have done.

'1/2 A Loaf' is, sadly, not a song about making bread but about Mick mocking a girlfriend for not using her brain and putting two and two together that he's having an affair. Typically, Mick reckons it's her fault - that if she cared about his staying he'd stay more and blames her for 'living half a dream' while boasting that he's 'indiscrete'. The best melody of the 'poppier' songs is alas still marred by some awful drumming and lyrics that don't quite work, a bit too unsympathetic even for Mick, the master of songs like these.
'Running Out Of Luck' is the clear highlight simply for being the one that steps the furthest out of Mick's comfort zone. A Dire Straits-style guitar part is nicely different to the Stones' usual style, while the chorus features a nice pull of tension between minor and major keys, hinting at the luckier world everyone else seems to be living in. Mick's character is more likeable than most, running out of luck, money and hope though it's hinted that it's the loneliness after a broken relationship that haunts him the most. The samples on Mick's voice are also used well and sparingly.

'Turn The Girl Loose' though is just a Stones groove the band would have done better. The song just doesn't really go anyway past the opening riff except into a faceless chorus and back out again and the lyrics are confusing - does Mick want a girl's freedom for good reasons or for bad, so he can claim her for his own?

'Hard Woman' is the typical Stones ballad and aches with the warmth of Mick's best emotional songs. Alas it's also very clichéd and the one Jagger song you could imagine being sung by Elton John, Rod Stewart et al with the same clonky piano chords and lighters-aloft simplicity. A shame because the song reads in retrospect like a major confessional from Mick, admitting that he's both attracted and repelled by wife Bianca and that if both are cheating then there's a problem (bit rich asking 'where's the mercy?' though). There's something about the delivery, though, which suggests Mick doesn't believe a word he's singing.

'Just Another Night' was the most 1980s pop song on the album and of course became the album's first single. Given that there's barely a song here, just a so-so riff and Mick putting on his desperate romantic voice, it seems odd both that this song is so well regarded by most Jagger fans and that it caused such controversy, with Patrick Alley claiming that Mick had ripped off his song of the same name recorded for a 1982 record which also featured this album's guest Sly Dunbar. Mick was found innocent in court and though there are some similarities this is such a generic song to be honest any of a thousand songwriters could have sued on similar lines. Only another Jeff Beck solo and some nice production effects lifts the song into the listenable bracket.

'Lucky In Love' might have been nice as a two minute funk groove to break up the rock and roll. Stretched out to six minutes it's ugly and tedious, Mick moaning about being heartbroken over the same repetitive boom-chikka riff. Oddly enough it's the synths that half-rescue this song, adding a pretty melodic part in stark contrast to the rhythm-heavy opening and the chorus is catchy in an 'inane grin' kind of a way.

'Secrets' is a little better, if only for possessing an actual tune rather than a riff. Mick is good at these slightly faster urgent songs and turns in by far his best vocal on the album, spouting off words at a million miles an hour in the middle of two weaving guitars like the 'old' days. It's just the lyrics that let this one down: Mick thinks his wife is cheating on him . What, again?  The end is weird too, Mick re-enacting the spanking punishment he wants to give his 'naughty' girl 'doing it for the money' to a crash of cymbals. Even 'Black and Blue' and 'Undercover' weren't quite this...bawdy.

Alas the title track 'She's The Boss' is not your ideal album closer. Mick starts off singing a girl's praises - she's stronger than he is, knows more about the world and he looks up to her. Somewhere around the end of the first verse, though, the track takes on a mocking tone, with Mick singing tongue in cheek and playing the victim as his girl gets more and more masculine and aggressive. Only historians get to say what happened in history and what it meant, not the people who were there; this song too sounds like Mick putting over the usual one-sided arguments.

Overall, then, 'She's The Boss' is a disappointment. Far too conventional, yet stuck in an ugly mid-80s digital box that even the Stones had never tried to fit in, it manages the double sin of being boringly obvious and of breaking all the links with the Stones that matter. People who'd wondered since 'Memo From Turner' back in 1970 what a solo Jagger album might sound like found an entirely different kind of singer: one who was by now very much a part of the establishment rather than on the outside of it looking on. As anonymous and faceless as any other mid-80s pop album, there's nothing here even close to his best work and fans brought up on Charlie Watts' work will feel quite ill from the drumming on this album. To his credit, though, Mick will learn his lesson and learn it fast, with his next two albums the equal of anything made in the 1980s and 1990s with his own band. It's a double tragedy, then, that burnt by this album and Keith's stinging criticisms ringing on their eyes so few fans saw fit to buy them.

"Willie and the Poor Boys"

(Ripple Records, '1985')

Baby Please Don't Go/Can't You Hear Me?/These Arms Of Mine/Revenue Man (White Lightning)/You Never Can Tell/Slippin' and Slidin'//Saturday Night/Let's Talk It Over/All Night Long/Chicken Shack Boogie/Sugar Bee/Poor Boy Boogie

"These arms of mine, if you hold them how grateful I would be"

There's long been a feeling that rock stars aren't the kindest of people and that the Stones with their image of destruction and anarchy aren't very nice at all, but neither seems to be true when you scratch below the surface. 'Willie and the Poor Boys' is a prototype 'Rhythm Kings' formed by Bill Wyman originally as a one-off super-group of friends jamming on songs in concert to raise money for The Small Faces' Ronnie Lane, at the time desperately ill with multiple sclerosis and so badly ripped off by two separate record companies that he was in desperate need of money (it's worth pointing out his previous benefactor in the late 1970s was The Who's Pete Townshend, despite their band's image too). The concert was so popular and such fun - certainly by contrast to the 'World War III' happening in Stonesland - that Bill decided to release an album, recorded quickly and spontaneously in the spirit of the live shows and the first of a handful of albums released on his own tiny record label. Other band members joining in with the distinctly 50s vibe included Charlie Watts, Ronnie's old Faces bandmate Kenney Jones, Jimmy Page, Chris Rea and Andy Fairweather-Low. Even though the material and occasionally the performances are pure pub-rock, it's certainly one of the better pub bands around with everyone keen to take turns to shine though this record is still very much Bill's baby with his face prominently on the cover. There are covers of everyone from Otis Redding (a great take on 'These Arms Of Mine' by Mickey Gee which could only have been better if Jagger had sung it) toa blistering take on Big Bill Broonzy's 'Baby Please Don't Go', performed against a big backdrop of horns and multiple guitar parts. The Stones world equivalent of The Traveling Wilburys, it's less essential or groundbreaking than the main canon and has only the vaguest of passing similarities with it, but twice as fun as most of it. Though a DVD was later released of the shows as well, it's a shame that the Poor Boys ended after this as they tended to be both lighter on their feet and slightly tighter than the Rhythm Kings to follow. Long overdue for a CD re-release, it's a remarkable moment of friendship and unity between mates in the rock world and while it might not have raised as much money as it deserved to it raised a lot of laughs and a lot of smiles and did a lot of good for the Stones' image. 

Charlie Watts Orchestra "Live At Fulham Town Hall"

(**, Recorded March 1986, Released 1989)

Stompin' At The Savoy/Lester Leaps In/Moon Glow/Robbin's Nest/Scrapple From The Apple/Flying Home

" Fulham: gateway to New Orleans"

Recorded the day before the release of 'Dirty Work' - the Stones' most argumentative and fractious album - this first released performance by the Charlie Watts Orchestra must have seemed like a breath of fresh air. Charlie's first love was always jazz, far more than rock and roll, and he'd always played it where he could on the side, starting in the late 1970s when he and 'Stu' formed their own spin off jazz band Rocket '88 (a group that, sadly, never made any recordings and ended when the pianist died). Charlie had also guested with many other similar bands formed by his friends Jack Bruce, Evan Parker or Courtney Pine (all of whom re-pay the compliment by guesting on this album). So integral had Charlie become to the world of jazz that it's a surprise he'd never formed his own band before the mid-1980s or that he'd never made a record. You get the feeling Charlie wasn't too fussed about this one being a record either as long as the concert was good, given that it stayed in the vaults for three years until the fuss over the latest Stones extravaganza had died away. It's release with a big blow-up cover of Charlie looking worried looks like a spoof of other jazz covers with smiling band leaders in fact, as if Charlie has realised how daft the thought of him leading a band really is, while the fact that the band are playing in down-to-home 'Fulham' rather than 'Las Vegas' or 'Los Angeles' or some other exotic location seems like part of the joke too.

Some rock and jazz albums can be very similar - the extended jam sessions that were 'Sticky Fingers' and 'Exile On Main Street', both also heavy on the Bobby Keyes saxophone, would make fine jazz cover albums one day. However 'Dirty Work' and 'Fulham' sound light years apart. There's a casualness about this album that's laidback even by modern jazz terms, with musicians who are giving and take it in turns to share the spotlight. By contrast 'Dirty Work' is a rather aggressive, mean-spirited album with Mick and Keith trying to one-up each other while the songs are repetitive and tight. You'd expect a 'feel' drummer like Charlie to thrive in the former and wilt in the latter, but what's odd about this set is how ordinary Watts performs after playing his heart on 'Dirty Work', which for him and probably him only is a great Stones album. Without the urgency or pressure, Watts sounds a little lifeless here, sitting back to watch the show rather than pushing the band on to greater heights all the time. He's not exactly the star of the show and not even the only drummer: there are three, with John Stevens and Bill Eyeden also playing at once. The set probably deserves to bigger credit to arranger/conductor Alan Cohen to be honest, but then Charlie is not the sort of person to ever push to put his name forward - chance are this is more his way of trying to get the rock community interested in jazz. If so, though, the plan hasn't really worked: there are far worse jazz albums out there, but also lots of better ones. This one feels slightly scrappy, the band too clearly feeling each other out (the logistics of getting all 33 members of this band together to rehearse must have been immense after all!) and only a few tracks really take off and gain a momentum of their own the way good jazz does: only the pretty xylophone-led strains of 'Moonglow', the set's biggest slowie with a Jack Bruce bass solo, really shines and Charlie doesn't even play on that one. Long out of print and never released on CD at the time of writing, it's like one of those Stones nights when the band haven't quite warmed up yet but are still tight and disciplined enough to get some good music out of a tough night. 
Mick Jagger "Primitive Cool"

(**, **1987)

Throwaway/Let's Work/Radio Control/Say You Will/Primitive Cool//Kow Two/Shoot Your Mouth/Peace For The Wicked/Party Doll

"I'm getting sick of competition - you better take me off this mission!"

Undeterred by the poor reception handed out to 'She's The Boss' and the ructions it's release had caused within the band, Jagger came up with a follow-up just two years later - speedy by 1980s Stones standards. This time around the record was more focussed, something Mick spent a lot of effort on rather than being distracted by Stones projects, perhaps fearing that with so much bad blood between him and Keith he might well be releasing solo albums full time from here on. Not that 'Primitive Cool' is entirely a solo project; perhaps finding an entire solo album daunting and realising that he'd only ever worked with a collaborator, Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics. It was just the lift that Mick needed - proof that he could work with another writer and come up with something worthwhile, although in the end the collaboration only amounted to three songs ('Lets' Work' 'Say You Will' and 'Kow Tow'). Unlike 'She's The Boss' (which was basically just a Rolling Stones album with less emphasis on the guitars) the cleverly titled 'Primitive Cool' offered up a sound that the Stones hadn't used for a while: contemporary pop. While Keith would have been happy sticking to the same kind of songs forever, Mick had always been more interested in what people were up to outside the group and indulges all his whims here. The result is a noisy and rather dated album, one heavy on the drums (one wonders what Charlie Watts thought of being 'replaced' by a drum machine) and keyboards and with that certain 'empty' sound only records recorded between 1985 and 1987 possess (you know the ones I mean: the one's with lots of shouting and percussion but not much actually going on under all the surface noise). However while 'Cool' often falls into the trap of trying too hard, it shows more life and energy than any of the past two Stones records, with Mick clearly relishing the chance to show off that he's still got 'it', even if most Stones fans had long ago got bored of that look-at-me aspect of the band's sound. The result cuts both ways: fans who side with Keith about sticking to the band's original unique sound will hate this record; those who side with Mick about trying to do something different will enjoy quite a bit of this album.

It has to be said, too, that Mick's lyrics are a cut above the average he'd been giving Stones fans since at least 'Some Girls' (bearing in mind that most of 'Tattoo You' dates from earlier). While the Stones got variations on blood list, sex lust and occasionally politics, Mick actually sounds as if he's singing from the heart at times here. Album highlights pop-rocker 'Say You Will', the sad ballad title track, the mysterious prog rock 'War Baby' and the Irish sea shanty (!) 'Party Doll' are all better than anything that graced 'Undercover' and 'Dirty Work' (aside perhaps from 'Undercover Of The Night' and 'One Hit To The Body' respectably). What's more all four songs are poignant - a word that hasn't been used about a Stones song in something near a decade - with Mick actually singing properly instead of simply barking out the lyrics as he does in his 'day job', actually emotional and full of sadness whether for himself or for the world. That's not to say 'Primitive Cool' is a perfect album. It isn't even the best Jagger solo album (that's possibly the next one, 'Wandering Spirit') and the other six tracks sound suspiciously like filler Keith would have turned down (perhaps he did?) The backing is rather faceless too: even in 1987 Jagger was a big enough name to have demanded the best, so why he sticks to such a faceless boring production style across every track is a mystery. The album never really makes good on its promise either: a bit more 'primitive' and a lot less 'cool' and trendy would have been a lot more preferable. Overall, though, this is a fine record made with a lot of effort and care which proved to the few still listening that Mick still had things to say which the Stones might not necessarily have done better. Unlike 'She's The Boss' this is an album worth breaking a band up for. Interestingly, too, it shares almost nothing in common with either next album (the far more eclectic 'Wandering Spirit') or Mick's next release, the Stones' 'comeback' album 'Steel Wheels', showing off a side of Mick he's never really showed us since.

There's a kind of half-theme that runs through the record about being left behind and abandoned. Opener 'Throwaway' pleads with a girl (Bianca?) to give the narrator another chance - that they've been too far and done too much to 'bust it up'. 'Let's Work' tries to urge everyone who feels hard done by to have another go - that all their hard work will pay off, the narrator's included. 'Radio Control' is a man on automatic pilot drifting through life not enjoying any of it. 'Say You Will' is the Stones' catalogue's equivalent of The Beatles' 'Don't Let Me Down', asking for a girl to say 'yes' so that the narrator isn't single any more (compare with the 'nasty' lyrics of 'Aftermath' and 'Between The Buttons' that treated women as objects and this is a major shift in writing). 'Kow Tow' is an angrier song about not being abandoned, the narrator vowing to become less passive-aggressive and more simply aggressive. 'Shoot Your Mouth' is about two-faced liars putting the narrator down one minute and pretending to be 'nice' the next. 'Party Doll' is about a girl left behind at a party, her fun suddenly turned to 'bitterness'. Finally, 'War Baby' is about an abandoned generation of children scarred for life by what the grown-ups around them do - clearly cut from the same cloth as 'Undercover'. Given the context and the fact that Keith had just spent half an album making Mick sing spiteful songs written about himself it seems overwhelmingly likely that in all but the last of these  Jagger has the loss of the band and most particular the growing divide between himself and his Glimmer Twin in mind here. Like most big break-ups in your life, Mick sounds ill prepared going through the stages of anger ('You dirty rat - you jumped the sinking ship' yells 'Shoot Your Mouth'), denial ('I can see through you like glass' 'Kow Two' warns) and sadness ('But now you say the party's over, you used to love to honky-tonk' sighs 'Party Doll', perhaps recalling 'Honky Tonk Women. 'But now those dancing days are over. You used to be my number one - but now those salad days are over'). Keith will reply in kind (and sometimes not so kind) on his first solo album 'Talk Is Cheap' the next year; however you have to say that Mick wins the argument, showing some affection and sadness about losing one of his oldest friends in between the shouting (Keith's album is more about the hurt than what he's lost). Read between the lines and 'Primitive Cool' turns into quite a different record, away from the heavy handed drumming and attempts to sound contemporary - a confessional that deserved a better fate than to peak at just ** in the charts. The public seemed to have made their 'choice' in the war between the two sides - but not for the first or last time seem to have chosen the wrong one.

'Throwaway' is as the title hints something of a 'throwaway', which is a shame because that's exactly what it shouldn't be. The narrator has worked too hard to let his latest romance fold, it's just a shame that a similar effort wasn't put into one of the weakest songs on the album, a reminder of why the Stones have up making out and out pop records circa 1965.

'Let's Work' is the worst song, however, a terribly patronising song that assumes like so many rich people do that poor people have a choice about their circumstances and could be rich too if only they'd worked a bit harder. The real world isn't like that (it's who you know, not what you know) and you have to have been given an opportunity first to be able to take it. This song is Mick (and co-writer Dave Stewart) at their worst, with a melody that sounds as if it's been lifted from an irritating ringtone. 'Let's Work' ironically enough needs more work!

'Radio Control' is rather disappointing too: shouty rock with Mick barking rather than singing once again. However it's intriguing to hear him playing the part of a man not in control of his life (for once) and this is arguably a more accurate portrayal of a life built on hardship than the last song, a lethargic lament that sounds as if its playing at half speed.

'Say You Will' is thankfully much better, a heartfelt ballad that manages to circumnavigate the cliches trap - no mean feat given that this is a song on that familiar subject of asking for a woman's hand in marriage. A sudden key change into the middle eight admits that it's a big ask: the narrator is confused, a country boy dreaming of the city who never knows whether to rest or stand still. There are lots of neat personal touches here to lift the song above the average, from the 'laughter I need to lean on to tie our lives together' to his urging her to 'cast your fears aside'. Like 'Laugh, I Nearly Died' from 'A Bigger Bang' to come, you get the sense that this is the 'real' Jagger behind all that posing - a sensitive soul who worries he's not good enough.

Title track 'Primitive Cool' is interesting too, imagining what seems to be the stone age but might well be Mick's own childhood in war-torn 1940s Britain. 'Did you walk tall in the 50s, daddy, was it all black and white?' is a touching chorus, Mick's children asking him if he wore dungarees and looked like James Dean. Mick slurs 'oh yeah' to every question he's posed, revealing that the 50s and 60s was both about 'crazy fashions' and 'living life with a passion', Mick sounding rightfully proud that he 'broke all the laws that were about to crumble' and knew Dr Martin Luther King. A nice bit of nostalgia for man and fans, this would have been a much loved song had the Stones released it. Perhaps making a point, this song comes with the most 80s backing of all the album - shrieking female singers, clucking synthesisers and heavy-handed drumming, no wonder Mick looks back on the 1950s and 60s with such fondness.

'Kow Tow' is clearly an answer to 'Had It With You', Keith's song about Mick even if Mick was singing it. Mick is in bitter mood, talking about 'friends who are snakes in the grass' and who have had their own way for too long. With a guitar riff taken straight from Pete Townshend' repertoire Mick screams 'I won't bow down, I won't kow tow, won't be lied to, I won't turn tail, won't be blinded by you!' It's the most emotional we've heard him for a while, telling us that he's leaving soon' and preparing for 'high noon' but only through a 'heavy heart' because we have such a 'long past'. *Sniff* A song like this makes it all the more remarkable that a new and much happier Stones album will be out in just two years.

'Shoot Off Your Mouth' is a slightly less focussed rocker on the same subject. Someone - almost certainly Keith - has 'given me up without a sound sound sound', kicking himself for having never read the 'signs signs signs' and upset that he 'didn't even get a goodbye kiss'. More an excuse for Mick to let off some steam than a properly thought out song, 'Mouth' still rocks nice and hard, the heavy drumming across this record actually working in this song's favour for once.

The swampier 'Peace For The Wicked' continues the ranting theme of the album's second side but is aimed more at greedy people in power. Mick often tries to find out what's going on and sometimes even gets the 'keys' to the truth - but whenever he tries the locks finds the 'door' has moved and he has to start again. A very CSNY style song, Mick roars out the chorus line 'itsssss ssssssoooooo sssaaaaad!' with such power that he overcomes any deficiencies in the song. This way of singing word 'ssssaaaaadddd' will come in handy when the band reunite in 1989 for the song 'ssssaaaaadddd ssssaaaddd ssssaaaaddd'.

'Party Doll' is the album highlight, an unexpected song with Irish folk overtones that suits Mick's voice rather well. The aggression of the past three songs is over, replaced by wistful sadness as Mick laments losing another good friend. 'You used to be my party doll - but now you say the party's over' he concludes. Addressing his spurning lover as 'my sweet', Mick admits that the passion between him has faded but that he still had a great time, drinking in one memorable line to 'the old dancing days, your crazy ways and the whisky haze'. Given that he must surely be addressing Keith here, it's a moving moment that suggests that underneath all the bluster and rows the Glimmer Twins still felt a great deal of affection for each other. It's just a shame that Keith wasn't quite so forgiving from his side of things.

The album ends on another strong track, 'War Baby'. Mick's take on the fact that he and his generation make up a special place in human history (born during the years of World War Two), Mick also turns this strong song into a moving anti-war piece about all the conflicts still raging when this album was released in 1987. Fears that all children born in the 1940s would grow up idolising war is wrong - Mick is clearly still a hippie believing in peace over all things, urging us all to 'walk together and keep our children safe'. An interesting backing of tin whistles and synthesisers make for the most progressive sounding song on the album too, a world away from the tired funk of 'Dirty Work'.

A much better record than anyone gave it credit for at the time, 'Primitive Cool' gets things badly wrong at the start but ends well. had it been the backbone of a new Stones record it might well have turned into the most interesting and forward-thinking record the band released since 'Goat's Head Soup' (assuming that Keith would have come up with a couple of gems to knock this record into shape too). But Keith isn't there and that's the whole point of the record really - Mick, figuring there's no way back for them both, very much tries to find a new sound across this record and reveal his hurt and confusion over how the greatest adventure of his life seemed to simply fall apart. We might never have had this album without 'world war three' (no wonder Mick felt like a ('war baby'!) - with this record easily the greatest thing to come out of the pair's falling out. Proof of both how Mick can mess up and be brilliant all at the same time, 'Primitive Cool' is a clever multi-layered album that proves how much further he could have taken the band all those years if only the others had 'let' him.  

Keith Richards "Talk Is Cheap"

(Virgin, October 1988)

Big Enough/Take It So Hard/Struggle/I Could Have Stood You Up/Make No Mistake/You Don't Move Me//How I Wish/Rockawhile/Whip It Up/Locked Away/It Means A Lot

"You made the wrong motion, drank the wrong potion, you lost the feeling - not so appealing!"

I can understand Keith's annoyance at Mick's solo album getting in the way of Stones album 'Dirty Work', but not his method of getting revenge. After ranting and raving in the press and in private about how solo albums were something only poor bands did who'd run out of things to say, Keith effectively put the Stones on hold to make his own record. Despite chuntering that Mick's album was all the worse because it was something the Stones could have done better, Keith's album is even more rigidly Stone-like, as if to 'prove' that Richards was the one behind the Stones signature sound anyway, even though it took a new co-writer In Steve Jordan to replace Mick totally. Oddly the music press, eager to take 'sides' in the ongoing Stones war, went doo-lally over this set which is the moment when the Stones began to be seen as 'Keith's band rather than 'Mick's. But in truth this album is vastly inferior to Jagger's second album 'Primitive Cool' and only a slight improvement on 'She's The Boss'. Fans had wondered what a Keith Richards solo album might sound like almost as often as they had a Mick Jagger one, but chances are they'd all come up with an album that sounded better than this derivative mess.

That said, where this album loses out in the songwriting stakes, it gains in terms of Keith pushing his voice forward. The late 1980s are the best Keith ever sounded, caught halfway between the nasal bloom of youth and the lived-in growl of later life. Freed of the need to play back up, Keith has never had so much room to perform and his voice comes on leaps and bounds across the making of this album as he learns more and more how to sing in a natural way without trying to sound like Jagger. 'Talk Is Cheap' is a lot prettier than it has any right to be, with a fuller band sound than 'Dirty Work' and appearances by Stones regulars Bobby Keyes and - surprisingly -  Mick Taylor offering just enough of a Stonesy sound (though Steve Jordan was no substitute for Charlie Watts). Keith's new band, The X-Pensive Winos, are also pretty good in a no-frills sort of a way. Had 'Steel Wheels' sounded more like this record, it might have been an even greater comeback the next year. However while this record might sound better than Mick's, in terms of songs it's far worse. Everything comes with the same old Chuck Berry riffs - even the songs that should never have been anywhere near a Chuck Berry riff - and the lyrics are basic pop fair, without Mick's flair or storytelling. The most interesting songs are, like the best ones on 'Dirty Work', the ones that address Keith's shock at how distant he now feels from his childhood friend. However the 'you lost it buddy and you're repeating yourself' lyrics of 'You Don't Move Me' would be more convincing if they weren't accompanied by the same old tired strains of cliched Stones riffs. Only the conciliatory 'How I Wish' stands out, easily the highlight of this batch of songs. The end result is a record that, like 'She's The Boss' doesn't really add anything to the Stones canon but doesn't necessarily take away from it, with the 'World War Three' fought over their records a big fat waste of time on both sides.

'Big Enough' is just 'Hot Stuff' with horns and a massive group of female backing singers, as club-heavy and noisily contemporary as the songs on 'She's The Boss' Keith had been mercilessly ripping into. Only not even that good, because Richards doesn't have the Jagger swagger. Keith cackles that his old partner has been 'hung out to dry' and that he's got 'a wall in your face and a gun in your back', but to be honest Keith sounds more lost than Mick ever did.

'Take It So Hard' sounds like the beginning of 'Mixed Emotions' just before the song got good. Unsure why a friend is moaning when he's got so lucky in life, Keith tells him to stop whinging - spending four whole minutes whinging about the fact his friend is whinging. But which is the whinger winner really?
'Struggle' is the other bit of 'Mixed Emotions' - the 'you're not the only one' part. The lyrics are slightly better here, moving on to debate how life is a struggle between the forces of good and the forces of evil. However sitting through the sub-par Chuck Berry riffing is a struggle indeed.

'I Could Have Stood You Up' would normally have been the track on the album where Stu would have been guest star, a honky tonk piano boogie that never quite takes off. Keith's vocal is a good one though, strong e3nough to stand up to the hordes of doo-wop singers behind him.

'Make No Mistake' is an early airing for Keith's deeper off-key voice and is quite effective as an early example of the Keith ballad that will become the Stones' traditional closer from this point on. However the song's not quite up to 'Slipping Away' or 'Thru and Thru' even though the lyrics about the rift between the Stones are very telling in places. Keith worries about what might happen if the pair bump into each other accidentally ('Do we pretend we've never met?') and that 'a simple conversation now and then' has led to a 'touchy situation' he considers 'just a dream'.

'You Don't Move Me' adds a touch of Ska to the Chuck Berry riffs and a more accusatory slant to Keith and Steve Jordan's words. Telling Jagger off for distancing himself from his band and then wondering 'why he's got no friends', Keith sticks the boot in for another painful three minutes that might have been better written as a letter than a song.

'How I Wish' is the one joyous moment on the album and Keith ups his game with a delightfully catchy song about wishing a distanced one was back in his life. Keith clearly means Mick but he could just as well be singing about Brian, wishing 'I could touch you with my hand - though I know damn well I can't'.

'Rockawhile' is more interesting than most songs on here too, with an unusual variation on his usual riff that sounds not unlike the title track of Mick's 'Primitive Cool' with a similar primitive percussive  sound. Musically it's the most inventive thing here, though lyrically it's the worst: 'Baby, stay, yeah, honey I don't need to lie, you can believe it or leave it...'

'Whip It Up' is easily the best of the 'normal' variants on that riff, with Jordan's drumming right on the money for once. In a parallel universe this is the Stones' biggest hit since 'Start Me Up' with a similar way of doing something new and well with the same old ingredients.

'Locked Away' is another bright and breezy Keith ballad that has a lovely tune but some ugly fiddle playing and rather ordinary words. An unexpected throwback to the days of Keith as an outlaw figure, he finds himself wondering if it's him or a loved one who deserves to be 'locked away' because they can't stay in the same room together.
The second half of the album has been much better than the first, but sadly finale 'It Means A Lot' is a return to empty riffing and doesn't even feature a vocal for the first thirty or so seconds. It's a noisy stomp of a song about picking up on a lover's secret signals and whose best lyric is 'a hug what does it mean, oh yeah, tell me' and goes downhill from there.

'Talk Is Cheap', then, feels like a discussion that we shouldn't have been having. Freed of each other temporarily, it's strange how much both Jagger and Richards stuck to their template sound at first without taking advantage of the chance to re-define who they are or who they could be. Keith, for one, seems intent on proving that he is the Stones and doesn't need to change his sound, but he's wrong - without Mick his songs largely lack sparkle, only half a Stones album no better than 'She's The Boss'. Thankfully Keith's second album 'Main Offender' will be as much of an improvement as Mick's second album was on his first, but this debut album remains a curiously lumpy and unlikeable record that falls into all the same traps Keith once blamed Mick for falling into. Worse even than 'Dirty Work', it's a surprise that Stones comeback 'Steel Wheels' the next year was as good, as focussed and inventive as it was.

Keith Richards "Live At The Hollywood Palladium December 15th 1988"

(Virgin, Recorded December 1988, Released December 1991)

Take It So Hard/How I Wish/I Could Have Stood You Up/Too Rude/Make No Mistake/Time Is On My Side/Big Enough/Whip It Up/Locked Away/Struggle/Happy/Connection/Rockawhile

"This is a stage I've been thrown off many many times!"

For someone who said that he couldn't see the point in a live career and Stones members should only make records as part of the band, Keith hasn't half released a lot of extras. This is a live recording from the days when the X-Pensive Winos was touring the 'Talk Is Cheap' album and it mainly features versions of the lesser songs from that lesser album performed in an even more ragged and scruffy way. Talk may have been cheaper, but hearing it this way makes the album seem even cheaper and it's a long way from the tightness (bordering on slick) nature of the 1980s Stones gigs. However Keith's on good and witty form, chatting to the crowd in a much more leisurely way than during Stones gigs and offering some fascinating titbits from his career. He refers to the last time he was at the Palladium, when he tried to get up to jam with Chuck Berry but found to his horror his idol didn't recognise him and got security to remove him and yelling the band on, sounding like he's having a great time as the band's lynchpin, doing Mick's role as well as his own. Keith also throws in a few rarities from the Stones catalogue towards the end of the set and it's interesting to see what he chooses, with 'Exile' rocker 'Happy' and forgotten Buttons classic 'Connection' given a modern makeover. Both tracks are easily the best things here, though both are deeply sloppy and unfocussed, sounding like hard work in contrast to the casual brilliance of the originals. A not that welcome extra, released in the desperate hope of building up momentum ahead of 'Main Offender', Keith would have been better off releasing a live album of that record instead. 

The concluding part of this trilogy will be with you next week! In the meantime here is our usual list of Stones related articles:


'No 2' (1965) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/08/the-rolling-stones-no-2-1965.html
'It's Only Rock 'n' Roll' (1974) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2014/02/the-rolling-stones-its-only-rock-and.html
'Black and Blue' (1976) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/11/the-rolling-stones-black-and-blue-1976.html

'Some Girls' (1978) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2009/05/news-views-and-music-issue-30-rolling.html
'Emotional Rescue' (1980) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/11/the-rolling-stones-emotional-rescue-1980.html
'Undercover' (1983) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/rolling-stones-undercover-1983-album.html

'Steel Wheels' (1989)http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/09/news-views-and-music-issue-113-rolling.html
'Bridges To Babylon' (1998) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/02/the-rolling-stones-bridges-to-babylon.html

Rolling Stones: Unreleased Recordings http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/another-journey-through-past-darkly.html