The Rolling Stones (pt 3)

War, children, it’s just a shot away
It’s just a shot away
War, children, it’s just a shot away
It’s just a shot away

Rape, murder!
It’s just a shot away
It’s just a shot away

In August of 1969, at Woodstock, a stage announcement said that the Sixties generation were enjoying “three days of fun and music and nothing but fun and music.” Three months later, the Sixties officially ended with a thud at the Rolling Stones free Altamont festival in California. (Covered rather thoroughly and mercilessly in Rolling Stone mag at the time).

The Stones – having successfully done a free concert at Hyde Park earlier in the year (just after Brian Jones’ death by drowning)  – decided to do the same thing in the States. Security in London had been provided by the British Hells Angels, apparently a more pacific bunch than the thuggish American version. (Recommended to Mick by Jerry Garcia whose previous association with them had been, one supposes, peace, love and flowers. Maybe the Dead bring out the best in people, the Stones, not so much).

The Hyde Park gig was guitarist Mick Taylor’s first live performance with the band. Prior to that he’d worked on a couple of studio tracks with them. Taylor had been recommended by bluesman John Mayall – another Alexis Korner disciple –  and when first auditioning, thought he was there as a session guy. But the Stones loved his playing and brought him into the fold. Keith still sometimes misses his melodic blues playing and in fact he reunited with them recently for a tour.

And so they held this free American concert in an ungodly race track well outside of any city. And in hiring the Hells Angels for security, got more or less predictable results. You can, should you choose, see all of this in the classic documentary Gimme Shelter.

The movie is actually about the 1969 tour, not just that fateful concert. But the Altamont show is a complete nightmare from Mick getting punched in the face to Marty Balin of the Airplane getting knocked out to people being beaten with pool cues to the on-camera stabbing death of fan Meredith Hunter. See it at your own peril.

According to Keef’s autobiography, Life, he got the idea for the song “Gimme Shelter,” one day in London when it was a “terrible fucking day and it was storming out there…. I wasn’t thinking ‘there’s my old lady (Anita Pallenberg) shooting a movie (Performance) in a bath with Mick Jagger. My thought was storms on other people’s minds, not mine.'”

Whatever the inspiration, it’s yet another mindfuck song of dark foreboding. (See the video 20 Feet From Stardom if you want to hear – among other stories – singer Merry Clayton’s take on how her anguished duet with Jagger came to be.)

In, shall we say, happier news, just prior to this, the Stones had a major hit with “Honky Tonk Women.” I’d been listening to the Stones before this but prior to hearing this song, they were one of many bands I liked. I feature this particular number because it’s the “before-and-after” for me. Prior to it I liked the Stones, subsequent to it I became a stone-cold, dedicated nutter for them. Even unto this day. In fact, I am totally straight but am absolutely willing to have sex with all of them. 😀

If you wonder how the hell they could get a song whose first line is “I laid a divorceé” on top 40 radio in the decidedly more innocent year 1969, well, don’t ask me. (I think this somewhat ragged performance might be from Gimme Shelter, not sure. Been a long time since I’ve seen it.)

Mick Taylor is in this video and played on the single:

The third album in the Stones great Sixties/Seventies trilogy was the classic Sticky Fingers, the one with the Andy Warhol cover featuring A) a working zipper and B) guy with a hard-on. (If you’ve at all been awake during these posts, none of this should surprise you). The album is great and may well require a “Featured Album” post one fine day. But it kicks off with probably my single favorite Stones song ever, “Brown Sugar.”

If you wonder how the hell the Stones got away with singing a song that is about a slave master who beats the women and has sex with them, don’t ask me. (Original title: “Black Pussy.”) Another great Bobby Keys sax solo. (Who, like pianists Nicky Hopkins and Ian Stewart, deserves a lot more credit for their contributions to the Stones’ sound).

Like “Honky Tonk Women,” another open guitar tuning from Keith:

I said before that I am not a big country or country-rock fan. I also said that the Stones were my favorite country band. That’s true. And I know a lot of the current generation of country stars were just about as influenced by bands like the Stones, Eagles and Allmans as they were by, say, Hank Williams or Dolly Parton.

Here is a lovely, lovely tune called “Dead Flowers”: (are the Stones the most cynical motherfuckers ever or what?)

And you can send me dead flowers every morning
Send me dead flowers by the mail
Send me dead flowers to my wedding
And I won’t forget to put roses on your grave

The Stones aren’t just a blues n’ boogie band. They also do some really nice ballads. In fact, one of the first Jagger/Richards compositions was “As Tears Go By,” sung by Marianne Faithfull, she of the bear rug incident. (Second Stones post.)

But a great number that closes out Sticky Fingers is “Moonlight Mile.” I don’t even know what it’s about, haven’t bothered to look it up. All I know is “I’m ridin’ down your Moonlight Mile.” Works for me.

Keith says the writing of “Moonlight Mile” was all Mick. Keith doesn’t even play on it. Apparently at the time he was off taking…. aspirins for a headache! But in one of the few compliments about Jagger in the book, he says Mick is a brilliant lyricist.

(When the book came out, there was some controversy as Keith was not always kind to his longtime friend. Keith says Mick probably went right to the index, right to “Jagger, Mick” and read all the stuff about himself out of context. Ha! Most of it doesn’t sound very nice IN context.)

One last note about Brian Jones – to this day, nobody really is 100% sure what happened. Both Bill Wyman and Keith in their respective books question the official drowning report. Was Jones murdered and there was a massive cover-up? Keith says Brian was a strong swimmer. But also asthmatic. And there were workmen at his house that didn’t like his posh attitude. So….

Next – Final Stones post. Mick Taylor has enough of the Stones debauched lifestyle and splits, Ronnie Wood joins. Keith uses up a few of his nine lives. 

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “The Rolling Stones (pt 3)

  1. My mum was at that Hyde Park gig lol. Apparently Moonlight Mile has two meanings: Moonlight Mile (spending miles on tour, on the road through the night) or Moonlight Mile (a line of of coke). Yeah…..;)

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