Saturday, December 09, 2006

december's children (and everybody's), 1965, The Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones
december’s children (and everybody’s)

The Rolling Stones’ fourth entry of 1965 is perhaps the best of their early oeuvre, though most would, while making a good case, argue for the following year’s Aftermath. I’ve just always thought it was overrated—it has its good bits though, but it lacks the benzedrine-fast chaos that’s on display in december’s opener, a cover of Larry Williams’ She Said Yeah. It is this habit of sort of sloppily racing through certain types of songs that helped to, not only, define the Rolling Stones’ early period, and mark the major artistic rift between them and the meticulous Beatles, but also helped to define the garage-punk revolution that began to stew in the mid to late sixties that would mutate into the more smooth and reductive form of punk that arose little more than a decade later. Not that december’s children is bursting with the type of snarl displayed on that opening track, in fact the serene outweighs the punk (which is represented solely by She Said Yeah) but it’s a raw example of the nervous energy that marked the sixties garage-punk ethos. Sadly, it is probably the last manifestation of this ethos by the Rolling Stones, for the rest of the album, though mostly brilliant in it’s own regard, is a parade of mid-tempo and half-sad songs in that wistful Jaggeresque way. On Aftermath and in to the future, the Rolling Stones’ sinister energy would reveal itself in a less chaotic musical way and be displayed in more lyrical forms (Paint it Black, Sympathy for the Devil, and Brown Sugar), with of course, certain exceptions. The era of the Stones being a garage band would be forever left to the past by 1966.

I would grade four more tracks as 4’s (on a scale of 1-4): The Singer Not The Song; it’s main hit, the ubiquitous Get Off Of My Cloud, the quasi-symphonic, As Tears Go By, and the relatively unknown Blue Turns to Grey. The middle tracks, most listeners of the radio, particularly Rolling Stones fans, should be quite familiar with, the others are less well known. In fact I came to both of them through other sources. In the case of The Singer Not The Song, I heard it on a rather over-priced re-issued Alex Chilton double-seven inch, about seven years ago. Though Alex Chilton does a good job of butchering it (even the Stones’ version can be a tough listen for a vocal purist), the song is, however, the kind of crisp, semi-morbid pop song that you wish Paul Simon could manage without letting his addiction for over-wrought literary imagery get in the way. In the case of Blue Turns to Grey-which until about a year ago, I was convinced was a Flamin’ Groovies original because I downloaded it and had no liner notes to consult-is marked by the same type of boy-girl wistfulness that I mentioned earlier. (I should footnote that it had been quite some time since I have been in to the Stones early period, and what re-kindled all this interest in these old records was a silly Stones versus Beatles argument I had with a friend and since then I have listened to this album to death, particularly these 4 songs mentioned in this paragraph-hence the Rolling Stones/Flamin' Groovies confusion as of about a year ago).

It is important, I think, to stress the Rolling Stones as a band that should be separated into epochs. It is a popular practice to demarcate the Rolling Stones epochs by dint of who was the lead guitarist, a la the Brian Jones-era, the Mick Taylor-era, and the Ron Wood-era. I don’t think this is very helpful though, because Mick Taylor plays on so few albums, he does however, play on some of their best. Though I would argue that the demarcation lines should not be fixed, there are certain albums that mark turning points. These albums would be Aftermath, Beggars Banquet, and Sticky Fingers; then after a desultory period which followed Exile on Main Street they launched a rather brilliant three year, last-gasp period of quality work, which includes their last three albums of note: Some Girls, Emotional Rescue and Tattoo You. The eighties and nineties work is spotty at best, and at worst trivial, embarrassing, greedy, revulsion inspiring, meaningless.
The reason I think december’s children, is such an important album is that it marked the end of the Rolling Stones first incarnation—the bluesy dilettantes who wore leather pants; when they were Brian Jones, unafraid to play a cheap-o Harmony Rocket instead of a Thunderbird or, even worse, a sitar; Keith, looking boyishly innocent, and still like a human. They were all still boys, at least they seemed to be in hindsight; they had yet to become greasy and bloated with the pomp of fame; they had yet to become Brian, wrinkle-faced and foreboding, slowly pissing away No Expectations and his life at that lame Rock and Roll Circus; they had yet to inspire strange and prurient rumors of mars bars; they had yet to become the quixotic, irresponsible rock gods who inspired the bedlam at Altamont; they had yet to become Mick strutting in that most peculiar and silly way; they had yet to become the savage icons that, while producing some of the most important music ever to enter the rock canon, seemed to be revolting people that would one day become everything that is wrong with rock and roll, so long after-as young men-being everything that was right about it.

The present state of the Rolling Stones proves more than anything else that rock is truly dead.


1. The Rolling Stones-She Said Yeah
2. Magic Sam-Days in Jail
3. Ike and Tina Turner-I can’t Believe What You Say
4. The Blues Magoos-She’s Coming Home
5. The Chocolate Watch Band-Let’s Talk About Girls
6. The Poets-That’s the Way It’s Got To Be
7. The Wheels-Bad Little Woman
8. Them-Here Comes The Night
9. Sam The Sham and the Pharaohs-Little Red Riding Hood
10. Holly Golightly-Run Cold
11. Irma Thomas-Wish Someone Would Care
12. Marianne Faithful-As Tears Go By
13. Johnny Thunders-Play with Fire
14. The New York Dolls-Personality Crisis
15. The Stooges-Loose
16. T. Rex-The Motivator
17. The Sorrows-You’ve Got What I Want
18. My Rival-Alex Chilton
19. Guitar Slim-The Things That I Used To Do
20. Larry Williams-She Said Yeah

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