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Music Review: The Rolling Stones – It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll

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It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll continued the commercial if not the overwhelming critical success of The Rolling Stones. The album, mostly recorded in Germany, was the first to be produced by the glimmer twins, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards and would be a more up-tempo album than Goats Head Soup, but it would ultimately be somewhat uneven and not measure up to their best work.

In retrospect the most depressing aspect of It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll was that it would be Mick Taylor’s last with the group. His treatment by Keith Richards and the lack of writing credits on several songs that he helped create had left him dissatisfied. He also continued to work on a salary and did not receive a percentage. Finally, it may have been The Rolling Stones decision to not tour in support of this album that pushed Taylor over the edge. Mick Taylor was more comfortable on the road and certainly more in control, and the prospect of returning so quickly to the studio may have been too much to handle.

Rolling Stones fans still lament the fact that Mick Taylor ever left the group. He was the lead guitarist on The Rolling Stones best work and some of the best rock ‘n’ roll albums ever created. Mick Taylor was also the best guitarist to ever prowl a stage or studio for the Stones. He had an intuitive ability to listen to the basic rhythms of a song and to fill in the melody with his bluesy guitar. Taylor would never duplicate his work or success with the Rolling Stones as a solo artist.

Ironically, it may be that the Stones were the best situation for his talent. In the final analysis, however, his greatest contribution to The Rolling Stones sound was to force Keith Richards to play at a higher level. While this would create a great deal of animosity on the part of Richards, he would always have an edge to his work with Taylor around. That edge would be mostly lost when his friend Ron Wood was playing next to him.

It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll starts off well enough if not brilliantly. “If You Can’t Rock Me” has Mick Taylor playing and Charlie Watts banging away on this rocking song that still appears in the Rolling Stones live act from time to time. I have always thought that the old Temptations song, “Ain’t To Proud To Beg,” was an odd choice for this album and an odder choice still as a single release. While Mick Jagger gives a competent vocal, the Motown original is still superior. The title song “It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll (But I Like It)” was also released as a single and reached number ten. This song was a rousing rocker with a slick sound and while catchy it was the beginning of a new modern, and sometimes self-serving, sound for The Rolling Stones.

I consider “Time Waits For No One” as the centerpiece of the album. It is also the last great creative opus by Mick Taylor. His long, brilliant guitar solo takes off against Nicky Hopkins piano playing and leaves the millions of Rolling Stones fans wanting more.

“Dance Little Sister” is a bare bones rocker featuring Mick Taylor’s slide guitar technique. “Luxury” was a failed Jamaican ska type song. “Fingerprint File” was a disjointed Mick Jagger effort with a decent vocal but poor song structure. “Short and Curlies,” from the Goats Head Soup sessions, and “If You Really Want To Be My Friend” can be classified as average, at best, filler songs.

The passage of time has shown It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll to be a competent album but not a great one. It would become their fourth consecutive number one album release in the United States, showing that they had reached a point where anything carrying their name would sell well. However, society and music were changing and the Rolling Stones were beginning to change and adapt their sound. 

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About David Bowling

  • Randyrocker

    “If You Really Want to Be My Friend” deserves a little more appreciation than given, it fits into the “Memory Motel” and “Moonlight Mile” gene, there are many other RS classics that have a similar pacing and style, but without the length of matter. “Time Waits For No One,” is in contradiction to “Time Is On My Side,” with lyrics like, “Hours are like diamonds, don’t let them waste.” This was the first album that tried to push the big sound of controlled power being unleashed on call and at will. The radio stations were getting schmaltzy again, like they did in the payola days, so the Stones hit back, trying to encourage the support of those who still liked their brand of Rock and Roll, with their number, “It’s Only Rock and Roll.” They also wanted to solidify their place in the world of Rhythm and Blues Soul music, hence “Ain’t To Proud To Beg,” a bluesy R&B cut with stylistic repercussions. They were climbing the summit, and still looking for OZ, but were getting closer to finding it, every time a new album came out, “Emotional Rescue,” was soon to be, on its way.
    They were reading the pulse beat of the public, and refusing to give into slick commercial over drive. “It’s Only Rock and Roll” was not one of their greatest albums, but it was a transitional album, that steadied their course for the future, their ship of state was turning in the electro glide of a commercially changing world, of radio frequency and superficial patter. It took guts to challenge the status quo, but who ever said the Rolling Stones were never up to the task of taking on the challenge. They did a great deal in releasing albums like this one, to make room for many of the rougher edged bands that were to follow their lead, gaining success and receiving airtime on the nation’s airwaves. Some albums deserve appreciation for other things than the cuts that are on them, when taken as a statement of the times.

  • Patrick

    I saw the Stones on their first American tour in the round at Long Beach California. There could not of been more than a thousand people there and keef had trouble staying in the background with the rotating stage. Keefs insecurities are shown with “Memo from Turner.” Keef had already established himself as a writer at the time of the “Rock and Roll Circus” while Brian was a part of the group. Insecure, Jealous, guys like us need a chalenge to wake us up.

    Keef is my fav. I guess he is a lot like me.

  • ChaliQ

    Mick Taylor gave these guys class. If it wasn’t for him they’d be playing with all of those groups on nostaligia tours. Can’t you Hear Me Knockin is Taylor’s greates work & maybe the Stones also.

  • Rob

    Randyrocker puts it eloquently.

    Temptations version better than Stones’ “Ain’t Too Proud”? HA! Maybe that’s the way you want it to be David; but while the Temps version is mild, the Stones’ version swings — and swaggers.

    Everything David asserts about Mick T is true. But while MT did force Keith to new heights, it’s unfair and untrue to say that Keith lost his edge next to Ronnie. Keith still plays rhythm guitar like nobody’s business; you could even argue better than ever: But listen to Keith play lead (especially on live recordings ’71-73) during the Taylor era. If you don’t have access to those, just listen to Keith’s lead on Bitch: He just doesn’t play lead like that anymore. I had heard Midnight Rambler from the bootleg “Marquee ’71” and was sure certain parts were Mick T. When I saw the video I was shocked to see Keith playing those slick lead parts!

    Oh, and David, listen again: There’s no slide guitar on the forcefull Rocker “Dance Little Sister”; that vibrato effect originates entirely from MT’s left hand, astonishingly. It’s cliche to characterize Mick T’s style as “bluesy”. While it’s true that he plays blues with impossible authority and import; his ‘country’ leads are every bit as much to the point.

    “If You Really Want to Be My Friend” was sadly one of the Stones’ last attempts at Gospel music; something they had pulled off so gloriously on Exile. While “Friend” doesn’t reach Exile’s “Let it Loose” on any level (what does?), It’s still a very pleasing song to listen to.

  • 8498693

    Agree on If You Really Want To be My Friend .. and I would like to cast one positive vote for Luxury.

  • This was the first Stones album I bought, so it’s got sentimental value for me, regardless of its merits. I dunno – I still think it was decent enough.

  • Robert Roma

    Without Mick Taylor the Stones became a Vegas type go for all the money act. He gave them class and musical integrity.
    Let It Bleed, Beggars Banguet, Exile and Sticky Fingers in five years, wow.

  • The It’s Only Rock N’ Roll album was released at a very critical point in Rock history as well as the general culture all around us. If you hold to the view that the ’60s went beyond December 31, 1969, then it might be argued that the Fall of ’74 was when the ’60s ended.
    The reason, you might ask, was that radio was undergoing a massive change during the latter part of ’74. AM was beginning to develop a tighter sense of playlists as a result of what would become a growing backlash against Disco Music. What a lot of people don’t remember is that FM radio was also undergoing a change although it would eventually take hindsight to see it clearly. Free-Form radio was beginning a very long and slow process that would stretch to the early ’80s of slowly metamorphosing into the Corporate Rock tight playlist structure that we know of today. It was also a time when FM was starting to look back even though a lot of vital music would continue to be played through the rest of the decade.
    Where does It’s Only Rock N’ Roll fit in within this equation? The album didn’t get hailed as a classic and yet we mourned the loss of Taylor’s exit from the band. It was at this time that we, as Stones fans, began the process of looking back and thinking of what we lost.
    It’s Only Rock N’ Roll laid the foundation for the Stones to be referred to as survivors for a second time (after the passing of Brian Jones). As we all pulled through with our lives in the ’70s, we had to survive to as we watched the musical landscape start the process of a fragmentation which has played out to the fullest extremes in the present day.
    It’s Only Rock N’ Roll may not have been a classic album, but we dearly love it because it arrived at a time period where many music fans set up stubborn camps which branded certain musical forms as being the color of their tribe. The unfairly (in my opinion), maligned Black and Blue album may have been victim to this because some people did not take to cuts like “Hot Stuff” (as an example. It should also be pointed out that I view “Hot Stuff” as a faster Stones version of Reggae rather than some people thinking that it’s the band’s first foray into Disco). Some of the rhythm/dance elements where people might argue was the start of “dance” music from the Stones may have been with “Fingerprint File” and the way Keith played some of his guitar lines.
    It’s Only Rock N’ Roll clearly was a product of it’s time for good or for bad. We recognized within it the things about the band we loved so dearly and there were also changes afoot which caught us off-guard. It was a lot like the Fall of ’74.