It’s Only Rock and Roll marked the end of a very prosperous era for the Rolling Stones both in terms of commercial sales and artistic creativity. Following a string of critically acclaimed albums from 1969-1973—most notably Let it Bleed, Sticky Fingers, and Exile on Main Street—It’s Only Rock and Roll serves up a healthy dose of straight 4/4 rockers, reggae, funk, gospel, and even jazz. For the most part, it's a dark, mysterious, and creative record. Measured against any of the three aforementioned albums, it comes up a bit short, but nonetheless merits a better than average grade (B).
Released in 1974, It’s Only Rock and Roll was the first album produced by Jagger and Richards since Beggar’s Banquet. It is also the last album that was recorded with lead guitarist Mick Taylor. In retrospect, Taylor ended up being the perfect guitarist to replace the late Brian Jones. Many fans of the group are quick to acknowledge that Taylor was a very essential and integral cog in shaping the music the Rolling Stones created in the early to mid 1970s; this is in stark contrast to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Jagger and Richards have always been reluctant to give Taylor the credit he rightly deserves.
Mick Taylor is an exceptional blues guitar player. But more importantly, he offered up a different instrumental landscape for Mick Jagger’s lyrics. Sure, he could bring the rock on songs like “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” and “Bitch,” but he also provides a nice Latin/jazz/groove on “Time Waits For No One." On a technical level, Taylor is more proficient than Richards, and it is Taylor’s playing that prodded Keith to play at a higher level. While that may have caused some friction within the band, Richards played with intensity and a sense of urgency alongside Taylor that has often been missing with his current partner, Ronnie Wood. Wood’s skills are more in step with Richards’, which allows Richards to sit back and settle in to a more familiar, but less adventurous style.
It’s Only Rock and Roll gets off to a rollicking start with “If You Can’t Rock Me,” a funky/dance rock tune in the vein of “Dance Little Sister” or “Bitch." This is not surprising, considering the band’s love of American R&B. The next track, “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg," a cover of The Temptations’ 1966 hit, is yet another good example of the band’s striking ability to play R&B flavored rock with its own distinctive flair.
Ironically, the title track came about through collaboration between the band and Taylor’s successor, Ron Wood. With its sing a long chorus, it has become a fixture on Classic Rock Radio playlists and the band’s live set list. The late Ian Stewart (the “6th Rolling Stone”) adds a nice boogie-woogie-style piano on the song. Stewart is also featured on "Dance Little Sister.” The song has a nifty slide guitar solo at the break for good measure. “Till the Next Goodbye” is a country/rock ballad that harkens back to the sound of “Wild Horses”. Longtime British session keyboard player Nicky Hopkins is also featured on this track.
I’m not sure if the Rolling Stones have another song in their catalog that is quite like “Time Waits For No One.” Although the band has many ballads in its repertoire, I’m not sure they have anything that has such a jazz/Latin/rock flavor as this song. Taylor’s ending solo sounds like something that would appear on a Carlos Santana record. It is a standout track. “Luxury” reflects the band’s interest in reggae music, and “If You Really Want To Be My Friend” is a gospel tinged ballad that features the R&B group “Blue Magic” on background vocals.
The last two songs on the disc (“Short and Curlies” and “Fingerprint File”) end the CD on a rather sour note, as both selections are fairly unremarkable — pure filler at best. Anytime a band resorts to using questionable lyrics for shock value (as on “Short and Curlies” and “She’s Got You By the Balls”), then you know they were just biding time in the studio. “Fingerprint File” has a funky break in the middle where Jagger goes into his whisper/rap mode, and the song rambles on for far too long. It tends to make you cringe.
Nevertheless, if you are a casual fan of the band and want something worthwhile from their 1970s catalog, I’d recommend adding It’s Only Rock and Roll to your collection. This is the second remastered version of this album, and the sound is greatly enhanced. Much of the Rolling Stones catalog was previously remastered by Virgin Records in 1994, and although it was a needed upgrade from the original compact discs issued by CBS, technology has vastly improved since that time.
This second remastering from the Universal Music Group adds more clean separation of the guitars, tighter bass on the bottom end, and louder drums. It also leaves more space for the vocals to stand out. Of course, there is a bit more compression, but the overall sound is more balanced. The guitars seem more powerful. The band could have made this package a bit more interesting by providing additional liner notes, pictures, and perhaps some bonus tracks—as they are doing for the reissue of Exile on Main Street—but don't let that stop you from picking this up. Go for it.