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Music Review: The Rolling Stones – Steel Wheels

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Three years had passed since the release of Dirty Work and The Rolling Stones were smart to have taken the time off. They gathered in Barbados to record their next album which would become Steel Wheels.  

The relationship between Mick Jagger and Keith Richards was on sound footing. Richards was functioning at a high level and would again become Mick Jagger’s partner in the studio. Charlie Watts had kicked his addiction and even Ron Wood was mostly sober. Only Bill Wyman missed significant studio time and this was relationship related. The basic tracks for the album were recorded in an intensive two month period with only time off to fly to Cleveland and be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame.

Steel Wheels, for the most part, was a return to a basic guitar based rock ‘n’ roll sound. It would be embraced by their fans and remains a very good effort by The band. The album would reach number 3 on the Billboard charts and quickly sell two million copies.

Three of the first four songs from Steel Wheels are all out rockers. “Sad Sad Sad” is a guitar driven classic that finds Keith playing better than he had in 15 years. Check out the Flashpoint live album to hear this song in all its glory. “Mixed Emotions” was the lead single from the album and continued the Stones rock approach. “Hold On To Your Hat,” with an excellent vocal by Mick Jagger, completed this very welcome rock trilogy. The only problem was the average slow ballad “Terrifying” was misplaced as the third song and interrupted the flow.

There were a number of other highlights from Steel Wheels. “Slipping Away,” with a lead vocal by Keith, was a mature, well constructed song with sophisticated lyrics and shows his surprising growth as a songwriter. “Rock and A Hard Place” is just six minutes of flat out rock ‘n’ roll. “Almost Hear You Sigh” was a nice balled that featured an affecting Jagger vocal.

“Continental Drift” was an oddity on the album but the Stones meant well. Mick, Keith, and Ron flew to Morocco to record the Master Musicians of Jajouka. Brian Jones had recorded them for a never released album back in 1967 and now the group was down on their luck. These recordings would be worked into this song giving it a mid-eastern flavor and some royalty money to the players.

The Rolling Stones would leave on their massive Steel Wheels world tour shortly after the release of the album. They would be on the road for a year and visit 16 countries on three continents. Each of the four Stones was guaranteed 18 million dollars. Good old Ron Wood was still on salary.

I have to fess up that I missed the boat on a legendary Rolling Stones performance. I lived in Connecticut at the time and was a semi- regular attendee at Toads Place in New Haven. The Sons Of Bob were scheduled to be the opening act on August 12, 1989 for a to be named later main act. The Rolling Stones kicked of their tour in front of 700 people who each paid the entrance fee of $3.01.

Steel Wheels was an excellent comeback album for the Stones and provided a positive foundation for their tour. It remains very playable today and shows The Rolling Stones producing relevant rock ‘n’ roll again as the 1980s came to a close.

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About David Bowling

  • http://www.myspace.com/x15 Douglas Mays

    The Stones played at Toad’s Place??!! Way mass cool! I mean, I was there once in the mid-80s when managing the Burning Spear band.

    btw, I agree with your review of Steel Wheels. It is a deceptively good record. Let it sink in.

    best,
    DM

  • thomasG

    WHEELS is excellent commercial Stones album, never to be confused with Golden Era when they played what they wanted and still had great success. The Richards lead on “Sad,Sad,Sad” has never been hit again by him on record. Angular, no “Chuck Berry”, raw, unexpected. Many fine tunes with solid production, “modern sound”. However, IMO, critic is dead wrong with “Rock and a Hard Place”. Very canned except for nice Wood lead guitar bit. 1989 and they came back to make the big bucks.

  • Patrick Crothers

    I remember seeing the Stones on this tour and saying “Now this is the Stones.” Take no prisoners Rock and Roll. Best show since The Billy Preston, Stevie Wonder and Stones show at the L.A. Forum.
    I saw the Stones at the Palace in LA in the 70’s one of those lucky shots. They played for hours for a few thousand lucky people. The Stones still miss the old club environment and I hope someone gets lucky as some of us.
    Good reviews, you have gave me some pearls.

    Patrick

  • http://www.joujouka.net master Musicians of Joujouka

    Brian Jones 40th Anniversary Festival in Joujouka Morocco 29 JULY 2008

    More info music and videos on Myspace

  • Master Musicians of Joujouka

    The Master Musicians of Joujouka present Brian Jones 40th Anniversary Festival Celebrating Brian Jones recording “Brian Jones presents the Pipes of Pan at Joujouka” recorded 29th July 1969.

    Last places booking on http://www.joujouka.net Full board and accomadation in the musicians houses. Feast and a night of Boujeloud (pan) ritual Sufi music.

  • cherie Nutting

    On your list you include an event by The Master Musicians of Joujouka Brian Jones festival.These people are not to be confused with The Master Musicians of jajouka led by Bachir Attar who performed on the Steel Wheels CD or The Pipes of Pan.Please also add Bachir Attar’s name to the piece on the Steel Wheels bit.I was the person responsible for bringing The Stones to record Steele Wheels.For confirmation please contact The Rolling Stones management or read the cd liner notes.

    Thank you.

    Cherie Nutting Manager of The Master Mudsicians of Jajouka with Bachir Attar

  • http://www.myspace.com/mastermusiciansofjoujouka joujouka

    Cherie, [Personal attack deleted by Comments Editor]. Of course the Masters played on the Brian Jones album. The whole Brian Jones 40th Anniversary festival October occurred with Mallim Ali Abdelslam El Attar presiding. At 94 he is the oldest musician surviving from the recording with Brian. The current leader of the Master Musicians of Joujouka Ahmed El Attar is your husband Bachir’s first cousin. Ahmed also played for Brain. Members of the Master Musicians of Joujouka did play on Steel Wheels so please stop. The fact that Bachir is not welcome in Joujouka/Jajouka is his own doing not the musicians of the village. [Personal attack deleted by Comments Editor]