1978 was a curious time for the self-proclaimed “greatest rock and roll band in the world.” For the very first time in their at-the-time still young history, the Rolling Stones position as rock’s top dogs — and more importantly, their continuing relevance — was under serious challenge.
The Stones had, up until this time, weathered all of the shifting winds of rock’s constantly changing trends — from psychedelia in the ’60s, to early ’70s glam rock and beyond.
Where other, less resilient bands fell by the wayside during these periods of volatile change, the Stones maintained their status on top mostly by staying true to their roots.
Even as they paid lip service to the trends of the day — with a touch of ’60s hippie chic here, or a little bit of eye shadow there — the Stones never strayed far from their traditions as a raw and earthy rock and roll band with one foot firmly planted in the blues, by way of Chuck Berry and Robert Johnson.
But late ’70s punk rock was something else, even for a band as mighty, and firmly entrenched as the Rolling Stones.
Even as bands like the Sex Pistols and The Jam were mostly updating the original ’60s audacious outrage of the Stones and The Who for a younger ’70s audience, they were also making an equal point of ridiculing their rock and roll elders as aging, over-the-hill dinosaurs.
In some respects, the taunts were deserved too. The Stones in particular had become ridiculously rich and out-of-touch rock star tax exiles, filling stadiums while largely coasting on such past glories as their last great album, 1972′s Exile On Main Street.
But the Stones did take notice, and responded to the punks in kind with 1978′s Some Girls album and tour. Still regarded by some fans as the Stones’ last great album (although personally, I’d go with 1981′s Tattoo You), Some Girls is largely perceived even today as a “Keith album” because of its rawer, back to basics approach.
Except, it’s really not.
Some Girls in fact, is an album that belongs every bit as much to Mick Jagger as it does to Keith Richards. For every Keith Richards powered riff-rocker like “When The Whip Comes Down” or punk inspired, stripped down quickie like “Shattered,” Mick Jagger’s stamp is equally felt on songs like the New York club disco of “Miss You.” Combine these two highly combustible elements with Motown covers like “Just My Imagination” and the Texas redneck country feel of “Far Away Eyes,” and Some Girls is an easy candidate for the most diverse album of the Stones’ career.
Speaking of Texas though, one of the most pleasant surprises of this past week’s flood of Some Girls reissues is the 1978 Stones tour document Some Girls Live In Texas ’78, out on DVD and Blu-ray from Eagle Rock Entertainment.
There are still those Stones fans out there who swear that the 1978 Some Girls tour was one of their best, and up until now I’ve always wondered why.
I never actually saw the Stones on this tour (Seattle was somewhat strangely bypassed). But based on my own admittedly limited exposure — some ’78 Stones tour pictures and film of a ridiculous looking “punk” Mick Jagger in his red cap and “Destroy” T-shirt, and a Saturday Night Live TV appearance where Jagger’s voice was shot, and the band sounded like shit — I was not impressed.
That original SNL appearance is included as one of the extras on the new Some Girls Live In Texas ’78 DVD, and the Stones suck every bit as much here as I remember then. Other extras include interview footage of the Stones with Geraldo Rivera on ABC’s 20/20 from 1978, and an eye-opening new interview with Mick Jagger conducted this year. Jagger is uncharacteristically candid in his comments here.
But the actual 1978 Texas Stones concert, filmed at the Will Rogers Memorial Center in Fort Worth, is nothing short of jaw-dropping amazing. As Stones concert films go — and there are something like a zillion of them out there — this one ranks pretty near the top of the pile.
The setlist, which leans heavily on the Some Girls album, with a choice selection of older songs mixed in, isn’t the best. But the performance, start to stop, is one which captures the Stones — stripped of the excesses of their stadium tours — eager to once again claim their crown as the greatest rock and roll band in the world. They succeed beyond all expectations.
Simply put, The Rolling Stones are on fire here.
Ron Wood, playing on his first tour as a full band member (Wood was still officially “on loan” to the Stones from Rod Stewart and the Faces on the band’s previous 1975 tour), sounds particularly fierce on guitar. His interplay with Jagger is also a lot of fun (if occasionally a little weird), as Mick does everything from grabbing Wood’s crotch, to snatching the ever-present dangling cigarette from his mouth.
Jagger himself adds guitar (although it is barely heard in the mix), when he isn’t busy with his pointing, waving, and running in place moves, or adding the new line “Jimmy Page was all the rage” to “Star, Star” (a.k.a “Starfucker”). Keith Richards, in perhaps the last Rolling Stones tour where he still looked like more of a rock star than a half-dead zombie pirate, also sounds great here.
But the often-overlooked rhythm section of Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts are the real stars here. Watts drumming is rock-steady throughout, especially when he kicks things into overdrive at the end with “Brown Sugar” and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.”
But it is Wyman’s unsung bass playing which really powers the funk grooves of “Beast Of Burden,” “Just My Imagination” and especially “Miss You.” Combined with Watts’ drums, and the keyboards of Ian Stewart and Ian McLagan, the pocket here is so deliciously deep and funky you could literally marinate a pulled pork sandwich with it.
This week’s other big Stones reissue is the deluxe edition of the Some Girls album itself. Outside of serving as a reminder that, again, Some Girls is a far more diverse record than its reputation as a stripped down “Keith album” suggests, the remixes of the original songs add little to the memory of the original 1978 release. They do however, still sound pretty great.
However, the bonus tracks suggest that Some Girls could also have made a decent double album. Songs like “Claudine,” “Tallahassee Lassie” and “So Young” have a great basic rock and roll feel, while the bluesier tracks like “When You’re Gone” and “Keep Up Blues” recall the harp fueled, darker feel of Exile On Main Street castoffs like “Ventilator Blues.” Keith Richards also turns in a rarely tuneful vocal on the country-sweet “We Had It All.”
Above all, this week’s Some Girls reissues capture the Rolling Stones during a pivotal crossroads that may well prove to be the last great creative spark from the greatest rock and roll band in the world.