Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Bill Wyman, and Charlie Watts returned to Munich, Germany to record the songs for what would form the foundation of the Black and Blue album. The Rolling Stones had been reduced to a quartet with the defection of Mick Taylor. A number of different guitarists would fill his shoes on this album and ultimately Keith’s friend, Ron Wood, would become his permanent replacement.
Black and Blue would be the beginning of The Rolling Stones adapting to the musical styles of the day. This album would find them drifting toward 70s classic rock. Is it a great album? The answer is no. Is this album a bad album? Again, the answer is no. It is an album which contains no real weak or strong cuts and in many ways deserves to be somewhat overlooked and forgotten in their catalogue.
“Hot Stuff” kicks the album into gear with some fine guitar interplay between Harvey Mandel and Keith Richards. Billy Preston’s piano provides a nice background for the guitar work. Still, the song structure, while catchy, is ultimately average disco at best.
“Hand Of Fate” is a vintage Rolling Stones tune. Wayne Perkins provides the guitar work here and it seems he was Jagger’s choice to replace Taylor but was overruled by Richards who went with comfortability over virtuosity. Again, it is Billy Preston’s keyboards that fill in the sound.
The seven minute “Memory Motel” is a country type ballad and tells a poignant story. Both Jagger and Richards seem totally invested in the song and particularly the vocals. This was a fairly unique outing for the Rolling Stones and has unfortunately disappeared in the rock ‘n’ roll mists.
“Cherry Oh Cherry” finds a future band member providing the lead guitar licks. While this is at best an average reggae song, it finds Ron Wood providing some creative guitar work for the first time. Interestingly, he would remain on salary until the early 1990s. He would only receive a percentage after that time because Wyman, Watts, and Richards would out vote Jagger.
“Hey Negrita” shows the band heading in a disco funk direction. While there would be more successful tunes of this type in the future, it was not a direction I enjoyed.
Arif Mardin brings his horn sound to “Melody.” This is one of the weaker songs on the album and years later Bill Wyman stated that Billy Preston had actually penned the tune. Just a little too gospel for them and ultimately a throwaway.
The lead single from the album was “Fool To Cry.” It reached number ten on the American charts, and finds Mick Jagger straining to be sincere. He accompanies himself on the piano and ultimately drives the song to a somewhat boring conclusion.
“Crazy Mama” brings this eight song album to a close and is a strong tune that leaves the listener with hope for the future. Richards and Wood intertwine their guitars successfully in this hard rocking tune with Charlie Watts booming drums in support. This song is The Rolling Stones at their best.
Black and Blue was another commercial success for the Stones. It would spend four weeks at the top of the American charts and quickly sell one million copies. The Stones, however, were living on past successes as the album had little focus and for the most part even less passion. It would be two years before The Rolling Stones would released another studio album.