By R. David
In the mid-seventies, New York City was caught in a downward spiral. The city was in financial disarray, the streets were full garbage, crime and rats, record heat caused roving blackouts, and a serial killer known as the Son of Sam had people in a panic. All of this led to hot tempers and hot times in the original Sin City. People still fled to discos and drugs to escape the heat, both literally and figuratively. Disco and punk were heating up the airwaves and ushering in a new crop of musical styles. Traditional rock and roll was on the outs, which also meant a lot of the legendary rock bands from the last decade or two were beginning to be thought of as old hat (the ones that still existed and didn’t lose key players to drug-related deaths, anyway). Nevermind that many of them were still only in their 30s.
Such was the case with The Rolling Stones. Arguably the greatest rock and roll band in the world at the the beginning of the ’70s, the Stones suffered a string of albums that were each less successfully received than the last over the course of the decade. By 1978 they found themselves fighting for a comeback at time when the very style of music they made was in need of a comeback. Add to this that the band would possibly be disbanded within a few months if guitarist Kieth Richards received the maximum prison sentence for heroin possession with intent to distribute he was currently facing in Vancouver, and it becomes clear that the Stones had everything riding on “Some Girls”.
Fast-forward nearly 35 years and the album is considered a bona-fide classic, arguably the Stone’s last. It became their biggest-selling album in the U.S., with 6 million-plus copies moved, and pulled the band back from the brink of obscurity. Though a magnificent record by any measure, when put in the context of New York, the American music scene, and the inner turmoil that plagued the band at the time, “Some Girls” is a fascinating snapshot of – and soundtrack to – a very particular, very chaotic moment in time. It’s all there in the music; from the disco-infused swagger of “Miss You” (which, perhaps in hindsight predictably, went straight to number 1), to the sloppy punk sass of “When the Whip Comes Down” and “Respectable”, to the venomous blood lust of “Shattered” (“Go ahead, bite the Big Apple/Don’t mind the maggots.”); every issue, every influence the band was wrestling with at the time. Perhaps most candid is “Before They Make Me Run,” a none-too-subtle lament on Keith Richards’ legal woes. Sung by Keith and set to a jaunty bar band groove that is tonally at odds with its lyrics of a party animal being run out of town after over-staying his welcome, “Run” is perhaps the album’s best, if most underrated, track.
All of the songs, “Shattered” and “… Make Me Run” in particular, gain a new depth when listening to them with the events of 1978 in mind. Listeners who discovered the album – or were born – decades later no doubt enjoy the album as a diverse collection of extremely accessible genre exercises, which it is, but that merely skims the surface. All of these songs cut much deeper when you consider their context. However, whether you’re just in it for the music or hope to gain a deeper insight into one of the Stones’ best albums, you’ll be glad to know the album has never sounded better. Like a lot of seventies albums – and a lot of Stones albums – “Some Girls” always sounded rather cold and muddy on CD. More often than not the guitars drowned out the vocals and there was rarely the appropriate (or desired) separation between instruments allowing each one to pop where necessary. The remaster corrects a lot of these wrongs. “… Make Me Run” in particular is a revelation and one gains a new-found appreciation for the effortless sway of “Beast of Burden”, perhaps the album’s most endearing and enduring track, as if hearing it for the first time. The title track, with its controversial lyrics that drew protests at the time, is another sonic highlight.
The “Some Girls” reissue, is being released in various configurations, from a lavish (and expensive) boxset to a 2-disc set with the remastered original album and a second disc of outtakes, similar to last year’s “Exile on Main Street” reissue. While the material on the second disc essentially proves that the Stones made the right call with in what made the cut and what didn’t, the outtakes are an interesting glimpse at what could have been. A good majority of them, for instance, are country songs and the rest are traditional blues/rock homages. Only one country song made the final album line-up (“Far Away Eyes”), and its nearly a parody of classic country music, and there are no rockin’ blues numbers to be found. Its rather amazing that an album as diverse – and successful – as “Some Girls” could have been so radically different. No one can be certain, of course, but it seems safe to say that if they were to have released the songs that make up this bonus disc as their album in ’78, we probably wouldn’t be revisiting it now, and we may not even still be talking about the Stones themselves. That’s not to say there aren’t a handful of fun, well-written, even rockin’ tracks among the outtakes (“Claudine”, “So Young”, “Do You Think I Really Care”, and “Keep Up Blues” are the standouts to these ears), and die hard fans and completests will be elated to finally have professionally released versions of these oft-bootlegged tracks; but none of them jump out as something that should have been traded for a song that made it on the album instead.
Whether because they knew they had to fight to stay relevant, because they wanted to get as many tunes in the can in case Keith ended up in jail for years to come, or if they were just inspired and on a creative roll, the Stones were especially productive during the “Some Girls” sessions, churning out over 50 tracks that were never released (some, including a few on the bonus disc here, never finished). None of those shelved cuts that have emerged over the years, however, has been able to make a case that the album would have been better with its inclusion.
Which just goes to show – if there were still any doubt – “Some Girls” is one perfect damn record.
Key Tracks: Before They Make Me Run, Beast of Burden, Shattered, Some Girls.