Virgin Records, 1978
REVIEW BY: Bruce Rusk
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/07/2005
I'm not what you call a big Stones fan. I always considered them a band that cut great singles, but lacked the ability to create albums that stood out on the whole the way their contemporaries (for example, the Beatles and the Who) were able to do. Through the years I have loved many of their songs, but the albums themselves I found wanting. Always a few tasty tracks, but always that measure of inconsistency as well. "Satisfaction," "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and "Gimme Shelter" for example, are great songs. If they come on the radio I crank them up. In their earlier days they were a fun band to have around, always good for a catchy single. In the new millennium sadly, they are a media commodity to be sold to the highest bidder. But back in 1978 they cut one of their best albums ever (and the only Stones album I own) Some Girls. Jam-packed with bluesy funk (or funky blues if you prefer), dirty-white-boy style electric r&b and gritty humor, SG is a high point in their career -- possibly their most cohesive work, and definitely the most fun album they ever cut.
Ostensively an homage to their adopted home of NYC, it's a watermark of a time when disco brought a dance groove out of many unlikely bands, and punk rock was forcing bands of all genres to strive for a harder, grittier sound. The Stones achieve both on this set. "Miss You" was an unlikely dance hit without suffering from the superficiality of disco. Rockers like "When the Whip Comes Down" and "Respectable" take Chuck Berry-style riffs and rev them up without losing their r&b roots. Musically they never sounded better. Keith Richards, never a virtuoso, was off drugs for the time being, and this is by far his most solid work. Richards and Ron Wood play off each other in equal shares. The Stones always had a sort of simple off-handed guitar style to their arrangements, but here they deftly trade chops back and forth and create a subtly complex sound that together is greater than the sum of its parts.
Oddly, for a band that made its mark with it's early hard rock sounds, the two big hits on Some Girls are both ballads. The opening track "Miss You" became a massive hit. This funky, hypnotic blues number was the perfect vehicle for the boys, in that it's a cool rock song that appealed to the AOR listeners, but the dance crowd loved it as well. "Beast Of Burden" is a touching and surprising straight-up love song. Built around a the beautifully intertwined guitar give-and-take of Wood and Richards, Jagger sings with a depth of feeling a Stones song hadn't shown since "Wild Horses" or "Angie." Professing love while admitting weakness, "I'll never be your beast of burden / My back is broad, but it's hurting." Another ballad, and a true gem on this set is their cover of The Temptations' "Just My Imagination." The Stones rework this classic tear-jerker with a soulful groove, punctuated by Ron Wood's lush county-style licks, muscling up the arrangement without losing the lamenting pain of the lyrics.
On "Respectable" and "When The Whip Comes Down" they stick to their musical roots. "Whip" is as musically simplistic as it gets, which means it works perfectly for the Stones. These guys do their best work when they keep it simple. The stripped-down arrangement is tight and clean, emphasizing the excellent rhythm work of Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman. Jagger manages to infuse the sordid tale of a gay street hustler with wicked sense of humor; "I'm filling a need, yeah, I'm plugging a hole / Momma's so glad I'm not on the dole." On "Respectable" they poke fun at their own celebrity, and their shift from the boys no one would want their daughter to bring home, to being the "must have" guests of the jet-setter cocktail circuit. Ripping through a dead lift from Chuck Berry, Richards and Wood ride the rhythm trading licks back and forth.
The one throwaway track is "Lies," three minutes of pointless rhythm and Mick blabbering incoherently. Even the corny "Far Away Eyes," with its country vibe, sounds better than this. Wood's lazy pedal-steel guitar nicely punctuates "Eyes," which sounds like the Stones parodying themselves parodying a country band. You can't help but get a grin from Mick's mock radio evangelist.
A sleeper track is the gritty "Before I Have To Run." Richards' lead vocal sounds like Bob Dylan with a badger stuck in his windpipe, but it's still a fun track, and is reminiscent of the Kinks' work of the same era. The final chorus could be Keith's eventual epitaph as one of rock's most controversial bad boys; "After all is said and one / I did all right, I had my fun / I will walk before they make me run."
"Shattered" is the climactic closer. This groove-infected track is a blast of joyous nonsense, driven by a Bill Wyman's funky bass couplets, and the "Shoo-doo-bee" chorus, with Mick barking out the hilarious lyrics the mock-rap style. A fantastic free-for-all that highlights the Stones ability to adapt and meld their influences into a cohesive and original sound.
This is a rock-solid set and arguably the most cohesive album of their career. They stick to their roots, they play to their strengths, and the whole damn thing works. If you, like me, are a casual Stones fan, then take a tip from Mick; "Go ahead bite the Big Apple (don't mind the maggots)." Take a bite from a time when the fruit was still fresh and sweet for the Stones. If you haven't spun this one, you are missing out on some of the best work of one of rock's most successful bands.