Today I’m going to write about an album that I’d almost forgotten about, until a few weeks ago. Over the years, I’ve bought more albums than I care to remember. Some I love and listen to constantly, others are filed away, and hardly ever see the light of day again. Some Girls by the Rolling Stones falls into the latter category. I’d almost forgotten buying it many years ago, but there it was lurking lonely and unloved in my collection. It was something that happened a couple of weeks ago that made me revisit this album. My friends were away for the day, and I was helping look after their little boy until he went to nursery. Although he’s only three, he loves music, and has done since he was tiny. When he was really young, it was Primal Scream he loved, and when he heard it, he would say “turn it up, turn it up.” So his musical tastes are quite sophisticated for a little guy. Anyway, he decided he wanted music on, so he could play his “drums.” Being a multi-instrumentalist, he sometimes changes to his “guitar.” The radio was put on, and it was The Rolling Stones song Beast of Burden that was playing. This set him off, and he was sitting there, playing away to the Stones. For the duration of the song, he became a three year old guitar hero. A mini Keith Richards or Ron Wood, albeit without the bad habits. My only worry, was that he might become a bass player. Mind you Peter Hook has done not bad playing the bass. Later that evening, I decided to dig out Some Girls, and have a listen to it. This set me thinking that maybe, it was time to reevaluate the album, and see just how good the album is. Before doing that, I’ll look at the background to the album, and what was going on then, with The Rolling Stones.

Some Girls was an album that was recorded quite quickly. During two sessions between October and December 1977 and between January and March 1978, in the Pathe Marconi Studios, in Paris. This was a worrying time for the band, as Keith Richards had been arrested for possession of heroin in Toronto, Canada in early 1977. This meant he faced the possibility of being jailed for many years. 

Another problem was the arrival of punk rock. Groups like The Rolling Stones were accused of being musical dinosaurs, by many of these new “musicians.” Ironically, many of the same punks had previously loved much of the Stones music, especially their music from the 1960s’ and early 1970s’. Back then, the group were like rock ‘n’ roll outlaws, during the recording of albums like Exile On Main Street. Times however, had changed, and instead, were the target of criticism and abuse from the punks. The only piece of good news for them, was that Ron Wood had now been confirmed as an official member of the band. Some Girls would be his first album as a member of the band.

It was a very different band that reconvened for the recording sessions. For the first time since the recording of Beggars Banquet in 1968, it would be just the band that would play on the album. This meant that it would just be Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, Bill Wyman and recruit, Ron Wood. A few other musicians added saxophone, keyboards and harmonica. 

Due to Keith’s problems in Canada, Mick Jagger wrote many of the songs on Some Girls. After the criticism and abuse from the punks, he felt reenergized. Instead getting involved in a verbal sparring match with them, he decided to answer their criticisms through the lyrics on the songs on the Some Girls. Obviously, this seemed a good idea, but one of the lyrics on the album provoked accusations of racism. When you hear the lyric, it’s a horrible, crude and despicable racist lyric. When Jesse Jackson criticized the lyric, Jagger tried to explain it away as a parody of racist attitudes. Another of his responses that if you couldn’t take a joke, then it was too bad. Obviously, that wasn’t the most intelligent thing to say, making a bad situation even worse.

Much of Jagger’s inspiration came from the punk and disco scenes that were emerging in London, Paris and New York. London provided punk, New York and Paris disco, Latin music and various other types of dance music. All of this, contributed towards influencing Jagger when he wrote the songs on Some Girls.

On its release, the album was well received by critics, gaining good reviews. Some critics called it their best album since Exile On Main Street in 1972. Commercially, the album was a massive success. Some Girls reached number two in the UK, and number one in the US. It became The Rolling Stones biggest selling album. In the US alone, it was certified platinum six times over. Having told you the background to the album, I’ll reevaluate the album, to ascertain how good an album it really is.

Some Girls begins with Miss You, the first single taken from the album. It reached number one in the Billboard Hot 100, and number three in the UK singles charts. Its influence is disco and blues. This is apparent from the start, which has a moody bass playing, accompanied by guitars. Later drums and a really bluesy harmonica plays. Disco provides the beat for the track, and Jagger’s vocal sits above the rest of the arrangement, and rest of the band provide near falsetto backing vocals. The rhythm section provide the tracks stars, providing the tracks heartbeat. Bill Wyman’s bass playing is brilliant, it’s slow and plodding sitting prominently in the mix. As the song progresses, Jagger’s vocal is charismatic, one minute nearly whispering, the next soaring confidently. Richards and Woods guitar playing combines perfectly, complimenting Wyman’s bass playing. Adding the finishing touch, is a saxophone which occasionally rasps, and the reentry of the bluesy harmonica. Overall, it’s a brilliant track to open the album, demonstrating that dinosaurs are indeed extinct.

When you hear the start of When the Whip Comes Down, a rocky track maybe slightly influenced by punk in parts. It starts with a mixture of drums and guitar, a retro rocky sound apparent straight away. It’s Jagger’s vocal, and backing vocals provided by the rest of the group that maybe have been influenced by punk. There’s an anger in both Jagger’s vocal and the backing vocals. The remainder of the track sees The Rolling Stones do what they do best, rock ‘n’ roll. Here, it’s a three pronged attack on guitar. Wood, Richards and Jagger combine masterfully, their guitar playing the highlight of the track. Sometimes, they combine, other times, brilliant solos can be heard. Together the band produce a powerful sound, with Jagger’s vocal almost screaming towards the end. What always amazed me about this track, was it was only ever released as the b-side to a single. Although not as good as the opening track, it’s still a really good track, with Jagger’s vocal and the guitar playing the highlights of the track.

Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me) sees the Stones interpret an old soul classic. I’m sure Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong never envisaged the song they cowrote being sung and played like this. This is a song I’ve always loved, and when I first heard the track I was really unsure about this version. For me, The Temptations version was the definitive version. More recently, Terry Callier covered the track beautifully, producing a very sympathetic version. Here, the Stones version is very different. It begins with a guitar solo accompanied by drums. The sound is loud. Likewise, when Jagger sings, his voice is way too loud for the song. Sometimes he’s almost growling, totally different from the original. By now, the arrangement is much fuller, much louder, again, totally different from The Temptations original. Having said that, the guitar playing is really good, the drumming likewise. However, sometimes the guitars scream and soar, solos emerge played really well. The arrangement is really good, everyone plays brilliantly, but I’ve two problems with this version of the song. Jagger’s vocal is too loud, and unsympathetic to the song. My other problem is the original. The Temptations version is brilliant. Any other version will only ever be second best. What I will say, is that it’s an interesting interpretation of a classic song.

The song which provoked the controversy regarding racism, Some Girls is next. It’s a guitar and ultra bluesy harmonica that open the track. Jagger’s voice is much better, singing the lyrics much slower. Quickly, the arrangement gets much fuller, guitars soar, screaming, drums are pounded and Jagger’s vocal gets higher. At this point, a glorious rocky track is emerging. By now the track has slowed down, Jagger sings slowly, it’s guitar solos aplenty that emerge out of your speakers. They’ve really found their A-game, and are playing brilliantly. Then they spoil it all. That horrible odious lyrics appears. It’s a blot on the landscape and although clearly, the Stones are back in form, and were still relevant as band, by uttering that horrible racist lyric, they spoil an otherwise good track.

Lies is another track that has a quicker tempo and much fuller sound. It’s a near frantic start to the track that greets the listener. From the start, the track bursts into life, guitars and drums combining. The sound is both loud and the tempo fast. Jagger almost shouts the lyrics, as the band play. Again, Richard and Woods’ guitar playing is brilliant. Here, the band let loose, and really rock, the drums and guitars driving the song along. It’s a potent combination, with Jagger vocal loud, shouting the lyrics. In the end, it’s one of the best songs on the album, and again, demonstrates that in 1978, the Stones were far from a spent force.

Far Away Eyes, begins with a sound that’s straight out of Nashville, complete with a steel guitar almost weeping during the track. The arrangement is brilliant, has a really lovely laid back sound and feel. It’s a pedal steel guitar that plays at the start of the track, accompanied by drums played slowly and subtly.  Mick Jagger’s starts off by half speaking, half singing, the lyrics, although is faux American accent jars somewhat in places. Once he starts to sing his vocal is much better. However, the highlight is the pedal steel guitar accompanying him. It’s played brilliantly by Keith, and the addition of the piano really adds the finishing touches to the arrangement. Completing the package are the lyrics. After the spoken word part, they’re really good, some of the album’s best. Together, this combination makes a really good song, one that’s very different to the rest of the album.

As I hear the start to Respectable, it’s like being back in 1978, when this song was on the radio constantly, and I even remembering buying the single. From the opening bars, the Stones head into familiar rocky territory. It’s bass and drums that open the track, then chiming guitars. Mick’s vocal is one of the best on Some Girls. It’s strong, snarling at times, loud and quick. Thereafter, the track drives along, a menacing mixture of drums, bass and the magical three pronged attack on guitar from Richards, Woods and Jagger. Their playing is the highlight of the track, some brilliant solos emerge, one particularly, reminds me of Chuck Berry, one of Keith’s heroes. Charlie Watts drumming shouldn’t be underestimated, as it plays a huge part in the success of the track. Overall, everyone plays their part in making this a brilliant track. Thirty-three years later, Respectable still sounds just as good, as back in 1978.

A familiar sound opens Before They Make Me Run, it’s that familiar chiming guitar sound. One surprise awaits though. Here, Keith takes over the lead vocal. His voice is very different to Mick’s. Although, it lacks the power and strength of Mick’s, it’s full of character, if a bit weak sounding on this track. Behind him, the band make up for this, providing a fulsome backing track, with guitars aplenty, that are loud and powerful, chiming brightly. Drums sit way forward in the mix, and combined with the guitars, provide the mainstay of the track. However, although the band play really well, Keith’s vocal lets the song down for me. Maybe if the rest of the arrangement wasn’t so loud and powerful, his voice wouldn’t sound as weak. To me, his voice is overpowered by the rest of the arrangement.

My favorite song on Some Girls has always been Beast of Burden. Much as I like Respectable, this one is even better. Here the band slow things way down, and in the process, produce one of their best tracks in forty years, at least. As the track opens, a guitar plays in the distance, then, it move forward in the mix, producing a bright melodic sound. Drums join in, they too, playing really slowly. When Mick sings, he sings slowly, getting into the lovely laid back vibe the band are creating. Sometimes, they increase the tempo and volume. Mostly, the song meanders beautifully, Charlie’s drums the tracks backdrop. Again, the stars are Keith and Ron, their guitar playing masterful. Occasionally, Mick whoops, the rest of the band sing falsetto whooping backing vocals. By the end, you realize that this was The Rolling Stones back to their best, producing a tremendous track that saw them roll back the years.

Some Girls closes with Shattered, which opens with drums and guitars and Mick’s vocal loud, sometimes, complete with exaggerated mid-Atlantic accent. During the song, he resorts to shouting the vocal. Meanwhile, Keith and Ron play some great guitar solos, drums pounding and the bass plods along. Handclaps punctuate the track, the occasional whoop completing the sound. One thing that lets the song down is the lyriscs. They’re far from the strongest on the album, and have a throwaway nature, like something you’d consign to the b-side of a single. By the end, I’ve similar feelings about Shattered than I had about Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me). Similarly, the band play really well, but it’s the vocal and the lyrics that lets the track down. For me, it’s a disappointing end to what has been a good album by the band.

This has been like a trip down memory lane listening to Some Girls. Listening to it, it took me back over thirty years, to when I first heard the album, and reminded me of things that were happening back then. One of the things that was happening back then was punk. The Rolling Stones were being labelled as dinosaurs by the punks, who were the new “angry young men” of music, much like the Stones in the early sixties. Some Girls went a long way to proving that they were still a relevant musical force. It also proved that dinosaurs were long extinct, because back then, they were far from being musical dinosaurs. On the album, are some great tracks, and many critics thought that this was their best album since Exile On Main Street in 1972. Personally, I think Exile On Main Street is a far superior album, but having said that, Some Girls was a welcome return to form from the band. What’s ironic thirty-three years on, is that millions of people remember this album, but the names of many of the punk bands will long have slipped their memory. I always am reminded of a Johnny Rotten quote which I think best describes the punk movement “ ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?” Standout Tracks: Miss You, Respectable, Lies and Beast of Burden. 


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