The first Rolling Stones song I ever heard was on a record my older brother bought home when I was eight years old – “Top of the Pops 1969”. The album had great classics like I Heard it through the Grapevine (Marvin Gaye), Something in the Air (Thunderclap Newman), Bad Moon Rising (CCR), Where Do You Go To? (Peter Sarstedt), and Honky Tonk Women (The Stones). It also had the Beatles (Ob-La-Di), Elvis (In the Ghetto), Bobby Gentry (I’ll Never Fall in Love Again), Zager and Evans (In the Year 2525) and fillers like Sugar, Sugar (the Archies). I was way too young to understand what the song was about, but what caught my attention was Charlie’s cowbell and drum roll intro. I still think Honky Tonk Women has one of the best guitar-driven rhythms and licks in the rock and roll era. And now I get the lyrics.
The first album I ever bought was on my fifteenth birthday (1976) – Get Yer Ya-Yas Out – The Stones live from Madison Square Gardens at the end of their 1969 US tour, and just before the infamous and tragic Altamont festival. There was Charlie on the front cover with an ‘interesting’ T-Shirt. It was years before I ‘got’ the shirt and the title, even though I was a teenage boy. Slow, I guess. During the concert Charlie was doing a few drum rolls at the end of a song and Mick said, “Charlie’s good tonight, innt ‘e?” before launching into their brand new single – Honky Tonk Women.
I was a Stones fanatic when I was young, and still enjoy their music. Charlie was eclipsed, of course, by Mick and Keith, but interestingly, at their concerts it seems he gets the biggest cheer of all when the band is introduced. The quiet type.
The Stones are touring the US again in the Fall and Charlie was already going to miss it, recovering from surgery. He’s still going to miss it. I guess the tour will likely go ahead, but with a memorial to Charlie included. The Stones website, though, doesn’t yet have an update. They won’t be the same without Charlie.
I am saddened, which is interesting to me. I never met him or knew him and yet somehow, he has been a part of my life’s story. Goodbye Charlie, and thanks.
It’s been a long time between drinks for Stones fans—eleven years. So when I heard a couple of months ago that a new album was on the way, I knew I would be getting it.
Blue & Lonesome must be the most uncommercial album the Rolling Stones have ever produced; uncommercial in the sense that it has no typical signature songs, no “generic Rolling Stones Rockers,” no attempt at writing a hit or a melodious ballad, in fact, no Jagger-Richards tunes at all. It is an album entirely of covers, old blues songs that take the Stones back to the music of their youth, the music that inspired them then, that got them going, and evidently, still inspires them now.
The Stones have always played covers. Their debut album in early 1964 had fourteen tracks, eleven of them covers, and only Tell Me somewhat memorable. The second album, 12 x 5, had five originals only one of them somewhat memorable. Their third album had four originals including the quite memorable Heart of Stone, a promise of things to come. In 1965 the Jagger-Richards song-writing team hit their stride first with The Last Time, then Satisfaction. Every song on the 1966 Aftermath was an original; same with the 1967 Between the Buttons. The great Stones albums were those from 1968 to 1972, from Beggars Banquet (their best album, in my view) through to Exile on Main Street (the album generally considered their best). On each the band covered an old blues song: Prodigal Son, Love in Vain, You Gotta Move (not a very good arrangement; go to the Love You Live version for searing guitars and blues piano), and two on the double-album: Shake Your Hips and Stop Breaking Down. There were Motown covers and a reggae cover on the mid-late 70s albums.
Love You Live (1977) was a double-live album with one side entirely composed of old blues covers. Their live concerts often included a blues number, whether Little Red Rooster, I Just Want to Make Love to You, or Champagne and a Reefer. “The blues had a baby and they called it rock ‘n’ roll,” said Muddy Waters, who also gave the Stones their name. Maybe the Rolling Stones were mid-wives.
This was not a record the band had planned on making. According to [Don] Was [the producer], “We were recording some new songs and we just hit a wall on this one particular track. We needed to ‘cleanse the palate’ and the ginger for the palate came about when Keith said, ‘Let’s play Blue and Lonesome.’” Thankfully Krish Sharma, who recorded the album, kicked it into record and what you hear is this one and only take of this song. [From the album liner]
Something clicked, and for the next three days they played some more blues songs, recording them without any overdubs, dragging Eric Clapton in to play on two of them (he was in the recording studio next door). The result is a down-to-earth, rough-and-ready collection with Jagger in fine voice, Charlie and Darryl solid as ever, and the guitars weaving, whining and strutting with Keith and Ronnie playing off one another in song after song. It’s swampy. It’s raw. It’s primitive. It could be 1964 all over again, but now with 50+ years behind them. This is the Stones before they were the Stones, the Stones channelling their heroes. This is the Stones now in their twilight simply having fun and making the music they love.
The reviewer for The Times said this was the Stones’ best album since Some Girls. That album, too, was a return to their roots, stripping away the glamour but not the swagger, that attached itself to the band in the mid-70s. I don’t know that I can compare it to any of their albums: it’s very different. It is closer to Blues Blues Blues, the Jimmy Rogers tribute album, that Jagger and Richards both feature on. It’s a blues album, rather than a rock and roll album, but unmistakably, the Rolling Stones.
“I like it, like it, yes I do.”
Only thing I want to know now is when the next album will be out, the one they were actually trying to record. Perhaps it will never see the light of day. But one can hope…
The heroes of my adolescence were in town and on the news all last week. I was introduced to the Stones when I was about eight or nine years old and my elder brother came home with “Top of the Pops 1969.” Tracks I remember include the Beatles Ob-La-Di, CCR Green River, Elvis In the Ghetto, Thunderclap Newman Something in the Air, Peter Sarstedt Where Do You Go To My Lovely? and The Archies Sugar, Sugar. My favourite track was probably Elvis in those days, but I was intrigued by the cowbell at the start of Honky Tonk Women. Soon after my brother bought High Tide and Green Grass and I was hooked—on the music, not the grass—I always wondered, in those days, what on earth the title meant. Nevertheless, Little Red Rooster, Satisfaction, Get Off of My Cloud, As Tears Go By, Paint it Black…somehow the music worked its way into my soul. As did the band.
This week, of course, has been tragic for them, for Mick Jagger particularly. The death of his long time partner L’Wren Scott has rocked his world, not in the usual sense. I have read a fair bit of the coverage and came across a quote which led me to an old New York TimesMagazine article. Speaking, at that time, about his relationship with L’Wren, Mick said, “I don’t really subscribe to a completely normal view of what relationships should be,” he says. “I have a bit more of a bohemian view.” We probably all know what he means.
But I was interested. Recently, in our Christian Worldview class, we watched a short segment on early English Bohemians from Alain De Botton’s Status Anxiety. He toured Charleston, the home of the “Bloomsbury Group” in the 1920 and 30s who experimented with new forms of lifestyle. It was the home of author and artist Vanessa Bell, sister of Virginia Woolf. De Botton describes Bohemia as “a way of looking at the world; Bohemia is not a place, it is a state of mind. And what that state of mind boils down to is a sense of independence and freedom, a commitment to live by your own values.” He suggests that it was a “secular replacement for Christianity in a time when Christianity was waning.” It provided a spiritual rather than material way of evaluating ourselves.
De Botton’s explanation is both helpful and unhelpful. He is helpful when describing the Bohemian state of mind, and correct in identifying it as “secular.” He is less than helpful in describing Bohemia as “spiritual.” He uses the term in contrast to material or external modes of thought, and thereby emphasises the internal motivations and disposition of those who practice a Bohemian lifestyle. We should note that this kind of interiority has nothing to do with biblical forms of spirituality. When Paul speaks of those who are “spiritual” (e.g. 1 Corinthians 2:15), he invariably means those whose lives are under the influence and direction of the Holy Spirit. This, of course, is utterly distinct from a self-generated sense of independence and freedom, or a commitment to live by one’s own values.
De Botton interviewed Vanessa Bell’s granddaughter, Virginia Nicholson, who said that the Bloomsbury Group “believed in truth, true living and true loving. They rejected the bourgeois values of the age, and everything the bourgeoisie stood for. … Experimentation was of the essence here. It was about breaking the rules and giving themselves a sense of validation by doing that.” She suggested we should be grateful for the way in which her forebears broke through stultifying traditions so that we enjoy the kinds of social freedoms we take for granted today. “In a curious way,” she said, “We are all bohemians now.”
What do you think: Are we all Bohemians now?
In many ways Virginia Nicholson is right: we are all bohemians now, those of us, at least, who live in western liberal democracies. Perhaps not to the extent of the Bloomsbury Group or Mick Jagger, but bohemian nonetheless. Bohemian values have gone mainstream, so that our culture too, believes in truth, true living and true loving, so long as this is understood as being true to oneself. The sexual and interpersonal experimentation that lay close to the centre of the Bloomsbury experiment is widespread and accepted today, encouraged as a means of personal fulfilment and discovery. The self has become the centre of value.
Perhaps Nicholson’s most telling phrase is “giving themselves a sense of validation.” Bohemia was indeed a secular replacement for Christianity, though not in the way De Botton thinks. At the heart of Christian faith is justification, freely offered on the basis of the saving death of Jesus. This is divine validation given by God to those who turn to God through Jesus Christ in humble and repentant faith. To be justified is to be forgiven, accepted by and restored to God, and granted a new status before God and all creation. Justification addresses the deepest and most fundamental of human needs: right relationship with God, and then consequently, with self and with others. That Bohemians would seek to validate themselves is indicative of the depth of this sense of need in the human psyche.
The bourgeoisie and the Bohemians both sought validation, the bourgeoisie through their respectability, the Bohemians through their defiance of respectability. In both cases their sense of validation was self-grounded and culturally supported. In many ways their choice of life was a variation on the same theme: the all-too-human attempt to justify ourselves and so to free ourselves from God.
Christians too, can fall into this trap, substituting some kind of self-validation for the validation that comes only from God. They might align with the bourgeoisie and seek their validation in respectability, or perhaps they reject the values of the bourgeois culture and practice a form of life they hope will bring the divine tick of approval. Both approaches will ultimately fail; our only hope of genuine freedom and authenticity is seek our justification in Christ alone.
Yet whatever gain I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. (Philippians 3:7-9)