Deep Cuts: The Rolling Stones
Growing up in the ‘80s, I was always familiar with the Rolling Stones, especially their numerous radio hits, many of which have had a great impact on the world of music. In college, I went through a Stones phase that consisted of two purchases: 1) 1989’s three disc Singles Collection: The London Years, and 2) 1984’s one-disc Rewind. Both sets are good – Collection obviously covers more ground from the early years while Rewind focuses on the bigger hits from 1971-1984. Combined, these two collections gave me, the casual Stones fan, an adequate overview of their commercial successes from these years.
It wasn’t until about a year ago that I began my second Stones phase. It started at The Black Watch, a dive bar in Huntington Beach where my rec league basketball team would go to down a few pitchers every Sunday. The jukebox there is fairly eclectic, but focuses mostly on classic rock. Just about every Sunday, I’d hear this Stones song that I had never heard before – and, like a nasty fungus, it grew on me. The song turned out to be “Jigsaw Puzzle,” six minutes of heaven off the 1968 album Beggars Banquet. Soon, it became one of my favorites and it made me wonder, how many other great Stones songs haven’t I heard?
This question prompted me to listen to just about every album cut I could get my hands on and resulted in the creation of an 80-minute CD playlist entitled Deep Cuts. While compiling, my main criteria were that 1) the song was not an established “hit,” and 2) the song had to kick ass. I concentrated mostly on the work done in the ‘60s and the ‘70s as this is widely considered to be the era in which the Stones put out their best stuff.
So, without further adieu, I submit Deep Cuts:
1) “Jigsaw Puzzle” – This beauty is sung from the point of view of a guy working on a jigsaw puzzle in the midst of chaos. A number of different characters wander in and out of the song and it gives the opportunity for lead singer Mick Jagger to comment on the times. I dig the country-blues slide guitar and Jagger’s vocals. It’s a great song to hear after a couple of beers.
2) “Salt of the Earth” – Also off Beggars Banquet, this country-blues track focuses on the everyday man – a rarity for a Stones’ tune from this era. It also features the first vocals (on a Stones album) from guitarist Keith Richards. This underlines the predominate theme of the unassuming common man being thrust into the spotlight.
3) “You Got the Silver” – Found on 1969’s Let It Bleed, this is another of the rare tracks where Richards took over the singing duties. His vocals – and the song – are rough, raw and sincere. “Silver” also features some fine slide guitar.
4) “Midnight Rambler” – Also from Let It Bleed, this song captures the Stones in full-on blues mode. I actually heard this song for the first time when they performed it live at a concert I attended in Memphis, TN. The guitar riff is simple yet infectious. The tempo changes a few times throughout the song, creating a rugged, sexy vibe. For brevity purposes, I had to use the studio version, but the longer live version rocks a bit harder and is worth checking out.
5) “Dead Flowers” – From the 1971 album Sticky Fingers, this is one of the Stones’ few straight-up country songs. In his version of a Southern accent, Jagger moves through lyrics that are both witty and catchy – it won’t be long before you’ll be singing along with this one.
6) “Moonlight Mile” – This gem first appeared to beautifully close the Fingers album. Compared to the first five tracks on Cuts, this song is neither raw nor bluesy. It is an intricate arrangement of acoustic guitar and strings that, put simply, yields a very pretty song.
7) “Sway” – Also from Fingers, this bluesy track meanders a bit at the start but kicks into a higher gear when Jagger wakes up to provide some passionate vocals. There are also a couple of terrific electric guitar solos toward the end. This is a cut that sounds better the louder you play it.
8) “Sister Morphine” – Yet another track from the strong Fingers, this song obviously has heavy drug overtones. It does have a desperate feel to it, but the bluesy guitar will have your head swaying in no time.
9) “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” – The last selection from Fingers, this track has a tremendous bluesy (seeing a trend?) riff that carries the beginning of the song. Halfway through, a jazz jam interlude begins which features some interesting horn and guitar solos.
10) “Rocks Off” – This song opens the classic 1972 album Exile on Main Street in raucous fashion. Horns take center stage as Jagger stumbles in and out of his lyrics. There’s a lot going on in this gem and it’s amazing that it all hung together so well.
11) “Loving Cup” – Also from Exile, this song begins with some pretty Dixie-ish piano before kicking into higher gear. It’s basically a love fest with each instrument having an opportunity to show its stuff.
12) “Shine a Light” – This Exile tune has a gospel feel combining an organ, somewhat spiritual lyrics, and choir-like backup singers. The result is a gritty upbeat mix that should provide your soul fix for the day.
13) “Drift Away” – Mentor Williams wrote it. Dobie Gray made it popular. Uncle Cracker tried to ruin it. But the best version that I’ve heard was recorded in 1974 but wasn’t released until 1991 when it appeared on the Stones’ Greatest Rarities, Vol. 1. Jagger is in the spotlight throughout the song and seems to be soulfully putting his all into it. We should thank the Stones for saving this song.
14) “Memo From Turner” – The only Cuts track taken from the 1975 outtake compilation Metamorphosis, “Memo” was originally written (and recorded by non-Stones) for a movie Jagger appeared in called Performance. Later, the Stones recorded this bluesy version that features some wonderful slide guitar.
15) “Memory Motel” – Taken from the 1976 album Black and Blue, the title of this soulful ballad was inspired by the real Memory Motel in the seaside town Montauk, NY, where the band was based for a summer, rehearsing at Andy Warhol’s estate. Through the lyrics, Jagger describes his road romances, but seems to always come back to a girl who is “one of a kind” and has “a mind of her own/and she uses it well.” I love that line.
16) “Before They Make Me Run” – Richards takes over on vocals for Cuts’ finale, taken from 1978’s Some Girls. Performed with a defiant garage-rock vibe, the catchy lyrics and the country feel provide an upbeat finish to the Cuts compilation.
In the process of gathering songs for an 80-minute CD, a few songs were considered and left out. If one (or more) of the above songs doesn’t trip your proverbial trigger, here’s a list of songs that missed the cut:
(in no particular order)
Sweet Virginia (Exile on Main Street)
Let It Loose (Exile on Main Street)
If You Can't Rock Me (It's Only Rock and Roll)
Monkey Man (Let It Bleed)
Stray Cat Blues (Beggars Banquet)
If you think I’ve left anything out, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m happy to hear your suggestions and maybe discover a great new song or two along the way.