Friday, January 13, 2012

(2nd in a series of) Stepping Stones: "Say It With Certainty"

Song: It’s Only Rock’n’Roll (But I Like It)
Album: It’s Only Rock’n’Roll
Released: October, 1974

1. a feeling or consciousness of one's powers or of reliance on one's circumstances
2.  the quality or state of being certain: “They had every confidence of success”

A long-time USGS colleague of mine, Paul, is the son of a preacher man.  And for the most part he’s done his pulpit Pappy proud: Faith focused; a Ph.D. in groundwater hydrology; very hard worker; lovely family; conscientious; author of countless scientific publications.  Simply put he’s one of the good guys.  Yes, there's plenty of merit there.

Yet there is one thing the good reverend likely struggles to connect to his son’s many qualities:  Paul is a big time Rolling Stones fan. 

Paul and I talk often about the Stones, trying to keep abreast on the latest news around the band by tapping into one another’s sources.  Most recently for example, we’ve pontificated on Keith Richards’ 2010 book, “Life”, and the fallout from Keith’s unbridled and harsh critique of several others in the Stones inner circle. 

Inevitably, though, the conversation will sway to the band’s past, including Paul’s favorite Stones topic: The 1970 live album “Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out!”.   It’s clear he believes this to be the Stones at their boisterous best.  The album is loaded with the atmosphere around the band at that time, which plays out in a number of ways including; song selection; the live interpretation of such; and crowd participation (“paint it black you devils”).  If there’s a take-home message, it’s that you are listening to an event that does not lack in confidence.

Confidence is one thing this lot (The Stones and their fans) has never been short of.   Now, as Paul’s Dad could likely attest in sermon, confidence is not necessarily a virtuous trait. I mean, you can be absolutely confident about something and at the same time be absolutely wrong.  Then again, you can be absolutely right….or somewhere in between.  Regardless, confidence is all encompassing at a Stones show.  Who needs toastmasters and self-esteem seminars when the Rolling Stones role through town every 3 or 4 years. 

The Stones have released a plethora of studio songs throughout their history that over brim with a sense of confidence.  For me the top of that list would have to be It’s Only Rock and Roll (But I Like It).  Why do I find this song to be so confident?  Much of it has to do with what grabbed me in the first place:  The coda.  Rock musicians typically struggle to close a song and so often settle on just getting out alive.  The Stones go the opposite route here:  They do it in style. 

There are 2 riffs introduced during the home stretch of It’s Only Rock’n’Roll and the attached video  ( ) bears this out if you want to follow along with my time stamps.  The first new riff comes in at the 4:04 mark.  The second at the 4:26 mark.  The Stones flirt with both of these riffs earlier in the song, but each only becomes fluid at these 2 junctures near the end.  Either of these riffs could have been saved for some other song on some future album.  This is where confidence (bordering on hubris?) comes to play:  Few bands would let so much go in such seemingly willing fashion at such an inconsequential stage of a song.  Impressive.

There are other great moments in this song as well, most of which come into play beyond the half way point, including:

Ø  The backing vocals “Yes I do” at several points, with an (as I interpret) exaggerated Cockney accent on the “do”. 
Ø  The short guitar lick before the bridge, just after “I said, can’t you see that this old boy has been a lonely” (2:24).  Great bands introduce a bridge with mood shifting guitar notes.
Ø  The 3 minute mark starts off a series of an all-ensemble “I know, it’s only rock and roll but I like it”.  The 2nd chant is followed by a “Woooo”.   This may be David Bowie (who was one of the many Brits to sing along here).  The 3rd chant is followed by Jagger’s “oooh yeah”.  Both utterances would be heard by the Stones from fans at their shows for many years to come during this section of the song:  A bit of spontaneity paving the path for future good times.
Ø  Mick Jagger exhaling “I like it” a series of times starting at 3:29.  I can’t recall anyone else ever singing like this.  Then, a slow re-intro of the guitar at Jagger’s 5th repeat of “I like it” followed by a slow build up of the backing vocals (“only rock’n’roll but I”) starting at the 6th repeat.

What a fun song.  Lot of swagger (Jagger swagger?). 

Finally, though the video link above should be used to follow along with the time stamps (it’s the official studio version), there was a one-off video that came out just after the release of It’s Only Rock’n’Roll   ( ).  This video is also a testament to the confidence of the Rolling Stones:  Like many of their videos, they have no problem spoofing on themselves here (and getting a kick out of it in the process).  The Stones also get a big kick out of watching Charlie disappear under a mound of soap suds.

-          Pete

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