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Thursday, May 24, 2012

(21st in a series of) Stepping Stones "Something for Everyone"

Song: Shattered
Album: Some Girls
Released: June, 1978

I recently credited Fred with introducing the old homestead on Park Road to a Rolling Stones record, that being ‘Hot Rocks’ sometime in the mid-70s (see Stepping Stone # 11).  The first Stones studio albums to make it into the home, however, were purchased separately by Joe and I not long after.  Mine was ‘Sticky Fingers’, which was about seven years old at the time.  Joe’s was ‘Some Girls’, which was hot off the presses.

Where Fred and I purchased our music primarily as vinyl albums, Joe’s purchases were strictly cassette tapes.  This made things a bit more flexible for Joe.  First off, he could easily transition a good music moment from his bedroom to his car.  Secondly, Joe’s cassette player was portable, so he could bring it almost anywhere and tape most anything, unlike our turntables, which were about as portable as our beds.  Third and most important, Joe kept his collection in a cassette carrier case, which made it easy for him (and the rest of us) to thumb through an impressively diverse collection.

There were drawbacks to this flexibility, however.  First, there was a slight compromise in sound, since there was not as much range of quality with a cassette sound system as there was with a turntable sound system.  Secondly, cassettes did not usually come with all the perks of a vinyl album, such as picture sleeves, booklets, and lyrics (though they were cheaper).  The most unfortunate drawback, though, was one that none of us could really anticipate in our relatively insular world:  That being the ease of theft.  And after amassing that impressive collection over a period of years, Joe would witness it all disappear just like that; stolen away from him in the blink of an eye.

Despite that last sad twist of bad vibes, I know for the most part that Joe looks back on his collection in a positive light, choosing to remember the inspirational qualities of having it for a very impressionable period in his life.  It’s a testament to Joe’s general outlook on anything and everything.  As for me, my primary memory of that cassette carrier case remains ‘Some Girls’, an amazing assembly of songs that launched an unlikely and uncharted third wind for the Rolling Stones and eventually gave me new insights into the power of perseverance.

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‘Some Girls’ was when the Stones really began defying the odds, extending their legacy beyond what anyone would consider normal shelf life for any band.  The album had high school and college strength in 1978-79.  What I mean by this is that the songs off of ‘Some Girls’ were all over the airways, and were a dominating, familiar sound on jukeboxes, in parking lots and at parties.  The Stones were closing in on 2 decades as a band at the time of ‘Some Girls’ release and were suddenly ruling the roost of a generation quite a bit younger than them.  How many 18 year old bands can say that?  Most high school ‘popular’ music is based on trends:  The latest fad comes, the latest fad goes.  It’s all recorded for posterity on trendy radio stations like KISS 108 FM: Marketing geniuses tapping into the teen consciousness, making a new up-and-comer famous and wealthy before disposing of them like yesterday’s papers and moving on to the next short-term hit maker.  For a few years the Stones would breach this world, connecting the music played at a prom with the music played at a backwoods keg party, the disco with the hip rock club, the beach party with the underground, and the jock with the burnout.

This was because ‘Some Girls’ had something for everyone: There was disco (Miss You), there was punk (When the Whip Comes Down), there was a ballad (Beast of Burden), there was country (Far Away Eyes), there was hard rock (Respectable and Lies) and there was raunchy blues (the title track).  There was also one of my all-time favorite cover songs (Just My Imagination) and an earlier Stepping Stone (# 6: Before They Make Me Run).  Finally, there was something completely different; not quite definable, but perhaps an early precursor to rap.  That song would be this weeks’ Stepping Stone, the distinctly fascinating Shattered (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1BjQYQ5p2Ko).

Shattered describes the look and feel of New York City during a major renaissance in its history (again, see Stepping Stone # 6).  There’s an underbelly to the renaissance, however, and the Stones capture some of that here (“This towns full of money grabbers, go ahead bite the Big Apple, don’t mind the maggots”).  The drumming and guitar work in the bridge are top notch, but its Mick Jagger’s singing that gives this song a place in the pantheon of great Stones songs.  Other than Heaven off of ‘Tattoo You’, I can’t think of another song where Jagger’s singing is so unique.  Yet where Heaven is aided substantially by production, this is something else entirely.  Shattered captures a distinct mood in the vocals, an uninhibited, confident singing that showcases these superlatives in a big way.  Sir Mick’s vocalizations in the second stanza bear this out:

Friends are so alarming
My lovers never charming
Life’s just a cocktail party on the street
Big Apple
People dressed in plastic bags
Directing traffic
Some kind of fashion
Shattered

I believe it took way more than luck or even skill for the Rolling Stones to pull off a feat like ‘Some Girls’ at that stage in their career.  It took perseverance; a collective trust in a formula that worked. This is the five core Stones with very little support to speak of, and with a stripped down production.  The creative juices were once more at a fever pitch.  Again, I am most impressed with Mick Jagger here, as it’s not just his singing on Shattered, but his contributions on the entire album that inspires; and I’m not just talking about his performance and songwriting skills, but also his apparent commitment to the band.  Jagger comes across on ‘Some Girls’ as having rediscovered the fountain of youth, which could have been his ticket out of the Stones seeing as he seems to have been carrying much of the load in the late 70s.  Yet rather than abandon his mates, which may very well have been a tempting option to him considering the condition of Keith Richards at the time, he immerses himself in their sound and makes it all work as good as it ever had before.

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Perseverance was not unique to the Stones in 1978. Joe was in the early stages of showing this trait as well.  Often seen at his desk hovering over his text books for hours on end, putting extra time into his studies; glasses on, tongue hanging out a la Michael Jordan while making a drive to the basket.  Vice President of Sales, Portfolio Advisory Services at Fidelity would be the long-term reward for this effort, though Joe’s resume could see even loftier position descriptions before it’s all said and done.

Yet I can’t help wondering what would have happened if that cassette case was never stolen.  Would Joe have added to it at an ever expanding pace?  Perhaps with a few more hundred listens to ‘Some Girls’, Joe’s mind would have wandered in other directions.  Maybe he’d be in the front office in my building at the U.S. Geological Survey, writing his 3rd cutting edge scientific report on the significant human effects on climate change; un-tucked flannel shirt, sporting a beard (inside joke). Ok, I know what all you money makers out there are thinking: Thank goodness that cassette case was stolen. Though I can’t agree, I don’t really believe that unfortunate event set Joe’s future path:  Just a fun “what if” scenario.  Most friends and family I know have followed a professional path of passion.  Joe is most certainly in that bracket, stolen cassette case or not.

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Mick Jagger, all 68 years of him, revealed a recapturing of youthful confidence yet again this past weekend on Saturday Night Live, performing high-intensity versions of several of the Rolling Stones greatest songs.  The set list included The Last Time with Arcade Fire; 19th Nervous Breakdown and It’s Only Rock n’ Roll with the Foo Fighters; and a touching all-ensemble performance of She’s a Rainbow and Ruby Tuesday in tribute to Kristen Wiig’s departure from the SNL as the evenings events came to a close.  However, it was Jagger’s’ performance of a new song with Jeff Beck, ‘Tea Party’, a wonderfully politically charged blues ditty, that just may have stolen the show.  I spoke a bit too soon two weeks ago about Mr. Beck; he did find a supporting cast for his finesse after all.

As for the Rolling Stones’ perseverance, this remains a factor, now being their 50th anniversary.  Yet, is it really all over now?  Maybe not.  Perhaps fate is aligned.  After all, the last Triple Crown winner, Affirmed, pulled that feat off in 1978.  Winning the Triple Crown is the very definition of defying the odds.  Affirmed’s accomplishment coincides with the year the Stones began defying the odds themselves with ‘Some Girls’.  Are they poised yet again for one final great album?  One thought comes to mind:

I’ll Have Another”

*Post mortem: "I'll Have Another" was injured before having the opportunity to win the 3rd leg of the Triple Crown

   -  Pete

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