Friday, June 15, 2012

(24th in a series of) Stepping Stones "Reserving the Rights to Diss Disco"

Song: Emotional Rescue
Album: Emotional Rescue
Released: June, 1980

“Get up, get out, into something new”…. so goes the opening salvo of lyrics to Dances (Pt. 1), the aptly named first song on the Rolling Stones 1980 album ‘Emotional Rescue’.  The line itself was apropos of the then-freshly minted decade as well as this new dance-sounding music for the Stones.  But these lyrics were also fitting in defining the band itself, seeing as the Stones were once again morphing.  Change is something the Rolling Stones have never had a problem with.  They initially showed this capacity in a serious way with ‘Her Satanic Majesties Request’ in their 5th year as an ensemble, and though that venture was not all that commercially or, for that matter artistically successful, it did not inhibit them as they have continued to dabble with a vast variety of musical styles and genres ever since.

Many bands fall into the trap of trying to recapture some long-gone musical feeling from their more successful days.  The Rolling Stones realized pretty early on that this was virtually impossible to do, and so avoided it.  In fact, their attitude appears to have always been to ‘get up and out’ from that old feeling’s shadow as quickly as possible.  Part of this motivation seems driven by the need to simply stay relevant by following the head (i.e. $$) and not the heart, and critics have consistently pointed this out about the Stones.  Fine enough, but not many bands can morph like the Stones and thereby maintain their relevancy, which is an achievement in and of itself and is a big reason why these characters are so unique.  And while the Stones are viewed more as trend followers than trend blazers, they have typically mastered those trends, showing how it’s done, often better than those who initiated the trends in the first place.

With all this in mind, it should have come as no surprise to fans when for a brief ‘Emotional Rescue’ period the Rolling Stones flirted with disco.

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Ahh, disco.  Ahh, the memories.  For a 70s rock ‘n’ roll kid like me, the advent of it in the mid-70s was an anathema.  Looking back, I realize now that disco was seen at the time as an affront to the rock radio stations I frequently listened to back then, and the DJs on these stations verbally lashed back whenever they could, which was often.  This was especially true of my favorite radio station, 104.1 WBCN.  And I was caught up in it all, on the battle lines and in the trenches.

Disco was the first wave of new music to seriously confront Rock after the latter ruled North America and Europe for a good 10 years.  More waves were soon to come in the form of rap and hip-hop.  But by the time those waves swept in, Rock was already wounded.  Its first true competition of strobe lights and mirror balls would ultimately go down in a disco inferno (“goodbye sister disco”), but not before taking a few casualties.  Rock would stagger on, maintaining a strong face to this day, but now you more often than not have to dig a bit to find its modern day movers and shakers, whether on the Web, the music store back bins, or side-alley night clubs.

Though I would learn to accept change more readily after leaving home for campus life the very year ‘Emotional Rescue’ was released, my stance on disco would remain unflinching well into the 80s and still lingers off and on to this day.  Case in point:  I recall playing DJ myself several times at garage parties at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada back in ’82 and ‘83.  When doing this, I would begrudgingly share the DJ role with another guy on my floor who insisted on playing newer dance music to ‘draw in the ladies’.  I considered his reasoning shallow at best, and I told him this in so many words.  My take, though I could not put my finger on defining it at the time: The hipsters who enjoyed good music, ladies included, would help to set a unique, lasting, and memorable mood.  The alternative would just be another average to forgettable evening.  And when I took control of the turntable over an extended period of time, the gathering felt more like it meant something, though I’ll admit the crowd was fewer in numbers.  But hey, these were fellow diehards!  I’ll take quality over quantity any day.

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Ok, so I’ve been listening to the Rolling Stones now for 24 straight weeks.  At the end of last week, I figured I needed some type of break; maybe take a little time off, listen to something else for a change.  It turned out the break was more of the Rolling Stones as ‘Emotional Rescue’ was the perfect antidote.  My shoulders relaxed a bit this week, maybe even started to groove some:  Quite a contrast from the pile-driving feel of many of the previous Stepping Stones.  Message to self:  Cancel that appointment for a chiropractic adjustment.

I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for the disco-centric, middle-of-the-pack album ‘Emotional Rescue’, but it took me years to admit it.  This was particularly true for the title track, this week’s Stepping Stone ( ), which is about as disco of a sounding song as you are going get for a ‘Gem Video’.  Mick Jagger sings in falsetto for most of this song, and he does it well.  It’s Ronnie Wood, and not Bill Wyman, who lays out the bass lines.  Perhaps Wyman was drawing some line in the sand.  But the bass works very well in this song, as does Charlie Watts drumming.  Disco has always been driven by the bass and drums.  The fact that Charlie made yet another adjustment to his drumming style, and did it in such a seamless way, is pretty fascinating.

The rest of the album works for me as well.  There’s the back and forth between lads and lasses at the tail end of Where the Boys Go (this song is the answer to the trivia question I asked in the Gimme Shelter Stepping Stone several weeks ago, though it is likely not the only answer).  There’s the last set of verses on Send It to Me (starting at “She won’t have to watch her step, she won’t have to relocate, I guarantee her personal security”).  I’ve already covered She’s So Cold (Stepping Stone # 8).  I even like Indian Girl, which sounds a bit like Dylan’s Romance in Durango.
And I love the opening banter between Mick and Keith on Dances (Pt. 1):

Mick: “Hey, what am I doing standing here on the corner of West 8th Street and 6th Avenue and...”
Keith: “Ah, skip it.”
Mick: “Nothing.  Keith!  Watcha, watcha doing?”
Keith: (whistle)
Mick: “Oh, I think the time has come to get out, get out”

It’s almost like their trying to ignore each other, but can’t.  Things were starting to get a little tense between The Boys around this time.

Then there’s that strange sound that makes its way into Dances (Pt. 1) at the 2:33 mark of the attached url ( ).  It repeats over several more stanzas.  I can’t make out what it is, but boy does it work.  I keep picturing a ‘what if’ scenario:  The Stones being asked to perform this song on the Muppets, with a few of the host puppets pulling off the wacky sound effect.  Too bad it never happened.  I elucidate on Dances (Pt. 1) here because I don’t think it will make the cut for a Stepping Stone.  Let’s just call it Stepping Stone 24B, as it works very well as a partner to Emotional Rescue: Both songs are funky in beat but deep in lyrics (Emotional Rescue about a guy pining for the woman of another man and Dances Pt 1 about taking a leap of faith into the great unknown).  Here’s a great live version of the latter:  ( ).

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My stance on disco and all it represents has always been, as mentioned earlier, a remnant of my younger days when change was a lot harder to accept than it is now.  But going through major changes myself at the time of the release of ‘Emotional Rescue’ had me catching the album at the right time.  Change soon became the norm rather than the exception for me, and I’ve come to gain tremendous respect for those who make it their modus operandi to accept it, and even push for it.  In turn, I try to strive for it in myself.

I have been accused of being stuck on ‘relics of the past’ when it comes to my musical interests.  Though I admit to not being as current with the latest musical trends as some, I believe I am much better than most.  The strange thing about this is that the ‘old timers’ are the ones that actually keep me up-to-date when the best of them release new albums.  These are the bands and musicians that figure out ways to accept changes and modify their sound.  It’s really the only way to stay viable.  It’s why the Rolling Stones went disco for however brief a time.

But despite all this enlightenment, I reserve the right to pan disco whenever the urge strikes me:  There are simply a handful of core beliefs from my youth that I forever must honor.

   -  Pete

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