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Thursday, July 19, 2012

(29th in a series of) Stepping Stones "Spotlight on Ronnie Wood: A Funfest in the Heat"

Song: She Was Hot
Album: Undercover
Released: November, 1983

Spotlight on: Ronnie Wood

Man it’s been hot out.  Back in February I rolled out Stepping Stone # 8, She’s So Cold, not really making the connection with the weather outside my den window.  I’m not so blind to the association this time around though.  This week’s entry, She Was Hot, is apropos of the current heat wave, and the counterpoint of She’s So Cold.  In fact, if the two songs came out together instead of three years apart, one of these songs would have been the perfect flip side on a common single.  But that’s beside the point.  In fact, it’s beside a lot of points, because there is much to write about this week; there is the topic of fate, there is the topic of fun, there is the topic of friendship, there is the topic of filling a niche, there is the topic of the Rolling Stones most frequently used calling card, and there is the topic of passion.  How to tie it all together? 

Why Ronnie Wood, of course.

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The 3rd stage of the Rolling Stones history began around 1976, when Mick Taylor suddenly quit the band just before they convened in the studio to work on the album ‘Black and Blue’.  And so, the role of 2nd guitarist was once again up for grabs, the only position available in the band at any time until Bill Wyman laid down his bass guitar in 1993 after a 30 year run.  Due to the fact that Taylor’s announcement was so last minute, ‘Black and Blue’ turned out to be an audition album, featuring no less than 6 guitarists including Steve Marriott, Peter Frampton, and Wayne Perkins.  But it was Ronnie Wood who would make the cover, and it was Wood who would ultimately be offered to hop on board. 

Wood proved to be the perfect fit at the perfect time.  Mick Jagger, Charlie Watts, and particularly Keith Richards were starting to show the physical wear and tear of a Rock and Roll lifestyle in their faces, and the new guitarist just naturally looked the part, maybe even since birth.  Gone were the golden pretty boy years of first Brian Jones and then Mick Taylor, not to mention a younger Jagger.  The Stones were fittingly beginning to look like pirates.  Wood magnified the image.  It’s the first thing I noticed when I took it all in not soon after he signed up.  Ronnie Wood has always claimed that he was fated to be in the Rolling Stones, believing it would happen many years before it finally did:  The band simply had to age in the appropriate way to make it happen:  As Pete Townshend stated when he inducted the Stones into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame… “Don’t try to grow old gracefully, it wouldn’t suit you”.

Another reason Wood was a great fit was directly linked to Keith Richards, who had gone for far too long without a sparring partner.  Richards’ preferred style has always been to weave his guitar sound with another’s; so much so, that when he achieves this feat, it’s very difficult to tell who is playing what (this can be a little disconcerting for someone like me who likes to dissect the pieces of a song’s puzzle and give credit where credit is due).  For over a decade, Richards had most frequently achieved this weaving sound by overdubbing his own guitar playing in the studio.  The reason for this was that Brian Jones had pretty much given up the guitar a few years into his stint with the band (see Stepping Stone # 11), and Mick Taylor was at his best when playing more of a lead-guitar style (Stepping Stone # 19).  Richards was overdue for someone like Wood who was a willing participant in the style the founding guitarist so loved to perform. 

One aspect that Wood has been consistent in with his predecessors though is in his ability to carry on the general role as a 3rd wheel in the Stones.  Both Jones and Taylor, 3rd wheels themselves, were very bright and contributed substantially to the musical evolution of the band.  Wood did this in his own right.  The Stones already knew of his many talents as both a band member (including his stint with the Faces, who were just this year inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) and as a solo artist who wrote his own music (such as songs on his classically titled ‘I’ve Got My Own Album To Do’).  I have seen him perform live with his own band, and he can command center stage as good as, if not better than, most.  One of my favorite moments in the Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary (as a recording artist) video was when Wood led Booker T and the MGs through a rendition of Dylan’s Seven Days (covered in GMVW # 9). In general, Jagger and Richards have done a very good job of recruiting when the time came, finding cats who contribute without becoming overpowering:  The Glimmer Twins have always been able to find the George to complement their John and Paul. 

Aside from image and musical talent though, Wood brought a few other intangibles into the band with him.  It’s often been said that he mended many-a fences between band members, as the fissures started to seep in around the mid-80s.  Ronnie was everyone’s buddy, keeping close contact with both the increasingly bohemian Richards and the increasingly mainstream Jagger, who were slowly drifting apart.  These things inevitably happen, and so the new element may just have prolonged the band’s life all by his self.  He was also close with Wyman and Watts, not the most amiable of folks, during those difficult times.

Finally, Ronnie Wood brought amusement back to the band’s music, after a long period of first strife (Jones) and then heavy, serious musicianship (Taylor and everyone else).  When he joined, the Stones almost immediately started sounding fun again.  It’s the common denominator in all the albums that came after his arrival starting with a few songs off ‘Black and Blue’ (Hot Stuff, Cherry Oh Baby); and then ‘Some Girls’ (Far Away Eyes, the title track); followed by ‘Emotional Rescue (Where the Boys Go, She’s so Cold); and ‘Tattoo You’ (Neighbors, Start Me Up).  It’s their next album, however, 1983’s ‘Undercover’, which houses their most funfest of tracks, especially She Was Hot, this week’s Stepping Stone.

She Was Hot ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZiksFF3862k ) has turned out to be one of the most surprisingly enjoyable tracks of my Rolling Stones adventure this year.  I had never really connected with it before, but it is pure fun, right up there with songs like Happy Jack, Bob Dylan’s 115 Dream, and of course, Rock Lobster.  As with last week’s Stepping Stone (Fool to Cry), repetition again works here:  The refrain, “She Was Hot”, feels hotter and hotter as the song goes on, and actually gets a bit hysterically out of control at the 1:54 mark of the attached url.  Some of the lyrics are classic, such as “If you were in my shoes, well you would be excused” and some of the closing lyrics to the 'story': "Back to the old bayou, Back to the tall bamboo, back to the human zoo".  I defy anyone who can print the lyrics, play the song loudly and sing it without at least cracking a smile.  The best part of the song is the last minute and a half, building up to a crescendo, including the great Charlie Watts drum role at the 4:17 mark.  And of course there are the weaving guitars of Mr. Richards and Mr. Wood at the song’s bridge.  Again, pure fun.

The topic of the song is without a doubt the most consistent of Rolling Stones calling cards.  The fact of the matter is that if you are going to make inroads with the Stones, there is one unavoidable piece of the puzzle: You are going to hear a lot of songs about woman.  This band has written more music about members of the opposite sex than any other that I know of.  I’d go as far as saying exponentially more.   In relation to woman, the Stones have penned love songs (Happy, Tops, Heaven); lust songs (Little T&A, Parachute Woman); put downs (She’s So Cold, Stupid Girl); praise (Loving Cup, Ruby Tuesday); defiance (Beast of Burden, Under My Thumb, If You Can’t Rock Me); pain (Miss You, Angie, Anybody Seen My Baby, Wild Horses); remorse (Coming Down Again, 100 Years Ago) and much more, including this week’s hot and heavy entry (the official MTV video with Anita Morris is something to see).

Mick Jagger is pretty convincing singing this song; the voice of experience I suppose.  The question then is can I relate to his insights; can I connect with his and Richards’ song other that at a musical level?  Well, I’ve never been one to kiss and tell, but just this once I’ll indulge. 

Was she hot?

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…… Message Alert to the host of the “Gem Videos and Beyond” blog site:  The Blogspot Team has determined that the concluding contents of your most recent entry risks the loss of your status as a family friendly forum.  We have therefore taken liberties to remove that portion of your text. Do not challenge us in this way again, or we will be forced to remove your blog site from our pages..... but, ahhh... boy is that hot!     


-          Pete

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