Friday, September 28, 2012

(39th in a series of) Stepping Stones: "It's All a Matter of Taste"

Song: (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction
Album: Out of Our Heads (US Version)
Released: July, 1965

Got a hold of the Rolling Stones 3rd LP this week:  1965’s ‘Out of Our Heads’.  It was a refreshing diversion.  I’d been up in the canopy for some time, listening to the Stones as most of us know them; the hit makers, with the reputation as the greatest of all Rock ‘n’ Roll bands.  Now I was slipping down the trunk and digging into their early-day roots:  Blues music, with a hint of the band’s then-future sound. 

In terms of Stepping Stones, there was not a heck of a lot to choose from on this album, primarily since I’d ruled out cover songs from the get go for this blog series (the toughest song to drop in this regard is the Stones exceptional cover of Just My Imagination on 1977s ‘Some Girls’).  My stance would mean more than half the album was off limits, including the great opening number, Mercy, Mercy (who is it singing the high-note Entwistle-like backing vocals, anyway?).  As for ‘Out of Our Heads’ originals, I’d already used one for a Stepping Stone (The Last Time > SS # 9, which I cheated on by listening to their ‘Singles’ compilation cd that week instead of the original album), but there still remained several pretty good candidates, including The Spider and the Fly, Play with Fire and The Under-Assistant West Coast Promotion Man. 

Oh, and there was one other song….the one which just so happened to hit the number 2 position in Rolling Stone Magazine’s top 500 songs of all time back in 2004.  Of course I’m talking about (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, a principle contribution in the Stones path to stardom.  Satisfaction’ is about as catchy as you can get if you are looking to make it big time, which is indeed what transpired way back when. 

But my gut reaction, going all the way back to January when I dreamed this series up, was to rule it out.  I had to be honest with myself:  Ever since I can remember, ‘Satisfaction’ has simply not connected with me; at least not in the same vein as so many of those other Rolling Stones songs I’ve reflected on this year.  I do recognize what it has brought to the Rock and Roll alter, and do not dispute its lofty status in the annals of music history.  But taste is taste; this I could not deny.  Heck, I’ll even admit to holding off a bathroom visit at one live event until the moment I heard the opening guitar notes to this song.  In fact, I’m willing to bet I did it on more than one occasion.

I realized the danger in passing it up: Could any Stepping Stone list be complete without (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction in the mix?  Geez….there would be no chance of these diatribes ever being taken seriously would there?  I can see it now, sitting at some suits desk at Faber and Faber thirty or so years down the road: “We like your concept and writing style old man. You are a trifle delusional, but the biggest issue is that you have to be a complete idiot to overlook ‘Satisfaction’! ”.  And that was even if I made it that far.  Beforehand there would likely be Keith Richards to deal with in some dark alley behind Fenway Park after a show on the Stones next tour, switchblade at my throat:  “What were you thinking, Steeeeeeeves!” 

Yet here I am writing about the Rolling Stones biggest hit, despite my history of ambivalence toward it.  How did I get to this point?  I’d like to think it has nothing to do with the mostly fleeting and farfetched hope of authorship, or fear of a violent ending at the hands of a master blades-man.  The answer, I believe, was there in front of me for the taking all these years.  However, before getting into how I cleared this hurdle, let me first reflect on the possible reasons why ‘Satisfaction’ never made inroads with me before.

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Oversaturation?  How do you repair oversaturation?  I mean, once a song maxes out on your psyche, can you ever get back to the pre-saturation stage?  Let’s say you were stranded on a desert island for 5 years.  You build a raft, drift on it for a few days.  A cruise ship picks you up.  It’s karaoke night.  All those greatest hits are being sung by the passengers; off key no less.  But again you haven’t heard any music for 5 agonizing years.   Is it possible that those songs could gain second wind status?

When did I reach the point where this song became oversaturated?  Anyone who listened to WBCN, WAAF, and WZLX as much as I did in the 70s and 80s could sympathize:  Satisfaction’ was played “early and often”.  And this song was not alone in the “used and abused” department.  Don’t get me wrong.  WBCN could dig deep, which made it well worth listening to the repetition.  But still, it could be enough at times to have you morph into pirate mode..  arghhhh!

One difference between Nancy and I has always been that when something ‘old and tired’ is queued up on the radio, she usually starts surfing.  I on the other hand, tend to stand pat, willing to suffer out a few tedious minutes with the belief that there is something good coming up right around the corner.  I’ve also been willing to forgive a good DJ for an occasional gaff in judgment.  The risk to this approach, however, is delving even deeper into the repetitiveness.  Perhaps Nancy’s approach works better:  If you don’t want to start hating the song, change it and save the possibility that you will enjoy it later once the rote of it fades from memory.

Yes, oversaturation was possible.  But the more I thought about it the more I realized there was never a time when I was not oversaturated with ‘Satisfaction’.  Reflecting on earlier days listening to Fred’s copy of ‘Hot Rocks’ (see SS # 11 for details), I recall my lukewarm reaction every time the tune played on the turntable. 

It had to be something else then.   

Too Darn Simple?    The Stones rely on simplicity more than any other band I enjoy, except maybe Neil Young with Crazy Horse.  And make no mistake: (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction is simple.  Maybe not as much as their later hit Get Off of My Cloud… but close enough.  Throughout my music-listening lifespan, I’ve tended to gravitate more to the complex, whether lyrically or musically.  My thorough enjoyment of Bob Dylan’s entire ‘Time Out of Mind’ album is a good example.  The Rolling Stones have plenty of examples of complex lyrics and arrangements as well.  But ‘Satisfaction’ is just so darn ‘out of the box’ sounding.  It has the feel like anyone could have conjured it up.  I mean, Keith Richards, a man not prone to hyperbole, has stated that he practically wrote the song in his sleep (a play back of the recorded riff the morning after was two minutes of guitar, the sound of a dropped pick and “then me snoring for the next forty minutes”). 

But I’ve grown to enjoy other simple sounding tunes.  Sometimes, it’s all you need.  Johnny Cash is straight up, as are the Flying Burrito Brothers, and the Ramones.  Despite my willingness to open up to these more simple sounds though, ‘Satisfaction’ was still, until this week, not on my appreciation list.

Nope, simplicity was not the answer either.

The Guitar-Centric Sound?  OK, now I think I’m getting somewhere.  I don’t believe I have ever been a big fan of the guitar-centered song, which remains a fact to this day.  This is probably why I have never been heavy into Hendrix, Clapton, Jeff Beck, Led Zeppelin or Van Halen (god forbid).  I’m more into the subtle guitar.  Townshend is more often subtle than not, willing to let the bass and drums rule the lead sound (very unique to the Who) and filling in where necessary.  Dylan’s guitar sounds are subtle, as are the Beatles, the Band, and R.E.M.  Neil Young, again, is a rare exception.  Don’t ask why… I could not explain it.  Not yet anyways, though perhaps sometime soon when I focus on Mr. Live Rust himself in a later series.

Like the Kink’s You Really Got Me, and All Day and All of the Night, the Stones (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction has that distorted guitar sound that just does not resonate with me.  Of all people, Keith Richards may be on the same page.  He rarely ‘struts his stuff’, and actually wanted to replace his original riff for the song with horns (the rest of the band overruled him).  I’ve been imagining what that would sound like all week, and I like what I “hear”.  Perhaps the band should reconvene in the studio and give it another take.

Yes, this theory, heavy guitar-centric sound, may be pretty close to the truth of the matter, so I’ll close this self-critique for the time being.

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I did not climb all the way out of my ‘Satisfaction’ doldrums this week, but I did make it far enough to include it here as a Stepping Stone ( ).  How?  Well, it mostly has to do with what I should have known all along:  Putting the song into its proper context.  Despite having heard it a plethora of times in my lifetime, I never really listened in that original ‘Out of Our Heads’ environment before.  There was radio, there was greatest hits records, and there was live, but never this.  Listening to an original album simply puts you in the moment.  It gives you a much better sense of the songs place in history (take note Pat and all you downloaders out there).

And so, surrounded by blues numbers and other early self-penned, unique sounding tunes, I got to enjoy the lead vocals, beat, bass, and even guitar on ‘Satisfaction’ a bit more than before:  Not quite to the point where I envision performing the song karaoke style any time soon (see Mick Jagger on his most recent SNL visit for a hilarious skit related to such a scene), but enough to put up with someone else giving it a go.

Taste is taste after all.  This week gave me a chance to explore it some in myself.

-          Pete

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