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Friday, October 26, 2012

(43rd in a series of) Stepping Stones: "Spotlight on Mick Jagger: Mr. Omnipresence"

Song: Miss You
Album: Some Girls
Released: June, 1978

Spotlight on: Mick Jagger

Winston Churchill once declared about Russia:  “It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”  It’s a quote we can all relate to in some kind of capacity:  Of all the myriad of subject matter to choose from, there are simply going to be at least a handful of topics that a given individual just can’t grasp.  It doesn’t matter how much you read or research or try to relate to the concept:  Something - be it your mindset, upbringing, cultural background, education, values, or norms - blocks you from comprehending whatever it is.

This type of disconnect can of course include the inability to relate to certain people:  A lack of insight into what makes some folks tick.  I’d like to think I understand far more souls than I do not, but I will admit there are a few individuals with whom I have been affiliated through the years who have had me scratching my head more often than not.  I suppose it takes all kinds, ehh?  Being a student of history, I’ve also had this type of disconnect with several personalities I have read about; famous people.  A few of them are still with us today.

Mick Jagger is one of them.

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When I slipped 1978’s ‘Some Girls’ into the cd player to initiate this week’s Stepping Stone process, I felt immediately energized.  How could I not?  I’d written six spotlight posts thus far on Bill Wyman, Brian Jones, Mick Taylor, Ian Stewart, Ronnie Wood and Charlie Watts, but this one was to discuss the Rolling Stones lead singer; a man with much more energy than most of us.  And as the initial notes to Miss You began unfolding around me, that inner Jagger started to percolate from inside to out.  After all, when you’ve seen the best showman of our time strut his stuff live, it’s not all that hard to connect with his stage act:  The movements, the expressions, the “Jagger in the mirror” (http://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/mick-and-mick/1350097/ ).  Aside from maybe Elvis, is there any Rock figure that’s been imitated more?

I picked the right album in focusing on Mr. Jagger.  ‘Some Girls’ covers the entire range of his skills.  In a nutshell, this is Jagger at his best: Lyrics, music, vocals, style, and substance.  Yes, the remainder of the band does a very admirable job here, but make no bones about it; if there was anyone in the moment for this fantastic album, it was the leading man.  Let’s cascade our way through ‘Some Girls’ from track to track with a focus on Sir Mick:

Miss You: This week’s Stepping Stone ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KuRxXRuAz-I ) starts it all off.  This is one of Mick Jagger’s all-time greatest efforts.  It’s the dance number (during a time when the Stones tried to always include at least one on each album), the disco song, and Mick and the boys “Stones-ify” it.  The song is about a poor sod pining for his estranged lady friend, and when Jagger has him roaming about on a Manhattan night, you can feel this character teetering on the edge: 

“I’ve been walking Central Park
Singing after dark
People think I’m craaaazzzzzy
Stumbling on my feat
Shuffling through the street
Asking people, what’s the matter with you boy?”

Jagger’s vocals in Miss You can be described like a volcano:  Simmering, bubbling, and finally exploding with the admission that life means nothing without the object of this character’s affections. 

When the Whip Comes Down: A complete about face.  This is Mick Jagger sounding like a Punk on his way to the CBGSs.  The song is fast paced but tight.  How many bands would jump from disco to punk on the first two tracks of a late 70s album?  Better yet, how many could pull it off?  Here is where you can really start to sense that Mick Jagger is in the moment for the whole enchilada that would be ‘Some Girls’.

Imagination: As mentioned before, this is one of my all-time favorite covers.  Perhaps it’s that poor guy from Miss You now a few years further down the road, living his lost relationship in his imagination and conjuring up new ones.  Yow!  Jagger’s singing during the bridge is masterful:

Every night I hope and pray
“Dear lord, hear my plea
Don’t ever let another take her love from me
Or I will surely die”
Her love is ecstasy
When her arms enfold me
I hear the tender rhapsody
But in reality, she doesn’t even know….me

Some Girls:  The tongue-in-cheek controversial number.  The Stones always seemed to fit at least one into each and every album they release.  Mick Jagger dives right into it as usual, and in the process pisses off the self-righteous crowd (and probably many others with legitimate gripes).  I chuckle or cringe depending on my mood (knowing this is art), but still always get a kick out of Jagger’s delivery of the phase near the end of the song about giving the ladies “half of everything I own”.

Lies:  One of the two Hard Rockers on the album.  Mick Jagger again morphs.  This is the last song on side one, and already Jagger and the Stones had covered a range of sound that other bands would not even contemplate covering over the course of two back-to-back albums never mind a single release.

Far Away Eyes: Yet another seamless transition, this time into country music.  Many British singers would not dare and try to imitate a country singer.  Mick Jagger not only does it, he does it alarmingly well, while never losing focus that he is weaving his singing into the mix of a great band.

Respectable: The real value here is in the Jagger-penned lyrics, which seem to be anticipating the 80s and 90s when the Rolling Stones status shifted from a rebellious reputation to a mainstream, accepted one (though, not their fault this happened).  This is the only time on the entire album that the Stones repeat a genre (that being the Heavy Rocker, along with Lies).

Before They Make Me Run:  See Stepping Stone #6.  Jagger’s unusually sympathetic backing vocals lift Keith Richards’ up during a hairy time in the latter’s life. 

Beast of Burden: The requisite ballad on ‘Some Girls’, and sung very professionally by Mr. Jagger.  Not one of my favorites, but I still have fond memories of when it was released:  Listening to it on the juke box at Dean Junior College as a Junior in High School while playing pool with Mac against the college kids. 

Shattered:  That other sound that really doesn’t connect to any genre, and another one of Mick Jagger’s all-time best singing efforts.  I wrote about this one for Stepping Stone # 21. 

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As discussed in the introduction, Mick Jagger is a hard one to read.  He keeps his personality-cards close to the vest.   But the aspects of his persona that he does reveal I rather like.  For example, you will rarely hear a complaint from this man.  He’s not a whiner or someone that let’s things bother him.  Keith Richards hurled a heaping of abuse Mick’s way in ‘Life’.  Jagger’s response?  Go out and cut another series of songs with his longtime partner.  Heck, he’d already been through the wringer at least one time before:  Few partners would have put up with the shenanigans of Richards in the 70s.  You have to give credit to Mick Jagger for both his loyalty and fortitude.

Another solid part of Jagger’s personality that has been impossible for him to mask:  This dude is a hard worker.  So much so, that I believe he only holds disdain toward those who do not put in “a full day’s work”.   When Brian Jones began fading away in the late 60’s, Jagger brushed him aside.  When Bobby Keys blew off a band meeting in the mid-70s, Jagger fired him on the spot.  And when producer Jimmy Miller lost his touch in the mid-70s after several years of substance abuse, he was out the door as well.  You can also hear his distaste for the lazy/uninitiated in songs like Hang Fire and his solo effort Let’s Work.

I learned years ago with the Rolling Stones that in order to connect with them, you have to work your way somewhat around Mick Jagger, not just through him.  Some things just bounce off the man, so don’t force it.  In other words, if you spread yourself out a bit, you can get the hang of it with the Stones.  Connect with it all, not just the showman in the front.  Yet, there is no denying Jagger’s omnipresence on the stage, reflected in the cameras that follow him incessantly.  As Keith Richards once said, “My job was to turn on Mick so that Mick could turn on the world”. 

Hear, Hear.

-          Pete

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