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Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Rolling Stones: December's Children (And Everybody's)


1) She Said Yeah; 2) Talkin' About You; 3) You Better Move On; 4) Look What You've Done; 5) The Singer Not The Song; 6) Route '66 (live); 7) Get Off Of My Cloud; 8) I'm Free; 9) As Tears Go By; 10) Gotta Get Away; 11) Blue Turns To Grey; 12) I'm Moving On (live).

Even a mediocre Rolling Stones album from 1965 is still more impressive than 90% of the com­petition; but only a religious fanatic would probably refuse to admit that this was the first time when the American market strategy finally backfired. The obligatory demand for a «little extra» for the Christmas season (so that every loving parent can go out there and buy the kid a brand new record from the filthiest guys in the business) made Decca cobble together this package, assembled from (a) leftovers from the UK edition of Out Of Our Heads (including the sleeve photo), (b) leftover A- and B-sides from 1965; (c) a couple of exclusive American-only tracks; (d) excerpts from EPs going all the way back to 1964 (ʽYou Better Move Onʼ).

In short, this one does not even pretend to be anything other than a total mess, and it is no sur­prise that, despite the presence of a few classics and minor gems, it also features some of the weakest Stones material from their formative period. I am talking primarily of their forays into folk- and baroque-pop with songs like ʽThe Singer Not The Songʼ and ʽBlue Turns To Greyʼ, nei­ther of which has ever sounded convincing to my ears. This is basically the Stones intruding into Beatles territory, where, without a George Martin to guide them and without either Lennon's or McCartney's gift of soul-to-melody conversion, they blunder — Jagger's "everywhere you want, I always go..." almost echoes Lennon's "you know you made me cry...", but with an aura of timid stiffness that gives them away for the struggling disciples that they are. ʽBlue Turns To Greyʼ re­veals a higher level of craft — the way they merge together the verse and the chorus by making their last and first lines overlap is certainly admirable — but, again, the song is seriously under­mined by Mick's performance (he doesn't really get to play any of his favorite characters and just walks his way, uncomfortably, through the tune), not to mention that "and you know that you must find her, find her..." disappointingly leaves the chorus without a proper resolution.

I wish I could say that ʽAs Tears Go Byʼ, the band's alleged «answer» to the success of ʽYester­dayʼ (though in reality the song was written about a year earlier), is definite proof that they were capable of brilliance in that genre — but the truth is, I have never been overtly fond of Mick handling the vocals on that one, either. It is really a lovely baroque-pop ballad, but it is just so totally «anti-Stones»: for Mick Jagger, to convey the impression of a grief-stroken broken heart without even a pinch of anger, rage, jealousy, paranoia, etc., thrown in just does not cut it. This was a perfect tune to donate to Marianne Faithfull, who in those years was the ideal com­plement to Mick Jagger in all these terms — nowhere near as versatile or unique as a performer, she was at least a natural when it came to broken hearts, whereas Mick never was. A song like ʽTell Me (You're Coming Back To Me)ʼ works because its protagonist is essentially having a nervous breakdown, raging at the idea that somebody could have had the gall to leave him; ʽAs Tears Go Byʼ does not work because I do not feel the sincerity of those pangs of grief. (For the record, one of the corniest things ever was the performance of this song as a duet between Mick and Taylor Swift on their 2013 tour — Ms. Swift may share certain visual similarities with a 19-year old Marianne Faithfull, but she sounds about as believable doing this song as Mick).

Cutting it short, December's Children is just way too heavy on novice-level sentimental ballads to qualify as a truly great Stones album, and the addition of B/C-grade tunes such as ʽYou Better Move Onʼ (the band's early cover of a great Arthur Alexander song that should have been left to Arthur Alexander — again, the Beatles did a much better job with Arthur on their cover of ʽAnnaʼ) and ʽGotta Get Awayʼ (a clumsily written folk-rocker whose chorus line seems quite poorly screwed on to the verse melody) does not exactly help out, either.

Fortunately, there's still enough excellent stuff here to save the final product from a poor rating. For starters, Larry Williams' ʽShe Said Yeahʼ is a high-speed, high-testosterone-level, loud and brash explosion of rock'n'roll energy that, in all of its 1:30 glory, pretty much presages the ideo­logy of the Ra­mones (all it needs is some chainsaw buzz to complete the picture). The two live performances from the Got Live! EP are early live Stones at their best — ʽRoute '66ʼ is just a worthy live supplement to the studio version (gotta love the audience going wild at the beginning of Richards' guitar break!), but the reinvention of Hank Snow's country standard ʽI'm Moving Onʼ as a growling hard rock monster should probably have its little spot reserved somewhere out there in the extensive history of heavy metal — if only for Wyman's funky fuzz bass that opens and dominates the tune and sounds one hundred percent like a certified Lemmy bassline in some Hawkwind or Motörhead classic. However, you will never find Lemmy basslines combine with such a style of slide guitar playing as done by Brian on this one, so all the more reason to ping that little spot for the uniqueness parameter. I'm not even sure of what they're all doing in the coda: is that Brian sliding away as Richards bangs out distorted power chords, or is it all Brian? Whatever, that's some shitload of a sonic ruckus they get going on there, enough to bring the teenage crowd to total ecstasy if they weren't already in total ecstasy before the show started.

And then, of course, no Rolling Stones album that has ʽGet Off Of My Cloudʼ on it can get a bad rating — or ʽI'm Freeʼ, for that matter, which is not nearly as good a song, but works in perfect tandem with it, with two anthemic declarations of personal freedom that initiate the Rolling Stones' long story of conflict with The System. These days, some of us might find ourselves sympathizing with the poor neighbors driven out of bed by rock'n'roll hooligans making noise at 3A.M., or, hell, even with the cops dutifully sticking parking tickets on the window screen of the not-so-law-abiding citizen — but we'd still be enjoying the steady left-right, left-right, left-right roll of the song's riff and the ring-echo, ring-echo lilt of the chorus' vocals. And while the proto-rap-style verses clearly reveal some Dylan influence, the basic ring of them is very British, very naughty, very Stonesy, and just a little bit stoned, too, though all these indirect hints like "imagi­ning the world has stopped" might be easily ignored if you just want to see the song as a big fuck you to the system, rather than the first step towards legalize.

So, ultimately, there is no way that December's Children is not getting a thumbs up — the least excited one as far as the first five albums are concerned, though, and if you have all the good stuff on compilations, having the LP / CD occupy a place of honor on your shelves just for the sake of owning a physical encapsulation of ʽThe Singer Not The Songʼ may not be the most rational idea in the world. Considering the giant leap forward that was only months away, this is pretty much the equivalent of barrel-scraping — on the other hand, it might seem like a prudent move to have your barrel bottom thoroughly scraped before sending it to recycling and rolling out a new one. (It would take another decade and the release of Metamorphosis, though, to let the world know how much residue they left around the edges anyway).

1 comment:

  1. Get Off Of My Cloud is one of my favorite Stones songs, and that's because it summarizes what I like about them: I can't understand a friggin thing Jagger's singing, and that's fine, because I don't care if he singing about sitting in his apt or the price of fish and chips or the intensity of Keith's BO, it's all about the piano, Charlie's never-ending snare hits, and those driving chords on the chorus.