When the World’s Greatest Rock & Roll Band Goes Country

A playlist of country-influenced songs by The Rolling Stones

With the recent passing of Charlie Watts, The Rolling Stones have been on my mind lately. When my streaming music provider served up Far Away Eyes the other day, the seed for this post was planted. In addition to rock & roll and blues, the “greatest rock & roll band in the world” has always had a thing for country, so I thought it would be fun to put together a list of country-influenced Stones songs.

“As far as country music was concerned, we used to play country songs, but we’d never record them – or we recorded them but never released them,” Mick Jagger is quoted on Songfacts. “Keith and I had been playing Johnny Cash records and listening to the Everly Brothers – who were SO country – since we were kids. I used to love country music even before I met Keith. I loved George Jones and really fast, s–t-kicking country music, though I didn’t really like the maudlin songs too much.” For all of those among us who aren’t native English speakers like myself, maudlin means “drunk enough to be emotionally silly” and “weakly and effusively sentimental,” as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

All featured tracks in this list were credited to Jagger and Keith Richards, as usual. One could argue most picks aren’t “pure” country and mix in elements from blues and other genres. While I suppose there isn’t much debate that a tune like I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry qualifies as maudlin, it’s really hard to define what is a pure country song in the first place. After all, with all the crossover action that has been going on in country for many years, I would argue the genre has become one of the broadest in music. Should we be shattered? Does it matter?

Dear DoctorBeggars Banquet (1968)

Let’s kick off this list with Dear Doctor from Beggars Banquet. The tune featured Brian Jones on harmonica and slide guitar. Sadly, Beggars Banquet was the last Stones album that appeared during his lifetime. “The country songs, like “Factory Girl” or “Dear Doctor” on Beggars Banquet were really pastiche,” Jagger said. “There’s a sense of humor in country music, anyway, a way of looking at life in a humorous kind of way – and I think we were just acknowledging that element of the music.” The Stones clearly seemed to have fun with Dear Doctor.

Country HonkLet It Bleed (1969)

Country Honk is the country version of Honky Tonk Women. “On Let It Bleed, we put that other version of ‘Honky Tonk Women’ on because that’s how the song was originally written, as a real Hank Williams/Jimmie Rodgers, ’30s country song,” Richards explained, as captured by Songfacts. “And it got turned around to this other song by Mick Taylor, who got into a completely different feel, throwing it off the wall completely.” Wikipedia notes the fiddle was played by Byron Berline in a park, who by his own account had been recommended for the part by Gram Parsons.

Dead FlowersSticky Fingers (1971)

Dead Flowers, the tune every bar band must know how to play, perhaps is the most famous country-influenced song by the Stones. I’ve really come to love it over the years. The guitar fill-ins by Richards and Taylor are among the very best the Stones have ever played, in my humble opinion. Here’s another quote from Jagger Songfacts provides in connection with this tune: “I love country music, but I find it very hard to take it seriously. I also think a lot of country music is sung with the tongue in cheek, so I do it tongue-in-cheek. The harmonic thing is very different from the blues. It doesn’t bend notes in the same way, so I suppose it’s very English, really. Even though it’s been very Americanized, it feels very close to me, to my roots, so to speak.”

Sweet VirginiaExile on Main St. (1972)

Another country-influenced Stones gem is Sweet Virginia, off what many fans regard as the band’s best album, Exile on Main St. Among others, the track features great harmonica and saxophone parts by Jagger and Bobby Keys, respectively. The backing vocalists include Dr. John. “‘Sweet Virginia’ – were held over from Sticky Fingers,” Richards said in 2003, per Songfacts. “It was the same lineup and I’ve always felt those two albums kind of fold into each other… there was not much time between them and I think it was all flying out of the same kind of energy.” Okay, let’s scrape that s–t right off our shoes! 🙂

Far Away EyesSome Girls (1978)

Obviously, I can’t skip the tune that triggered the brilliant idea for this post. In addition to being included on Some Girls, Far Away Eyes became the B-side to the album’s lead single Miss You. Referring to a 1978 interview with Rolling Stone, Songfacts includes the following quote by Jagger: “You know, when you drive through Bakersfield [Calif. – CMM] on a Sunday morning or Sunday evening, all the country music radio stations start broadcasting black gospel services live from LA. And that’s what the song refers to.” During that same interview, Jagger also confirmed that the girl in the song was “a real girl.” Well, that’s a shocker!

The WorstVoodoo Lounge (1994)

Let’s finish this post with The Worst, one of two tunes from Voodoo Lounge Keith Richards sang. Among others, the track features Chuck Leavell on piano and fiddle and flute player Frankie Gavin, a member of De Danaan, a traditional folk group from Ireland where the Stones recorded the album. “It’s funny, but a lot of these songs were written in kitchens,” said Richards in 1994, according to Songfacts. “That one I wrote in the kitchen in Barbados, and I thought, That’s a pretty melody, but what to do with it, I really didn’t know. I guess that’s where Ireland comes in, because Ireland has its own traditional music, and it’s not country music as such, but it’s the roots of it, you know? It’s that Irish feel.” Pirate laughter – okay, I made that up, but I could just picture him do it!

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

When Bs Should Have Been As

While I suspect most folks can tell an anecdote where they feel a teacher or professor did them wrong, you probably figured this post isn’t about academic grades, though it is somewhat related to grading. I’m talking about the good old-fashioned single from the last Century. Yep, it’s hard to believe that in the age of online streaming and digital downloads there was once was a time when music artists would release singles on vinyl and people would actually buy them!

The most common format of the vinyl single was the 7-inch 45 rpm, which according to Wikipedia was introduced by RCA Victor in March 1949 as a more durable and higher-fidelity replacement for 78 rpm shellac discs. Historically, singles had an A-side and a B-side, and placing a song on the A-side implied it was better than the tune on the flip side. In December 1965, The Beatles disrupted this tradition when they released the first so-called double-A side: We Can Work It Out and Day Tripper. The 70s saw yet another type called double-B, where you had one song on the A-side and two tunes on the B-side. Also known as maxi singles, the initial format was 7 inches and, starting from the mid-70s, 12 inches.

Do singles even matter you might ask. At the end of the day, it’s all music, so who cares how it’s called. Well, I guess I’m a bit of a music nerd, so I get excited about it. That being said, I never got much into buying 45 rpms myself. In retrospect, that’s a good thing, since the handful I ended up were all pretty awful.  Three I can still remember include I Was Made For Loving You (Kiss), Heart of Glass (Blondie) and How Could This Go Wrong (Exile) – indeed, how could things have gone so wrong? Well, to my defense it was the disco era and, perhaps more significantly, I was like 12 or 13 years old and slightly less mature!:-)

Before I go any further with this post, I have to give credit where credit is due. The initial inspiration for the topic came from a story on Ultimate Classic Rock about B-sides that became big hits. Then I also remembered that fellow blogger Aphoristic Album Reviews has a recurring feature called Great B-sides. Both together made me curious to do some research and there you have it: a playlist of tunes that initially were released as B-sides, which in my opinion would have deserved an A-side placement or perhaps double-A side status. This doesn’t necessarily mean I feel the corresponding A-sides were inferior. With that being said, let’s get to it!

What better artist to kick off a rock playlist than with Mr. Rock & Roll, Chuck Berry. In September 1956, he released Brown Eyed Handsome Man, a single from his debut album After School Session. The B-side was Too Much Monkey Business, which I personally prefer over the A-side. Both tunes were written by Berry. Like many of his songs, Too Much Monkey Business was widely covered by others like The Beatles, The Kinks and The Yardbirds. Naming them all would be, well, too much monkey business!

Another 1950s artist I dig is Buddy Holly, a true rock & roll and guitar pioneer who during his short recording career released such amazing music. Here’s Not Fade Away, the B-side to Oh, Boy!, a single that appeared in October 1957 under the name of Holly’s band The Crickets. Not Fade Away was credited to Charles Hardin, Holly’s real name, and Norman Petty. In February 1964, The Rolling Stones released a great cover of the tune, their first U.S. single and one of their first hits.

In November 1964, Them fronted by 19-year-old Van Morrison released a cover of Baby, Please Don’t Go, a traditional that had first been popularized by delta blues artist Big Joe Williams in 1935. While Them’s take was a great rendition, it was the B-side, Morrison’s Gloria, which became the band’s first hit, peaking at no. 10 on the British singles charts. Following the song’s big success, apparently, Gloria was re-released as a single in 1965, with the garage rocker getting its well-deserved A-side placement. G.L.O.R.I.A., Gloria, G.L.O.R.I.A., Gloria – love this tune!

Another great B-side is I’ll Feel A Lot Better by The Byrds, which they put on the flip side of their second single All I Really Want To Do from June 1965. It was written by founding member Gene Clark, the band’s main writer of original songs between 1964 and early 1966. Like the Bob Dylan tune All I Really Want To Do, I’ll Feel A Lot Better appeared on The Byrds’ debut album Mr. Tambourine Man. I’m a huge fan of Roger McGuinn’s Rickenbacker jingle-jangle guitar sound. Another reason I’ve always liked The Byrds is because of their great harmony singing. It’s the kind of true music craftsmanship you hardly hear any longer these days.

My next selection won’t come as a shock to frequent readers of the blog: I’m The Walrus by The Beatles. Other than the fact that The Fab Four are my all-time favorite band, there’s another valid reason I included them in this playlist. You can file this one under ‘what were they thinking relegating the tune to the B-side and giving the A-side to Hello Goodbye.’ Hello? According to The Beatles Bible, not only was John Lennon’s push to make Walrus the A-side overturned by Paul McCartney and George Martin, who both felt Hello Goodbye would be more commercially successful, but it created real resentment from Lennon. And frankly who can blame him! After the band’s breakup, he complained “I got sick and tired of being Paul’s backup band.” Yes, Hello Goodbye ended up peaking at no. 1 but also as one of the worst Beatles singles!

Next up: Born On The Bayou by Creedence Clearwater Revival, the B-side to Proud Mary, a single released in January 1969. Unlike the previous case, I think this is a great example of two killer tunes that are each A-side material. Written by John Fogerty, both songs appeared on CCR’s second studio album Bayou Country that also came out in January 1969.

In October 1969, Led Zeppelin issued Led Zeppelin II, only nine months after their debut, and one of their best albums, in my opinion. The opening track Whole Lotta Love was released as a single in November that year. The B-side was Living Loving Maid (She’s Just A Woman). It may not be quite on par with Whole Lotta Love, but it sure as heck is an excellent tune with a great riff. The song was co-written by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant.

The Needle And The Damage Done is one of my favorite songs from one of my all-time favorite artists: Neil Young. It became the B-side to Old Man, which Young released as a single in April 1972 off Harvest, his excellent fourth studio album that had appeared in February that year.

Also in April 1972, David Bowie came out with Starman, the lead single from The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, his fifth studio album and my favorite Bowie record. The B-side was Suffragette City, a kick-ass glam rocker. Like all tracks on Ziggy Stardust, it was written by Bowie.

Of course, this playlist wouldn’t be complete without featuring a tune from one of my other all-time favorite bands, The Rolling Stones. I decided to go with When The Whip Comes Down, the B-side to Beast Of Burden, which was released as a single in September 1978. As usually co-written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, both tunes appeared on Some Girls, the Stones’ 14th British and 16th U.S. studio album from June that year. That’s according to Wikipedia – I didn’t count them myself!

Sources: Wikipedia, Ultimate Classic Rock, Radio X, Smooth Radio, Forgotten Hits, The Beatles Bible, YouTube

On This Day In Rock & Roll History: August 5

1957: The music program American Bandstand debuted on U.S. national television. It was hosted by Dick Clark who had joined the show the previous year when it still had been known as Bandstand and aired on Philadelphia TV station WFIL-TV (now local ABC affiliate WPVI-TV). The program, which ran until 1989, featured many artists who lip-synced their latest hits. While as such it was chart-oriented, it coincided with time periods when great music was part of the mainstream. So it’s perhaps not a surprise to see which artists appeared on the show. According to Wikipedia, American Bandstand  helped introduce famous artists to Americans, such as Prince, Michael Jackson and Aerosmith. Some of the other acts who were on the program included The Animals, The Beach Boys, Chuck Berry, The Doors, Marvin Gaye, B.B. King, Van Morrison, R.E.M., Steely Dan, Stevie Wonder and even Pink Floyd. Here’s a clip of a 1966 appearance of Roy Orbison performing Oh, Pretty Woman, featuring one of the coolest ’60s guitar riffs that still sounds awesome to this day.

1966: The Beatles released their seventh studio album in the U.K., Revolver, which many fans consider the band’s best record. While it’s undoubtedly a great album, if I had to choose, I would go with the follow-on release Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Revolver, apart from gems like Taxman, Eleanor Rigby and Got To Get You Into My Life, stands out for the introduction of various new recording techniques, including tape loops, backwards recordings, varispeeding and, most significantly, Artificial Double Tracking (ADT). George Martin’s string arrangement on Eleanor Rigby broke conventions by blending classical and pop music. George Harrison, who took on a bigger role in the album’s songwriting, introduced another Indian instrument to pop music after the sitar on predecessor Rubber Soul: the tambura. Here’s a clip of Eleanor Rigby.

1978: The Rolling Stones hit no. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 with Miss You, their eighth and last no. 1 single in the U.S. Credited to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the song was written by Jagger while jamming with Billy Preston during rehearsals in 1977. It became the lead single for Some Girls, the band’s 14th and 16th British and American studio album, respectively. Apparently, there is some disagreement between Jagger and Ronnie Wood who maintain the track wasn’t supposed to be a disco song, while according to Richards, “Miss You’ was a damn good disco record; it was calculated to be one.” To me it’s obvious that Richards hates the tune. In my humble opinion, there’s no question the Stones have released much better songs.

1984: Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band played the first of 10 gigs at Brendan Byrne Arena, now called Meadowlands Arena, in East Rutherford, N.J. during the Born In The U.S.A. Tour, Springsteen’s longest and most successful tour to date. The show included two sets and an encore, with a total of 28 tracks. As is typical for The Boss, he went far beyond the album that the tour supported and dug deep into his catalog. He also played a number of covers. Here’s a cool clip of the Detroit Medley captured during the same tour two months later in Vancouver, Canada. The medley includes Devil With The Blue Dress, Good Golly Miss Molly, CC Rider, Jenny Jenny and Travelin’ Band, among others. The band is absolutely killing it – rock & roll simply doesn’t get better than this! The crazy thing is that Springsteen pretty performed with the same intensity 32 years later when I saw him last in August 2016 at MetLife Stadium, right across the highway from Meadowlands.

1992: Jeff Porcaro, best known as co-founder and drummer of Toto, passed away at the young age of 38 years. The circumstances of his death remain ambiguous. According to the band history on the official Toto website, Porcaro died from a heart attack that resulted from a severe allergic reaction to chemicals in pesticide he had sprayed in his garden earlier that day. But the Los Angeles Times reported the heart attack stemmed from atherosclerosis triggered by years of cocaine use. One thing is clear: Porcaro was an excellent, sought after session drummer, who apart from Toto worked with Steely Dan, Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney and Boz Scaggs, among others. Here’s a clip of Rosanna from Toto IV, which I think features some of Porcaro’s finest drum work.

Sources: Wikipedia; This Day In Music.com; Billboard Hot 100 chart history; setlist.fm; Toto website; YouTube

Happy Birthday, Mick Jagger

At age 75, Jagger still can’t get no satisfaction

No matter whether you like him or not, I think there’s no question that Mick Jagger has to be one of the coolest rock artists on the planet. To me, he’s the embodiment of rock & roll in all of its crazy shapes. Unlike the other members of The Rolling Stones, Jagger doesn’t show many signs of aging. He still has the energy and swagger he did when the Stones started out in the early ’60s.

I also don’t believe I know of any other rock artist who studied at the London School of Economics, though evidently Jagger figured out pretty quickly that Adam Smith and John Maynard Keynes weren’t as sexy as rock & roll. And, dare I say it, there are many economists but there’s only one Mick Jagger!

Jagger’s biography has been told a 100 million times, so I’m not going to write yet another iteration. Instead, I’d like to celebrate Sir Michael Philip Jagger’s 75th birthday, which is today, with what he’s all about: rock & roll.

Let’s kick it off with the first officially recorded song Jagger co-wrote with his longtime partner in crime Keith Richards: Tell Me (You’re Coming Back), the only original track on the Stones’ eponymous U.K. album released in April 1964. While he tune’s early ’60s pop vibe doesn’t sound much like The Rolling Stones, I still find it charming.

Yes, it’s probably the most over-played song The Rolling Stones have ever released, but since it’s such a signature tune, how could I not include (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction in this post? Plus, the song from the Stones’ third British studio album Out Of Our Heads really seems to be a perfect fit for Jagger.

She’s A Rainbow from 1967’s Their Satanic Majesties Request may be an uncharacteristic tune by The Glimmer Twins, but I’ve always loved it.

I know many Stones fans consider Exile On Main Street or Some Girls as the band’s best studio album. If I would have to select one, I think it would be Sticky Fingers. Here’s Dead Flowers.

The song’s title sums it up perfectly: It’s Only Rock ‘N Roll (But I Like It). It was the lead single to the Stones’ 1974 studio album It’s Only Rock ‘N Roll, their 12th and 14th in the U.K. and U.S., respectively.

Here’s When The Whip Comes Down. According to Wikipedia, Jagger wrote the lyrics to the song, which first appeared on the Some Girls album from 1978, though it is credited to Jagger/Richards.

Tattoo You is considered by many folks to be the last decent album the Stones released in August 1981. The lead single was Start Me Up, which remains one of the band’s most recognizable tunes and a staple during their live concerts where they often play it as the opener. It’s a great tune and with its simple riff yet another example that less is oftentimes more in rock & roll.

I’ve always liked Steel Wheels, which the Stones released in August 1989. By that time Jagger and Richards had patched up their fragile relationship and wrote a great set of songs that are reminiscent of the Stones’ classic sound. Here’s Mixed Emotions.

To date, A Bigger Bang from September 2005 is the Stones’ most recent full studio album featuring original music. Here’s the opener Rough Justice.

I’d like to conclude this celebratory playlist with an amazing live clip: Can’t You Hear Me Knocking, from the Stones’ Sticky Fingers show on May 20, 2015 at the Fonda Theatre in Los Angeles. It was captured in a great live album released last September as part of the band’s From The Vault series. To me, the Stones rarely sounded as fresh as they did that night!

Do Mick and the boys have enough gas for another album? In April, NME reported that Jagger was working on new material ahead of the Stones’ U.K. tour. He’s quoted as saying, “I’m just writing. It is mostly for the Stones at the moment.” Well, I guess we’ll have to wait and see. Meanwhile, happy birthday!

Sources: Wikipedia; NME; YouTube