When Mick Jagger performs on Saturday Night Live later this week, most people will not realize that he has released two records of new material in the last nine months. Last September his Superheavy project (including Dave Stewart and Joss Stone) hit stores. The super group album with worldly eclectic aesthetics is far better than anyone gave it credit for when released. However, the true jewel in Jagger's crown is the Some Girls two disc special edition released last November. When the Rolling Stones mined their vaults in 2010 for the deluxe reissue of Exile On Main Street, the bonus material leaned towards the die-hard contingent with unfinished songs completed by the band in 2009 and a few alternate and early versions of songs. Being given the key to any archive release by the Stones is a gift and the leftover material on Exile was justified and rightly unleashed, yet one couldn't help but feel they had truly mined the best for that record. When the announcement of Some Girls came, many were cautious as they believed the best outtakes from these sessions were used on 1980's Emotional Rescue and 1981's Tattoo You. The twelve songs included on the second disc of Some Girls aren't early versions, throwaways or even rough takes; they're fully realized songs which should have been unleashed much earlier than now. In all honesty, this collection of outtakes from the Some Girls sessions represent the best record the Rolling Stones have made since Some Girls.
One should never use the phrase "return to form" when it comes to the Rolling Stones. Between 1968 and 1972 they set the mark so high for the LP, that few acts, including themselves have ever been able to really capture the enormity found in those four career (and genre) defining records. I'm also not of the school that believes everything post-Tattoo You is subpar. In fact, I find each of the records to house extraordinary tunes paired with some really distinctive albums that deserve more credit than anyone dares to give them. That being said, the bonus disc that comes with Some Girls is a Five-Star affair that has largely silenced even the band's harshest critics. There is not a single throwaway among the bunch. It staggering to think the band sat on these for the better part of three decades. Musically, these outtakes are not flashy and don't fully encompass the dance beat drama of "Miss You" or Emotional Rescue but it houses pure songs that are timeless. No one member dominates these songs but as a collective whole, the Rolling Stones have never sounded better as you truly hear a band performing on the record as if they're in a small room right in front of you. Recording much of Some Girls and their outtakes as a band live in the studio helped matters as this is the most fully formed they have sounded since their first four records. The band perfectly captures the essence of the band as they were in the 60's. They sound like an indomitable entity you wouldn't dream of messing with.
Some Girls has endured for the better part of three decades because of a variety of reasons. First and foremost, there is the music. The album's ten songs cover a kaleidoscope of genres and yet none of them feel out of place on the record. Even "Faraway Eyes" feels right next to the grit of the title cut, the punk passion of "Lies", the unyielding force of "Shattered", the balladry of "Beast of Burden" and the disco-blues hybrid "Miss You". Even the cover of the Temptations "Just My Imagination" injected with the swagger of Bill Wyman's bass and Charlie Watts drumming makes it feel like a new song and not a cover. Besides the sheer plethora of top-tier songwriting, the performances by the Stones evoke stormy doom ("When the Whip Comes Down"), hostility ("Some Girls) and serene enlightenment ("Beast of Burden"). This was Ron Wood's first full length album with the Stones after assisting on assorted recordings going back to 1974 and being the rhythm guitarist on tour since 1975. Looming over the band was the potential Keith Richards potential incarceration in Canada for his infamous drug bust in 1977. Some acts would flounder under such a dark cloud, but the Stones and particularly Richards flourished in their richest spell of creativity since the early seventies. Set up inside a Paris recording studio, the band tore through dozens of songs in a variety of styles, straight-up rock, soul, country, rhythm and blues and the Stones unleashed their venom inside the respective genres. Other acts who try and merge these dissimilar styles of music end up in an awkward marriage headed for instant divorce, but the Stones make it sound effortless. If the Some Girls recording sessions had taken place three decades later, the Stones would have released two records to two different markets; the pop market and the country one. Fusing steel-pedal guitars, twangy vocals and a doubled headed monster of barn burning guitars is no easy feat, but the Stones make it sound easy.
For the reissue, the band went through their vaults and found a dozen tracks to finish and touch up. What no one expected was for the songs to be so strong. Opening the bonus disc is "Claudine" with its beat-brush drums it tips the hat to the rockabilly tones of Buddy Holly from the 50's. Complimented by a strapping vocal by Jagger, his intensity matches the flash-riffs of guitarists Keith Richards and Ron Wood. The song gets it name from Claudine Longet, a French-actress who was jailed in 1977 for shooting her skier boyfriend to death. With the headline still fresh, the song was left on the sidelines until now. "So Young" originally appeared as a b-side to a Stripped single in 1995, however here it feels like a soundtrack to a barroom brawl with the band swinging and swaying like it's 1971. The piano solo by Chuck Leavell is not flashy but binds the band together. "Do You Really Think I Really Care" stands out from the never ending consistency of Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts. In a driving and inexorable performance, the country-flavored song is an aural joy. "When You're Gone" is a quivering number infected with perfect blues staccato riffs with the cold fury of Jagger's harp acting like a rhythm machine in the background. Acts spend their whole lives trying to capture the lush blues harmonies the Stones manage with ease and they still let it sit in a vault for more than three decades. The acoustic ballad "No Spare Parts" has some wicked slide guitar and was one of the tunes Jagger completed in 2011. Written from a first-person perspective, Jagger wrote it about a time when he drove from San Antonio to Los Angeles to meet a woman. When asked how it ended, Jagger wryly replied in an interview with Mojo, "Well, it's a lovely drive, dear, you shouldn't miss it". "Don't Be A Stranger" is a wonderful hybrid with flamenco/reggae rhythms, some robust guitar work, a hidden yet considerable harmonica and brush beat drums. The song is a revelation as it houses classic Stones elements but I can't say there's any song in their catalog quite like this one.
"We Had It All" is a forlorn Keith Richards ballad, heavy on inexorable darkness in a wondrous vocal that is ragged and worn. The harmonica solo is an added bonus (performed by Sugar Blue) and ripples with desperation. Waylon Jennings had originally recorded it and when Jagger heard it a year ago, producer/archivist Don Was had to tell the Jagger that it wasn't an original by Richards. Written by Donnie Fritts and Troy Seals, the song is most welcomed addition to the Rolling Stones songbook. "Tallahassee Lassie", made famous by Freddy Cannon, is a top-tier clear-cut rocker that evokes the spirit of Chuck Berry. Jagger growls over a band supercharged with unrelenting thrust that drives the song sprinkled with some exhilarated piano playing by the late and great Ian Stewart. Aside from handclaps (partially supplied by John Fogerty), this one remained untouched. Take away the improved recording conditions and this could have come from the Stones early Abcko years. Jagger's voice has never been throatier and the band has rarely ever sounded so merciless in their musical drive on their highway to hell.
"I Love You Too Much" highlights the harmonizing vocals of Jagger and Richards on this resolute garage rocker whose recipe includes everything you love about the Stones; pinpoint rhythm, street fighting guitar chords, and harmony vocals showing a partnership in full bloom. Fans who have never forgiven the band for abandoning their blues past on more slick post-80's numbers will be delighted with "Keep Up Blues" which will evoke smoke and shots as soon as Jagger's killer bluesy harmonica begins to wail. The final cover is an old Hank Williams song, "You Win Again", a country ballad that could have easily slipped onto Some Girls in the place of "Faraway Eyes". For a band that grew up in post-war England, they have an uncanny ability to not just mimic certain types of music, but wholly embody them as if they're the creators. Most acts who attempt to channel the spirit of what came before come off as mimics whereas the Rolling Stones come off as masters of the genre's domain and they sound as tight as the best musicians in Nashville and channel the whiskey heartache as well as anyone. "Petro Blues" closes out the record, which works as a hidden track which features a raw Jagger vocal with minimal percussion along with two pianos singing about the blues of high gas prices.
They've continued to make great music, but as this reissue reminds us, Some Girls is one of the Rolling Stones most striking, straightforward and superb records. In their arsenal of two dozen studio albums, there's no single album that can be ignored. However, when the walls close in around them, as it did right before they hooked up with producer Jimmy Miller in 1968 and again from 1970-1972 where their freedom from Alan Klein came at a price that almost destroyed them financially, they rise to the occasion. Some Girls contains ten tracks delivered with cold fury fueled by uncertainty and turmoil, yet the free wheeled glee that is associated with their first four records in the sixties is on full display. The bonus disc takes this record and the 2011 reissue over-the-top. This is one of the greatest reissues ever released. Only Bruce Springsteen's 2010 The Promise which mined outtakes from another 1978 record, Darkness on the Edge of Town comes close. The band relies on the passion of their performances instead of bombast. Within the walls of the Paris studio, the Rolling Stones live up to the title of the world's greatest rock n' roll band. While the outtakes may not be as robust as the original album, the twelve outtakes come off as a brother from a different mother where the shades and hues are different but the animal instinct with which they are delivered is the same. Some Girls is the sound of band delivering music as with inhuman concentration where every song is performed as if it was their last breath and captures each of the Rolling Stones at the peak of their powers.
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMusic Network. His daily writings can be read at The Screen Door. He can be contacted at thescreendoor AT gmail DOT com and can be followed on Twitter