Fuck Guilty Pleasures: Is Exile The Best Stones' Album? Nope, It's Some Girls
[Editor's Note: Fuck Guilty Pleasures celebrates the over-produced, commercial, artless, lowbrow music that we believe is genuinely worthwhile. Like, among the best music ever.]
Today marks the re-release of the Rolling Stones' 1978 album Some Girls, which has been remastered and expanded. Though it was a commercial success, having gone platinum six times, it was also considered something of a joke at the time. There were the lyrics, of course, but the main thing is that it was considered their "disco album."
Indeed, this was right at disco's peak, and at the height of its backlash, when riled-up rockers wore "disco sucks" tees and rock radio stations often organized burnings of Bees Gees and Village People vinyl. The genre blending might have seemed arty and cool in New York and Paris where it was recorded, but in middle America...not so much. "Miss You" saw multiple club versions and an extended 12" re-mix they even called their "Special Disco Version." It was a blatant attempt at infiltrating the dance floor, along the lines of Rod Stewart's "Do You Think I'm Sexy" and KISS's "I Was Made For Loving You."
"Miss You" as performed on 1978's "Some Girls: Live in Texas," which was shown in theaters last month
Somehow, however, The Stones managed to hold onto their credibility. Critics for the most part didn't have a problem with the band's attempts to blur the line between rock and club music. The lyrics were another story. In reference to "Miss You" and "Beast of Burden," Rolling Stone's Paul Nelson carped in his review, "why is this man lying when he's obviously pleased as punch with himself and is getting roomfuls of satisfaction?"
Despite the perceived disingenuousness of Jagger's lovelorn numbers and hedonist flair of Studio 54 that Some Girls seemed set on conjuring -- via risqué subject matter and four-on-the-floor rhythms -- the band's core rock sensibility remained in tact. Some recording studio embellishments, such as Richards' use of pedal effects, diluted their signature blues style a bit, but the songs remained dynamic and seductive. "Shattered" feels almost new wavey and even rap-inspired, pre-dating Blondie's "Rapture."
"Beast of Burden," and the cover of "Just My Imagination" meanwhile, are classic R&B with a twist, both featuring some nice guitar contributions from Ronnie Wood. There's still a little twang in there -- the hokey but fun "Far Away Eyes" -- and straight-up riff-rock as well, in the form of "When the Whip Comes Down" and "Respectable." And let's not forget Keith Richards' obligatory solo ditty, "Before They Make Me Run," about his heroin arrest the year before.
This is daring stuff, likely brimming with more drug and sex references than any other Stones work before or since. For my money, Some Girls is not only as respectable as the universally lauded Exile On Main Street -- it's better. Sure, Exile is filled with gritty, hook-filled gems; it's cohesive and there's a certain soothing flow about it. But Some Girls shook shit up. It took more chances, and they paid off.
I became enamored with the record as a small child. "Miss You" was my dad's favorite song, and I heard it a lot. Dad always liked the part about Mick hanging out with "some Puerto Rican girls just dyyyyying to meet you," which, I assumed was because it's nice to hear your people referenced in a pop song. (We aren't Puerto Rican, but we are Latino.) For me, it was all about the catchy chorus. In fact, it's responsible for turning me into a life-long falsetto freak. (Prince later contributed.)
The album's explicit lyrics didn't really register with me until I re-discovered it decades later. And despite my feminist leanings, I ended up loving the title track most.
The harmonica parts are wicked sexy and so are Jagger's mischievous shout-outs to a bevy of international babes: "French Girls they want Cartier, Italian girls want cars;" "Chinese girls are so gentle;" "Black just want to get fucked all night, I just don't have that much jam." Stereotypes? Maybe, but they're not meant to be serious, simply provocative. Jesse Jackson actually demanded an apology for the black girls line when it came out, but he never got one.
Explaining the origin of the song, Richards is often quoted from a 1978 interview; the band would refer to their groupies as "some girls" because they could "never remember their fuckin' names." Perhaps that's sexist. But it doesn't say anything about females that hasn't been said many times before, and in much less clever ways.
With Some Girls, the Stones pushed their bad boy images further than they did on Exile, or even on Sticky Fingers. The album is their most audacious and unapologetic release, on both a lyrical and musical level. Even the androgynous cover, which puts the band members in lipstick and wigs, is shameless. The best rock n' roll is. Some Girls set a new bar, and I'm still a sucker for every sultry groove and sleazy line.
Some Girls' re-issue comes out today. Deluxe and Super Deluxe versions are available with extra tracks, a DVD (containing clips from the "Live From Fort Worth, Texas '78" concert film), a 'Beast of Burden' 7" vinyl, a booklet, 5 postcard set, and a poster. Colored vinyl editions are also available. See www.rollingstones.com for more info.
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