Saturday, 14 May 2011

The Rolling Stones - (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction (1965/ No. 1/ 12 weeks/ Decca)

Sometimes, with these historical monuments (Beatles, Dylan, Pistols et al - the usual Mojo/ Uncut canon), I do feel that I have to squint my ears to get the significance and greatness of the record. These things are unquestionably great, but you are better able to get them with the benefit of the footnotes of quite a lot of historical knowledge. The appeal of the sixties Stones is always immediate, though, and rich and strange new notes always surprise me when I listen to them. A few reflections about this single;

The absolute confidence of Keef. That riff might seem like a trope when you think about it, but when you actually hear it - especially on headphones - it is quite relentless, locked-on. I think that it's placing the song within three separate types of music; the repetition of the same guitar motif to support the mood of the singer is a Kentish blues, of course, but also the way that its treated and works as a fanfare is aping the brass arrangements of contemporaneous soul (specifically 'Dancing In The Street'), and the fuzz and distortion are inventing this thing that we know as rock music. And he's pretty much inventing this - Visionary!

And then the interplay of the band beside Keef both deepens and complicates this sense of relentlessness. The bassline is like a shadow of the guitar, and the drums both fump menacingly and add little jaunty touches of finesse. There's an organic quality to how the Stones function as a real group that I rarely hear in more recent music where the parts have all been put together separately.

We tend to neglect Mick Jagger's voice, but it is one of the most extraordinary in all pop, always shifting, always creating a character... but WHERE is he coming from? You never can tell... Sometimes the deep south, sometimes the deep South of London, sometimes rough, often fey and fruity, sometimes yelping like a puppy, sometimes world-weary and as old as the hills - and all within the same song. And he's pretty much inventing this - Visionary!

Listen to the lyrics and two things always strike me about the early Stones. The first one, which can't be said too much, is how funny they were, like Chuck Berry adjusting to being dropped into Knightsbridge or Stepney;

When I'm drivin' in my car
And that man comes on the radio.
He's tellin' me more and more
about some YEWSLESS info'mation
supposed to FIRE! my imagination!
(resigned tone) I can't get no...

(Are you listening, Moyles?)

The other thing is that, for a man who was living like, and feted as, a prince at the time, how utterly fed-up Jagger often sounds in these songs, wanting to get some sleep, away from these tiresome people, uncertain of what he wants instead. People are wrong when they condemn Sir Mick as some kind of betrayal of his young self, this fustian Mail On Sunday character hanging out with Sir John Major at Lords, when it was there right from the start. The Jagger-character that leads us through the songs both experiences and observes with disdain. Its what makes him so compelling to listen to.

The Achilles heel of this character is here as in almost every other song - "I can't get no - girl reaction!";

And I'm tryin' to MAKE! some girl
Who tells me baby
"Better come back later next week..."

There's always a woman at the bottom of a Stones song, and she pretty much never come out of it well. For me, its what makes these songs so particularly unsettling, even when they're 46 years old.

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