Tag Archives: Keith Richards

New Music: “Keith Richards & I” – The Rad Trads

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The latest single, “Keith Richards & I” from New York rockers The Rad Trads is an impressive combination of blues, straight-forward rock and soul. As one would expect with a title that mentions the famed Stones guitarist, there’s plenty of grit and beer-soaked vibes from this mid-tempo rocker. Musically, the song takes more cues from Richards’ work with the X-pensive Winos than the Stones, but there’s still a trace of Richards’ famed dirty rhythms.

There’s no star of the show here, every member of the band is dead-set on bringing the song to life. The horn section is a perfect accompaniment to the bluesy-licks and swinging, yet sturdy drums, which provide a great backdrop for the songs tales of long nights and wild parties.

“Keith Richards & I” is the kind of song played by a red-hot bar band in a dingy joint that just happens to be the hottest place in town. It’s not hard to imagine that the song would be busted out at the stroke of midnight, when the night still has a lot to offer and no one is leaving anytime soon.  As the band asks, “Give me one just good reason, why I should stop?”

“Keith Richards & I” can be found on the band’s forthcoming release, Must We Call Them Rad Trads. For more info on the band, visit their Facebook page and check out the video for “Keith Richards & I” below.

The Rolling Stones 6/18 Philadelphia, PA (Review)

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“Let’s hear some rock and roll,” I told my friend as we walked towards our seats for The Rolling Stones show in Philadelphia.

And throughout the 2 hour-plus concert, The Stones delivered that and more. If you had to sum up rock and roll at its best, you’d be hard pressed to think of a more definitive band than the Rolling Stones.  And 50 years in, they sounded better than ever.  The familiar riffs of “Satisfaction”, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Brown Sugar” still sounded vital and fresh. Keith Richards has surely played those chords thousands of times at this point, but the smile on his face said it all. Mick Jagger has long been rock’s best and energetic frontman, but his signature moves and prances hardly seemed like a parody of his former self from where I sat.

The set-list focused mainly on the group’s hits – but whose going to complain when you have a catalogue like that?  Every single song was delivered for maximum impact and delivered with an energy that suggested that even after 50 years, The Stones still love performing.

Even though the songs were mostly delivered in a similar vein to their studio incarnations, there was still plenty of surprises.  Richards played the signature sitar riff of “Paint It Black” on his guitar giving the song a harder and more sinister edge.  “Gimme Shelter” retained its ominous spirit.  Back-up vocalist Lisa Fisher was given the task of replacing Merry Clayton’s earth-shattering vocal. It’s a daunting job to take on, but Fisher proved herself with a powerhouse performance.  As the song closed, she and Jagger didn’t sing together as much as battle each other vocally until the song’s conclusion.

For the 50 & Counting Tour, the Stones have given younger stars an opportunity to appear and play with them. Before the show, it was announced that Brad Paisley would be Philly’s guest. My initial reaction to that news was one of dread.  Brad Paisley?!  But Paisley’s turn on the country-infused “Dead Flowers” actually worked pretty well. Paisley for his part, added a cool country-twinged solo.  Wearing a Stones t-shirt and a huge smile on his face, Paisley looked like he was having a blast.

Paisley’s expression summed up the entire night. Everyone was having a great time. The entire arena sang almost every single word and sang back Jagger’s non-verbal chant during “Miss You”.  The band too, must have been feeding off the crowd’s reaction.  Several times the band members looked back at each other with huge grins as if to suggest: this is fucking amazing.

And it certainly was.  The night’s biggest moment came when former guitarist Mick Taylor came out for a jammed out version of “Midnight Rambler”.  It’s rather ironic that one of the Stones’ most twisted songs has turned into something of a party.  Taylor’s bluesy and fluid leads proved that even after all these years that he hasn’t lost his edge and he still remains the Stones’ best lead guitarist.  Even Ronnie Wood – his replacement – stared in awe at Taylor’s playing.

But Wood himself is no slouch either. While Richards remains the human-riff, Wood did a good chunk of the heavy lifting throughout the show.  His solos were bluesy and off the cuff but never smelled of excess.  He might not have played on the studio versions of most of the classics, but he also severed under-rated.

Seeing The Rolling Stones has long been one of my rock and roll dreams. They’re the definitive rock n’ roll band. Some people might suggest that they’re too old to be out there playing.  But the Stones have always done things their way and torn down the conventional rules. Playing into their ’70s – when most other people retire – is just as rebellious in its own way.

A Guide to The Post 1981 Rolling Stones Albums

Almost all of the Rolling Stones albums through Exile on Main St. are essential for any rock fan, as are Tattoo You and Some Girls.  After that it gets a bit tricky.  Even the most hard-core Stones fans admit to only listening to their post Tattoo You albums with vague interest.  Sure, the albums after Tattoo You aren’t groundbreaking, but there’s still plenty of great music to be found if you take the time.

The Almost-Great Albums

Voodoo Lounge (1994)

Producer Don Was attempts to capture the burning-blues of the Stones’ Exile hey-day.  That’s mostly true though there a few experiments that don’t quite work.  Still, Keith knocks off some off his best riffs in years and Charlie Watts is as tight and dynamic as ever.  Steel Wheels may have been the album where Mick and Keith buried the hatchet during their infamous feud during the mid-1980s, but this is the album where they feel like a band again.  The only real problem is its excessive length.  Exile was fueled by its sprawling length, Voodoo Lounge not quite so much.

Key Tracks: “Sparks Will Fly”, “You Got Me Rocking”, “Out of Tears”

A Bigger Bang (2005)

If Voodoo Lounge was meant to capture the spirit of Exile or the early 70’s Stones, A Bigger Bang is the album that actually does.  It’s not calculated, it’s just the Stones rocking out with some of their best songs in years. Perhaps to prove Pete Townshend’s point that the Stones shouldn’t grow old gracefully, Mick spits out some of his nastiest and most hilarious lyrics in years.

Key Tracks: “Oh No, Not You Again”, “Driving Too Fast”, “Look What the Cat Dragged In”

The “Keith Saves the Day” Albums

Bridges to Babylon (1997)

This is the first time I remember a Rolling Stones’ album being released and also one of the last times that one of their news songs was played on mainstream radio – “Saint of Me” and “Anybody Seen My Baby”.  For Voodoo Lounge, Jagger has gone on record that he wanted more experimentation, and Bridges to Babylon finds the Stones incorporating some “new trends” (by 90’s standards) into their music including samples and drum loops.  Some The rockers seem more forced here (particularly the opener “Flip the Switch”), but it’s Keith who steals the show here with lead vocals on the two album closers “Thief in the Night” and “How Can I Stop?”  Both songs are exceptional boozy, bluesy slow-burners that perfectly suit his gravely and smoky voice.

Key Tracks: “How Can I Stop”, “Thief in the Night”

Steel Wheels (1989)

I’ve always liked “Mixed Emotions”.  Though Mick says it’s not about him and Keith, it’s hard not to listen to it without thinking of the Glimmer Twins’ reconciliation.  Steel Wheels was designed as the Stones’ “big comeback” and in some cases it feels exactly like that. Like Bridges to Babylon, Keith delivers the goods – whether it’s his guitar-work on “Terrifying” or “Sad Sad Sad” or his lead vocals on “Can’t Be Seen” and the album-closer “Slipping Away”.

Key Tracks: “Sad Sad Sad”, “Mixed Emotions”, “Slipping Away”

The Not-So Good

Undercover (1983)

If you’re a huge fan of “Starfucker” (aka “Star Star”) and its sexual nastiness, then Undercover might be the album for you. The Stones have sometimes been accused of being misogynistic especially during their early days, but Undercover is filled to the brim with sexual imagery that’ll make your head turn.  Even the titles sound menacing and sleazy: “Tie You Up”, “Pretty Beat Up”, “All the Way Down”.  The Stones may have perfected the sleazy image of rock and roll, but here it just sounds tired.

Key Tracks: “Undercover of the Night”, “She was Hot”

Dirty Work (1986)

Dirty Work might be the only Stones album that is downright embarrassing.  I know an album shouldn’t be judged by its cover but that cover photo of the Stones in bright 1980s  suits sums it up. It’s the anthesis of Exile with its synthy production. Even worse there are no memorable songs. Okay, maybe the cover of “Harlem Shuffle” narrowly escapes.

Key Tracks: “Harlem Shuffle” – if that’s your thing.

 

Song of the Week: “Maybellene” – Chuck Berry

 

“That’s All Right” is generally considered to be the first rock and roll song.  And there’s certainly an argument to be made for that. But rock and roll got its attitude about a year later with Chuck Berry’s “Maybellene”.

In under three minutes, Berry sets the standard for many classic rock and roll singles: sex, cars, a jealous narrator, a hot girl, and an element of danger.  It’s here that rock and roll was presented as a young man’s past-time. Berry’s narrator doesn’t try to woo his girl with flowers or say he loves her.  Instead, he goes on a high-speed car chase to take her back.

And that’s just the lyrics. Berry’s sound on “Maybellene” was new and exciting to many radio listeners. Almost any guitar-based song has its origins in this song.  The guitar is in the fore-front and is central to the song’s urgency and youthful energy.  Berry’s chugging rhythm feels exudes sex.  When Berry goes for the solo, you practically smell the burningtires and smoke from the chase.

Without Berry and “Maybellene” rock and roll would be entirely different.  Who knows where it would have ended up? Keith Richards has spent the better part of 50 years chasing the riff of “Maybellene” while half of Bruce Springsteen’s songs have their origin here.

The Rolling Stones at 50

Today (July 12) marks the 50th anniversary of The Rolling Stones’ first official gig at the Marquee Club in London. There’s no doubt that 50 years of playing music is a huge achievement. While many performers in recent years have already reached that particular milestone, the Rolling Stones are the first band to reach it, without ever breaking up.  Though they’ve gone through many different line-ups and changes – indeed only Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are the only original members still in the band – the Stones have continued on because for them music isn’t just a passion: it’s a way of life. As Keith Richards states in his memoir Life: “I’m doing this for me.”

To those who suggest that they should have hung it up a long time ago, I’ve often wondered what would you expect them to do? Their heroes B.B. King and Chuck Berry are still performing regularly in their 80s. They’ve never gotten any flak for it.  Maybe that’s because they don’t play venues on such a large scale like the Stones.  But since the beginning, the Stones have been re-writing the book on popular music, and they’re still doing it by continuing on. Perhaps one of the reasons they’ve received some criticism for this, is because no big rock and roll band has done it before. The performances from their 2006 concert film Shine a Light aren’t as wild their hey-day, but it proved that the Stones could still outplay almost anybody. Their last studio album, A Bigger Bang is actually very good, and found the band actually sounding like the Rolling Stones of old, rather than just trying to be the Rolling Stones of old. And yes, there is a distinct difference.

Since about 1965 onwards, the Rolling Stones have make a stake for the ultimate rock and roll band. And I’m not just talking about the drugs, the decadence and women. No single guitarist has written as many classic riffs as Keith Richards, and Mick Jagger practically invented what it meant to be a frontman. Few bands have tackled so many various musical styles – country, blues, reggae, soul, gospel and disco among others – and not only have it sound authentic to its original source, but also make it their own with such consistently. Not even the Beatles (who are still superior overall in different ways) could make that claim.

Unfortunately, only being 30 I was never able to hear their “classic” songs on the radio when they new. As such it’s hard for me to imagine what hearing “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” or “Brown Sugar” sounded like in their infancy.  Still, despite the fact that the Rolling Stones and their songs have existed for what seems like forever, there’s not much that can beat them. These songs have stood the test of time, and still sound fresh and exciting. And no matter what anybody says Mick and Keith are still the ultimate in cool.

Personally, I wouldn’t want the Stones to get reflective in their old age. As Pete Townshend said famously while inducting the band into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: “Don’t grow old gracefully…it would never suit you.”

 

 

Song of the Week: “Pressure Drop” – Toots and the Maytals

(This post is bound to make my brother happy, I’m sure.)

Summer time is the perfect time to listen to reggae, and Toots and the Maytals’ “Pressure Drop” is one of my all-time favorite reggae songs. What sets Toots and the Maytals apart from many reggae artists is their emphasis on melody and harmony, and “Pressure Drop” is no exception. While the groove is clearly reggae, the singing is more akin to American Soul and R&B. Toots Hibbert himself has often been referred to a reggae version of Otis Redding, and this song clearly shows why.

Lyrically the song isn’t too deep (there are very few words) but it hardly matters. Toots’ declaration of “a pressure drop on you” is smooth like silk, and is anchored by the rest of the bands’ singing in “oooh yeah” in succession after him.  It’s not until the end, that Toots’ really lets go and belts out the word “pressure!” with a fiery passion that takes the song to another level.

Since its release “Pressure Drop” has become something of a reggae standard and has been covered by many artists including the Clash – who give the song their signature punk spin on the genre – and Keith Richards (with the Maytals), but none of them beat the original.

 

Song of the Week: “Waiting on a Friend” – The Rolling Stones

 

 

(Sorry I’ve been MIA here.  I write most of these posts in my spare time, and over the past few weeks, other things have needed more attention.  I plan to rectify that – so don’t worry I’ll plenty of cool stuff coming up.)  

I first came across The Rolling Stones’ “Waiting on a Friend” back when I was in high school while watching an episode of Vh1’s “Pop Up Video”.   It was a late humid summer evening, and even though the air conditioning was blasting, I could never seem to get cool.  Perhaps it was the video, where Mick Jagger waits on a New York City stoop waiting for Keith Richards (incidentally the same building that Led Zeppelin used for the cover of Physical Graffiti) or the song’s laid-back groove, but “Waiting on a Friend” seemed like the perfect song to hear at that particular moment.   Ever since then, I’ve always identified the song with summer-time.

As a Stones’ song – it seems slightly of character.  It’s not a flat-out rocker, and it’s not a ballad either.  Keith Richards riff on “Waiting on a Friend” would never be considered one of his best – but it is essential to the atmosphere of the song.  It pulls slightly – but never tugs – allowing the rest of the band to follow suit. Charlie Watts’ lays down a simple yet effective beat, locking with Nicky Hopkins beautiful piano playing.  Then there’s Sonny Rollins unforgettable saxophone which appears throughout and helps close the song.  The song never finds it way out of the groove they’ve created but that’s part of the song’s charm – once you’ve gotten inside it, the song never lets you go.

Mick Jagger gives one of his finest performances here, and just because of his impressive falsetto.  Too often, he seems preoccupied in creating the character of “Mick Jagger”.  That version of Jagger has been the basis of many of the Stones’ best songs, but sometimes it’s hard to know who the real Jagger is.  On “Waiting on a Friend” he seems to suggest that his wild life-style doesn’t seem to satisfy him anymore.  “Don’t need a whore, don’t need no booze, don’t need no virgin priest,” He sings softly.  “But I just need someone I can cry to, I’m just waiting on a friend.”

The obvious answer to the friend Jagger is waiting on, would be Keith Richards.  Even the video seems to suggest that.  If you know anything about The Rolling Stones’ it’s no secret that Jagger and Richards haven’t always seen eye to eye.  Sometimes this sparring has to led to uneven albums, other times it’s led to verbal barbs about each other in the press.  Most recently, Richards attacked Jagger’s manhood in his 2010 memoir Life – though Richards has since apologized for the remarks.

But after almost 50 years of playing and creating music together, Jagger and Richards have shared highs and lows together – and situations like those create a bond that can never be broken.  Each of them probably know that neither of them are at their best musically without the other.  In the world of the Rolling Stones, women have come and and gone but friends are worth waiting for.

 

Album of the Week: “Exile on Main St.” – The Rolling Stones

I wasn’t ready for Exile on Main St. the first time I heard it. Like many, I knew the stories and the album’s status in the rock and roll canon.  At the time, my Rolling Stones collection consisted of Sticky Fingers, Let it Bleed and Hot Rocks.  In other words, most of the “big ones”.

Expecting most of the songs to sound like hard-rocking opener “Rocks Off” I grew a bit disappointed as I went further into the album.  There didn’t seem to be an immediacy to the songs and many of them blended together.  A few such as the camp-fire styling of “Sweet Virginia” and Keith Richards’ “Happy” snuck through.  Otherwise, Exile seemed lost on me. I didn’t quite see what the big deal was.  Maybe all the rock critics who loved this album were in the same state of mind that the Stones were while making this album.

After a few listens, I put it aside for awhile only listening to it occasionally. Over the years, as I read more about Exile the more exciting the story became but the music itself never really seeped through.  In one interview I read, Mick Jagger wondered aloud why so many fans and critics rated the album so highly.  I’m with you, Mick.  I just don’t get it. There were so many songs on Exile that it was hard to find my way inside.   It seemed here was a party going on, but I was not invited.

A few years later, I friend of mine played me “Shine a Light” in his car.  I had obviously heard the song before, but I never really connected with it.  Yet, this time was different.  Perhaps it was the beer going to my head, but Jagger’s drunken gospel really struck a chord with me:

May the good Lord, shine a light on you. make every song, your favorite tune.  may the good Lord, shine a light on you warm like the evening sun. 

Suddenly, the rest of the album made a whole lot more sense.  Exile on Main St. wasn’t rock and roll in the sense of loud guitars, but taking all of rock and roll’s roots and putting altogether in one album.  The traces of Gospel, R&B, Soul, Country and Blues that fill Exile’s four sides are never forced. Each song sounds like it came it to being organically, in a haze of drugs and booze.  There’s not a forced note on the album.

“Shine a Light” for me represents all of the contradictions on Exile, and what makes it great.  The song itself is straight-up Gospel – a song seeking redemption of a friend – on an album full of sleaze.  Of course, many of those singing old Gospel and spiritual songs were no saints either.  Jagger may want the good lord to shine a light, but he also brags about “kissing cunt in Cannes” on “Casino Boogie”.

The fact that the album sounds like this is quite an accomplishment.  Shit, it’s an accomplishment the album was even made.  There’s no doubt that the stories behind Exile are legendary.  Sometimes it’s hard to separate the tales from the music.  But what the listener is left with is a great piece of music whose influence will still be heard for years to come.

Song of the Week: “Sympathy for the Devil” – The Rolling Stones

Despite however many times it is played or referenced, “Sympathy for the Devil” just like Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” becomes more complicated and interesting with each listen. Sure, there’s shock value. How could there not be with a title like “Sympathy for the Devil”?  The Rolling Stones were clearly having fun with those who viewed them as Satanic at the time. As Jagger sang  a few years before: “don’t play with me, cause you’re playing with fire.”

Rock and Roll was once described as “the devil’s music” but leave it to The Rolling Stones to explore the Devil’s psyche with a tribal beat in the background. Jagger whoops and hollering like a man possessed, even before he’s sung any lyrics.  The music isn’t heavy at all – but it continues in an upward spiral that grows more intense with each second.  By the time the background vocalists start the famous “woo-woo” chant, the song is in full flight. If it weren’t for the fiery guitar licks that come mid-way through the song, the music of “Sympathy” wouldn’t be that out of place in ancient pagan dance rituals.

Jagger’s devil plays a hand in Christ’s crucifixion, rolled a tank in World War II, and stands by for the destruction of the Romanov Dynasty. The moment when he notes that “Anastasia screamed in vain” is positively spine-tingling, as for decades rumors persisted that the Grand Duchess had escaped from the mass-murders the rest of her family met. (As of 2009, Russian scientists have accounted for all of the Romanov children including Anastasia.) While Jagger’s devil has a hand in all of the aforementioned events, these were also atrocities committed by man himself. After all, Jagger asks “who killed the Kennedys?” The explosive answer is of course,  “you and me.”

For me at least, the usage of names throughout the song is one of the most fascinating parts. In many ancient cultures and traditions,  calling someone by their given name meant you have ownership over them.  It’s the reason why God never revealed his name to Moses on Mt. Sinai. It’s also the reason why Rumpelstiltskin loses his power when the Queen correctly guesses his name. Jagger introduces himself many times throughout the song, but always with the caveat: “hope you guess my name.” It isn’t until the song draws to its conclusion that Jagger fully reveals his name: Lucifer. In most Jewish and Christian traditions, Lucifer is the name the devil had before being cast out of heaven.  The devil it seems has finally let his guard down.

“Sympathy for the Devil” remains of the Rolling Stones’ most well-known and best loved tracks. Only a band like the them could make a track about the devil intelligent, frightening, sexy, and even fun.

 

 

 

10 Essential Albums to Listen to in Autumn (Part Two)

Elvis Costello – King of America

Elvis Costello has lots of brilliant albums (too many to name, actually), but King of America is his absolute masterpiece with its foray into country and Americana. If the his early albums were an outright assault, Costello’s low-key delivery on such lines as “She said she worked for the ABC News, it was as much as the alphabet as she knew how to use” or “if it move then you fuck it, if it doesn’t then you stab it” are even more jarring. And putting “Indoor Fireworks” and “Little Palaces” back to back is also a stroke of sequencing genius.

Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here

This is an interesting pick, I admit.  The very things that I sometimes accuse lots of other 70s band of – indulgent, extremely long songs, and general lacking of any energy – are exactly what I love about this album. The extended intro to “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” with David Gilmour’s fluid guitar is perfect for waking up on a chilly morning and staring out the window. And the title track might be one of the best tributes to a fallen friend.

Van Morrison – Astral Weeks

If you were to take a piece an Impressionistic painting and put it to music, it would sound something like Astral Weeks. On Astral Weeks, Morrison incorporates jazz, folk and even classical elements that sounds nothing like any other recording. Morrison’s lyrics aren’t direct but rather fragments, which only add even more beauty to the album.  Morrison’s closing vocals on “Madame George” are the stuff of legend.  When he commands you to say “goodbye to Madame George” you feel as if you’ve known the character your whole life.

The Rolling Stones – Beggar’s Banquet

With the exception of “Sympathy for the Devil” and “Street Fighting Man” (the album’s two best known songs), Beggar’s Banquet finds The Rolling Stones truly exploring their bluesy roots.  Many of the songs sound like they could have been recorded by the Stones’ American heroes, and there’s some pretty spectacular slide-guitar throughout.  The closing homage to the working class “Salt of the Earth” features an elegant lead by Keith Richards in the first verse.

Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes

Fleet Foxes make a case for the new millennium’s quintessential camp-fire band. Though some of their songs tend to blur together, the lush acoustics and harmonies are a perfect setting for late October nights. It’s an album that sounds like it could have been made by veterans, which makes it beauty all the more intoxicating.