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Rolling Stones - Blue & Lonesome


2 November 2016 Blog The Queen Street Observer

       The plan was to write a heartfelt tribute to a guitar hero from the past who, while he hasn’t exactly fallen on hard times, has the air of a man who got left behind somewhat. Not exactly tragedy but a bit of a sad story nevertheless, full of what-ifs. The story will be done, just not this month because while I was sitting chewing the top of my pen (those first few lines, always the hardest) out of the corner of my eye I noticed a headline on the computer screen saying something about a new Rolling Stones album, their first in over a decade, no less. So I was idly scrolling through this news with low expectations as the Stones hadn’t done anything to merit me getting excited in a very long time. By the end of the report my interest  had risen sharply.

“Blue and Lonesome” comes out in December, featuring twelve songs, all of them covers of old blues men like Willie Dixon, Howlin’ Wolf and Little Walter. The kind of stuff the Stones would have been playing in their live sets when they started out back in the early sixties. The thing that really fires my enthusiasm though is the fact that the album was recorded in just three days – live, no overdubs. Not many take this approach nowadays but when they do the results can be exhilarating. One example which springs to mind is Paul McCartney’s “Run Devil Run”, also predominantly a covers album. In the liner notes McCartney describes the recording process – Play the song to the band if they’re unfamiliar with it, a quick run through to make sure everybody knows it, record. There is of course every chance this method might result in a train wreck but for the most part, in my experience at any rate, the end product is energetic and just the right side of ragged to sound alive as much as live.

I’ll be buying “Blue and Lonesome” then, making it my first Rolling Stones purchase in a very long time. How long? Oh alright then – 1973. Long enough? Back then I’d heard their new single “Angie”, God only knows where, because Irish radio then played very little in the way of “Pop” music with only Larry Gogan valiantly flying the flag for young people. What a national treasure Larry is! I suppose I must have heard it on the Fab 208, Radio Luxembourg, that seems the most likely source. Anyway, to get back on track off I went to Noel Sinnott’s record shop in John Street and laid my money down for this record, 50p as I recall, and was pleasantly surprised to find a bit of a rocker, “Silver Train”, on the B side. Naturally enough I needed to have the album these songs came from so as soon as I gathered the cash I bought that too.

“Goats head Soup” to my mind probably represents the Stones at the height of their perceived decadence. The album’s artwork for one thing – portraits of Mick, Keith and the others bathed in a yellow light, their heads wrapped in chiffon making them them look eerie and a bit scary. Then there was an insert featuring a goat’s head peering out of a bubbling cauldron. Whether right or wrong I immediately made the connection of goat’s head equals witchcraft as by this time I’d read a couple of Dennis Wheatley novels and seen enough Hammer horror movies to think, hey, there’s a none too subtle message being put across here! Most importantly the music was good, containing as it does my absolute favourite bar none Rolling Stones song, “Hide your love”, which has a cool bass line from Bill Wyman and Mick Taylor playing guitar like his life depended on it. It’s just perfect. There’s an overall feeling of darkness pervading the record though, even on the up tempo tracks. Oh, and “Star, star” has a rather rude chorus which is a big deal when you’re twelve years old. Swear words! Thumbing your nose at the establishment! And your parents too for that matter, though I was careful enough to not play it too loud when they might be around to hear it. Being a rebel at that age requires you to choose your battles wisely.

When you consider the whiff of sulphur around the Stones back then it’s odd to see how they are now, all of them carrying the demeanour of slightly dotty but lovable old uncles. Keith Richards had BBC4 television all to himself about a month ago where he held court over three nights on every subject under the sun, from people he’d worked with and met, drugs (naturally) to the Stones themselves. The centre piece of all of this was a fascinating film by Julien Temple about his family and early life growing up in Dartford, Kent. Keith also has the most infectiously wheezing cackle of a laugh I’ve ever heard which was often in evidence as he’d regale the viewer with some tall tale from his life which, while sounding highly improbable, was most likely true. He is Keef, after all. Perhaps the most surreal moment for me though was his sharing of his recipe for shepherd’s pie of all things. The secret, according to his Satanic Majesty, is when you’ve put your mix into the Pyrex bowl or whatever add a layer of uncooked chopped onions before applying the mashed potato on top. Among my admittedly limited array of culinary skills I do make a decent shepherd’s pie so I tried Keith’s suggestion and wouldn’t you know it of course he’s right, it works a treat. From Goats Head Soup to shepherd’s pie in the space of forty years. Bizarre!

Anyway, bring on “Blue and Lonesome” in December. It’ll be blasting from my stereo as it should from yours.

Until the next time………………!!

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