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The Freedom of Music: New Stones

May 2nd, 2010

freedom-of-music-header

One likes to believe in the freedom of music.
Rush – Spirit of Radio.

Have you heard the new Rolling Stones song, Plunder My Soul yet? It was released for Independent Record Store Day on April 17th as a vinyl 45RPM single. There was a limited amount made and they moved quickly. If you managed to pick one up on Record Store Day or, like me stumbled across a copy a few weeks later, you got a nice collectable and a good song.sidebar-6

What is the best new Stones song of the last 25 years? – An argument could be made that the best Stones song of recent vintage was by a Montreal band recording their first English language album in ten years. The Respectable’s Sweet Mama is the Stones at their very best, even if they aren’t the Stones (actually a better argument could be made that Sweet Mama is the best Faces song in 35 years) – Plunder My Soul may well be the best Stones song since Little T&A from 1981’s Tattoo You?

Plunder My Soul was recorded in 1972 as part of the Exile On Main Street sessions. Most Stones aficionados would highlight 1972 as being in the middle of the bands peak creative years. Going a couple of years either side of 1972 you get the following singles released: Honky Tonk Woman (b side/You Can’t Always Get What You Want); Brown Sugar; Wild Horses; Tumbling Dice; Happy; Angie; Heartbreaker; It’s Only Rock and Roll; Ain’t To Proud To Beg (b side/Dance Little Sister). Add a year on the front end and you can throw in Jumping Jack Flash and Street Fighting Man. Then there was the album tracks, the stuff that didn’t get released as a single, but deserves mention: Sympathy For the Devil; Give Me Shelter; Midnight Rambler; Can’t You Hear Me Knocking; Bitch; Dead Flowers; Tumblin’ Dice; ‘Til The Next Goodbye. That’s quite a list, far from comprehensive as it is.

To many Rolling Stones fans, Exile On Main Street is the penultimate album, the apex of Rolling Stonery. But Exile has it’s weak moments, songs that sound more like jams than well crafted songs fit for a top level album. Other’s still are just weaker songs, songs that hint, ever so gently, that Fool To Cry is coming. When Plunder My Soul is played next to the rest of Exile, deserves to be there, and is better than many songs that made the cut.

By 1976 the Stones were no longer firing on all cylinders creatively. Black and Blue, that years release featuring the aforementioned Fool To Cry as it’s main single, was a much weaker album. It had been two years since It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (my personal favourite Stones album). Things were about to go very badly for the band: Keith would face the possibility of a 7 year to life prison term when he was arrested on heroin possession “for the purposes of trafficking” charges by the RCMP in 1977. Convicted of a lesser possession charge, the judge did the sensible thing: he gave Richards a suspended sentence, one year probation and made him give a benefit concert.


Clean (of heroin, at any rate), chastened by the Canadian judicial system and the punks who were starting to dominate the English music scene, the Stones returned in 1978 with a stripped down, punk influenced album, Some Girls. One of their finest works, Some Girls featured four strong singles, Miss You, Beast of Burden, Respectable and Shattered. The Stones could have disappeared from the radar as many big early 70’s bands did around this time. But Some Girls put them in front of a new generation, and cemented their standing as a great rock ‘n’ roll band.

Followed by Emotional Rescue in 1980, a much weaker effort even if it did have Dance and She’s So Cold (a friend recently confessed Emotional Rescue was his favourite Stones song). Tattoo You would end the punk inspired period with an album of mostly outtakes including Waiting on a Friend, Little T&A and one of their best songs, Start Me Up. The Stones would never be this good again.

By 1983 Punk had died away and the MTV generation was ruling the airwaves. The Stones answered with Undercover, a largely forgettable album of largely forgettable songs. Dirty Work would follow three years later with Harlem Shuffle being the best of a bad bunch. Nineteen-eight-nine’s Steel Wheels the Stones hit rock bottom, with Mick uttering the horrific lyric in the albums biggest hit, Mixed Emotions:

Button your lip baby
Button your coat
Lets go out dancing
Go for the throat…

This coming and going
Is driving me nuts
This to-ing and fro-ing
Is hurting my guts
So get off the fence
Its creasing your butt
Life is a party
Lets get out and strut

This to-ing and fro-ing, Is hurting my guts? From the band that gave us:

Think the time is right for a palace revolution
‘Cause where I live the game to play is compromise solution
Well, then what can a poor boy do
Except to sing for a rock ‘n’ roll band
‘Cause in sleepy London town
There’s just no place for a street fighting man.

Untenable! It would get no better, and while the Stones would make a well deserved fortune playing the old stuff, any new work was average at best.

It is in this light that the Stones released Plunder My Soul last month. A throwback song, on a throwback format, it is quite the best Stones song since Tattoo You, possibly the best since Some Girls or even, It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (but I won’t go that far). Best Stones song in 25 years? For sure. Best in 35? I’ll leave that for you to decide.

One things for sure, it is great to have a new Stones song to love.

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