Exile in Main St. is a high water mark in the history of rock & roll, so it’s no surprise that The Rolling Stones struggled to maintain their creative momentum after its release in 1972. Subsequent albums Goat’s Head Soup and It’s Only Rock & Roll had their fans, but, by the time The Stones got working on 1976’s Black and Blue, they were undeniably in some sort of a rut. Essentially, the sessions for Black and Blue were auditions to find a replacement for guitarist Mick Taylor, who had joined the band just prior to the release of Let It Bleed, at the beginning of what many would argue was The Stones’ most fertile period. As a result, the guitar work on the recording of Black and Blue was stretched between Harvey Mandel, Wayne Perkins, and Ronnie Wood, who eventually replaced Taylor in the band. The songs on Black and Blue were designed to allow their prospective guitar players to wank around, but The Stones also adopted a healthy dose of funk and disco sheen for the recordings, with Mick Jagger comparing the band to the Ohio Players in the pages of Rolling Stone. The resulting album has a certain amount of charm, including a cover of early reggae song “Cherry Oh Baby,” and some jazz piano played by Billy Preston. Largely, though, it’s a hot mess. To make matters worse, The Stones felt that the best way to advertise the album was with an enormous billboard on Sunset Boulevard that depicted model Anita Russell in a torn dress, with her arms tied up and her legs tied open, the album cover nestled in between them, and a huge purple bruise on her chin.
The Rolling Stones have always had, let’s say, an interesting relationship with their own unyielding misogyny, ever since “Under My Thumb” compared Mick’s girl to a squirming dog, but the Anita Russell advertisement took it to a whole new blatant level, and it played no small part in their declining popularity. Of course, there were plenty of other factors contributing to The Stones’ lack of record sales and dismissal by critics that marked the time. This period from 1972 to 1977 created a lot of the negative associations that hang with The Rolling Stones today—that they were a group of drug addicts, that their best music was far behind them, that they were bigots, that they were millionaires completely out of touch with the working class blues they attempted to play, that they were dinosaurs, relics that had no place in the scene now that punk had come along and made them irrelevant. It was under these circumstances that The Rolling Stones began work on their last truly classic album, Some Girls.
Without ever tipping over into self-awareness, Some Girls wraps up all of the personal and musical turmoil surrounding The Stones in the late seventies, and shoulders it in one defiant, cohesive statement of purpose. Thought the funk, jazz and reggae explorations on Black and Blue were mildly embarrassing? Here’s “Miss You,” a song that could stand alongside the best rock songs of the decade, while still being able to get asses shaking on the dance floor—enough so that the band even released an extended version for the discos. Think Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are too strung out to play? Worried that Ron Wood isn’t fit to clean up Richards’ vomit, to say nothing of filling Mick Taylor’s spot in the band? Here’s some of the most dynamic and diverse music in The Stones’ catalogue. Think they’re incapable of producing more than one hit per album anymore? How about four charting singles in the U.S. and U.K.? Think the band is misogynist? They’re even more misogynist than you think! Think that Mick Jagger is gay? He’ll drop “When the Whip Comes Down” just to fuck with you. “Shattered” features a vocal performance that could almost be considered rap. “Imagination” is such a ballsy reclaiming of The Temptations’ soul that The Stones don’t even bother to use the song’s full title. “Beast of Burden” is so emotional, it might just prove that Jagger is not a sociopath.
The Rolling Stones’ work in the sixties, and their ridiculous Let It Bleed/ Sticky Fingers/ Exile On Main St. hot streak made them legends, but Some Girls turned them into a band you could never count out, no matter how much was leveled against them. Rarely has one album refuted so many nay-sayers. As their popularity waned, and a new generation rose up to take their place, The Rolling Stones were supposed to retire and fade into the sunset. Instead, they set themselves up for one of the longest, most financially and musically successful careers in rock. Plenty of bands are at their best when they have something to prove; when The Rolling Stones have something to prove, they rewrite history.
-Martin Brown, 2009