Desert Island Album Draft, Round 5: Sticky Fingers

I’m participating in an album draft with nine other bloggers, organized by Hanspostcard. There will be ten rounds, with draft order determined randomly by round. My fifth round selection is the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers.

March 26, 1971: Rolling Stones Tongue Logo Debuts | Best Classic Bands

It’s just that demon life has got me in its sway…

When it comes to filthy, gritty, living in the moment, above the law, unforgiving, unapologetic rock bands, the Rolling Stones are the original standard bearers. Within their unlikely and absurdly long life as a group – fast approaching 60 years – the stretch of albums loosely termed by many fans as the “Mick Taylor years” stand out for their return to basics, while at the same time cranking it up about 100 notches (I also include the pre-Taylor Beggars Banquet with these releases). For me, at the top of the heap, even if only by a few degrees, is Sticky Fingers. This is the one. This album represents everything I love about the Stones, Brian Jones’s unique contributions notwithstanding.

Sticky Fingers: The Lost Session – Snap Galleries Limited

There were a couple of periods of recording beginning in early 1969, with the bulk of studio work taking place the following year, concluding in December 1970. It was released on April 23, 1971. The album, with its distinctive Andy Warhol Factory designed cover which included, on initial pressings, an actual functioning zipper, topped the charts worldwide soon after. Sticky Fingers was the band’s first album of the 1970’s, and the first on their Rolling Stones label featuring the iconic tongue and lips logo. But, as always, it’s about the MUSIC, maaaan. 

How the Rolling Stones Launched a New Era With 'Sticky Fingers'

And the vibe. To my ears, the vibe or tone of the album is actually set with the count in to the second track, Sway, and it never lets up. Chances are you know this album well, or are at least familiar with it, and you know what I mean. And let’s give major credit where it’s due right now: The session players on Sticky Fingers were an all-star band in themselves, and are just as important to this record as the principals. Bobby Keys and Jim Price brought crucial sax and trumpet contributions. They rocked on tracks like Bitch, and displayed soul on the Stax ballad inspired I Got the Blues along with Billy Preston on the organ. Price also added the beautiful piano part to Moonlight Mile, with only he and the two Micks on the main track.

billy preston | seventies music

Other major contributions include Ry Cooder’s slide guitar and Jack Nitzsche’s piano on Sister Morphine (co-credited to Marianne Faithfull), and Paul Buckmaster’s string arrangements on Sway and Moonlight Mile. Other session players included stalwarts Nicky Hopkins, Rocky Dijon, Jim Dickinson, and Ian Stewart, and though he didn’t play on the album, Sticky Fingers wouldn’t have been what it is without the influence of Gram Parsons. The evidence is on Wild Horses and Dead Flowers. If we’re to include alternate versions, Eric Clapton and Al Kooper can be heard on the looser 2015 bonus disc cut of Brown Sugar. But the core, as always, was Mick and Keith and the boys, now including Mick Taylor, and it’s Taylor’s lead guitar interacting with Richards’s and Jagger’s rhythm playing that took the band’s sound to a place it hadn’t been before his arrival and hasn’t returned to in the 46 years since his departure, with all due respect to Brian Jones and Ronnie Wood.

Mick Taylor - Wikiwand

I don’t know why, but I’m fascinated by bands from that era that stretched and often broke the rules and not only kept it together but seemed to thrive on the chaos. Perhaps guys like Elvis, Hank, and others raised eyebrows earlier, but the Stones flaunted damn near every taboo in society’s face in these songs and said what of it, mate? These years found them defying not only the law, but the Grim Reaper as well, bless Keith’s heart (and veins), and they survived. Sticky Fingers is truly a fly on the wall album for anyone who wants to know what they were about without the visual horrors of watching the cinéma vérité documentary of their 1972 U.S. tour, Cocksucker Blues, that make one want to take a shower after viewing (just remember, I didn’t tell you to watch it). It’s not the first “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll” album, but along with Let it Bleed, Exile on Main St. and the others, it’s about as extreme as it gets, especially considering when it came out. It’s an album that makes Steven Tyler and Joe Perry, and certainly latter day examples like the Gallagher and Robinson brothers of Oasis and the Black Crows, respectively – great rock artists that they all are – look like silly wannabes (and I like all of those bands, too). It’s a perfect rock album, and it’s on my island if you want to kayak over and listen some time.

Tracklist

Side One:

  1. Brown Sugar
  2. Sway
  3. Wild Horses
  4. Can’t You Hear Me Knocking
  5. You Gotta Move

Side Two:

  1. Bitch
  2. I Got the Blues
  3. Sister Morphine
  4. Dead Flowers
  5. Moonlight Mile

-Stephen

 

 

Desert Island Album Draft, Round 4: Blue

I’m participating in an album draft with nine other bloggers, organized by Hanspostcard. There will be ten rounds, with draft order determined randomly by round. With the first pick in round four, I’ve selected the first Joni Mitchell album I ever owned.

Anatomy of a Perfect Album: On Joni Mitchell's Blue | Literary Hub

Judge: “Mr. blogger known as Introgroove, you are accused of musical acculturation in the first degree. How do you plead?” Me: “Guilty as charged.” We’re now into the fourth round, and I realize I could fill my top 50 – never mind 10 – desert island collection with albums from 1965-75 alone. I do have one “modern” album from the 90’s in mind for later, yet even it’s over a quarter century old. It seems strange when I think of it, but I guess I’m just an older soul. Always have been. My choice to kick off this round, for example, was released when I was not quite four months old: Joni Mitchell’s Blue.

Picture of Joni Mitchell

Other than the handful of Joni’s singles I’d heard on the radio growing up – specifically Big Yellow Taxi, Raised on Robbery, Help Me, and Free Man in Paris – I didn’t know anything about her albums other than that they were held in high esteem by the omniscient scribes at Rolling Stone and MOJO. So at the age of 21 I decided to investigate for myself. I was at Streetside Records one day and ran into an older acquaintance I knew to be knowledgeable about such matters, so I asked him where I should start with Joni Mitchell. Without hesitation he said Blue. I took it home, popped it into the changer, and never looked back. At the time I was in an obsessive Dylan and Neil Young self-education mode, and her music fit my schooling perfectly. These days, I don’t try to categorize her. Especially not after gaining an appreciation for her later Hejira album.

Joni Mitchell's Alternative Tunings

But Blue? Almost everything I love about music from that era is encapsulated on this album: great songwriting, bare bones honest lyrics, a beautiful and unique voice, and unparalleled musicianship. Bob and probably even Neil couldn’t touch her alternate tunings (if I were still categorizing her). But it’s more than that. While the songs are mostly about Mitchell’s relationships past and then-present, some with famous musicians, others not well known, the recordings capture the mood of 1971. That is, it was a come down. Joni didn’t allot many words to political commentary, but in California she summed it up concisely: Reading the news and it sure looks bad, They won’t give peace a chance, That was just a dream some of us had… There’s a melancholy and resignation in those words and in her voice that can be found throughout the landscape of artists at the turn of the 1970’s. It wasn’t always bleak, but the 60’s hangover was hard to avoid, as in the title track: Acid, booze, and ass, Needles, guns, and grass, Lots of laughs…

Joni Mitchell makes appearance at Brandi Carlile tribute - Los Angeles Times
A rare Joni sighting – At Brandi Carlile’s tribute performance of the Blue album in L.A. last October

As we trudge through a summer of uncertainty and discontent, Blue maintains a contemporary feel. For me there’s something visceral about Joni’s music. As much as or more than other artists whom I admire but was born too late to listen to while they were in their prime, I feel like I was there when I listen to her. It’s 1971, except I’m 23 years old. I’m lounging at some dingy outdoor cafe with a buddy who’s just returned from Vietnam, unsure of what to do with his life. Return to school? Morocco sounds better. Or maybe the roles are reversed. Then again, maybe it’s just 2020 and we’re waist-deep in our own troubled times, but thinking about it in 50 year old terms makes it seem more palatable. Either way, Mitchell’s music is deep but accessible. This and her other early albums earned Joni the well-intended accolade from various critics, “Best Female Songwriter/Musician,” which rankled her and rightly so. She’s one of the best, most innovative songwriters, singers, and musicians ever, male or female, period.

Tracklist

Side One:

  1. All I Want
  2. My Old Man
  3. Little Green
  4. Carey
  5. Blue

Side Two:

  1. California
  2. This Flight Tonight
  3. River
  4. A Case of You
  5. The Last Time I Saw Richard

-Stephen