So, for the first installment of the First Impressions series I chose, for some reason, to tackle a giant band with an appropriately giant discography. I obviously have not listened to everything this band has ever put out, but this is about first impressions after all, and I feel like I’m pretty qualified to talk about that at this point, since a few things have been impressed upon me.
Several months ago I decided to give The Rolling Stones a proper listen. Up until this point I had only come into contact with them incidentally. In doing this, I learned the following things.
1. I’m probably never going to get over the fact that I consider Mick Jagger to be a sleazy old man. In some ways it’s not his fault. After all, I came of age when he was in his fifties, and I’ve never been the type to go for older men. It seems that a big part of The Rolling Stones‘ music is sex powered, but that’s kind of lost on me. In some cases I’m able to look beyond a singer’s age to a time when they were around mine in an effort to help me channel their sex appeal, better understand the music, and in most cases really get into it. However, a dirty Rolling Stones song only succeeds in grossing me out.
Let It Bleed is a great example of this. I can’t deny that it’s a great, sexy, bluesy song, but the minute I hear the word ‘cream’ come out of Mick Jagger‘s mouth I honestly don’t want to have sex again for a long time. I kind of doubt that was the original intention.
These are sexy songs at their root though, and there’s still hope for them. I’m not really interested in a love song as sung by The Rolling Stones, because I don’t get any passion from that. But I can certainly get behind someone like Jesse Malin, an artist whose work I really enjoy, singing about a girl breaking him up with the corner of her smile, as he does in his cover of Sway.
2. Overexposure. How can a new listener start from zero when the discography in question contains something like Gimme Shelter, a song whose opening notes make someone my age think of a thousand movies where the main character is either “arriving in the Big City” or “just trying to get back home”? Or Sympathy For The Devil, Brown Sugar, Honky Tonk Woman, Satisfaction… please. We’ll never get these songs out of our heads and they are now anchored to images they never should have been anchored to. At this point it’s no longer music, it’s soundtrack. I’m not against music as soundtrack outright, but in this case, it’s been done to death. (Oddly enough, in researching this topic, I discovered that while The Rolling Stones allow their music in films, they rarely allow them to appear on the soundtracks. Whatever they were going for with this seems to have failed, in my eyes.)
The above link actually relates to a use of a Rolling Stones song in a film that I really enjoyed. I had obviously heard Ruby Tuesday before, but there’s something lovely about its use in The Royal Tenenbaums (start at 3:40, unless you want to watch the whole clip) that made me want to listen to it again on its own. It might be the idea of listening to it on vinyl in a tent.
3. This last point is probably going to be an unpopular opinion but as far as I’m concerned, the biggest problem with The Rolling Stones is that they’re just so old fashioned. I’m not saying that their songs have not stood the test of time, but I am saying that a lot of their original versions aren’t as edgy and relevant as they may have been when they were new.
Play With Fire is one of their songs whose original version is really quite good. However, I’m pretty partial to the renewed life this song is getting from a lot of contemporary female artists. It takes on a whole new life this way. Sure, a boy can tell you messing with him is like playing with fire, but coming from The Dum Dum Girls, for instance, it just means more. They might just burn you alive.
And as long as we’re talking about girls covering The Rolling Stones and breathing new life into them in the process, I’d like to throw in Tori Amos‘ cover of Angie, which has a soul all its own.
Listen to the songs mentioned in this post (and a bonus cover) in the mini-playlist here.
Because so much of what The Rolling Stones did occurred before I was born, I’m never really going to understand their relevance first hand. However, I do acknowledge that they wrote some great songs, I do enjoy listening to them at times, and I know they have influenced many of my favorite artists. That’s why I seem to prefer them filtered through these artists. I don’t think I’m supposed to completely ‘get’ them, and I am totally okay with that. While part of the thrill of hearing a song you love is imagining it was written for you, I’m more often than not going to feel like they never made music for me, but they made it for some other people and I can get behind that.