Play With Fire

Don’t play with Mick Jagger, young upper-class girls. He will wreck your life. Because he’s a bad, bad boy. Of course Jagger was never quite the ruffian he made himself out to be, and as with most people, his alleged contempt for the upper class was actually a poorly veiled desire to join it. Which he in due time he did, knighthood and all. In the early years, though, The Rolling Stones got a lot of songwriting traction from the discovery that wealthy people’s lives are just as shitty and dysfunctional as theirs, but also wrapped in a pretty package of hypocrisy. Being a celebrity made Mick Jagger an irresistible target for slumming rich girls, which, at the very least, afforded great writing opportunities. It’s always a bit of a shock to find that so many of the moneyed cool kids you’d been envying from afar are actually miserable trainwrecks who hate their lives. And many of them want to distract themselves from their problems by sleeping with common people, a phenomenon that the Stones documented many years before Jarvis Cocker discovered the same thing. Though some of the songs Jagger wrote about the not-so-cool-after-all girls he encountered on the cool scene were quite vicious, many were actually sympathetic. Some managed to be both. This one is rather rueful in tone; the singer is almost apologetic that he can’t offer any real escape from a pitiful life in a gilded cage. But also it’s not his problem, so don’t expect anything but trouble.

Pain in My Heart

The Rolling Stones vs. Otis Redding. Which one do you like better? On one hand The Stones’ version has that raw garage band oomph that made their earliest recordings the precursors of punk. On the other hand, they were really wet behind the ears and had no grasp of nuance, whereas Redding was a master vocalist working with Motown’s finest professionals. Redding’s emotional gravitas is clearly head and shoulders above anything Mick Jagger could muster. Redding could give the simplest song real pain and soul. What the Stones offered was their glamour, not so much artful music but an invitation to a whole new way of being. But why choose? A great song can serve many purposes depending on who plays it and how. A Rolling Stones record and an Otis Redding record exist to fill different needs, and the same song can become, essentially, two different songs.

 

Outlaw Blues

Bob Dylan fancies himself such an outlaw that he feels kinship with Jesse James. He’s so outlaw he’s got himself a “brown-skin” woman (but he loves her!) Also, sunglasses, possibly at night. All I can think is he’s gotta be kidding with this checklist of cool things and his cool image. Because he’s Bob Dylan and there’s no way he’d seriously equate wearing sunglasses with being an outlaw. (Because that’s dumb even by John Hughes movie standards.) See, Bob Dylan was sooo cool in his day that he was above the concept of coolness. He had nothing but contempt for poseurs and phonies who went around taking the measure of other people’s cool. Or maybe he was a little dweeby Jewish boy from Minnesota who secretly loved the hell out of being considered the coolest guy in town and postured really really hard to get there. Or maybe he was just a more-or-less regular normal dude all along and was really just baffled by how seriously he was being taken. Who knows; Dylan moves in mysterious ways.

Here’s some words.

Ain’t it hard to stumble
And land in some funny lagoon ?
Ain’t it hard to stumble
And land in some muddy lagoon ?
Especially when it’s nine below zero
And three o’clock in the afternoon.
Ain’t gonna hang no picturev
Ain’t gonna hang no picture frame
Ain’t gonna hang no picture
Ain’t gonna hang no picture frame
Well, I might look like Robert Ford
But I feel just like a Jesse James.
Well, I wish I was on some
Australian mountain range
Oh, I wish I was on some
Australian mountain range
I got no reason to be there, but I
Imagine it would be some kind of change.
I got my dark sunglasses
I got for good luck my black tooth
I got my dark sunglasses
I’m carryin’ for good luck my black tooth
Don’t ask me nothin’ about nothin’
I just might tell you the truth.
I got a woman in Jackson
I ain’t gonna say her name
I got a woman in Jackson
I ain’t gonna say her name
She’s a brown-skin woman, but I
Love her just the same.
Songwriters: Bob Dylan
Outlaw Blues lyrics © Bob Dylan Music Co.

Out in the Streets

I love hearing Deborah Harry pay homage to one of her biggest influences. She does such a great – and straight faced – job reinterpreting The Shangri-Las’ classic single. In fact, Blondie blows the original away. Girl group tropes delivered with a nudge and a wink have always been the basis of the Blondie sound, but this tribute is totally heartfelt, and therefor far less campy than the original. The Shangri-Las’ mildly naughty bad-girl image was the thing that set them apart from all of the other girl groups in the sixties, but their singing was never quite on par with the Motown groups. They weren’t exactly risque, but their songs were deliberately melodramatic in the spirit of pulp comic books and other teen-based entertainment of the time. Harry puts a more adult spin on the material and finds some real heart in it.

The Only Time I’m Happy

You gotta admire the peppiness of The Supremes (and Motown girl groups in general.) The lyrics could be about any depressing thing and the music would still sound happy as a children’s party. You also gotta admire the innocence of these old songs; I’m pretty sure this one is actually about what the Swedes call Gråtrunkabut you’d never guess it from the way it’s presented. I know that it’s retrograde and problematic and whatnot, but there’s something so damn appealing about a trio of pretty girls in matching wigs and dresses singing relentlessly chirpy pop songs about how utterly miserable their men have made them. The tropes and traditions of the girl group phenomenon can never be brought back  except cloaked in postmodern irony (because deeply problematic, duh) but gee whillickers, kids, weren’t they just swell?

On the Road Again

Apropos of nothing. Bob Dylan is hitting the road because he’s got himself some nasty in-laws. You can also view it as a metaphor for how society’s weird standards work to alienate the poor sensitive artist. Which is a bit of a heavier message than just whining about your in-laws. We want our Dylan to have depth; we don’t want him wasting his barbs on pedestrian things. But, you know, for my money, I’m happy enough if it’s just a funny song about in-laws, that old comedic standby.

Notice there’s no video. Yep, there’s no video. Go buy yourself a Bob Dylan album.

On The Road Again
WRITTEN BY: BOB DYLAN
Well, I woke up in the morning
There’s frogs inside my socks
Your mama, she’s a-hidin’
Inside the icebox
Your daddy walks in wearin’
A Napoleon Bonaparte mask
Then you ask why I don’t live here
Honey, do you have to ask?

Well, I go to pet your monkey
I get a face full of claws
I ask who’s in the fireplace
And you tell me Santa Claus
The milkman comes in
He’s wearing a derby hat
Then you ask why I don’t live here
Honey, how come you have to ask me that?

Well, I asked for something to eat
I’m hungry as a hog
So I get brown rice, seaweed
And a dirty hot dog
I’ve got a hole
Where my stomach disappeared
Then you ask why I don’t live here
Honey, I gotta think you’re really weird

Your grandpa’s cane
It turns into a sword
Your grandma prays to pictures
That are pasted on a board
Everything inside my pockets
Your uncle steals
Then you ask why I don’t live here
Honey, I can’t believe that you’re for real

Well, there’s fistfights in the kitchen
They’re enough to make me cry
The mailman comes in
Even he’s gotta take a side
Even the butler
He’s got something to prove
Then you ask why I don’t live here
Honey, how come you don’t move?

Oh Baby (We Got a Good Thing Goin’)

Well this is cute – a song about happy fidelity. Not a common theme in rock music. Because, obviously, as some dead guy once wrote, happy families are fucking boring. Or something. Point is, you don’t need to write songs about how happy and well satisfied you are; you just live it and hope your friends don’t resent you too much. Certainly the Rolling Stones aren’t known for having a happy-go-lucky attitude towards love. Being dysfunctional human beings is part of their decadent appeal. Being a hedonist is all about leaving a trail of broken hearts and dead bodies. The lyrics about staying right at home make a bit more sense when you know they were written by Barbara Lynn, though; coming from a woman,the difference between staying home and staying out has higher stakes.