I am not the kind of person who skips over Keith Richards’ grackle-voiced contributions when I listen to Rolling Stones records. Nor would I want to listen to an entire album of his croaking either. Keith’s there to lend a little bit of soulful grit to what’s become a very shiny and polished enterprise, but he’s hardly a born frontman, in either personality or vocal gifts. Not all of the Keith songs are standouts, but they never fail to reset to the mood to an earthier level. As far as the obligatory “let’s let Keith have the mic” numbers go, this one is by far one of my favorites. It is such a poignant outro, without even knowing the knotty history behind Steel Wheels. It’s all there in his voice. You can hear the many miles and years logged to get to that precise moment, the history and tragedy and burned bridges and grudgingly given love that make the Rolling Stones the often barely-functioning family that they are.
Dreamlike is absolutely right. Ofra Haza became famous for melding Middle Eastern music with pop, and her best known work is dance floor ready club music with a touch of Aleppo pepper to it, so to speak. However, she didn’t always lean Western, or make herself so accessible. Here she leans the other way. It’s an exploration of a vocal style most Westerners weren’t familiar with, and still aren’t in a lot of places. It’s absolutely mesmerizing, although it won’t fill up very many dance floors. She certainly opened a lot of doors for what Americans and Europeans will dance to, and that’s a hefty legacy. The worlds of pop and of more traditional musical styles are so much more entwined now, and more people get to hear so many more things, which is is beautiful.
“They ordained the Trumps” sang Lou Reed in 1989 “The President’s dead, no one can find his head, it’s been missing now for weeks.” Well, it’s our loss and Lou’s good luck that he didn’t live to see what a zoo this place has become. The 80’s certainly gave the songwriter-journalist plenty to write about. The New York album was one long list of grievances: urban poverty, religious fundamentalism, political chaos, the grief of the AIDS epidemic, the singer’s own feelings of helpless rage in the face of those things, etc. Despite all that we – Lou Reed, society, the city of New York, the gay community, et al – somehow pulled through and saw that at least a few things got better. I mean, we don’t talk about the ozone hole or Louis Farrakhan anymore. Unfortunately, some things that once seemed destined to live on only as punchlines in a Bloom County comic have gone on to turn our most absurd bath salt-fueled nightmares into hard reality. I, for one, would happily donate 15 years off my own lifespan to hear what Lou Reed would have to say if he was around to write New York II.
Roy Orbison recorded this song mere months before his death. Not that you would ever guess from hearing it. Orbison never sounded better. It was as if he was just coming into his prime after decades of warming up. His body disagreed, though. Even young men are often brought low by the relentless pace of touring, recording and public appearances required to keep a hot career crackling, and for a man in his fifties with years of hard living behind him, it was a death sentence. Tragic, because obviously 52 is too young to drop dead, and because Orbison was one of those relatively few artists whose career got a second life thanks to an entirely new generation of fans. Also, his signature persona of a tough guy with a heart full of romantic yearning became more poignant with age.
If rock music is to be believed, dozens of girls in every school are named Sally. If Bad Manners are to be believed, Charlie Brown’s baby sister grew up, moved to the rough end of London and became a skinhead. I’ve never met anyone named Sally, or even known of one. As for little Sally Brown, you can imagine what you like. This particular Sally sounds like a real cool girl, though she probably has a switchblade in her boot and doesn’t mind using it.
In my formative years I spent more than a few good hours watching The Rolling Stones’ Steel Wheels tour documentary. I watched that VHS tape relentlessly. I loved the album a lot too. What that means, among other damages, is that I really can’t in any way make an objective judgement about that particular set of songs. I’ve been told that Steel Wheels is really just not a very good album, but goddamn it, I think it’s a really fucking great album. It’s definitely one of the best Rolling Stones albums to come out of the 80’s, and you can’t argue with that because the bar was set pretty low in the 80’s. I know that the Stones pump out a lot of songs like that sound just like this one. But I’m still attached to it, the way some people remain attached to their matchbox cars or their high school sports trophies or their tattered dreams.
The Tin Machine revival you’ve been waiting for hasn’t come yet. Maybe it isn’t coming at all. As of this writing Bowieologists still agree that Tin Machine was a lot more fun for David Bowie than it was for his fans, and that in knowing that, he was just basically being a dick. Tin Machine basically functioned as a means to slough off some of the mainstream pop fans who had bought Let’s Dance and wanted more of the same. Which makes Tin Machine more of a narrative device than a group. We should still reexamine the music, though. I’ve always had a soft spot for the second Tin Machine, but found the first one a bit too uninviting. Not being a big fan of garage rock or post-punk or noise or grunge, I never felt that those genres needed a David Bowie-branded contribution. But if you are into those things, here is the David Bowie diffusion-line for you.