One of life’s great, simple pleasures is Mick Jagger’s singing. Jagger has more classic songs under his belt than most. The downside of that is over-familiarity. The unwavering ubiquity of The Rolling Stones in pop culture has, inevitably, dulled our appreciation. Of their collective and individual musicianship, of the Jagger and Richards songwriting partnership, and of Jagger himself, especially as a vocal stylist. Say what you will about Jagger’s solo contributions (pale in comparison to the famous hits, I know, I know) but as a fan, you have to appreciate his enthusiasm for tackling unfamiliar material and branching in unexpected directions. This song, from Wandering Spirit (his most acclaimed and successful solo album,) sounds like a long lost classic of 70’s soul, reminiscent of The Stones’ spirited Temptations covers from that era. It is, however, an original, a perfectly on-point homage, and a great example of Jagger’s ability to absorb musical styles. One of the things that have made The Rolling Stones so great has been the way they transformed from a blues cover band into a band that writes their own blues, as authentic as five English boys could hope to be. So it’s no stretch for Mick Jagger to write his own Motown style soul music when he tires of covering other people’s.
Ok, this song is ridiculous and dumb as fuck (and weirdly right-wing) and I can’t really defend its inclusion except to say that I love Mick Jagger no matter how low he sinks. That said, I honestly still think Wandering Spirit was a good, solid album, and definitely the best out of Jagger’s solo oeuvre. It was also fairly acclaimed and successful at the time, so it’s not just me going out on a limb. Obviously, every great artist inevitably makes a clunker. If their career lasts any decent amount of time, there will be many clunkers. Jagger, with and without his usual cohorts, has had many, but his output has always been interesting enough to avoid the trap of mediocrity. Weird and bad is preferable to half-decent and boring; at least it offers some kind of insight into the artist’s personal delusions. Jagger’s delusion has always been of hipness – thus his 1980’s embrace of all things synthesizer. Here, I think the singer is convinced that he’s still a fiercely provocative master of the blues.
No context necessary, as I assume you’ve all seen Performance. It’s only the single greatest movie ever made, so of course you would at least have heard of it. If you haven’t, it’s the briefly banned 1968 freakout in which Mick Jagger plays a version of himself that fucks so hard with the fabric of reality that everyone who worked on the movie either died, became a drug addict or went insane, or some combination of the three. Except Mick Jagger, who, the story goes, felt so comfortable with the role of Turner he went on playing it for the rest of his life. True story. Director later Donald Cammell committed suicide, allegedly asking his wife for a mirror so he could watch himself bleed out from a gunshot wound. Anita Pallenberg abandoned her film career to spend the next decade addicted to heroin; years later, in an eerie parallel to the end of the film, she would awake after a bender to witness her lover’s death by gunshot. Michele Breton became a heroin addict and OD’ed shortly after the film was completed. James Fox had a nervous breakdown, joined a religious cult and didn’t return to acting until the 80’s. True stories, all.
This on the other hand… Not so classic. There’s some debate about whether or not Mick Jagger has any business making solo records at all, which is a very important topic to be debating about. I’ve always said that yes of course he does and should continue to do so. As we saw yesterday, sometimes it’s really top notch. As we see today, sometimes it’s very very silly. But I love it, because it’s fun and it’s something different, and it’s nice to see a well established performer branch out, even if they might look foolish doing so.
Do you ever have those moments when you hear a new song and you feel suddenly disoriented because it reminds you so much of something but you simply can’t figure out what that something is, then you realize that that something doesn’t exist, it’s just that this new song is so good it feels like something you’ve already loved forever? Doesn’t happen very often, but it’s a sure sign you’ve just heard something great. Mick Jagger’s Goddess in the Doorway gave me those feels, this track especially. Mick Jagger, of course, isn’t exactly a new artist and has decades of reference points behind him. Everything he does will inevitably in some way be referable to something he’s done in the past. When you’ve been in the pop game as long as Jagger, you could be living in a cave influenced by nothing but the sound of bats and people will still call you self-referential, or worse. Nonetheless, the feeling of ‘why hasn’t this always been there for me?’ is strong with this one.
I love Mick Jagger, but I have to admit, 1985 was not kind to him. Though I suppose it was his own fault he looked ridiculous. I’m one of the few fans who support Jagger’s solo career, and think he put out some really good stuff. But I think that doing a solo gig at Live Aid was not the best move. It was weird and sad to see Jagger trying to do his stadium thing with Hall & Oates for backup. He just looked lonely and lost up there without his mates to bounce off of. Keith and Ronnie, meanwhile, showed up to jam with Bob Dylan, which must have been awkward. Playing backup for Dylan is a thousandfold more of an honor than being backed up by Hall & Oates. Just absolutely not even in the same ballpark in terms of status. That must have been embarrassing for Jagger, who cares about those kind of things. The Rolling Stones have not always got along or been the best of friends, but no one can deny what a great unit they are. Even when they hate one another, they have fantastic chemistry as a group of musicians who’ve perfected the art of playing together. Mick Jagger is capable of doing great things on his own or with other collaborators, and is completely within his rights to want to do so sometimes. But seeing him stripped of that great team, onstage in front of a stadium full of people…it’s just not the same magic.
Does this have a whiff of midlife crisis? A bit of one, I’d say. If Mick Jagger had decided to go solo sometime in the sixties, he could easily have pulled it off. A few years fronting a popular band is a great jumping off point for a solo career, and many have done just that. The Stones could have disbanded when Brian Jones ceased to be functional, or when he died. That would have been an appropriate point of exit. As it happened, they did no such thing, and in staying determinedly together ensured some of their best work. It’s miraculous that The Rolling Stones have never broken up, because they’ve come very close many times. Whatever brotherly glue held the Glimmer Twins together didn’t begin to fray until the 80’s rolled around, and by then, it was too late for Mick Jagger, solo artist. Why did Jagger decided to make a solo album in 1985? Probably midlife crisis had something to do with it, and even more probably the fact that he and Keith weren’t getting along all that great, and also it was the 80’s and the 80’s made people do dumb things. She’s the Boss wasn’t a bad album, contrary to popular belief. It’s maybe too trendy and self-indulgent, but for a middle-aged rock frontman going solo, it’s rather good. It’s better than the mush Phil Collins was doing, or the gloop Elton John and Paul McCartney descended into, or David Bowie’s Tonight. One of the main problems Keith had with Mick was the latter hoarding all the best songs for himself. You can easily imagine if he hadn’t; She’s the Boss could have been a really great Rolling Stones album. No wonder Richards was jealous, those are some funky songs just begging for a Keef Riff. The real reason Mick Jagger’s solo career failed to take off, was simply that he had been in the Rolling Stones too long. The association was too strong to shake off. Jagger without Richards was like one lonely shoe without the other, and vice versa. If they hadn’t ingrained themselves into the public consciousness as an inseparatable duo for two decades already, they could have shaken each other off, but in 1985 it was far too late.