The Rolling Stones have often been called the greatest rock ‘n roll band ever. That level of hype might seem typical. Still what makes them such a great band is that they understand the importance of evolution in the black American music they love. This took Mick,Keith,Bill and Charlie on a journey from the blues all the way to trip hop. Always in between was a lot of soul and plenty of funk. It wasn’t until my mid 20s that I began exploring their music outside the context of the hits played on oldies radios. And it was that sense of evolution with their creative influences is what came through most during this more in depth exploration of their musicality.
One album that had me the most curious out of all their work was the 1976 release of Black And Blue. The band had already toured along with Stevie Wonder four years earlier. And likely from that recognized that the direct,three minute soul style of the mid 60’s was transitioning into longer,more percussion driven jamming that people like Mick Jagger saw in James Brown as well when they both performed on the Tami Show over a decade earlier. With the replacement of guitarist Mick Taylor with Ron Wood for this album, an internal change within the band fully cemented their next musical transition. And the new album literally started out with some “Hot Stuff”.
Keith Richards starts off with a relatively high up on the neck lead guitar solo with a brittle Crescent City groove, before Charlie Watts kicks in with a potent 4/4 beat. Billy Preston’s stomping,bassy piano chimes in with the percussion of Ollie Brown and Ian Stewart coming in as a strong rhythmic element. Meanwhile Bill Wyman keeps up a high pitched mid 70’s P-Funk style bass line throughout the musical affair. With the chorus of the song preceding the the more atonal refrains, the bridge of the song features Keith playing a more rocking blues guitar solo in his classic style. On the final chorus, Mick Jagger basically raps in a reverbed Lee Perry reggae style until the song comes to a cold stop.
While many rockers in the mid to late 70’s made some incredibly funky music, this song stands out as a straight up funk groove in the context of a band. Since these players have just as firm an understanding of the blues as an Eric Clapton and John Mayall, they came to also understand what they both did. That by adding cleanly production and playing would evolve the music strongly. In the Stones case? They evolved into the funk sound. And everyone in the band and the accompanying session musicians understand why each riff,each solo worked so well within the song. And that’s what makes “Hot Stuff” likely the most fully formed funk the Rolling Stones ever threw down.
Filed under 1970's, Billy Preston, Funk, James Brown, Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, P-Funk, percussion, reggae, rock 'n' roll, Rolling Stones, Tami Show, Uncategorized
I’ve never heard a Rolling Stones album receive more overall flack than this album over the years. It always seemed that whenever they tried something that went beyond their “classic rock” style after the mid 1970’s the rock critics had their red pens at the ready to check mark any culturally disagreeable elements,by their standards anyway. And the mid 80’s was an enormous battlefield for that. The rawness of classic rock was being replaced by slicker production due mainly to technological progress and as with all things some didn’t get into that change. But for all the internal discord (including Keith Richards sporting “Who The $&#! Is Mick Jagger?” t-shirts in public) it’s a credit to this band that they were able to keep up with all the changes in the rock scene with a lot more dignity than one would give them credit for.
Luckily for any Stones fan whose eased past this with caution over the years this album contains primarily one type of music: ROCK,ROCK AND MORE ROCK! “One Hit”,”Fight”,”Hold Back”,the title track and “Had It With You” are all gritty,riff heavy rockers of a similar type that the Stones had started to run into the ground only a few years before but the hot production and yes a few of the loud mid 80’s drum effects give them a new flavor slightly different from the older Stones rockers. Many complain that Mick’s voice is nothing but abrasive on this album but it’s a style he often used so his constant growling of the vocals works here. A few additional highlights are the poppy shuffle of “Winning Ugly” and of course “Harlem Shuffle”,a retro Memphis/Wilson Picket Pickett type soul send up that comes off as a bit of a revved up version of Steve Winwood’s later Roll With It. There’s also “Back To Zero”,a NASTY funk jam with some heavy JB style rhythm guitar and sound pointed use of bass synth as accents.
The album includes another dub type tune in “Too Rude” and includes with the Keith’s heartland rock-style ballad “Sleep Tonight,which actually revvs it up quite a lot towards the middle and includes some wonderfully subtle moments. Believe it or not this album is actually comparatively light on mid 80’s production cliches such as gated drums and excessively loud guitars and synthesizers. It is a cconsistentlymore modern style in terms of the overall production of sound than earlier albums that had a garagier flavor on that end of things. All the same it was something you could here coming (in certain places) on their previous album Undercover. But it certainly isn’t as aggressively contemporary as Mick Jagger’s (in my opinion) equally underrated solo debut She’s the Boss and when it rocks it rocks hard and when it’s funky it’s some of the tightest,nastiest grooves they ever put on record!
Originally posted on April 30th,2011
Link to original review here*