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.