Friday, June 18, 2010

Rolling Stones 23: Black And Blue

We might as well get this out of the way up front: Black And Blue shouldn’t be as good as it is. This transitional album took over a year to record, with a tour stuck in the middle. After all that time and drama, the album consists of eight songs of varying effectiveness that at least break the forty-minute mark. Part of this is due to the revolving cast. While Ron Wood is on the cover—one of the ugliest portraits of any band ever—he only plays on three songs; the others feature the work of American guitarists Wayne Perkins and Harvey Mandel. The track sheets reproduced on the inner sleeve spell out exactly who does what and where.
“Hot Stuff” turns a James Brown riff inside out while Mick tries to figure out if he wants to disco or reggae. “Hand Of Fate” is a more straightforward rocker in the Stones tradition with a fantastic solo played by—you guessed it—Wayne Perkins. Keith’s love of reggae takes over on “Cherry Oh Baby”; it would take a few more tries before he got the groove down and told Mick to stay out of the way. The pinnacle comes with “Memory Motel”, one of the band’s best songs. Based on pianos played by Mick and Keith, this tale of loneliness on the road never fails to pull a heartstring. They didn’t often duet, but Keith’s counterpoint on the verses and after each chorus establishes it as a favorite.
Things are just as schizophrenic on side two. After all the credits Mick Taylor got cheated out of, it must have irritated him no end to see “Hey Negrita”, a plodding Jagger/Richard composition, annotated with “inspiration by Ron Wood”. Ditto “Melody”, which gives a similar nod to Billy Preston, who probably did write the song. “Fool To Cry” was the single, anchored by more phased electric piano and driven by Mick’s ill-advised falsetto and lyrics lamenting his station in life between wives, children and mistresses. They hadn’t done a ballad in a while anyway. “Crazy Mama”—which sadly, has nothing to do with the Cloris Leachman film—ends the album with another blueprint rocker.
As transitional Stones albums go, Black And Blue is no Let It Bleed. But starting here, Ron Wood achieved a lifelong dream to become Keith’s shadow, and to Keith’s discredit, he went along with it. (Think about it: whenever Woody’s around Rod Stewart, he thinks he’s Rod Stewart, and when he’s around Keith, he thinks he’s Keith.) While we’re happy Keith had someone to hang out with, we don’t listen to Stones albums for Ron Wood, we listen for Keith. Nonetheless, he’s here to stay. And then some.

The Rolling Stones Black And Blue (1976)—


  1. your review totally sucks. Black and Blue is a great album

  2. Gee, who can possibly argue with that? When you put it so succinctly, there's no need to explain. Thanks for reading!

  3. I guess I'm going to have to listen to this one again. I haven't heard it for years but when I first heard it I thought the Rolling Stones had sunk to the bottom. And coming right after "It's Only Rock and Roll" and "Goats Head Soup", which I also considered below par for the group, it just left a bad taste in my mouth.

    This is the album that convinced me that The Beatles and the Rolling Stones should have followed each others example. The Beatles should have stayed together forever with various members releasing an occassional solo album. While the Rolling Stones should have broken up for good in 1972 making "Exile On Main Street" their last album. From the 1960s through 1972, the Rolling Stones rarely released a mediocre album (i.e. "Their Satanic Majesties Request"). But after 1972, a good album from them is a rare exception ("Some Girls" and "Tattoo You" are good efforts).

    To be fair, I haven't listened to "Black and Blue" since I was a teenager. I'll have to break out the turntable and listen to it again because I don't have it on CD and I don't want to buy it just yet.


  4. Somebody -- probably Lester Bangs -- said there are Beatles people and there are Stones people. Stones people would probably disagree with your suggestion. It certainly spurs lots of debate as how to put together various '70s Beatles albums from solo material. (I've only gotten as far as a hypothetical Xmas 1970 release, and still can't decide on a sequence. I'll have to put one up here one of these days.)

    Black And Blue was an album I avoided for a while -- mostly because of the funky stuff. But "Memory Motel" floored me, and I grew to like some of those funky ones. I think it's held up.