Looking back at the last great Rolling Stones LP
Released 40 years ago, Some Girls still stands as the best album the Rolling Stones released during the period encompassing the mid to late ‘70s. It might not rank with Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main St. as one of their more immortal offerings of that decade — those two titles became the stuff of legend after all — but it was seen as a comeback collection of sorts, especially in the wake of the scattershot efforts that preceded it, Goats Head Soup, It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll and Black and Blue.
In a sense, the Stones had been building to this point. The scourge of disco (which the Stones attempted to emulate with opening track “Miss You”) and the rise of punk and new wave found new contenders competing for their rock ‘n’ roll throne, putting them in the position of having to defend their crown following the critical drubbing that greeted those earlier efforts.
As always, it was the album cover that first caught attention, a collage of iconic women in a die-cut design that had the faces of the band members interspersed among such celebrities as Lucille Ball, Marilyn Monroe, Farrah Fawcett, Judy Garland and Raquel Welch. They cheekily were placed as part of an ad for Valmor Products, a vintage beauty and cosmetics company. Many of the celebrities sued to have their pictures removed, resulting in a later reissue of the album with all the actresses excised. They were replaced by garish punk-like pictures and an inscription which read “Pardon our appearance – cover under re-construction.” They were later replaced by and-drawn images when the album was reissued in the ‘80s reissue
(Personally, we find it baffling that anyone would object to being represented on a Rolling Stones album cover. They can take my mugshot anytime.)
Fortunately, the music contained within not only assuaged the critics, but came off with a consistency the band hadn’t displayed since Exile and arguably since Sticky Fingers as well. The public response justified that view, taking it to number one on the Billboard charts and later earning it the distinction of becoming the band’s best selling album in the U.S. as of 2000. When one considers all the other albums in their storied catalog, that’s certainly some distinction.
Even so, making the album posed a challenge for the then-splintered band. Keith Richards had been busted the year before after attempting to bring drugs into Canada, which in turn forced the cancellation of much of their touring schedule for the rest of the year. Meanwhile, Jagger was frolicking at Studio 54 and enjoying life as a denizen of New York’s decadent disco and celebrity scene. He later claimed that it was those environs that inspired the album overall, even as he took credit for writing most of its songs.
Guitarist Ron Wood was still the new boy in the band at that point — some fans still refer to him as such — and Some Girls marked the first Stones album that found him fully immersed within the band’s inner core. With Black and Blue, he had been one of several sidemen that had been considered to take over the guitar spot vacated by Mick Taylor the year before. Wood was often prone to playing slide guitar, and with Jagger also feeling comfortable toting an axe of his own, the Stones’ front line was sturdier than ever before. Their ranks were augmented by an impressive array of extras, among them Wood’s colleague on keyboards from the Faces, Ian McLagan, King Crimson’s former sax player Mel Collins, and Free/Bad Company drummer Simon Kirke on percussion. Ian Stewart, the band’s trusty road manager and often unheralded piano player, opted out of the sessions thinking he wasn’t needed.
Recording began in October 1977 and resumed after a Christmas hiatus in the new year. The group reportedly cut some 50 songs, many of which turned up on subsequent albums. Nevertheless, as is typical for the Stones, controversy continued in the form of the lyrics that accompanied the title track. As would be expected, the line “Black girls just wanna get fucked all night” caused activist groups to howl in protest and Atlantic Records, the band’s label at the time, to fight unsuccessfully to have the song removed.
Naturally, the band would have none of it.
Ultimately, “Some Girls” could be considered one of the weaker tracks on the album, not because it wasn’t a strong song, but because the material that surrounded it was that much more emphatic. “When The Whip Comes Down” provided the same sort of riveting assault that powered “Midnight Rambler” and “Sympathy for the Devil” on albums past. “Beast of Burden” offered the kind of razor sharp riffs ideal for inclusion in their concert set lists where it still finds occasional inclusion even now. “Beast also made the top ten on the singles charts, following the number one placement accorded “Miss You.” on its initial release. Likewise, Richards provided another of his signature songs in “Before They Make Me Run,” an offering which alludes to his drug bust and also remains in their set list as of their current tour.
Other highlights include “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me),” another in a string of R&B covers that can be tracked down to the band’s early inception, the album’s token ballad, “Far Away Eyes,” and “Shattered,” another semi-disco piece that shuffles along to a mumbled trance like refrain.
Forty years on, Some Girls is still struggling to find acceptance in the upper echelons of prominent Stones albums, a difficult status to attain given the earlier competition. That said, it’s arguably the last great Stones album even until now, besting everything the ‘80s had to offer. Emotional Rescue and Tattoo You arguably came close, but we’d consider Some Girls some tough contender.