1978: The year the Stones went punk… and country… and disco. Following the releases of 1974's It's Only Rock and Roll and 1976's Black and Blue, the press had begun to say that the group had transformed into "a band that didn't matter." Likely in response to the danger of losing their edge, as well as a way to stay contemporary, for the first time in their entire career, the Stones seemed to formulate a stratagem as to how they would approach their next record, in contrast to their former method of just going to the studio and seeing what happened.
The Stones have recently commented that they weren't fans of punk per se*, but did see the movement as a wake up call. Gone were the days of grandiose, orchestra pit-laced rock, and youthful energy and inexperience was taking over.
The songs on Some Girls, the result of their gambit, find the band getting back to the simple and fierce, an aesthetic not seen since their very first Chicago Blues period from 1962-1964. Both in lyrical content and angular sounds, Some Girls is the band's angriest album. On "When the Whip Comes Down" Mick Jagger spits at the English upper crust for rejecting him, all while acknowledging his own presence in the hoite-toite scene with the biting line "Doin' heroin with the president!" Meanwhile, Keith Richards continues with his trademark open chord sound, but seems to strike the strings harder than before and with more vengeance, giving the album a very punk sound that still retained its connections to blues.
Acknowledging punk's conceit to attack media glossiness, on "Shattered," Jagger demands "Go ahead, bite the big apple / Don't mind the maggots!" All the while, the whole band takes pains, either by effort or natural skill, to retain musicality under the speed and ire, so that, if this thing called punk never existed, the tunes would just be really fast, angry rock music.
Although the album certainly feels like a punk album, due to its six "punk" songs acting as buoys, the band also dips into some relatively new styles, but deftly keeps the bile of the harder tracks in the smoother ones. While their hit single "Miss You" has been called their "disco song," between the song's prominent guitar and Charlie Watts' driving backbeat, 30-some years perspective doesn't suggest that the song so much is a disco cut as it's a rock tune meant for the dance club or maybe just a straight up funk swagger. Between the band's five personalities, everything snaps together on the tune, with Jagger using the sample descriptions "We gonna bring a case of wine / Have a real good time / There's some Puerto Rican girls just dyin' to meet you" and "Sometimes I feel abandoned" to describe New York circa the era, while Richards' rising, almost ghost-like, muscular riff drives the song forward.
While the band had slipped social commentary into their genre explorations through metaphor or obtuse description before, on "Girl With Far Away Eyes," they show loving appreciation for country while acknowledging the inherent silliness that pops up in the genre. Richards balances his delicate acoustic strumming off Ronnie Wood's slide guitar, while Jagger describes a situation where he figures his beau "would be off with the nearest truck driver she could find" and notes "You know, the preacher on the radio says the Lord is always by your side / So I ran ten red lights in His honor."
Acting as sort of a connector between the country and disco tunes and the harder edge ones, the band placed their (perhaps) most famous ballad "Beast of Burden" near the end. While Some Girls was lyrically direct, "Beast of Burden" featured obtuse words concerning being a parasite to others, all over an airy, delicate, but down-toned riff. In later interviews, Richards has stated that the song is his message to Jagger. Whether or not the band is currently getting along is up for speculation, but it seems that during this era, the band might have been getting on each other's nerves slightly, and in doing so, created just the right energy to fashion their tightest, meanest, most rocking masterpiece.
The deluxe reissue features 12 tracks that never made it to finished form that have been finished up just this past year. While many of the tunes are classic Stones, the band made the right choice by keeping the album lean. Curiously, most of the tracks are country tunes in contrast to the harder rock of the album proper.
"No Spare Parts" is a lost Stones masterpiece, bubbling with the energy and unfettered emotion heard on their early '70s tracks. "Claudine," the band's tribute to an heiress that shot and killed her Olympian husband and received but a few weeks in prison, rocks along with the concept, energy and vitriol of the the album, but would have thrown the tight package off kilter. Richards' cover of "You Win Again" is a heartfelt, faithful rendition of the famous version, but it's so low key that it may have taken the sting from the attack of the LP tunes. As such, each of the bonus tracks are better off as singles, showing that when the Stones were on, they were ON.
With their 50th anniversary this year, Stones fandom is guessing if the band will get back on the road, and whether they do or do not actually hate each other. Hopefully, the bands interrelationships are between those extremes, because when the band is on each other's nerves just a little, maybe they'll make an album as fast, fierce and angry as Some Girls.
*Mick Jagger once said that punk was fleeting, asking, "Who could name more than three or four punk bands?" Sorry Mick, you are a boss, but I can easily name 100 without even stopping to think about it.