1976's Black and Blue was a turning point for the Rolling Stones. Guitarist wunderkind Mick Taylor had officially left the band and the Stones were trying out new guns during the album's recording, eventually settling on Ronnie Wood. Further, 1976 was the year where many critics stopped seeing the Stones as rock and roll trailblazers (albeit through their dedication to the recreation of archival material) and started to see them as a band struggling to stay current. Notoriously snarky, but well respected critic Lester Bangs even said that upon the release of Black and Blue, "This is the first meaningless Rolling Stones album, and thank God." The critical wound has more or less remained open through the current day with critics and music aficionados claiming things like the Stones being good up through Exile on Mainstreet. It's ironic then, that buried on side-B of Black and Blue was Fool to Cry," which might be the Stones' best ballad and proof that the aforementioned critics and commentators have no idea what they are talking about.
Where on previously releases the Stones had reached to the deep well of classic and rare blues/soul recordings for the foundation of their songs, "Fool to Cry" was one of the first Stones songs where the band embraced the current soul scene. A slow burning number that grows in pressure and tension through the end, "Fool to Cry" featured Mick Jagger playing the role of a depressed man who is told in turn by his daughter and booty call (NOTE: Not the same person, whew) that he's a "Fool to Cry." Though Jagger describes his depression, he never reveals the source, opening the song up to multiple interpretations. Is he a widower? Is he a cheater? Why is his little daughter, who is small enough to sit on his knee, giving him advice?
Meanwhile, Keith Richards' guitar is supported by Nicky Hopkins' string synthesizer giving the melancholy song a light dreaminess, similar to the sound being heard in the contemporary Chicago and Philadelphia soul scenes. The result of the combination of Jagger's falsetto and the band's melancholy sound is that the song allows for listener projection. This effect is not dissimilar to the master-cuts of lover-loneliness being created at the same time by Curtis Mayfield, Bobby Womack and Frederick Knight.
Because "Fool to Cry" was released at a career nexus, its fitting that twin-duo Tegan and Sara have recorded their own take on the song for the Girls soundtrack, just prior to the release of their upcoming album Heartthrob. It was 2004's So Jealous that brought Tegan and Sara into pop consciousness, and that was followed by 2007's The Con which had the killer single "Back in Your Head." But, where they were previously mainly an indie-rock (with maybe a little emo/goth in there), 2009's Sainthood found the ladies grasping pop and even dance music by both hands. Like the Stones, when they ventured outside their original definition, Tegan and Sara were at once applauded for their daring choice and also received some blowback for changing up the style. So the question is, what are they going to do now, at what might be their most important artistic juncture of their career?
On the Tegan and Sara version of "Fool to Cry," the duo make their most interesting and effective choice right off the bat. Instead of playing around with the lyrics, vocalist Tegan Quinn leaves the gender attachment to the words, which means that both that her daughter says "Daddy you're a fool to cry" and also that she visits a "woman in the poor part of town." When factoring the duo's past lyrics, sexuality, and Bowie covers, the choice, much like the original, allows the listener to project one of many meanings onto the gender-bending lyrical non-switch. Are they commenting on sexuality? Are they presenting the song from the perspective of mysterious woman in the Stones original? Are they just leaving the lyrics untouched in a sort of sacred re-enactment? Who knows, and they might not even know themselves, which of course makes the result that much more effective.
Meanwhile, the group pay homage to the Stones' mid-70's soul without pure recreation. The Philadelphia style strings and moog synthesizer are replaced by spacier, more modern synths. Meanwhile, the girls remove the gruff aspect from Jagger's vocal and harmonize in that incredibly sweet way that they can do, which almost makes them sound like robots… in a good way. The song retains its delicate touch, but still delivers the refrain like a punch to the chest. It's fitting that the precursor to Heartthrob is more of a stroke than an excited beat.
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