So, I’m driving around last Sunday morning when the Rolling Stones’ “Waiting on a Friend” comes wafting thru my car speakers. I’m alone. I’m listening. I get to thinking, as great as those guys are as rockers, they also really know how to write and deliver the slow songs, the ballads. (Maybe there’s a reason why they, more than any other ensemble, are called The World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band?)
Anyway, cruising down U.S. Route #1, I started making a mental list of their great slow stuff. My memory journeyed back to childhood: My parents have sent me to bed and I’m making like a surgeon, striving to oh-so-carefully tune my circa 1940s table top radio into those classic late-night AM stations like Boston’s WRKO (“68 WRKO!”), Buffalo’s WKBW, and WABC out of New York City. And now, a half-century later, here I am streaming the same songs on my iPad. Although music delivery might have changed unimaginably from those AM days (or nights), the Stones are still here, still bringing it. Here’s a Top 20 Slow Stones playlist in chronological order:
- “Heart of Stone” (1964)
The first Stones album I owned (and played the grooves off of) was High Tide and Green Grass (1966), their first greatest hits offering. The first four songs on this list were on it. “What’s different about her? I don’t really know…”
- “Good Times, Bad Times” off 12 X 5 (1964). “There’s gotta be trust in this world…”
- “As Tears Go By” off December’s Children (1965). Originally released by Marianne Faithfull, Jagger’s then girlfriend and a major crush for many of us who came of age in the 60s, it has since been covered many times. “It is the evening of the day…”
- “Play with Fire” off Out of Their Heads (1965). “But you’d better watch your step girl, or start living with your mother.” (very racy for 1965!) I owe thanks to the then students of Berwick Academy and New Hampton School for my love of these first four songs. I needed only to walk by any dormitory most any time of day to catch a listen. (As I’ve long said, a boarding school is a faculty kid’s paradise.)
- “She Smiled Sweetly” off the classic Between the Buttons (1967). “Why do my thoughts loom so large on me?”
- “Sittin’ on a Fence” off Flowers (1967). I sang this at a Hyde audition as a young faculty member. “All of my friends from school grew up and settled down; and they mortgaged off their lives.”
- “Back Street Girl” off Flowers. Can’t say why, but I remember Ken McCafferty ’88 offering up a strong acapella version of this song at one of his Hyde auditions. (Maybe I remember it because it speaks to one of the cool things about auditions at Hyde: Although Ken would be on anyone’s very short list of Hyde’s very best 1980’s athletes, it’s this singing audition that sticks out in my mind.)
- “Lady Jane” off Flowers. Although they like to project a hard-edged image — “Street Fighting Man”… “Jumping Jack Flash”… “Live With Me” — they have always had a fascination with and an admiration for British royalty.
- “No Expectations” off Beggars Banquet (1968). “Once I was a rich man, now I am so poor…”
- “Dear Doctor” off Beggars Banquet. “Oh, help me, please doctor. I’m damaged. There’s a pain where there once was a heart.”
- “You Got the Silver” off Let It Bleed (1969). Keith Richards manages to grab the mic from Mick and deliver a memorable solo.
- “Love in Vain” off Get Yer Ya-Yas Out! (1970). This is the song that turned me on to Robert Johnson. Seeing that I liked the song, Peter Jackson ’71, one of my buddies, introduced me to King of the Delta Blues Singers, a 1961 Columbia Records classic release of Johnson’s songs. (And that speaks to one of the cool things about boarding school.) “Well, I followed her to the station…”
- “Moonlight Mile” off Sticky Fingers (1971). “My dreams is fading down the railway line.”
- “Wild Horses” (1971) off Sticky Fingers. “I have my freedom but I don’t have much time.”
- “Sweet Virginia” off Exile on Main Street (1972), my favorite Stones album. When I picked up the harmonica, this was the first solo I practiced and (sort of) mastered.
- “Coming Down Again” off Goat’s Head Soup (1973). Might be my favorite of the bunch. Takes me back to early college daze. “Share your thoughts, there’s nothing you can hide…”
- “Fool to Cry” off Black & Blue (1976). “And it makes me wonder why…”
- “Memory Motel” off Black & Blue. Ostensibly about a Montauk, LI, NY hotel linked to Jagger’s affair with a certain rock photographer, this compelling number (a fan favorite at live shows) is one of their longest (7+ minutes) and one of the few to feature Jagger and Richards trading lyrics back-and-forth. “She got a mind of her own and she use it well.”
- “Far Away Eyes” off Some Girls (1978)
Perhaps due to Keith Richard’s friendship with the late Gram Parsons, the Stones always explored flirtations with country music (e.g., “Dear Doctor”… “Dead Flowers”… “Country Honk”). This is a classic example.
- “All About You” off Emotional Rescue (1980) – Another one featuring Keef on vocals.
BONUS: And we’re back where this daydream started with “Waiting on a Friend” off Tattoo You (1981). Hey, “I’m just standing in a doorway. I’m just trying to make some sense.” And while I’m trying to figure that out, I’m loving that Bobby Keys saxophone…
Onward, Malcolm Gauld