Song of the Week – Sweet Black Angel & All Down the Line, The Rolling Stones

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Rolling Stones’ classic double album, Exile on Main Street.  I’ve been trying unsuccessfully to verify the exact date of release.  I recently read a review by Robert Greenfield that was in Rolling Stone magazine dated April 27, 1972.  In the article, he says that the album will be out on May 7th.  But it’s very plausible that the release was delayed after he wrote that.

An article in the WSJ claimed the release date was May 12, 1972.  Wikipedia says it was May 22nd.  I think part of the confusion may be related to the US versus UK releases.  It could have been the 12th in the US and the 26th in the UK.  I guess it doesn’t really matter!

The backstory of the making of Exile is well known so I won’t be pedantic in telling it.  The short version is that the Stones were living in France in 1971-72 as tax exiles from England.  Unable to find an acceptable recording facility in France, the band decided to record from the basement of Keith Richards southern France villa (Nellcôte) using their mobile studio.

Describing this arrangement, Keith said “It was nice for me making this album.  At the end it got a little hectic in the house what with playin’ all night in the blazin’ heat… but with the 16 track truck always outside and ready, we’d go downstairs whenever we felt like it and work on a riff.”

My choices for SotW are the b-sides to the two singles released from Exile.  “Sweet Black Angel” was the flip to “Tumbling Dice” and “All Down the Line” was on the other side of “Happy.”

“Sweet Black Angel” was written in support of Black activist Angel Davis.  At the time, Davis was on trial for murder because she had purchased the gun used in the courtroom killing of a judge and the three black defendants (The Soledad Brothers) on trial for killing a prison guard.

But the gal in danger
Yeah, de gal in chains
But she keep on pushin’
Would ya take her place?

She countin’ up de minutes
She countin’ up de days
She’s a sweet black angel, woh
Not a sweet black slave

For a judge they murdered
And a judge they stole
Now de judge he gonna judge her
For all dat he’s worth

I skipped one verse that makes me cringe and probably makes the song unplayable in concert for the same reason “Brown Sugar” is avoided.  It just ain’t politically correct.

Ten little niggers
Sittin’ on de wall
Her brothers been a fallin’
Fallin’ one by one

“All Down the Line” is an R&B influenced rocker.

It features some smokin’ horns and a bluesy, rockin’ slide guitar solo by Mick Taylor.  It was originally recorded in an acoustic version during the Sticky Fingers sessions and is available on bootlegs.  I’ll include it here because I can.

Clearly, the Stones made the right decision to table it until they could record a version worthy of release!

Exile has survived the test of time. Upon its 1972 release the messy, beautiful album was met with mixed reviews.  Rock journalist Nick Kent summarized his review with this:

On Exile the Stones have picked up on the old idea of ‘when in doubt, get back to your roots’ – there is no spirit of adventure or any real variety and for a double album that’s bad.  But by concentrating on what they’ve always been good at, they’ve proved once and for all their capabilities as rockers.  For that alone, Exile on Main Street should not be ignored.

Exile is often in the top 10 of lists of the greatest albums of all time. In Rolling Stone’s most recent list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time (October 2020) Exile earned the #14 slot.  Not bad!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Scarlet, The Rolling Stones

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

In 2019, The Rolling Stones released a 50th Anniversary edition of their classic album Let It Bleed.  It came in a variety of multi-format packages but had no alternate versions or outtakes.  What the hell was the purpose of that?  As great as that album is, how many copies do we need?  That reeks to me of a money-grabbing rip off.

Fast forward a year to 2020 and the group released a “Super Deluxe” boxed set of Goats Head Soup (1973).  Now this one was done right.  It has a remixed version of the original album on one disc.  A second disc has rarities and alternative mixes including three previously unreleased tracks.  One of them, “Scarlet,” is today’s SotW.

Devoted Stones fans have always heard rumor that there was an unreleased track that features Jimmy Page.  Well, here it is!  Of “Scarlet,” MOJO magazine said: “A mesmerizing groove, propelled by three interlocking guitar riffs, this bafflingly-shelved gem points towards the crunching ‘80s Stones of Start Me Up.”

A third disc contains a previously unreleased, complete concert — The Brussels Affair recorded live at the Forest National Arena in October 1973.  Goats Head Soup has been underappreciated.  This set proves that it is worth reevaluation.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Street Fighting Man, Rolling Stones; Peace Frog, The Doors; Peace Dog, The Cult


Did anyone watch the four-part series on CNN called 1968 – The Year that Changed America? It was very good and highlighted the turmoil that gripped the country the same year that saw the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr and Robert Kennedy as well as marches against the Viet Nam War, the violent clashes at the Democratic National Convention and the civil rights protests by American athletes at the Summer Olympics.

And the strife wasn’t confined within the borders of the US. Events that took place in the summer of ’68 converged in rock music.

“Street Fighting Man” by the Rolling Stones was written about Tariq Ali, a British Pakistani political activist, after he marched on the American embassy in London’s Grosvenor Square in 1968 in a demonstration against the Vietnam war.

Keith Richards guitar part on “Street Fighting Man” was famously recorded using an acoustic guitar overloaded onto a cassette tape. No electric guitars are on the cut.

It took another 18 months for the Doors to weigh in, but they contributed “Peace Frog” from their Morrison Hotel album.

Wikipedia says the “lyrics were adapted from a couple of Morrison’s poems, one being entitled “Abortion Stories”. Guitarist Robby Krieger has told the story of writing (and then recording) the music for “Peace Frog,” and then working with Morrison to look through his notebooks of poetry until the lyrics came to the song.”

But many listeners interpreted the song as a response to the Chicago Convention protests or to Morrison’s arrest in New Haven for lewd behavior onstage. (He does refer to New Haven in the lyrics.)

I’m all in on the Chicago Convention theory because the first and last verse say:

There’s blood in the streets, it’s up to my ankles (She came)
Blood in the streets, it’s up to my knee (She came)
Blood in the streets in the town of Chicago (She came)
Blood on the rise, it’s following me
Think about the break of day
She came and then she drove away
Sunlight in her hair

We could use more of this 50 years later, in 2018!

I don’t really know if The Cult’s “Peace Dog” has anything to do with The Doors recording but the stylistic and title similarities will forever connect these two songs in my mind. So I’ll throw that one in here too, for good measure.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Good Times, The Jay-Bees


In late 1964 the Rolling Stones released their second album in the US, 12 x 5. It included a couple of their early hits — “Time Is on My Side” and “It’s All Over Now,” both covers of American R&B songs. But by this time Jagger and Richards were already dipping their toes into the songwriting waters.

One of the originals on 12 x 5 was “Good Times, Bad Times.” It’s a decent slow, country blues. It may remind you of their version of Fred McDowell and Gary Davis’ “You Gotta Move” from Sticky Fingers.

In 1968 a garage band from West Virginia called the Jay-Bees took the song, converted it to a minor key and created a proto punk classic. (They also shortened the title to “Good Times.”)

The creepy laugh that continues throughout the song adds to the haunted house effect of the cut.

Why this track never made it onto one of the Nuggets compilations is a mystery to me. Someone needs to contact archivist Lenny Kaye to try to get the answer.

But no matter… I’d guess the Stones — the original punks — would approve of the Jay-Bees treatment.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Moonlight Mile, Rolling Stones & Blue, Jayhawks


A “rock death” escaped me at the end of 2017. On November 7th, Paul Buckmaster passed away at the age of 71. As yet, the cause of death has still not been disclosed.

I first became aware of Buckmaster’s work through the liner notes for Elton John’s string of six outstanding albums from Elton John (1970) through Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973). Throughout his career, Buckmaster arranged 52 songs for John.

But he did so much more than that. He arranged the strings on David Bowie’s first breakthrough hit, “Space Oddity.” He worked on other mega hits in the early 70s including Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain” and Nilsson’s “Without You.” He sweetened the Grateful Dead’s “Terrapin Station” and played cello for Miles Davis. (Davis credited Buckmaster with introducing him to the work of 20th century, avant garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen.

He also made his mark on the last minute of “Sway” from the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers. But his work on that album’s “Moonlight Mile” is more noteworthy.

Mick Jagger worked with Mick Taylor on this song as Keith Richards was MIA. It was Taylor’s idea to ask Buckmaster to gin up a string arrangement for the song. Taylor expected (some would say promised) a song credit for his contributions. But upon release the credit went to the Jagger/Richards team.

Buckmaster continued to work with pop and country artist and in the mid ‘90s he contributed to “Blue” by the Jayhawks.

The songs most prominent feature is its soaring harmonies. But Buckmaster adds a subtle string arrangement that perfectly complements the emotion of the song.

Before his passing, Buckmaster worked with everyone from Counting Crows to Train, Heart to Guns N’ Roses, Carrie Underwood to Taylor Swift, Something Corporate to New Found Glory (and plenty more). His legacy will live for generations!

Enjoy… until next week.

Extra Song of the Week – Let’s Spend Some Time Together, The Rolling Stones

It was 50 years ago tonight that the Rolling Stones appeared on Ed Sullivan and changed the words to Let’s Spend the Night Together to Let’s Spend Some Time Together in order to satisfy Sullivan’s puritanical ethics.

Due to copyright issues the televised Sullivan performance isn’t available on YouTube, but a bootleg taping of the rehearsal is. Here it is but you have to watch “Ruby Tuesday” first (and tolerate the girls’ screaming).


Song of the Week – Down Home Girl – Alvin Robinson, Rolling Stones, Taj Mahal, Nic Armstrong


Today’s SotW is another installment in my ongoing “evolution” series. This one is solidly in the category of you can’t ef up a great song.

“Down Home Girl” was written by Jerry Leiber and Artie Butler and first recorded by New Orleans based Alvin “Shine” Robinson on the Red Bird Records in 1964. Red Bird was a label founded by Leiber and Mike Stoller after their long, successful run at Atlantic Records. They hit their stride with the Dixie Cups “Chapel of Love” and a series of hits by the Shangri-Las.

The original Robinson recording has a vocal that is reminiscent of Ray Charles’ singing style and was produced by Leiber & Stoller.

A year later, in 1965, the Rolling Stones covered the song.

Before Jagger and Richards began to have success as songwriters, they had an uncanny sense for selecting great songs to cover. Irma Thomas’ “Time is on My Side” and Bobby Womack’s “It’s All Over Now” are a couple of fine examples. The Stones use a harp to color the song a little more blue and translate the original’s distinctive horn riff with a guitar. Mick’s vocal is especially strong on this cut that was on the British album The Rolling Stones No. 2 and Now! in the US. Check out the movie Charlie My Darling for a cool, full live performance of the song.

“Down Home Girl” continued to attract more artists to take a run it. Later in ’65 the Astronauts, a Colorado based surf band, recorded it. The Coasters, who may have been the best interpreters of Leiber/Stoller songs, recorded yet another version in 1967.

Almost 30 years later, in 1993, Taj Mahal revived the song on his album Dancing the Blues.

Mahal expands the arrangement with a full horn section that’s featured about 2 minutes in and a sax solo that takes it through the fade out.

In 2004, retro rocker Nic Armstrong released his own version of “Down Home Girl.”

Armstrong’s take is similar to the Stones’. The novelty in his version is in the middle section where a guitar references Donovan’s “Sunshine Superman.” Do you hear it?

I’m aware of another, slower, country take by the Old Crow Medicine Show that came out as recently as 2006. And I’m equally sure we will be hearing new versions for years to com.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Wang Dang Doodle, Koko Taylor; 2120 South Michigan Avenue, The Rolling Stones


An icon of Blues and R&B, Phil Chess, passed away this week.

Phil and his brother Leonard co-founded Chess Records in Chicago, home to such artists as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Etta James, Willie Dixon, Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry.

Here’s one of my favorites from Chess – “Wang Dang Doodle” by Koko Taylor

“WDD” was written by Willie Dixon and first recorded by Howlin’ Wolf, but it’s Taylor’s version that hit with an audience. The gender switch makes it really sassy.

I don’t know if you could say that The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, the initial Fleetwood Mac and Cream wouldn’t have existed without Chess Records, but it’s pretty safe to say without Chess they wouldn’t have sounded the same.

The Rolling Stones visited Chess Studios on their first visit to the US in June 1964. In fact, they were totally psyched to not only get to look around but to actually record in the same room as their blues heroes.

One of the tracks they laid down was an instrumental called “2120 South Michigan Avenue.”

The title of the song pays tribute to Chess Studios – it calls out the street address. The writing credit was given to Nanker Phelge, a pseudonym used by the Stones in the early days for group compositions.

The version heard in the US on the album 12 x 5 was only about two minutes long. I have a German release of Around and Around that has an extended version that runs about three and a half minutes. That version was used on the CD release of 12 x 5 and is the one I’ve presented here.

Phil Chess was 95 years old when he died in Arizona. May he rest in peace.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Gimme Shelter, Rolling Stones; The Battle of Evermore, Led Zeppelin; Every Picture Tells a Story, Rod Stewart; The Great Gig in the Sky, Pink Floyd


A few years ago a film was released called 20 Feet from Stardom (2013). It’s all about the background singers whose fine work has supported so many more famous acts in the studio and on the road.

Today’s post highlights a few of my favorite examples of the value the background singers often contribute.

Merry Clayton, perhaps the most sought background singer in the rock era and one of the featured artists in 20 Feet from Stardom, provided the memorable performance on the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” (1969).

In a 2013 interview on Fresh Air with NPR’s Terry Gross, Clayton told her story about the making of “Gimme Shelter.”

Well, I’m at home at about 12–I’d say about 11:30, almost 12 o’clock at night. And I’m hunkered down in my bed with my husband, very pregnant, and we got a call from a dear friend of mine and producer named Jack Nitzsche. Jack Nitzsche called and said “You know, Merry, are you busy?” I said “No, I’m in bed.” He says, “Well, you know, there are some guys in town from England and they need someone to come and sing a duet with them, but I can’t get anybody to do it. Could you come?” He said “I really think this would be something good for you.”

Mick Jagger told NPRs’ Melissa Block on All Things Considered:

“We randomly phoned up this poor lady in the middle of the night, and she arrived in her curlers and proceeded to do that in one or two takes, which is pretty amazing. She came in and knocked off this rather odd lyric. It’s not the sort of lyric you give anyone–‘Rape, murder/It’s just a shot away’– but she really got into it, as you can hear on the record.”

Clayton later lost her pregnancy to a miscarriage. Though unrelated, the association with “Gimme Shelter” made it very difficult to listen to the song for many years.

In 1970 Led Zeppelin released their acclaimed 4th album. “Stairway to Heaven” get the most attention but deep cut “The Battle of Evermore” is equally worthy. And it wouldn’t be the same without the vocal provided by Sandy Denny.

The song has the flavor of a traditional British folk song, so inviting Sandy Denny – whose pedigree was with Fairport Convention and Fotheringay – was a natural choice. Robert Plant and Denny perform a duet on this song. It is a story that references The Lord of the Rings where Plant plays the role of the narrator and Denny represents the town crier. “… Evermore” is the only Led Zeppelin song that has ever used a guest vocalist. Well played!

Maggie Bell’s effort on Rod Stewart’s “Every Picture Tells a Story” is smaller but no less significant.

She adds harmony on the fabulous fifth verse and, along with John Baldry, sings the “every picture tells a story, don’t it” line that repeats through the end of the song. But her best part is when Stewart sings the line “Shanghai Lil never used the pill” and Bell spits out the response “she claimed that it just ain’t natural.” That seals the deal for me.

Lastly is Clare Torry’s improvised vocal on Pink Floyd’s “The Great Gig in the Sky.”

Torry was introduced to the band by Alan Parsons, who engineered the classic Dark Side of the Moon at Abbey Road. Initially reluctant, Torry agreed to the session and recorded 2 ½ takes. The final was an edit of all three takes. All pressings of the song since 2005 give Torry co-writing credit for “TGGitS.”

I can’t imagine any of these iconic rock records without the key contributions from these female supporting vocalists.

Enjoy… until next week.

One Last Stones Top 10

I’m a little late to this game but here’s my list.

Putting together a Stones Top 10 List has been difficult for each of us. It seems like an impossible task. But you know, if I had to put together a list of my all-time Top 10 Rock songs, something by the Stones would have to be on it… and that something would be Satisfaction. Now that I’ve got the easy one out of the way I can move on.

2120 South Michigan Avenue
This instrumental was named after the address of the Chicago’s Chess Studios where it was recorded but was also home to many of the electric blues artists the Rolling Stones revered. I was originally familiar with the version on the US album 12 X 5 (1964). In the 80s I picked up a British import vinyl called Around and Around that also contained a version of the song – but it went on longer than the 12 X 5 version. Hearing the longer version was like discovering the song all over again.

Off the Hook
I always liked this little straight ahead, party song. Maybe it’s because of the cool performance of that they did for the T.A.M.I. Show. It was on the US album The Rolling Stones Now! that was released in 1965. It made its way onto countless mix tapes I gave away in the 80s.

The Last Time
Killer riff on this gospel influenced number.

Ruby Tuesday
This was a big hit that I seem to favor because it was so different than everything else when it came out. Brian Jones was the mastermind behind this arrangement. He played the recorder part (and piano) that lends the song its iconic sound. The melancholy verses blend perfectly with the anthemic chorus.

Stray Cat Blues

Midnight Rambler
This song debuted at the July 5, 1969 concert the band performed in Hyde Park, just 2 days after Brian Jones died. It made its recorded debut toward the end of ’69 on the Stones album Let It Bleed. But the definitive version was the one on Get Yer Ya-Yas Out! with Mick Taylor on guitar.

Can’t You Hear Me Knocking
This 7+ minute cut begins like a pretty typical Stones song but after about 2:45 develops into an extended jam – they just kept the tape rolling, thank God. Fantastic guitar solos by Mick Taylor and Keith Richards, and a very nice sax solo by one of my heroes – Bobby Keys.

Hand of Fate
I’ve chosen this song because the guitar playing is so great. The guitar solos are fantastic, especially the one that burns through the final minute of the song. And who’s ripping off those cool riffs? Black and Blue’s mystery guitarist Wayne Perkins.

The Stones at their most pissed off – calling out late 70s, squeegee NYC as they see it. “Go ahead, bite the Big Apple, don’t mind the maggots.”