The Rolling Stones – It’s Only Rock ‘N Roll

It’s Only Rock ‘N Roll (1974)


1. If You Can’t Rock Me 2. Ain’t Too Proud To Beg 3. It’s Only Rock ‘N Roll (But I Like It) 4. Till The Next Goodbye 5. Time Waits For No One 6. Luxury 7. Dance Little Sister 8. If You Really Want To Be My Friend 9. Short & Curlies 10. Fingerprint File


Sorry about the scant updates of late. It’s the holiday season. You know how it is. Traveling, eating, drinking, hanging out with my girlfriend’s family, and doing my best to withstand a few days with my parents has taken up pretty much all my time, and sort of deflated my enthusiasm for reviewing the Stones’ semi-depressing mid-70s “just coasting” era. Which culminates, and fortunately, comes to an end (in the studio, at least) with the exceedingly formulaic It’s Only Rock ‘N Roll. It’s a decent but unexciting record that sees the Stones getting all reactionary and strapping on their rocking boots in order to prove that Goats Head Soup’s dull languidity was just a fluke, in the process demonstrating little real inspiration. On the plus side, Keith has emerged from the rock he was hiding under last time around (and by “rock” I mean “pile of needles and spoons”) with no more than a few rotten teeth to show for it. And he’s back to, you know, playing on every song like he’s supposed to. So I’ll forgive him for his solo on the endearingly energetic but shockingly sloppy cover of “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg,” which is like the guitar equivalent of drunk farting.

But even though all the elements of a great Stones record are theoretically in place, the heart just isn’t all there. Chalk it up partly to Mick Taylor, who had suddenly morphed into a soulless twiddler who desired nothing more than make all his playing as technically proficient yet boring as possible. His big spotlight is “Time Waits For No One,” a silky prog-soul type thing that loses much of what capital it may build up during its first three minutes by revealing that its true purpose is to lead up to a wankerific three-minute guitar solo. Taylor’s previous lengthy solos, whether live or in the studio—“Can’t You Hear Me Knocking,” “Sway,” “Winter,” “Love In Vain,” and so on—always left me wanting more and often possessed the propensity to send chills down my spine. The “Time Waits For No One” solo is no less technically stunning than its predecessors, but leaves me with no particular feeling except, “Jesus fucking Christ, is this song over yet?” To paraphrase Keith’s feelings on the matter, he’d simply become too much of a Clapton-wannabe lead guitar player, and that’s just not what the Stones are about. They’re about guitar playing. Grooves. Riffs. Rhythm. Not how many notes you can fit in a measure. Scores of Stones fans still lament the day Little Mick became Mick the Quitter, which came shortly after It’s Only Rock ‘N Roll was released. But I can’t help but listen to this album and think that MT had reached the end of his usefulness in the band.

However, I’d be hard pressed to blame it all on Mick the Quitter. The songwriting is as formulaic as ever. Now, I’m not one to complain about generic Stones rockers (you should see the way my face lights up every time anyone so much as mentions the phrase “generic Stones rocker” near me. It’s like saying “ice cream” in front of a 9-year old, or “greasy bucket of potato skins” in front of Rex Ryan), so, by all means, I’ll give a pass to “If You Can’t Rock Me” and even the mind-numbingly repetitive “Dance Little Sister,” which sounds like the product of a computer program designed to create Rolling Stones songs. I’ve got somewhat more trepidations about generic Mick ballads (“Till The Next Goodbye”) and especially about way-too-long, embarrassingly cheesy soul ballads with overbearing gospel backup choirs (“If You Really Want To Be My Friend,” a deep low point but the album’s only major irritant). I mean, one of the album’s only loveable songs is “Short & Curlies,” a bluesy sex joke that doesn’t try to hide the fact that its nothing more than a fun throwaway, unlike many of the other songs here, which are mostly second-rate Stones songs that the band tries too hard to make sound like “vintage Rolling Stones.” And for a band whose magic lies in intuitiveness to the point of pure instinct, it’s pretty darn easy to tell the difference between when they’re in the zone and when they’re just trying to be.

There are exactly two A-level keepers here. Mick Taylor’s bass line on the blaxploitation-funky “Fingerprint File” is his best contribution to the album, and meshes nicely with Mick Jagger’s guitar riff and sexy paranoia about “some little jerk in the FBI keepin’ papers on me six feet high.” Certainly a relevent topic in the era of Watergate, and even more relevent today, in the era of the Patriot Act. Then there’s the classic title track, of course, which is as fine a theme song for the band as any, even if it can barely be classified as a true Stones song. It was written by Stone-to-be Ronnie Wood and David Bowie, with some help from Mick, who opportunistically claimed it for the Stones. The final cut features Ronnie on acoustic guitar, Bowie on backup vocals (allegedly) and Ronnie’s fellow Faces member Kenney Jones on drums (un-coincidentally perhaps the weakest drum part to appear on a Stones record… Charlie’s good tonight, inne?). Live, they just play it like a Chuck Berry choogle because it would be impossible to replicate the multiple layers of weaving, riffing, rocking guitars on the studio cut, but said studio cut is one of their finest efforts of the 70s. It was proof that the Stones absolutely still had it… all they needed was a kick in the ass.

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