This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #147: It’s Only Rock n’ Roll by The Rolling Stones.
When I read books, I tend to drift towards non-fiction. In particular, I read biographies about interesting and creative people, I read historical books about famous and pivotable moments in Time and, I like to read about extreme situations such as climbing Mount Everest, exploring shipwrecks or about what motivates those who participate in extreme sports such as sailing solo around the world. It is in this latter category of books that I was made aware that the oceans of the world are not all the same and that, even within a particular ocean, there are areas that mean different things for those who sail. One of the most fascinating for me was the notion that in the middle of our oceans, near to the equator, there exists areas of water known as “The Doldrums”. In “The Doldrums”, there is little to no wind present because of the various atmospheric and oceanographic conditions that reside there. Sailors circumnavigating the world can end up caught in “The Doldrums” for weeks at a time; unable to progress because they are, quite literally, “dead in the water”. The Doldrums are not a trap that sailors sail into, per se but, it is a known hazard that seems to beset even the most skilled and experienced of those who sail the sea.
When it comes to The Rolling Stones, They had been riding the waves of a successful career all throughout the late 1960s and into the mid-70s. They had album after stellar album, all produced by “Mr. Jimmy”, Jimmy Miller. That streak of success came to a end when the band produced an album called, “Goats Head Soup” that, although it had the hit song, “Angie” was deemed a commercial failure for the band and was an album that Keith Richards and Mick Jagger felt was somewhat creatively-stagnent and “comfortable”. So, for their next album, “It’s Only Rock n’ Roll”, Richards and Jagger opted not to employ the talents of Jimmy Miller and, instead, to produce the album themselves under the moniker, “The Glimmer Twins”. However, this album was met by critics with indifference, as well. So, for the first time in their career, The Rolling Stones found themselves in the music industry’s version of “The Doldrums”. They were creatively adrift.
From reading these entirety of these music posts, you should know that the late 1970s were a time of great change in the music world. Disco was becoming the biggest area of new growth in the music industry in Amercia and, in the UK, Punk Rock was rising up and demanding attention. In the middle of that rested The Rolling Stones. With The Beatles long since departed, The Rolling Stones stood as a link to the glory days of old in the world of Rock and, as such, they risked becoming one of the “dinosaur” bands that The Sex Pistols were raging about and that the dancers at Studio 54 were forgetting about as they danced the nights away. It may seem hard to imagine but, for a few years in the mid-late 1970s, The Rolling Stones were on the verge of becoming irrelevant. Then, something fortuitous happened that gave them their second wind….Keith Richards got arrested.
Keith Richards got busted for bringing cocaine into Canada and, as a result of on-going litigation, the band couldn’t travel or tour until the case resolved itself. During that time, Mick Jagger spent a lot of time in NYC and gained an appreciation for the Disco scene that was all the rage. The energy of that music inspired him in ways that may not have been possible with his musical partner, Keith Richards, beside him. So, Jagger wrote a whole host of songs that ended up going into an album called “Some Girls”. To fans and critics alike, songs like “Miss You”, “Some Girls”, “Respectable” and “Beast of Burden” all seemed fresh and exciting and, just like that, The Rolling Stones gained new life and, like sailors stuck in The Doldrums of the mid ocean, they found a new wave to ride. This new energy carried over to albums such as “Emotional Rescue” and “Tattoo You” and now classic songs such as “Waiting On a Friend”, “Start Me Up”, “Emotional Rescue” and “She’s So Cold”.
So, what about, “It’s Only Rock n’ Roll”? By all measure, it is an absolute banger of a song. It is one of the songs that most people think of when they think of The Rolling Stones in their prime. Yet, in actual fact, it is a song that stands as a creative island in the doldrums of their career. It is a song that could, very easily, have been their last hit if critics had had their way and The Rolling Stones would have broken up during their mid-70s drought. But, if there is anything that defines this band it is in their belief in themselves as musicians and their confidence in each other, as players. As Keith Richards once said, when asked to define what was it that allowed The Rolling Stones to be so good for so long, “I don’t know, man but, there’s just this magic that seems at the ready whenever the five of us play together. It seems like we can summon it at will. It is always there waiting for us. All we need to do is play.”
This is, in essence, what the song, “It’s Only Rock n’ Roll” is about. It was a statement from the band, to their critics, that they weren’t trying to please anyone other than themselves. It is a rock n’ roll song played by a rock n’ roll band and, if the critics didn’t care for that any longer then, the critics knew where they could go.
So, here is a song that stands as one of their most popular songs in a career littered with hits. Enjoy, “It’s Only Rock n’ Roll” by The Rolling Stones.
The link to the video for the song, “It’s Only Rock n’ Roll” by The Rolling Stones, can be found here.
The link to the official website for The Rolling Stones, can be found here.
The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.