The Rolling Stones album Some Girls is like Achtung Baby by U2. It reveals a band that was once musical innovators trying hard to play catch up with a scene that has long since left them behind. In both the Stones’ and U2′s case, it was changes in dance music that caused/forced their musical shift. I have never really understood how the rise of punk had anything to do with Some Girls, but it is often cited in reviews of the album. The Stones had become self parody after the, in my mind, overrated Exile on Main Street (too many horns – among other things). Exile on Main Street is a fine album overall, but I think the hints are there that the Stones were running out of ideas – and the worst thing to do when you are running out of ideas is to release a double album to prove it. Goat’s Head Soup pretty much solidifies the downward slide (as do the next two albums). Excluding Tattoo You, Exile on Main Street was my jumping off point for the Stones. I always viewed Some Girls with a great amount of suspicion. It was the, “I’d be embarrassed if I were a member of the Rolling stones” album to me. Mainly due to its reputation as the Stones sell-out disco album. When I did finally give it a chance, I found their take on disco incredibly anemic, even by disco’s often very low standards – not that there isn’t some great disco. Some Girls just seemed no more than a last desperate grasp at relevance for a moss-covered Rolling Stones, lying in a ditch at the bottom of a hill.
Time, though, has treated Some Girls better than most of the Rolling Stones albums from the 1970s. I have definitely noticed an upswing (though a bit revisionist) in the reviews of this album over the years. Granted, it is not, nor ever was, truly wretched. It just created a lot of concern and confusion about the band’s direction. Perhaps it has been so long and we have heard “Miss You” so often, that it no longer seems out-of-place. I do still find some of the album hard to take (“When the Whip Comes Down”, really?), as it seems the Stones are aping their former glory.
The film starts off with a nice split screen of the crowd going into the concert. I love split screen imagery. I don’t know what it is, but it just always works for me. Probably because I love the film Woodstock so much. Anyway, the crowd shots at the beginning are kept brief, but long enough for us to feel a shared embarrassment for fashion of the day. A little aside: women’s pants seemed to suffer from a great myopia in the 1970s. They have to potentially be the most unflattering garments ever created for women. The one style in particular that boggles my mind has a waist that doesn’t seem to end until they breach the bellybutton by a good foot. Thus, they made any women who wore them look like they had an exceedingly long ass and enormous pelvis. Thankfully, there hasn’t been a resurgent interest in that particular style. Anyway, back to the film.
The venue for this film is impressive. It all takes place at the Will Rogers Memorial Center in Fort Worth, Texas, in the otherwise anonymous year of 1978. The stage set up is minimal, but visually delivers a raw energy. Huge stacks of amplifiers bookend the band on each side of the stage, which have the effect of making it look like a “rock” concert and not a performance…and that is the key to this show. The Stones are really in top form and blaze through their set list, getting stronger with each song. They play some old classics, but for the most part it is a showcase for their new album, Some Girls, which was sitting at number one in the US during filming. I have to admit, “Miss You” sounds mighty impressive live.
The entire band is very animated for this show and not yet completely succumbing to the rock star posing and mugging that plagued concerts to come. Charlie Watts drumming is as tight and impressive as ever. In fact, I don’t think I have ever seen him that energized. Bill Wyman actually moves something other than his fingers on occasion, which is saying something for him – though his face, as always, remains expressionless. Keith and Ronnie trade-off brilliantly during a number of songs. Keith seems particularly sober for this show and apparently his fine performance in this film was not replicated at later shows. Mick is as electric as ever and even joins in on rhythm guitar for many songs. While his guitar playing isn’t revolutionary, it doesn’t detract from the songs, though it does seem like a bit of a novelty. There are a few unfortunately long shots of Mick’s leather clad non-existent posterior. They are the kind of scenes that bring up the scenario of a friend driving you in his car, and you pass someone on the street dressed like Mick, and you lean over to honk the horn in a, “hey buddy, my friend likes you” kind of way, while quickly ducking out of view. Mick’s taste in clothing in the 70′s was a little wanting. It looks like he stole his wardrobe from the coat check at Studio 54, and nobody bothered to complain about the loss.
I hate to say it, but I really think I’d give this film the nod over the recently re-mastered, Exile on Main Street era, Ladies and Gentlemen, The Rolling Stones. Some Girls live has a harder, leaner sound and doesn’t suffer from, “big band-itis” – meaning, they are not dragging around the same large horn section and back-up singers that plagued a slew other recordings, by a variety of artists (including the Stones), from the seventies. It is just a stripped down performance that sticks to the music. The only other person that joins the Stones on stage is the enigmatic Cajun fiddler, Doug Kershaw, for, “Far Away Eyes.” As a whole, the film works well and I think it will stand up to repeated viewings.