Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Reconsider the Rolling Stones, Please!

(Note: this article is also printed on the Philippine Daily Inquirer's on-line blog, Soundtrip.)

The Rolling Stones simply defy categorization. They have played and recorded songs in every imaginable genre, be it jazz, blues, reggae, disco, rock and roll, hard rock, and pop.

This is probably why there is such a short supply of Stones fans in Manila, and why they never pervaded our culture, even after existing as a fully functioning band for the last 46 years.

While the rest of the world has celebrated its’ “Greatest Rock N’ Roll Band” throughout the years, the Philippines has yet to follow suit.. How many Filipinos can name at least three songs of the Stones? The normal answer I get is “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” their 1965 worldwide hit. Outside my musical circle of friends, no one can give me any other two songs. And in my opinion, it is a crying shame.

The Rolling Stones were cool before cool was cool. They were the Metallica to the Bon Jovi, the Sex Pistols to the Osmond Family, and indeed, the dark, inverted persona contrasted to the mop-topped Beatles.

Perhaps not many people know that the Rolling Stones were actually marketed as the anti-Beatles, and that the Stones and Beatles, throughout the ‘60’s, actually existed together in cooperation: everytime the Stones or the Beatles had a potential new single for release, each would call the other to see how the other band’s current singles were doing. If the Beatles were on top of the charts at the time, they would give sufficient way for the Stones to release theirs, and vice-versa, thus ensuring a virtual lock on the charts for both bands.

Many Filipinos still remember the 1966 concerts that the Beatles performed here, and the subsequent back story of the band being mauled and physically abused by henchmen of the former President Marcos. The Internet is abundant with accounts of these stories. Indeed, even my mother-in-law saw them perform. With enthusiastic glee uncharacteristic of me, I asked her if she remembers anything about the Rolling Stones: I get a glare and a short, “No.”

What is it about the Stones that Manila didn’t like in the ‘60’s? My take is that they didn’t write pop songs that were “poppy” enough for our tastes. We just didn’t get their darkness, their rebelliousness, and most of all, the quality of their music, which is kind of weird because we Filipinos are normally discriminating when it comes to music. The Lennon/McCartney songwriting team was far more popular than the Jagger/Richards partnership, though much higher output can be credited to the latter.

The Rolling Stones started out with a mission to “educate” the masses with the Blues and Rhythm and Blues music. Thus, they started out recording cover songs of black artists, respectfully giving a nod to their forbearers such as Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry and Robert Johnson. The story then goes that their manager at the time, Andrew Loog Oldham, locked Mick Jagger and Keith Richards in a kitchen and told them not to come out without writing an original song, because the belief at the time was that the band could not continue existing playing and recording cover songs. Jagger and Richards emerged with “The Last Time,” a vaguely prophetic song of things to come, considering that throughout the next 40 or so years, the band would be frequently asked if this record or tour would be “the last time.” Output during these years also included the ballad “As Tears Go By,” the controversial “Let’s Spend the Night Together,” and the doom song “Paint It Black,” which my generation was familiarized with via the 1980’s TV series “Tour of Duty.” Everyone thought it was a new song.

Perhaps the Stones didn’t have an “All You Need Is Love” type psychedelia attached to them? Well, those looking for it just have to direct their attention to 1967’s “Their Satanic Majesties’ Request,” the Stones’ only experiment in psychedelia, considered a big blunder by many hard core fans and the band itself, but still, an oddity with a gem of a song in “2000 Light Years From Home.” The Stones toyed with old Beelzebub long before Led Zepellin, Ozzy Osbourne ever did.

With the First Quarter Storm anti-government movement in the late ‘60’s and the onset of Martial Law in 1972, the Stones’ music would have been perfect for the times (“Gimme Shelter” in particular, from the 1968 album “Beggars Banquet,” comes to mind.)

Of course, with the Beatles, the rest is history. After breaking up in 1969, the most significant things to happen were Lennon getting shot, and George Harrison passing away. In between, solo records, the Wings, Yoko Ono, rumors of McCartney’s death and guest spots.

The Stones just kept playing, touring, recording, and defining a whole new era of music to the world, while the rest of us sat during the Martial Law years, cursed to listening to apolitical disco music (which the Stones also partially defined, albeit in rock parlance, with the 1978 hit, “Miss You” off the album “Some Girls.”) pop/rock music from the Eagles and Steely Dan, or hard rock like Nazareth and Led Zepellin, for those who could afford the imported albums. We still missed out on the Stones for some reason.

1981, the end of Martial Law, marked a great chance for us to get acquainted with them via the excellent riff- renaissance rocker, “Start Me Up,” off the album Tattoo You, but close, no cigar. MTV came out, and of course, as it really happened, video killed the radio star and paved the way for the invention of the modern rock star---with more than a few cues from the Rolling Stones.

Take any bad, naughty band existing today. Chances are, the charismatic lead singer learned more than a few moves from Sir Mick Jagger or his descendants. The would-be bad boy guitarist with cigarette in mouth and seemingly deliberate nonchalance probably studied Keith Richards’ profile more than once. Movie star Johnny Depp decidedly did so, mirroring Richards’ stance, gait, look and drunken accent in his Captain Jack Sparrow Pirates of the Caribbean movie role. The cool, detached and well dressed drummer will always have Charlie Watts as his model.

What we got from MTV were either the New Wave crew (Tears for Fears, Duran Duran, etc.) or the resulting new bad boys of Heavy metal/Hard rock---Motley Crue, The Black Crowes, Guns N’ Roses, The White Stripes, to name a few. While excellent bands in their own right and more than a few serving as front acts during several Rolling Stones tours, not many saw the parallels in the bad boy images that these bands projected, with the originals (of course, the Rolling Stones), which, in my opinion, is just plain unfair, and again, another crying shame. Most of us never got the point, which was all but stepped upon with the onset of Seattle grunge in the 1990’s. All these “I hate myself and I want to die” themed songs were just overkill.

With more than 150 millions albums sold worldwide, a 46 year career spanning 5 decades with more than 25 studio albums recorded, chart breaking tour grosses (they still hold the world record for the highest grossing tour in history from their 1995 “Voodoo Lounge” tour, bettering themselves subsequently with their 2002 “Licks” Tour and their 2005 “A Bigger Bang” Tour), the Rolling Stones has been vital, relevant, and surviving, serving as the prototypical bad boy band, and writing the blueprints for the modern rock song. Most importantly, they are still as bad as they were, and even more active than ever. Count on them to play the hell out of “Satisfaction” anytime. For those who watch NFL football, they did, during the 2005 halftime show.

For us locals, the Eraserheads were smart enough to capitalize on the poppy songwriting of the Beatles. The 70’s era Juan De La Cruz band took on the mantle of Cream, with Wally Gonzales’ Claptonesque inspired guitar work (though Mr. Jun “Pepe” Smith soon turned himself into a Filipino Keith Richards). The modern day rockers Wolfgang and Razorback took their cues mostly from AC/DC and the 80’s sensation Skid Row, who were all, in the first place, heavily influenced by the Rolling Stones to begin with. I have yet to see a local band who has taken on the Rolling Stones’ music and carried it on.

With the Martin Scorcese (attention: Oscar winning director of “The Departed,” and other classics such as “GoodFellas,” and “The Aviator”) directed “Shine A Light” documentary movie on the band released last year, I have high hopes that many of us will get to see the band as they are now and reach back on the heapings of musical history that the band has created over the years, and finally give the World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band the credit they deserve in the Philippine Islands.

If not, I will still be content to attend to my own Rolling Stones collection, cranking up the 1968 single, “Jumping Jack Flash,” every morning on my way to work. They will be my secret pleasure, and mine alone.

The Rolling Stones are:

Mick Jagger – lead singer and knight of the British Empire
Keith Richards – guitar and the human riff
Charlie Watts – jazz drummer in the World’s greatest rock and roll band
Ron Wood – the confederate lead guitarist

Former members:

Brian Jones (deceased, founding member) – guitar and the original Kurt Cobain
Mick Taylor – lead guitar, blues extraordinaire, currently still asking himself why he left
Bill Wyman – bass, and original stone face, now a restaurateur
Ian “Stu” Stewart (deceased, founding member) – boogie woogie pianist who hated minor chords

Share On Facebook


EMJAY said...

How many Filipinos can name at least three songs of the Stones?

Sir, may alam ako tatlo: Angie,Bittersweet Symphony at Satisfaction

EMJAY said...

ay sorry mali po sir... Yung Bittersweet Symphony may samples pala nung song na "The Last Time".... :-)