Don’t Forget the Songs-365: Mach Dos: Day 197
Fri. July 27, 2012
What a strange week, it’s time to end it on a rockin’ jovial mood with one of my favorite Rolling Stones singles, 1969’s “Honky Tonk Women.” “Honky Tonk” just oozes the deep southern blues with the Stones’ rock and soul flavor they perfected on 1971’s “Brown Sugar.” I prefer the laid back half-empty last call flavor of the original “Honky Tonk.” I’m not a fan of the “Country Tonk” rerecorded album version from Let It Bleed. That countrified rendition undermines the barroom jocularity essence of the “Honky Tonk” original.
Keith Richards has famously said that he and Mick Jagger came up with “Honky Tonk Woman” while staying at a ranch in Brazil. I imagine “Honky Tonk” being The Stones cowboy song. Like most British rockers, I like to think that Richards and Jagger had an affinity for the American Old West.
“I wrote Honky Tonk Women as a straight Hank Williams-Jimmie Rodgers sort of number. Later, when we were fooling around with it trying to make it sound funkier, we hit on the sound we had on the single. We all thought, Wow, this has got to be a hit single. And it was, and it did fantastically well. It’s the sort of song that transcends all tastes.” Keith Richards said. He went on to describe the genesis of “Honky Tonk” in his award winning autobiography Life when Keith wrote ““Honky Tonk Women” which came out as a single before Let It Bleed was the culmination of everything we were good at the time. It’s a funky track and dirty tool it’s the first major use of the open tuning, where the riff and the rhythm guitar provide the melody. It’s got that blues and black music from Dartford onwards in it, and Charlie is unbelievable on that track.”
“Honky Tonk Woman” was the first song, after Brian Jones death that featured new guitarist Mick Taylor. Taylor’s contribution was described by Sean Egan in his book The Rough Guide to The Rolling Stones as—“Mick Taylor graced the track with some serpentine guitar work that twined beautifully with Richards’.”
Growing up in Texas, I always believed “Honky Tonk Women” was a referenced to loose ladies who hang out at country and western dive bars. Keith explained the true origin of the word when he said—“Honky Tonk Women is another (example of a song where the music and words came together). A lot of times you’re fooling with what you consider to be just working titles or even working hooks, and then you realize there’s nothing else that’s going to slip in there and fit in the same way. So you’re left with this fairly inane phrase.”
Another example of The Stones fortuitous studio happy accidents occurred at the opening of “Honk Tonk Women” as explained by drummer Charlie Watts when he said—“We’ve never played an intro to Honky Tonk Women live the way it is on the record. That’s Jimmy playing the cowbell and either he comes in wrong or I come in wrong – but Keith comes in right, which makes the whole thing right. It’s one of those things that musicologists could sit around analyzing for years. It’s actually a mistake, but from my point of view, it works.” Charlie Watts further discussed Jimmy Miller’s cowbell preamble when he said: “The intro to Honky Tonk Women was like, if you wrote musically that down and played it properly, it wouldn’t have the same thing as the actual take does. But that’s what’s good about being in a band like this, there’s room for things like that.”
Ever heard the rare alternative version that Sean Egan, author of The Rough Guide to The Rolling Stones named one of the Top Ten rare unreleased Stones Recordings? That version includes a rare verse about Mick strolling around the boulevards of Paris. A great outtake that’s essential for the Stones enthusiast in your life.
“It was a groove, no doubt about it, and it’s one of the tracks that you knew was a number one before you finished the motherfucker.” That’s the way Keith Richards described my favorite Rolling Stones single. Keef wasn’t the only Stone who was a fan of “Honky Tonk,” Charlie Watts described his enthusiasm for the track when he exclaimed—“Brown Sugar was a good single, but the best single we did in a long time was Honky Tonk Women. That’s one that I really knew when it came on, because a lot of people dug it, they just couldn’t stop moving. And that’s what it is – just instant move your arse.” “Honky Tonk” is perfect song to just crank up and let loose to on a Friday night. Go ahead I dare you not to shake your thing to this Stones classic. It’s been a heavy week, just have a relaxing TGIF and let “Honky Tonk Women” take all your blues away.