Don’t Forget the Songs-365: Mach Tres: Day 197
Mon. Aug 19, 2013
The Rolling Stones
Today, I am a very happy Stones fan, I just received my copy of Bill Janovitz’s 2013 book, Rocks Off: 50 Tracks That Tell The Story of The Rolling Stones. Janovitz originally was the singer and principle songwriter from 90’s Alt-Rockers Buffalo Tom. I discovered Bill not from his band from his 33 1/3 tome on Exile on Main Street. I am indebted to Janovitz because it was Bill’s writing’s on The Glimmer Twins and co that inspired my undying devotion to the greatest rock & roll band of all time. Janovitz is a modern day Stones scholar and in his new tome Bill dissects 50 of the most important songs in the Rolling legacy of these everlasting rockers. Although I don’t agree with all of his selections, you can tell that Bill loves himself some Rolling Stones. No one other than this die-hard Stones literary enthusiast can inspired you to listen to Jagger/Richards songs with new ears.
My favorite quote about the band’s Main Street era is from the Stones in Exile film. I remember the scene, Mick, Keef, Bill, Charlie and Mick Taylor are all in the sweaty, dark and damp basement at Richards’ French Villa Nellcôte, practicing trying to find the perfect groove and then at the stroke of a solitary chord, engineer Andy Johns explained the rest in Janovitz book when he said, “They would play poorly for two or three days on whatever song and then Keith got up and looked at Charlie, then you know that something was about to go down. And then Bill would get up and put his bass at about that 84 degree angle, and you went, ‘ah, here it comes. They’re doing it now.’ Then it would turn into this God-given music.”
When I open the cover to Bill’s book, I hear the open chords to the first track from Exile in Main Street. It seems like my Rolling Stones playlist grows with every chapter. Janovitz has this way of putting you in the room when songs like “Tumbling Dice” are built from basement floor up and also gives you historical content and the best insights from every Rolling Stone. One of my favorite chapters is “Slipping Away.” Not only does Bill write about the importance of Richards’ Steel Wheels bluesy number, Janovitz also focuses on the change of personnel which happened after the Steel Wheels sessions when bassist Bill Wyman left the band and Darryl Jones joined The Stones. Imagine learning so much about one of your favorite Rock ‘n’ Roll bands? It’s like taking a college course on The Rolling Stones, but without the quizzes, mid-terms and final exams. Janovitz also made it so you can open Rocks Off on any chapter and jump around from era to era.
Rocks Off is chaptered off in sections, Janovitz captures the Stones from their early days with Brian Jones, the Mick Taylor era of the early seventies and finally with the Ron Wood years of the late seventies to present day. Most of your favorite Stones classics like “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” to Tattoo You’s “Start Me Up” are all given Janovitz literary exploration that makes you appreciate The Stones songwriting craft along with their memorably outlaw ways.
On the 50th anniversary of the band, Bill Janovitz has penned the ultimate compendium for The Stones lover in your life. More than just an apostle, like the best rock and roll scholars, Bill delves deep inside the magic and mystery of each Rolling Stones song. Bill Janovitz’s book is worthy of The Rolling Stones triumphant anniversary. You have the soundtrack now get the book that brings back your favorite Stones song to life. “What’s a matter with you boy?” Can’t you feel Keith’s opening “Rocks Off” chords already? Celebrate Janovitz’s literary celebration of The Rolling Stones most famous cuts by devouring Rocks Off: 50 Tracks That Tell The Story of The Rolling Stones.
Today we have a special treat. The author of Rocks Off: 50 Tracks That Tell The Story of The Rolling Stones was gracious enough to interrupt his vacation for a special installment of Don’t Forget The Songs Three-Sixty-5 Questions with…Bill Janovitz.
1. I realize Rocks Off is subtitled: 50 Tracks That Tell The Story of the Rolling Stones, but did you ever consider writing about some of the band’s rarer cuts like “Let’s Go Steady” or “Through These Lonely Nights?
Sure. By that you seem to mean later rare stuff, yes? I like a handful of songs from each record after Tattoo You and “Through These Lonely Nights” is a good one. But I tried to find songs that I both loved and helped forward the narrative arc of the band’s story.
2. Speaking of, what’s your favorite Rolling Stones rare/outtake/B-side? Why?
Good question. “Cocksucker Blues” is a great one for reasons of being a raw, pornographic blues. But as a song, “Claudine” would have been one of the greatest songs on Some Girls if there were not legal concerns. I would have to go with that one.
3. If there was one song, from any Stones era that you could’ve added as a bonus chapter for Rocks Off, which track would you have selected?
I think I could spend another chapter on the song “Winter,” which is the one I miss the most not being in the book. One of my favorite songs.
4. What’s the deal with the controversy over songwriting credits with the band? Why was it historically so difficult for Mick & Keith to share proper co-writing credits on tracks like “Time Waits for No One,” “It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll,” “Melody” and “Heaven,” where one or the other Glimmer Twins was absent at the moment of the song’s creation? Was it fear, loyalty, greed, all or none of the above?
This is insight I do not have aside from what I have read. But I feel it was a combination of business and personal reasons. The delicate balance of Mick and Keith seems to have depended on them being the writes and making the final calls on things. Who really knows how much input others have. Often musicians who cannot write consistently great stuff confuse arranging and helping to flesh out songs with “songwriting.” If, for example, Mick Taylor really was a writer of those great songs, why is it that he did not keep writing such great songs, or had not done so before, as far as I am aware anyway?
5. I found this very telling quote in Stephen Davis’s Old God’s Almost Dead: The 40 Year Odyssey of The Rolling Stones, “Mick wants to be Keith and they all want to be Charlie. Why Charlie? Because he’s genuinely hip, he’s got innate good taste, and understands restraint. Charlie kept his family together, and he never got off on the star trip that the rest of them did. He’s just Charlie Watts […]” Is this true—and do you believe Watts is musical anchor that keeps The Stones floating after all of these years?
I certainly think Charlie is essential. Losing Bill Wyman was a big blow musically, but losing Charlie at the same time would have been fatal. Davis makes some interesting points there, if— a bit presumptuous. I don’t think Mick or Keith really ever wanted to be other than who they were/are. But they all do believe Charlie to be a cool cat and a conscience of the band somewhat, it seems.
Published by St. Martin’s Press; Bill Janovitz’s Rocks Off: 50 Tracks That Tell The Story of The Rolling Stones is available at all online and retail bookstores near you.