Album: It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll
. . .
It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll is definitely the worst record of the Rolling Stones decadent phase, which runs roughly from 1973-1981. With genius producer Jimmy Miller succumbing to his own drugs issues (kids, don’t try to keep up with Keith Richards, it’s never gonna work), It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll was the first album produced by Mick & Keith (as the Glimmer Twins, natch), it it showd. Filled with long meandering songs, tentative forays into funk and reggae and guitar tones that I really dislike (cf. “Dance Little Sister” or “If You Can’t Rock Me”), its only real redemption is the two singles: a pretty decent take on The Temptations “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” and the title track, which was recorded in completely different circumstances from the rest of the record.
“It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I Like It)” was recorded in Ron Wood’s home during the sessions for Wood’s first solo album, two years before he joined the Stones for their 1975 tour. Wood should probably get a bigger credit than the “inspired by,” but if they weren’t going to give Mick Taylor a songwriting credit for “Winter” or “Moonlight Mile,” there really wasn’t a chance Wood was going to get one.
And so the original track had Wood on guitars & backing vocals, Willie Weeks on bass and Kenny Jones on the drums. Oh and David Bowie on backing vocals. Keith erased everything but Jones and Wood’s acoustic, got Bill Wyman to do a new bass and did his own electric guitar parts. That version of “It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll” just came out on the Fully Finished Studio Outtakes, and it’s fine, though Mick isn’t really on point the way he is on the final version, and Bowie seems non-existent.
If I could stick my pen in my heart
And spill it all over the stage
Would it satisfy you? Would it slide on by you?
Would you think the boy is strange? Ain’t he strange?
If I could win you, if I could sing you
A love song so divine
Would it be enough for your cheating heart
If I broke down and cried? If I cried
Mick Jagger has pretty much always wrapped layers of irony around everything he’s ever sang. He loves to play hide and seek with his audience, qnd as he became a bigger and bigger star — and let’s face it, the symbol of the Rolling Stones, codified by their logo — he got tricksier and tricksier, partially as a defense against the downside of his stardom and partially because that stardom allowed to. And so, I’m not even going going to attempt to peel back the onion that is the chorus of “It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I Like It),” which you might remember, goes a little something like this:
I said, I know it’s only rock and roll, but I like it
I know it’s only rock and roll, but I like it, like it, yes, I do
Oh, well, I like it, I like it, I like it
I said, can’t you see that this old boy has been a-lonely?
The key word there, of course, is “like,” which almost somehow comes across as a dis, especially when combined with “only,” which yeah, kinda is. You know I unabashedly love rock ‘n’ roll, dating to a little before when this song came out, basing pretty much my entire identity around that simple fact, and yet even I know that it’s “only” rock ‘n’ roll (and it’s pretty much dead, which is a whole other thing of course), especially given the past few years we’ve had.
If I could stick a knife in my heart, suicide right on stage
Would it be enough for your teenage lust
Would it help to ease the pain? Ease your brain
If I could dig down deep in my heart
Feelings would flood on the page
Would it satisfy you? Would it slide on by you?
Would you think the boy’s insane? He is insane
Meanwhile, Keith. Keith, never ashamed to admit that music is life — even if at the time, music was in a royal rumble with smack — puts on a clinic of why people love rock ‘n’ roll in the first place, while also showing just how much T-Rex was indebted to the Stones, his rhythm guitar playing with the slightly glam beat that Kenney Jones played, while his leads jump out and sting you in the face, especially at the end when Mick is endlessly vamping on the title phrase.
“It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll” was the third single that the Rolling Stones released after I started paying full attention, and it was my favorite by a wide margin, though it didn’t do any better than any of their other rockin’ mid-1970s singles, stalling out at #16 in the U.S. — though it did make #10 in the U.K.
Oh, and there was also a video for “It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll,” where they dress up in sailor suits and mime to the song in a giant tent that filled up with soap bubbles, nearly drowning poor Charlie in the process. That said, it does feature a different take of the song. And Mick Taylor, who didn’t even play on it, not knowing that he was soon to be replaced by a guy who did.
“It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I Like It)”
“It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I Like It)” Official Music Video
“It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I Like It)” Live in LA, 1975
“It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I Like It)” Live in Argentina, 1998
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