Time Waits For No One, someone once said. But it never seems to end for Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger who, in addition to celebrating his 73rd birthday this week, is also about to become a father for the eighth time (that we know of, at least). And even when the Stones aren’t on the road for the umpteenth time, they still manage to tour: The group’s new multi-platform art installation and career memorabilia show, “Exhibitionism,” is making the rounds internationally to great fanfare, and earlier this year, the actual, three-dimensional band in the flesh toured Cuba for the first time in its 54-year run.
Given that we’re as susceptible as anyone to marking anniversaries and the nostalgiac charms of “Throwback Thursday,” here’s a piece that I wrote for the Collectors Music Reviews music blog and website (www.collectorsmusicreviews.com) that takes a hard look at one of the group’s most transitional and chaotic eras (yes, the Stones have been around so long that they have transcended years or even decades and now can be analyzed by entirely separate eras). Ostensibly it’s a review of a rare, bootleg release on compact disc of a June, 1976 show in Switzerland during the band’s European Tour that year. It was a jaunt that had come on the heels of a commercially, if not entirely critically, successful 1975 U.S. Tour of The Americas.
But as usual, the assignment to critique the various qualities of this CD and concert provided a springboard and an excuse for me to listen to, write about, and dissect, a long-gone period that I wasn’t old enough to be aware of, much less participate in as a concert-going fan, at the time. The ’75-’76 era is far from my favorite in the annals of the band (you can read why below). But as history, it marks a critical time, nonetheless, when the band’s long-term future seemed uncertain. Forty years ago this month, Mick was about to turn 33 — the age he publicly vowed to quit singing for a rock & roll band — and besides hard competition for arena-rock supremacy from old stalwarts like Led Zeppelin, The Who, and some kid named Springsteen, the loud, upstart rumblings of a brand new, noisier, rawer, music had begun on both sides of the Atlantic.
Get Off Of My Stone (no label)
Hallenstadion, Zurich, Switzerland, June15th 1976. Disc 1 (50:06) and Disc 2 (38:08) from Original LP Remaster; Disc 3 (51:08) and Disc 4 (38:12) from Tape Source. Track list for both versions is identical except for the ‘opening’ intro track on Disc 3). Honky Tonk Women, If You Can’t Rock Me-Get Off Of My Cloud, Hand Of Fate, Hey Negrita, Ain’t Too Proud To Beg, Fool To Cry, Hot Stuff, Star Star, You Gotta Move, You Can’t Always Get What You Want, Band Introduction, Happy, Tumbling Dice, Nothing From Nothing, Outa Space, Midnight Rambler, Brown Sugar, Jumping Jack Flash, Street Fighting Man
It’s now almost farcical to consider, especially in the midst of their recent 50th anniversary tour (they are now in the midst of year 54), that for a spell during the mid-1970s, the Rolling Stones were not only grappling with questions of relevance as a creative and cultural force, but struggling to just stay afloat (even with that inflatable phallus – or perhaps in spite of it) as a working unit.
By the end of 1974 alone, lead guitar virtuoso Mick Taylor had quit, leaving them a man, and sublime musician, short. The Stones had recently released a pair of albums (’73’s “Goat’s Head Soup” and ’74’s “It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll”) that were considered to have fallen short of the high bar set by the band’s previous work. Enervation and ennui had set in. And as usual, drugs, and even death, were taking their toll (tragically, guitarist Keith Richards’ two-month old son, Tara, died in his crib while the band was touring Europe in June 1976).
After auditions with several guitarists (at least two of whom, Wayne Perkins and Harvey Mandel, would appear on the band’s 1976 “Black and Blue” LP), the Stones plucked rooster-maned Ron Wood from the soon-to-be disbanded Faces and promptly assigned him the task of learning three or four dozen Stones songs in time for a new tour.
As if to compensate for the transitional state of the band with more smoke, mirrors, trapezes, and penis props than ever before, 1975’s Tour of the Americas – the Stones’ first without a brand new album to promote (hence the hasty greatest hits rehash cash-in of “Made In The Shade”) – and the follow-up ‘76 European Tour frequently placed staging and spectacle above attention to songs and sharp performances.
The shows were also longer than ever. Compared to the clockwork 75-minute sprints of ‘69 through ‘73, the 1975 shows were marathon slogs that routinely clocked in at over two hours. By the time they hit Europe the next summer to promote “Black and Blue,” the Stones had trimmed and tightened the set somewhat. The elaborately designed shows featured a lotus flower stage with opening and closing petals that, in retrospect, amusingly brings to mind the fiberglass egg that Spinal Tap’s Derek Smalls got trapped in before a roadie’s blowtorch set him free.
They also frequently found a winded Jagger huffing and puffing his way through variety show-esque medleys of “If You Can’t Rock Me/Get Off Of My Cloud,” all the while clad in garish getups that looked like a cross between a geisha’s kimono and Hugh Hefner’s silk pajamas. And we didn’t even mention the mock Native American head-dresses.
As a historical relic from this period, the new four-disc extravaganza, “Get Off Of My Stone,” captures all the good (the rough-and-ready “Hand of Fate”), the bad (the dated synthesizer that opens “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”), and cartoonish elements of the ‘76 Stones circus (you can hear the crowd roar its approval when the Stones’ inflatable auxiliary, uh, member rises to life on stage during “Star Star [sic]”).
Most importantly, however, this “no label” silver disc entry into the unofficial live annals represents only the second time that the Stones’ June 15, 1976 concert at Hallenstadion in Zurich, Switzerland has seen release on CD. The first was last year’s “Swiss Made,” issued as a two-CD set on the Japanese label, Tarantura, which reportedly utilized a very good stereo audience recording of the show. That release represented an upgrade in both sound and format over the old audience recording originally found only on a long-unavailable double LP, “Get Off Of My Stone.”
The new quadruple CD edition of “Get Off Of My Stone,” which takes its name and front and back cover artwork from that old 2-LP set, presumably offers listeners both versions of the complete show yet to emerge (one or two random tracks from Zurich have made cameos on unofficial CD and DVD compilations over the years). The first pair of discs here are remasters of the original two-LP set, which, like this new edition, was also issued without labels or matrix number identifications when it first surfaced back in 1985.
The second pair of discs here are listed simply as being culled from a different “tape source” and which does sound clearer, brighter, and fuller than the flatter, more muffled, and distant remastered LP-version counterpart. It’s plausible or even probable that this new “tape source” is the same one that spawned the Tarantura “Swiss Made” release (or is possibly a clone of the “Swiss Made” release itself, though we have not heard the Tarantura title, and so can’t confirm that). For fans and collectors, the bottom line here is that after decades without even one known silver disc release of this show, we now have two in as many years.
Rare, yes. Essential? That’s another matter having to do with personal preferences, taste, and level of mania for completists. Like many ‘75-‘76 tapes and performances that have circulated over the years, the Zurich show ranges from decent-to-very good audience quality but is not particularly special, aside from its scarcity, as either a recording or a performance. For those qualities, we already have any number of excellent releases stemming from the professionally recorded and televised Paris shows. Instead, “Get Off Of My Stone” is mostly of value as a historical artifact rather than a definitive document from a definitive tour (this is neither).
What is most interesting to hear from this vantage point are the numbers from “Black and Blue” that, much like that album itself, have – until only recently – been overlooked or dismissed as live set pieces. “Hand Of Fate,” a more than capable meat-and-potatoes raunch-rocker, is deservingly delivered here with earthy authority, with touring keyboardist Billy Preston’s backing vocal sweetening Mick Jagger’s churlish growl. Preston’s spirited two-song solo star turn on “Nothing From Nothing” and “Outa Space,” also included on this set, comes late in the show (by the way, is that the gnarly guitar riff to “Monkey Man” we hear sneaking into the latter Preston tune? Or is that just wishful thinking?).
While lyrically slight and slightly embarrassing, “Hey Negrita” (on which Mick barters with a streetwalker for an exchange of goods and services in his best faux Jamaican patois) is representative of the percussive funk and chunky reggae grooves the Stones were enthralled with exploring at the time. So much so that they jettisoned their standard horn section of Bobby Keys and Jim Price in favor of Preston and percussionist Ollie E. Brown for the ‘75-‘76 tours.
As racially unenlightened a title and uninspired subject matter as “Hey Negrita” was (and certainly is now), it was hardly surprising. This was the same band, after all, whose promotional campaign for “Black and Blue” at the time featured a huge Sunset Boulevard billboard of a bound and battered woman, bruised legs spread with arms tied at the wrists and hoisted above her head, enthusing “I’m Black and Blue from the Rolling Stones – and I love it!”
The Stones, seemingly willfully tone-deaf to the controversy that ensued and defensively defiant in the face of protests from women’s rights groups, claimed they weren’t being serious or advocating violence or sexualizing abuse. If it was just a crass joke, it was a deeply unfunny one. But the controversy got them cheap publicity, and made one thing abundantly clear: That the Stones hadn’t mellowed or matured with the onset of their 30s, and their routinely sexist-bordering-on-misogynist stance toward women hadn’t changed one iota in the ten years since “Under My Thumb.” In fact, whether due to ugly divorces, domestic disarray, or a calculated need to shock or outrage for attention, it had gotten garishly, cartoonishly worse. And 1978’s “Some Girls” was still yet to come.
But back to the new numbers. The far better and less controversial “Fool To Cry” was the piano-and-synth driven lead single off of “Black and Blue,” and it’s accordingly given the big ballad treatment a la “Angie.” From there, the band flicks into the slinky strut of “Hot Stuff,” another new track and stage rarity. Despite its somewhat clumsy live translation, “Hot Stuff” is nevertheless a catchy curiosity that finds the band stretching out its sound and expanding beyond its usual comfort zone.
It’s also a precursor of sorts; an early attempt at the slickly urban disco-funk that the band would refine and distill two years later with a little dance floor ditty called “Miss You.” Thanks to that smash single and more from the seminal “Some Girls” album, the Stones would close out the decade as they had begun it: with a new guitarist, fresh sound, and a renewed vitality that marked yet another successful — some might say improbable — transition in their ongoing saga as rock’s longest-running road show.