“It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll
(But I Like It) " / The Rolling Stones
I have a problem with the Rolling Stones. I liked their first few hits, back in 1964. Then I saw them on the Ed Sullivan Show, and they were so . . . ugly compared to the Beatles, I immediately lost interest (give me a break, I was just a little kid). Back then you could be either a Beatlemaniac or a Stones freak, but never both, and I was already engaged to the Fab Four. Oh, from time to time, I’d hear a Stones song I secretly liked (wimpy stuff like “As Tears Go By” or “Lady Jane”), but I’d never admit it.
And then, ten years later, reviewing records for my school newspaper, I got It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll in the mail. The Beatles had split up, so I didn’t have to regard the Stones as The Dark Side anymore -- and hey, a free record deserves a spin on the turntable. Now, remember, I’d ignored Let It Bleed and Exile on Main Street and Sticky Fingers -- I didn’t have those classics to compare it to. My expectations were low, and this hard-rocking, high-spirited record just knocked me off my feet. I played it nonstop for the next couple of weeks, this track in particular – I’d play it at top volume every Friday when classes were over for the week.
“If I could stick my hand in my heart / Spill it all over the stage,” Mick Jagger brays in his broadest London accent. “Would it satisfy ya, would it slide on by ya / Would you think the boy is strange?” The answer is yes, of course. They’re mocking the notion of being “The World’s Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Band,” and living up to it at the same time. Keef and Mick Taylor’s guitars trade teasing riffs, Charley Watts whomps away on the drums, and Jagger howls and preens his way through the lyrics, occasionally dropping the name of some old standard like “Your Cheatin’ Heart” (that’s about as allusive as the Rolling Stones ever get).
He gets even campier in the interval, grunting and gasping and moaning as he repeats “I like it” over and over, probably while waggling his ass. There’s nothing insightful about the lyrics AT ALL (halfway through, they run out things to say about being on stage and fill in with a couple lame verses about sex). They tell you, straight out: It’s only a dumb thing called rock ‘n’ roll, and the only reason they’re singing it is because they like it. Well, so do I. It works.
I enjoyed Black and Blue. I got a kick out of Some Girls. And then I wasted money on Emotional Rescue and Tattoo You, and the Stones started charging a fortune for concert tickets and generally believing their own hype about being the World’s Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Band. If you ask me, they became the World Greatest Rock ‘n Roll Bores. I turned against them in a big way (as if you can’t tell). My brief love affair with the Stones was OVER.
But every now and again, I’ll put It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll on again . . . and you know what? I can’t help it; I still love it.