Wednesday, November 12, 2008

"You Can't Always Get What You Want" /
The Rolling Stones

It goes with the territory -- you just can't be a serious Kinks fan and a lifelong Beatle fan, as I am, and still like the Rolling Stones. It's not just a question of being forced to choose sides, although that was certainly required back in 1965. It's more than that, it's a question of what I want out of music. All the things my soul craves from the Kinks and the Beatles -- their winsome melodies, poetic lyrics, playful wit, serious political commentary, sharp-edged social satire -- have zero to do with the Stones.

Still, in the new bipartisan spirit of our times, I'm willing to cross the aisle this evening. I caught a fragment of this song on the soundtrack of some random TV show tonight, and it sank its hooks into me instantly. It wasn't even the part where the Stones themselves are performing, it was just the intro with that starchy vocal chorale, intoning, "You cahn't always get what you want . . . " I had to giggle, and immediately I was tuned in, waiting through the French horn interlude for Mick Jagger to saunter casually in and pick up the beat.

I guess the idea here was to try some Dylanesque talking blues -- in verse after verse, Jagger sketches surreal social scenes, from a chi-chi wine sipping reception to a rowdy street demonstration to the hipster King's Road hangout The Chelsea Drugstore (though apparently that verse was actually written about a drugstore in Excelsior, Minnesota, that Mick wandered into the morning after a show in Minneapolis). If Dylan had written this, of course, the three verses would have related to each other, but come on, thematic development has never been Jagger & Richards' strong suit as songwriters. The drug references strung throughout are the only theme I can find, and in 1969, you were practically required by law to include at least 3 drug references in every rock song, weren't you?

Besides, the real point of this song is how it builds and builds until they've left folk blues way behind. One by one, they layer on those great syncopated drums, splashes of honkytonk piano, deliciously curling electric guitar riffs (was this Mick Taylor or Keith?), mad maracas, frenetic Farfisa organ licks, layers of choral oohs and ahhs, and Jagger's own shivering howls of something that's either ecstasy or anguish and probably both. It runs on and on for seven minutes plus, and even though I'm generally someone who gets bored after 2:58, I have to admit this is one grandiose production that works. Not until "Hey Jude" would we have such another irresistible singalong, one that everybody in the pub just has to chime in on, whether they can carry a tune or not.

And if you're looking for a life motto, you could do worse than adopt this. You can't always get what you want, we all have to grow up and accept that. But trust Mick and Keefe to flip that sage advice over and gleefully add, "But if you try sometimes / You just might find / [drum roll] You get what you need!" There's the Stones attitude to life in a nutshell. These guys have been pretty much always getting what they need -- and what they want -- for over 40 years now. Like John Candy says to his little brother Tom Hanks in Splash: "Hey, when I get something that works, I stick with it."

You Can't Always Get What You Want sample


IƱaki said...

You described exactly my relationship with Beatles-Kinks-Stones. Except that I get bored of Hey Jude even before 2:58!

Mark said...

Even though I am more of a Kinks/Beatles fan, I also love the Stones. Although I will be the first ti admit that thematic development is definitely not Mick and Keith's strong suit. It's always bothered me that none of the verses of this song have anything to do with each other. But with the Stones, it's all about the riff and the chorus. Yeah for Excelsior, Minnesota inspiring the Stones!

Holly A Hughes said...

You're right, the only thing that links these verse is the drug references -- and supposedly it's all about Marianne Faithfull's drug habit. Were they still together at the time? I dunno, it seems a cruel thing to do to a woman you're still involved with. But then, perhaps it's scruples like that that have always prevented me from becoming a rock god's girlfriend myself.

Mark said...

I think Mick and Marianne were still together at that time, I think they broke up shortly afterwards, in like 70-71. I do know that "Sister Morphine" is all about Marianne's drug habit, and her being in the hospital being weaned off of drugs. It's a really hauntingly beautiful song, from the "Sticky Fingers" album.