19. The Rolling Stones, Some Girls
Some Girls is the best-selling Rolling Stones album in the United States, by a healthy margin. The 1978 release has been certified platinum six times over by the RIAA, with only 1981’s Tattoo You coming within two million of that mark. It was also considered something of a return to form, following the relative disappointments of It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll, released in 1974, and Black and Blue, released in 1976. The Stones, for all their vaunted importance in the annals of rock music, were more crack followers than they were trailblazers, adapting ever so slightly and very, very shrewdly to shifting trends, often when a fresh hit was needed to revive any perception that they were starting to flag. In the case of Some Girls, that talent is most evident on the lead single, “Miss You.”
As Joel Hodgson once explained about “Miss You” from behind a bowling alley DJ booth, “Guess what? It’s disco, man.” Mick Jagger was fairly open about his influences going into the creation of the album (though the songs all have their traditional “Jagger/Richards” songwriting credit, guitarist Keith Richards was reportedly preoccupied enough with legal troubles stemming from him 1977 heroin possession arrest in Canada that the primary authorship of the album probably belongs to Jagger), saying he was drawing on both punk rock and modern dance music, both of which were threatening to make more traditional rock music suddenly obsolete. That wasn’t the longterm result, of course, and there’s plenty of Some Girls that could have landed on most any Stones album, such as the Richards-sung bluesy defiant snarl of “Before They Make Me Run” and the smart aleck honky tonk of “Far Away Eyes.” Still, there’s a evidence of a renewed vigor to the band, a determined rush to catch up with what was happening in their chosen artistic field.
Of course, there are multiple possible explanations for the added jolt to the band’s playing. Certainly the tension surrounding the situation with Richards followed by the second life he got when spared prison time could be viewed as a contributor. It was also the first album to include former Faces guitarist Ronnie Wood as a full-fledged member of the band. Then there was the increasing possibility that the Stones, if they played their proverbial cards correctly, could be the last band that mattered, the true enduring workhorse, among their contemporaries. Their chief rivals, the Beatles, absolutely weren’t coming back. That become clearer with each passing year. And the others that could claim some degree of even influence with the Stones–like the Kinks and the Who–were really distantly behind them in most measures of popularity. It was the time for the Stones to strike, to assert their continued relevance. Some Girls, whatever its issues, blazes with that sense of mission.
And while much of the album is damn good–the easy, angry churn of “When the Whip Comes Down,” the emotive “Beast of Burden,” the expertly sexy throwaway of album closer “Shattered”–the whole story of what the Rolling Stones could do better than just about anyone else really is contained in that five minutes of “Miss You” at the top of the record. The edgy prowl is pure Stones, while the funkiness of the keyboards (provided by no less than Billy Preston) swirls together with the deliberate dance floor rhythms to make it as snakily insinuating as anything the band ever produced. Hell, it even has some of the creepy sexual imperialism that kept creeping into Jagger’s lyrics (“We’re going to come around at twelve/ With some Puerto Rican girls that’s just dying to meet you”), a habit repeated later in the record on the title cut, this time to more problematic effect (the lyric “Black girls just wanna get fucked all night” was decried by many, including Jesse Jackson).
Maybe in part because of the unique ways in which “Miss You” can stand as a quintessential Rolling Stones single, entirely of the moment and yet so grounded in characteristic familiarity that it feels timeless, “Miss You” became the band’s first U.S. chart-topper since “Angie,” in 1973. It would also be their last. (Amazingly, the nearly ubiquitous “Start Me Up” stalled out in the runner-up spot a couple years later). But to the degree the Rolling Stones needed to prove their enduring viability, they proved it. There would still be the practically inevitable long fade into cultural insignificance for the new music efforts of the band. Even they’ve basically stopped trying to pretend the contrary is true, with no new studio album since 2005’s A Bigger Bang (and it probably requires looking back to 1989’s Steel Wheels, or, more generously, 1994’s Voodoo Lounge to find a studio album anyone really cared about). All they need to do is go on tour, though, to reassert their status as one of the biggest bands in the world. “Miss You” is usually part of the set list.