‘Some Girls,’ Some 33 Years Later: Jagger & Richards Talk Punk, Disco, and Confiscated Cover Art
Few Rolling Stones albums have held up as sonically, and still sound as gritty and urban and sexy and just downright cool, as their 1978 disco/punk/country/blues masterwork, Some Girls. (Seriously, is there anything as deliciously and decadently sleazy-sounding as Mick totally going OFF at the end of "Shattered," or Keef slurring his way though his bloozy rebel anthem "Before They Make Me Run"?) The album is finally getting a major reissue treatment this month, with a Super Deluxe boxed set that includes two CDs (one consisting of entirely unreleased tracks), a 7-inch vinyl single, a hardback book, a set of postcards, Helmut Newton prints, and a poster. And this is entirely appropriate repackaging for an album known for being as cool on the outside as it was on the inside, with one of the most celebrated and controversial covers of all time.
The notorious original Some Girls die-cut album art, created by Peter Corriston, featured a parody of a vintage wig advertisement, depicting the bewigged Stones in drag alongside Hubert Kretzschmar illustrations of iconic female celebrities like Farrah Fawcett, Marilyn Monroe, Lucille Ball, Raquel Welch, and Judy Garland. But early album pressings were soon to become collectors' items, due to threatened legal action from these famous ladies and/or their estates.
"On the original album there were old-fashioned film stars, but because we were stupid and never got permission from them, we got stopped a lot from using them," explains Stones frontman Mick Jagger. Other versions of the Some Girls cover art were then created--one with hand-drawn generic women, another with '70s celebrities like Carly Simon, Linda Ronstadt, Britt Ekland, and even President Jimmy Carter in drag (the latter of which of course never saw a commercial release). But the version most Stones fans have in their record collections is probably the one with all faces removed and a "Pardon Our Appearance - Cover Under Reconstruction" banner slashed across it ("as if the cover were a Manhattan department store doing renovations," according to liner-notes author Anthony DeCurtis).
"The original idea was that it was period people; the wig pictures were period," explains Mick. Contemplating which celebrities would make it onto the cover today, he muses, "I don't know, whose faces would you like to see on there today? You want Lady Gaga, a contemporary lady? A mix? Scandalous people?" Amusingly, considering that 33 years ago people were actually suing the Stones to keep their faces off the Some Girls cover, now there's a Facebook application with which anyone can be magically transformed into a pastel wig-topped Some Girls girl with just the click of a mouse. "Okay, we'll try to work that on the app, and we'll put the 'scandalous' people [note: I suggested Charlie Sheen and wig enthusiast Nicki Minaj] on the app and see how they like it. With wigs," Mick proposes with a laugh.
"If it was my way, the album would be the size of the room. I wouldn't leave any of you ladies off," chuckles the other half of the Glimmer Twins, Stones guitarist Keith Richards, when asked which modern-day celebrities he'd get a kick out of seeing on the circa-2011 Some Girls artwork. He certainly feels nostalgic for the days when the covers for albums like Some Girls and the Stones' functional-zippered Sticky Fingers were big-deal affairs, not just postage-stamp-sized Facebook apps. "The meaning of an album cover, it has a thousand uses apart from holding a record. You can roll joints on it, you can do all kinds of s**t on it. And it was a good size to look at. A CD is kinda a little small. Miniature. And with downloads, you don't get a cover at all." So, what will Stones fans roll their joints on now? "Tough s**t, I don't know," he laughs.
As for the music behind the cover, the Some Girls reissue is a fascinating document of a turbulent time in music, when punk and disco were taking over and threatening to render classic rock bands like the Stones obsolete. So the Rolling Stones simply reacted to the changing times and recorded one of their toughest, rawest, hookiest, cockiest, Stonesiest, most attitudinal albums ever. "I think it was pretty conscious of living in the day," recalls Mick. "This was a very interesting time in music in New York, where I was living a lot at the time. You had sort of a return to very basic rock music--you know, the Sex Pistols and all that--but you also had the beginning of hip-hop, the beginning of rap, and you had lots and lots of kinds of dance music, very different kinds of dance music. The early dance music was quite innovative in lots of ways. So you had a lot of genres, and these were cross-pollinating everything. I think in some ways this album reflects some of that time, and I think that's what makes it an interesting album."
"Without a doubt, the punks certainly made us sort of look around and say, 'Oh my God, we've been around for 10 years already!'" laughs Keith. "The energy of the punk thing affected Some Girls in many ways. The only trouble with the punks is none of them could really play! I loved the attitude, y'know, but where's the music? And that was their letdown. But otherwise, it was a matter of attitude more than anything else, it was about energy, and it was a kick up our a**.
"And the disco thing, I don't know, that was just what was going on in clubs and you sort of picked up a beat. And we just decided to do a disco song ['Miss You'],'" Keith continues. "At the time it wasn't necessarily disco music to us, it was just another rhythm and blues beat. No doubt hanging around in bars and clubs a lot had something to do with it."
Of course, rock purists at the time were horrified that the Stones were supposedly selling out and "going disco"--a laughable non-scandal now, considering how many rock bands (the Rapture, Bloc Party, Franz Ferdinand, the Killers, any group that's ever released a remix) regularly dabble in dance music nowadays. Of this backlash, Keith remarks in his dry and delectable drawl, "Purists of any kind really piss me off. Of course there are some who are gonna think this or that. But that's their privilege, it's cool with me. Not everyone's gonna get it the first time."
"Yeah, I mean now it's ridiculous to even think about," adds Mick. "It's a bit like Bob Dylan going electric, isn't it, you know what I mean? It's ridiculous to even think that people made a fuss about it. Now you look back and think, 'How stupid was that?' There were a lot of people that were very narrow-minded about it. To me, I wasn't brought up on rock music so much as blues and soul music, and lot of that music was dance music. It was specifically made to dance to. You know, I like dancing, so as far as I'm concerned, all sorts of fast songs for me were all made to dance to. So obviously, I'd be very interested in making dance music. And that particular groove was the groove of the moment. You don't really play the grooves of yesteryear when you make records, you play the grooves of now. And that sort of beat was the thing that was going around at the time. For some people it was a very big hit, but not everyone liked it."
Interestingly, however, many of the unreleased tracks on the Some Girls boxed set's companion CD traffic not in disco or punk, but in the sort of bluesy, boozy country-stomp of the famous Some Girls cut "Faraway Eyes," like the bar-band rocker "Claudine" ("That one should have been on the original album; it's a damn good song," says Keith), the twangy ballad "No Spare Parts" (which will be released as a single), and covers of country classics like Hank Williams' "You Win Again," Freddy Cannon's "Tallahassee Lassie," and the Waylon Jennings/Conway Twitty standard "We Had It All," the latter of which features "Before They Make Me Run"-worthy lead vocals by Keith. Says Mick, "We were we doing diametrically opposed kinds of music at the time: dance music on one hand, country on the other. We were like the jack of all trades here!"
The process of sifting through the unreleased tracks to put on the Some Girls box was a give-and-take between Mick and Keith, and by both men's accounts, it was a perfectly pleasant exchange. "We'd we send each other CDs and say, 'What do you think, Mick? And he calls me back and says, 'Yeah, I think we should leave that one off, or definitely that should be on.' We just talk about it and decide. Usually, 99 percent of the time, we agree." So...there's no truth to the mythology that Mick and Keith are frenemies, constantly at each others' throats? "Oh yeah, that's the other one percent," laughs Keith. "But otherwise, we know what we're doing. Hey, we've been doing this for 50 years, we're more pro than that."
The result of their collaboration is an amazing boxed set (wrapped up in some pretty amazing artwork, of course), of which the band is understandably very proud. "It's one of my favorite Stones albums, I think, because it's so listenable as an album and it gets to the heart of the matter straight away and there's no mucking about and it's succinct," says Mick. "It doesn't sprawl, it's to the point, it's got a lot of style, and it's got this energy. I think it's all around a really good album. I think it's underrated. I don't know where it comes in the ratings, to be honest. In my ratings, it comes very high--just don't ask me what number!"