Usually when a renowned singer-songwriter releases a ‘covers’ album at a late point in the their career, it can go one of two ways. Some, such as Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan, are able to to put a unique spin on them with their own finely honed interpretive skills. Others, such as Rod Stewart’s notoriously bland takes on the Great American Songbook and 1970s’ MOR ballads, show an artist who’s run out of ideas and the effort amounts to little more than glorified karaoke. Bruce Springsteen, the New Jersey heartland rocker whose most recent original album came out just two years ago, is the latest artist to tackle such a task with his album of soul covers, Only the Strong Survive.
On paper, Springsteen & soul music should be a match made in Heaven: his raspy howl, histrionic live shows and melodramatic anthems all owe a debt to soul legends such as James Brown, Sam Moore, and Sam Cooke. Throughout his career, he’s covered R&B classics such as “Twist and Shout,” “Shout, “The Dark End of the Street,” “Dancing in the Streets,” and several other classics to great effect in his live shows, and has even mastered the genre through his own original compositions such as “Back in Your Arms” and “I Wish I Were Blind.”
Only the Strong Survive is a 16 song collection of some of Bruce’s favorite songs of the genre, covering legendary classics from artists such as The Temptations, The Supremes, Aretha Franklin, and The Commodores. The songs speak for themselves: “Only the Strong Survive,” “Turn Back the Hands of Time,” “I Wish It Would Rain,” and “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted” are defining classics so indelibly associated with their original artists that few have attempted their own takes.
For the most part, Only the Strong Surive is a pleasant if inessential listen; Bruce’s voice is in fine vintage, and he’s certainly qualified to provide his own special touch to these classics while retaining what made the originals so great in the first place. That’s the main problem with the record: Bruce performs these songs well, but he doesn’t really add anything to them. At its worst, the record feels like one long karaoke track with Bruce providing a guide vocal; the songs sound almost too faithful to the originals, save for the occasional key change to accommodate Bruce’s less agile 73 year old voice. He’s aided in that department by backing vocalists and Ron Aiello’s crisp production adding some heft to the proceedings.
The song selection gets point for veering off the beaten path at times; while most of the songs date from the classic Motown / Stax period of the 1960s’, two of the songs were comeback hits in the 1980s’ for veteran acts who had been struggling for some time: the Commodores’ “Nightshift” and the Four Tops’ “When She Was My Girl,” both of which are among the better tracks on the record. He also teams up with the great Sam Moore on two tracks, including Willam Bell’s obscure “To Be a Lover,” best remembered for being a hit for Billy Idol. These tracks make up the most successful,
It would be inaccurate to call Only the Strong Survive a phoned in effort; the production, the arrangements and the song selection all indicate that Bruce approached this project with the same level of passion and attention to detail that he gave to his previous covers album, 2006’s The Seeger Sessions. However, it is much easier to leave your mark on traditional Irish folk songs than songs already defined by their originators, and one can’t help but notice a feeling of sterility and vanity permeating throughout Only the Strong Survive. It won’t make you forget the originals, and if anything will make you want to revisit them. While Bruce never ascends to Rod Stewart levels of blandness, he doesn’t leave his own unique mark on them, either.
In 2015, ¾’s of the surviving members of the Grateful Dead – rhythm guitarist Bob Weir and drummers Bill Kreutzman and Mickey Hart – formed Dead & Company, the latest in a line of outfits formed in the aftermath of Jerry Garcia’s death in 1995 mean to carry on the spirit and legacy of the band. The band was met with trepidation and derision when it was announced that John Mayer, a top 40 pop star with a history of controversy that overshadowed his considerable talents, would be taking the lead guitar role. Even with jam band veterans Oteil Burbridge on bass and Jeff Chiamenti on keyboards, there was much concern about this lineup’s abilities and appeal.
Seven years later, Dead & Company has been the most successful post-Jerry incarnation of the band, both musically and financially. Mayer’s broad appeal has won them over a whole new generation of fans, and older fans have accepted this lineup into the ever growing Dead family. As a celebration leading up to the outfit’s final tour next summer, I’ve compiled what I consider to be the 10 definitive shows of the band’s career thus far. I based this all on the quality of the playing, historical significance, set list, and the level of exploration present in the band’s jamming.
10. Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Morrison, CO. 10/19/21
This was a significant show, as it was Dead & Company’s first full show without original drummer Billy Kreutzman, who wound up missing a significant chunk of shows for the remainder of the year and much of the 2022 leg. Filling in for Billy was Jay Lane, drummer for Weir’s Dead adjacent projects such as Ratdog, Wolf Bros, and Furthur. The show opens with “Not Fade Away,” the Buddy Holly classic that the Dead turned into one of their most beloved jam vehicles throughout their career. In the context of Kreutzman’s absence, it’s a stunning statement to the band’s endurance and legacy, and its chorus – “You know our love will not fade away” – sounds like the world’s most badass ‘Get Well Soon’ card.
The entire performance is top shelf Dead & Company, with Lane’s relative youthfulness adding some pep and punch to a band often derided as ‘Dead & Slow.” But it’s John Mayer and keyboardist Jeff Chiamenti’s ever blossoming musical bromance that takes center stage on the evening’s most sublime moments, particularly a splendiforous “Eyes of the World” that moves like a magic carpet to the stars.
The original Grateful Dead rarely took political stances as explicitly as Bob Weir has in recent years. While the drug-fueled, ‘free love’ attitude more than hinted at a liberal philosophy, many conservatives and libertarians latched onto the ‘personal freedom’ motifs present in some of their work. Weir no longer embraces this neutrality, making his views on various ‘culture war’ issues such as LGTBQ rights and gun control loudly known at Dead shows, often in the wake of a specific incident or tragedy associated with these topics.
The band’s first of two nights at the legendary Wrigley Field came in the wake of the Supreme Court’s unprecedented decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, which protected a woman’s right to choose for over 50 years. The band constructed a set list that was thematic in nature, opening with “Man Smart, Woman Smarter” into “Eyes of the World.” A song celebrating the intelligence and authority of women into a song that champions self-actualization and personal freedom? That should be more than enough of a statement. The band doesn’t stop there, beginning the second set with “Throwing Stones,” their most politically explicit political song that condemns poverty, corporate greed, and the exploitation of the most powerless among us. Weir even changes the words to condemn the Supreme Court explicitly.
2016 was the year Dead & Company fully blossomed into a tight, cohesive unit. The shows on the summer tour showed a band playing with confidence, precision and a real sense of adventure. While the pairing of “Touch of Grey” and “Hell in a Bucket” looks standard on paper, these still rate as the band’s best takes on these respective songs. “Hell” is even performed at the original fast tempo instead of the slower, bluesier arrangement they had previously adapted. Mayer showcases his blues chops on a searing take on “Next Time You See Me,” and in general has fully adapted his playing to the Dead’s often challenging improvisational style. The second set features thoroughly jammed out versions of “Eyes of the World,” “Shakedown Street,” and “Uncle John’s Band,” three of their ‘big ticket’ exploratory vehicles that rarely if ever all appeared in the same set. Weir also uses his shredded rasp to great emotional effect on a powerful “Wharf Rat,” the band’s tale of a man down on his luck looking for one last shot but can’t escape the rut he’s gotten himself in.
7. Wrigley Field, Chicago, IL. 7/1/2017
The 2017 summer tour ended on a high note with the two shows at Wrigley Field, which is a venue where the band reliably plays spectacular shows. They mix things up in the first set with an acoustic take on “Dark Star,” but it’s the second set where this band truly shines; in particular this is their finest pairing of “Scarlet Begonias” and “Fire on the Mountain.” This version rivals many of the original Jerry led outfits best versions, with a questing transitional jam that hits a number of great peaks and a “Fire” for the ages with John using his guitar as a flamethrower as he ascends to what is still the most intense peak of any Dead & Company song ever performed.
6. TD Garden, Boston, MA. 11/17/17
A watershed show during the excellent Fall 2017 tour, the Dead built on the newfound momentum they gained on their summer tour and delivered outstanding shows night after night. Boston witnessed one of the absolute best of the run; from the top they blast off with their best “Jack Straw” to date, as well as a blazing hot “Scarlet -> Fire” and a haunting, extended “He’s Gone” that delivers goosebumps once John and bassist Oteil Burbridge take over the vocals. It’s all punctuated by a gorgeous encore of “Ripple,” the band’s most touching benediction of all.
5. Wells Fargo Arena, Philadelphia, PA. 11/16/17
Another heater from Fall 2017, this show is wall to wall highlights and slightly outclasses the stellar Boston show with a quirkier song selections that include the band’s disco-fried take on “Dancing in the Street” and Weir’s environmental odyssey “Let it Grow.” The second set is where this show really shines, beginning with a kaleidoscopic “Dark Star” and soaring renditions of Dead bellwethers such as “Deal,” “Eyes of the World,” “Uncle John’s Band,” and rollicking “Going Down the Road Feeling Bad.”
4. Hollywood Bowl, Hollywood, CA. 10/31/21
All incarnations of the Dead have played inspired Halloween shows where they tap into the energy of the season. These shows are often spooky, with jams that go to dark places and song selections that compliment them. The third and best show of their Hollywood Bowl run from last year contains such thematically appropriate picks as “Dire Wolf,” “Hell in a Bucket,” “Dark Star,” and the classic country murder ballad “El Paso.” Also significant is the first ever post-“Space” “Scarlet -> Fire,” which has a very different, edgier energy coming this late in the set and segues into the apocalyptic odyssey “Morning Dew,” where Mayer puts on a clinic in how to properly shred in a way that is emotive and complementary rather than masturbatory.
3. The Gorge, George, WA. 6/29/18
You could throw a dart any of the stellar 2018 summer tour and land on a terrific show, but ultimately I went with the Gorge show because of the stellar set list and the wonderful song selection, which includes the debut of “Mr. Charlie,” the ethereal and mysterious “Crazy Fingers,” and Garcia’s tearjerking anthem “Comes a Time” among the highlights. Playing-wise, the band is a tight groove throughout, with Burbridge having dosed for the first time prior to going onstage. It’s also not often that I praise a “Black Peter,” but this version is absolute gold and goes the distance as it reaches a fantastic, Mayer-tastic finale.
2. BB&T Center, Sunrise, FL., 2/26/18
In the wake of the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas shooting, this show was a healing ceremony of sorts; it’s also the angriest show they’ve ever played. The song selection was deliberately designed to send a message. There are obvious choices: “New Speedway Boogie,” “Eyes of the World,” and “Throwing Stones” all have very obvious connotations in the context of the show. But then there’s the opening “Shakedown Street,” with special emphasis placed on the refrain “Don’t tell me this town ain’t got no heart…” “They Love Each Other” feels like it’s being sung directly to the surviving students who banded together and supported each other in the aftermath. The closing “Touch of Grey,” with its classic “we will survive” chorus, is as hopeful a message that they could possibly end with. An all around magnificent show, one played with a clear purpose and motivation.
1. Citi Field, Flushing, NY. 6/23/2019
I admit that I have attendance bias, as I was at this magnificent show on a beautiful summer night. And no doubt this night’s legacy gets slightly inflated by the fact that John Mayer played the Wolf, one of Jerry Garcia’s signature guitar rigs. I can also be objective: this show is as air tight and inspired as this band gets, and the set list really helps take it over the top. Giving Mayer one of Garcia’s guitars seemed like the ultimate confirmation that he was now part of the band’s ongoing legacy, and it pushed him to do justice to the many signature Jerry tunes that graced the set list: “St. Stephen,” “High Time,” “Sugaree,” “Terrapin Station,” “Scarlet -> Fire,” and “Morning Dew” all found their way to Citi Field that night and were played with precision and the utmost respect by Mayer. There’s also a magnificently punchy “The Other One” with Burbridge imitating Phil Lesh’s signature rolling bass bombs, and a touching “Brokedown Palace” encore.
Currently, the Rolling Stones are on their 60th anniversary tour; this is no small feat. While there are many ‘legacy’ acts who still tour regularly, few have done so with the continuing endurance of the Rolling Stones. Where many fail to barely fill a 5,000 seat arena, the Stones are regularly selling out 70,000 seat stadiums.
While name recognition alone gets them so far, there is little doubt that the real key to the Stones’ endurance is their musical legacy, one of rock and roll’s richest and most influential. Here I’ve compiled what I feel are their 60 most essential tunes, ranging from timeless rock anthems with slashing guitar riffs to their tender, introspective deep cuts that showcase the full depth of their artistry. It wasn’t an easy list to narrow down; many have given deeper and better insights to their recorded body, and I no doubt left off many tracks some feel are just as if not more essential.
That said, revisiting the Stones’ body of work was a hugely rewarding experience, and while some will quibble over rankings and selections, there is no doubt the 60 tracks here each have something special in their favor that exemplify why the Stones continue to inspire and astound.
60. Out Of Control (Bridges to Babylon, 1997)
The most recent song on this list, “Out Of Control” is a taut, sinister cut that captures the mood implied by the title perfectly. On each verse, Jagger’s voice becomes more strained and desperate as he builds towards the explosive, almost cathartic chorus, backed by a sinewy musical backdrop that recalls “Gimme Shelter”’s apocalyptic slow burn. Live, it’s become a modern-day classic, a showcase for Mick’s raving mad gesticulations and Richards’ aggressive licks.
59. Love Is Strong (Voodoo Lounge, 1994)
One of the band’s most perfect studio cuts, “Love is Strong” is post-Wyman Stones at their ballsiest. Charlie sets up an irresistibly sexy groove that Keith embellishes upon with his licks, and Jagger’s vocals are seductive and menacing, traits that became less frequent post-Some Girls. In an era marred by inconsistency, “Love is Strong” was proof that the Stones could still hit a home run; “Love is Strong” could come from any era of the band.
57. 100 Years Ago (Goat’s Head Soup, 1973)
Among the more ambitious tracks in their catalog, this Goat’s Head Soup highlight is also one of the band’s darkest tracks; the lyrics are all about lost love and memories, and the frantic climax with Jagger’s desperate howlings of “Goodbye” and “I warned ya” do not hint at happy ending. It’s not their most accessible track, but the band’s efforts on the cut are rewarding.
56. Respectable (Some Girls, 1978)
Punk, country and Chuck Berry come together for this swingin’, snarling piece of nastiness that pokes fun at the notion that the Stones had sold out and were no longer dangerous or irreverent. They kick that idea’s ass in just about three minutes; Mick’s final “get out of my life, don’t take my wife, don’t come back” is delivered with a defiance that never reared again after Some Girls. Musically, Charlie and Bill’s elastic groove is somehow the perfect counterpoint to the chaotic guitars of Keith and Ronnie. “Respectable,” and really Some Girls as a whole, is also a farewell to the very image the Stones were fighting to reclaim, and it provides a grand sendoff to their last truly legendary era.
55. Live With Me (Let It Bleed, 1969)
Keith’s pornographic bass riff packs the same melodic wallop of any of his famous traditional guitar intros, and Jagger has rarely been more convincingly lascivious as on this Let It Bleed highlight. It also features a barnstorming debut by Bobby Keys, whose sax solo adds perfectly the sordid mayhem.
54. Almost Hear You Sigh (Steel Wheels, 1989)
1989’s Steel Wheels is often thought as the band’s comeback album, but qualitatively it was honestly as average as any of their post-Tattoo You efforts. There were some exceptions, including this haunting track. Boasting a sexy groove similar to “Beast Of Burden,” it’s one of the many great unsung Stones ballads and features one of the finest vocal of Jagger’s career. Keith also shines here, delivering a gorgeous acoustic solo that fits the song’s forlorn atmosphere perfectly.
53. Slipping Away (Steel Wheels, 1989)
The other Steel Wheels standout, Keith’s closing ballad is a fitting swan song to the Bill Wyman era; the bassist shines here with some subtle but effective work that punctuates the melancholy soul of the song perfectly. Live, Keith managed to turn this into one of his most effective showcases, always pouring his ragged heart and weathered soul into both the vocals and guitar work; it’s one of his best examples of his ability to capture depth and feeling in a song.
52. Love In Vain (Let It Bleed, 1969)
Robert Johnson is one of the band’s most prominent influences, and their tribute to him on Let It Bleed is loaded with pathos and reverence. While some argue the song grew into something greater live thanks to Mick Taylor, there’s something just exactly perfect about the stark, almost spectral quality of the studio take. “Love in Vain” is ultimately an empty, longing song, and they nailed the vibe in a way that doesn’t quite resonate among a 50,000 seat arena with screaming fans.
51. Bitch (Sticky Fingers, 1971)
A microcosm of everything that made the Stones great during this time: a swinging Watts / Wyman groove, a great Keith Riff, Taylor soloing up a storm and Jagger belting his balls off as he delivers a raunchy set of lyrics. Not much else to say about this one, “Bitch” is simply a classic.
50. Angie (Goat’s Head Soup, 1973)
Some fans love “Angie,” others find it the first real wrong turn in their career up to that point. Personally, I find it to be a perfectly worthy Stones cut. Keith’s acoustic playing is simply sublime, and Jagger establishes himself as convincingly sensitive balladeer in a way he hadn’t previously. A lot of other Stones ballads had an underlying aggression to it, but “Angie” is tender from start to finish. It wasn’t what many were ready for at the time, but “Angie” has endured as a unique classic for the band.
The topics of racism, drug addiction and police brutality have never sounded funkier than on this great 1973 single. Billy Preston’s clavinet sets the mood perfectly, and Mick Taylor’s quick solo further complements the bleak, dreary atmosphere. Props must also go to the intense horn arrangement, which overwhelm the song and contribute to its ‘end of the world’ vibe the same way Merry Clayton’s vocals gave “Gimme Shelter” its vicious edge.
48. One Hit (To The Body) (Dirty Work, 1986)
The undisputed highlight of the band’s worst album, “One Hit (To the Body)” frames a turbulent romance as a metaphor for the fractured relationship between Mick and Keith that nearly derailed the Stones forever in the mid-1980s’. The slashing, slicing acoustic sonically represents the fraying bond between the band’s two creative forces, and Jimmy Page’s punchy came on the solo is dripping with desperation and anger. Jagger practically screams the lyrics, snarling with anger while also adding a hint of resignation. It’s one of the most fully realized cuts from the band’s most inconsistent decade, and one of their most underappreciated works.
47. Out Of Time (Aftermath, 1966)
There are two versions of “Out Of Time,” but there is no mistake as to which one is better. The biting, sardonic Aftermath version is a glorious put-down, its marimba led rhythm the perfect backing for Jagger’s condescending, Dylan-esque vocals. It blows away the version that was later released on 1975’s Metamorphosis, a corny Jagger solo cut with female backing vocalists.
46. Shine A Light (Exile On Main Street, 1972)
Now associated with Martin Scorsese’s subpar documentation of the Stones’ Bigger Bang tour, “Shine a Light” is one of the Stones’ loveliest benedictions, a hedonist’s prayer amidst the depraved celebrations of Villa Nelcotte. Hearing the man who sang “Sympathy for the Devil” now croon “may the good Lord shine a light on you” may seem incongruous, but at this stage Jagger had mastered adapting his vocal stylings to a variety of different guises, a skill that would serve him well as the Stones continued to expand their sonic palette throughout the 1970s’.
45. It’s All Over Now (12 X 5, 1964)
The best of their early soul and R&B covers by a long shot, the Stones took the Bobby Womack classic and injected it with an early glimpse of the raw, cocksure attitude that would become their signature. Mick is just beginning to develop the boorish delivery that would be his trademark, and Keith and Brian’s guitar work is fantastic. It swings and swerves with a confidence that would develop further over the next year.
44. Worried About You (Tattoo You, 1981)
The ballad side of Tattoo You kicks off with this stunner, another plea from Mick to Keith’s well being disguised as a romance in turmoil. Jagger’s falsetto soars to heights it never reached before or since, showcasing a rarely heard vulnerability missing from preceding Stones ballads. It remains a live highlight, where its gospel coda and searing Ronnie Wood solo take it to even greater heights.
43. Let It Loose (Exile On Main Street, 1972)
For many, the unsung gem among the many classics on Exile On Main Street. It’s also a precursor to songs like “Fool to Cry” and “Worried About You,” wrapped in tenderness while still maintaining the band’s grit. Mick sounds wounded but confident, admitting that his womanizing ways often lead to heartache. The closing vocal coda is stunning, with Jagger delivering one of his absolute top vocal performances as the band crescendos around him.
42. Memory Motel (Black And Blue, 1976)
The best of the few tunes where Mick and Keith share lead vocals, “Memory Motel” is the perfect Stones ballad: it’s sad, but it’s got attitude. It romanticizes a woman who is unattainable, talking about her in ribald detail while also speaking of drunken nights and road weariness. It’s awash in melancholy keyboards and jagged, chaotic guitars. The Stones are masters of embracing sentimentality without wallowing in it, and “Memory Motel” is the perfect example of that.
41. Torn And Frayed (Exile On Main Street, 1972)
A great country tinged road ballad and one of the many underrated classics on Exile. “Torn and Frayed” can function as the band’s autobiography, speaking of backstage debauchery, ongoing inner turmoil, and ultimately a celebration of music and performance. It’s also one of their most convincing attempts at country music, bested only by “Dead Flowers” (more on that one later).
40. Let It Bleed (Let It Bleed, 1969)
Jaunty and raunchy, the title track to their 1969 masterpiece is a lurid yet endearing romp about the importance of companionship, both platonic and sexual. “Let it out, rider, you can come all over me” is perhaps the line Jagger has sung with the most conviction in his entire career.
39. Thru And Thru (Voodoo Lounge, 1994)
The best song on the bloated Voodoo Lounge, the closing ballad is Keith in his element, wearing his heart on his sleeve as he plays the ‘weathered troubadour’ role to great effect. Few of their tracks employ dynamics better, making the finale explosion of drums and horns sound like daybreak after a dark night for the soul. David Chase recognized the track’s greatness, using it to stellar effect in the season 2 finale of The Sopranos.
38. Heaven (Tattoo You, 1981)
This trance like, mysterious cut may be the band’s most unique song; there is certainly no other track immediately reminiscent of it before or since in their catalog. Jagger’s falsetto drifts over the song like a ghost, and the guitars further enhance the spectral atmosphere. The lyrics are sparse, allowing for the song’s musical atmosphere to fully envelope the listener. It’s maybe their most haunting song.
37. Shattered (Some Girls, 1978)
One of those perfect Stones studio cuts, “Shattered” struts along on a stuttering Watts / Wyman rhythm as Mick pays reverence to the seedy decadence of 1970s’ New York City as only he can. “Love and hope and sexy dreams are still surviving on the streets” could be the unofficial motto of both the city and the band, as both represent debauchery and perseverance in equal measures throughout their existence. A mess live, “Shattered” is perfectly constructed on Some Girls to give their gnarliest record a fitting finale.
35. When The Whip Comes Down (Some Girls, 1978)
By 1977, the Stones were already perceived as ‘long in the tooth’ by the burgeoning punk scene that was laying to waste to what were perceived as ‘dinosaur acts.’ The Stones, however, were up for a challenge, answered with Some Girls; it was a resonating response that brought them back to the top of the charts as well as reestablished them as rock’s premiere elder statesmen. They may not have had the youthful abandonment or anti-establishment edge of the Sex Pistols, but their maturity and intelligence ultimately proved to be far greater assets in the long run. “When The Whip Comes Down,” like “Shattered,” is a celebration of metro-area depravity, played with wit, flare and a caustic mix of professionalism and raw power. It’s the Stones at their aggressive best.
35. Winter (Goat’s Head Soup, 1973)
Goat’s Head Soup is a record that polarizes many Stones fans; some see it as the final entry in their greatest run of records, while others view. it as the beginning of the end for them artistically. Few if any, however, argue that “Winter” is one of their finest deep cuts. Cut from the same cloth as “Sway,” “Moonlight Mile,” and “Let It Loose,” it’s a yearning ballad highlighted by an incredible Mick Taylor solo. Goat’s Head Soup may or not be a misunderstood classic, but “Winter” alone is an argument in favor of a positive appraisal.
34. Rip This Joint (Exile On Main Street, 1972)
The Stones at their leanest, meanest, and at the time fastest: the second track on their magnum opus was the most blisteringly paced Stones song until 1997’s “Flip the Switch.” “Rip This Joint” does in just under three minutes what most songs, the Stones or otherwise, fail to do with longer run times: get in, get out, and in between take the limited time for all its worth. We get raging guitars, a Charlie Watts clinic, Mick raging out the lyrics and a Bobby Keys sax solo all in rapid succession, and it’s all just awesome. A small triumph in a catalog full of them.
33. Monkey Man (Let It Bleed, 1969)
Bill Wyman’s suspended bass line on the intro creates a sense of tension like few other Stones songs have, and combined with Nicky Hopkins’ chilling piano trills, makes for one of the darkest journeys in the band’s catalog. It’s a tale of addiction and its pitfalls, something the band would soon became all to accustomed to; it also contains some of their best and most hilariously detailed lyrics (“I’m a cold Italian pizza who could use a lemon squeeze-a”). Martin Scorsese recognized the song’s power, using it to great effect in Goodfellas as Henry Hill begins to get high on his own supply.
32. Miss You (Some Girls, 1978)
Along with “Angie,” “Miss You” seems to be the most maligned of the band’s major hits by elitis Stones fans. This could be because it’s overplayed in concerts, where the band often stretches it out to ten minutes or longer for no real reason. The original studio cut, however, is terrific; Charlie Watts is right at home with the ‘four on the floor’ disco groove, and Bill Wyman’s bass line is perfectly slinky. Unlike a lot of their peers, the Stones didn’t go disco, but merely adapted the groove to fit their own sound. It was a return to form and showed that the creative juices that flowed in 1968-72 could still be tapped into,
31. Emotional Rescue (Emotional Rescue, 1980)
Their other big disco hit; for whatever reason, it didn’t have the staying power of “Miss You.” It could be because of Mick’s falsetto, which sounds almost parodic in its execution, overdoing it to the hilt and sounding ridiculous. And yet, for this writer, that goofiness, along with that irresistible pulsating groove by Watts, makes it the slightly better of the two. Jagger’s vocals, while not his most earnest, are endlessly entertaining, especially when he switches to his lower register for the spoken finale.
30. She’s So Cold (Emotional Rescue, 1980)
Bill Wyman doesn’t seem to get the love most other classic rock bassists of his era seem to get, but he deserves it; his lines weren’t the most complex, but they sure as hell fit each song he ever played on perfectly. His elastic lines on this punchy 1980 rocker are some of his very best, complimented by the crisp leads of Richards and Woods cowpoke-y guitars. Watts keeps the song restrained at a steady cruising speed when he could easily rush it, making it one of their most tasteful and distinctive rock numbers.
29. Undercover (Of The Night) (Undercover, 1983)
One of the few post-Tattoo You tracks that as good as anything they’ve ever done, the quasi-title track to 1983’s mostly subpar “Undercover” tackles the subject of political unrest in South America in the early 1980s’. The lyrics are clunky, but the music is irresistible. Funky, sexy and dangerous, “Undercover” could be argued as the last true Stones classic to encompass the core elements of the Stones at their best; given that it’s the highest ranking post-1981 track on this list, it’s tough to refute.
28. Get Off Of My Cloud (December’s Children, 1965)
1965 was a watershed year for the Rolling Stones, the year they graduated from a middling blues cover band to first rate songwriters and hitmakers who could give the Fab Four a run for their money. “Satisfaction” sounded the alarm, and “Get Off of My Cloud” cemented their staying power with its mix of existential dissatisfaction in the lyrics and an aggressive power pop beat driven by one of the very best back beats Charlie Watts ever laid down.
27. Mother’s Little Helper (Aftermath, 1966)
No one would ever accuse the Stones of being feminists, but this 1966 single is memorable for its surprising sympathy to the rise of prescription drug abuse, specifically in suburban housewives grinded to the core by abusive spouses. The Stones themselves had not yet become the signpost for addiction, so there is no irony in the band’s concern, and the track holds up still as one of their most mature. It’s also the precursor for “Paint It Black,” with Brian Jones’ inspired melodic Eastern lead guitar line.
26. Let’s Spend The Night Together (Between The Buttons, 1967)
It seems tame now, even compared to their own later efforts, but this song caused huge controversy when it was released; it led to Ed Sullivan censoring them and an eye rolling Jagger changing the lyrics to “let’s spend some together.” In any case, it’s the Stones at their ribald best, with Jagger formally stepping into the role of boorish yet charismatic rock playboy that would follow him for the remainder of his career. It also has possibly the best non-Keith riff introduction of any Stones song, a rollicking piano intro that leaps out of the gates thanks to Ian Stuart.
25. You Got The Silver (Let It Bleed, 1969)
Keith wears his heart on his sleeve for his formal debut as solo lead vocalist (he shared duties with Jagger on 1967’s “Connection), and strikes, well, gold. A plaintive acoustic ballad, Keith goes all in and delivers an earnest, endearing ballad that may be the only Stones song appropriate for a wedding dance.
24. No Expectations (Beggars Banquet, 1968)
He’d officially remain with the band for another year, but “No Expectations” serves largely as a farewell to Brian Jones; Jones started out as the creative juggernaut in the band, but took a back seat once the Glimmer Twins found their niche and established the signature Stones sound. “No Expectations” deals with departure and disappointment; the band was disillusioned with Jones’ increasing drug addiction and loss of control, and Jones was ready to depart the band he once spearheaded. Elegiac and somber, it’s the Stones at their most emotionally naked.
23. 19th Nervous Breakdown (single, 1966)
Keith’s ‘bull in a china shop’ barrage of chords that start off this classic 1966 single perfectly sets up the song’s humorously frantic tone. Coupled with Mick’s condescending ‘told ya so’ lyrics delivered at a rapid fire pace, it’s one of the best marriages of the Glimmer Twins’ strengths in terms of getting the feel for a song just exactly perfect.
22. Sway (Sticky Fingers, 1971)
Raw and majestic, “Sway” is most notable for being one of Mick Taylor’s finest moments as a Stone, if not the finest. The rest of the song is comfortably great, with Jagger’s impassioned vocal and Paul Buckmaster’s subtle strings, but Taylor’s outro solo is sublime, truly a masterclass in feel and tone, and a prime example of why his years with the band were never equaled. The Stones were never able to marry their primal approach with such melodic sensitivity after he left.
21. The Last Time (Out Of Our Heads, 1965)
“The Last Time” may be the first true example of the Stones sound: a jangly, instantly memorable opening riff you could sing along to, Jagger’s gritty vocals delivering a stinging put down of a woman doing wrong, and a swinging back beat courtesy of Watts and Wyman. It hasn’t had the staying power of many of their other earlier hits, but it’s every bit as potent as “Satisfaction” and “Paint It Black.”
20. Dead Flowers (Sticky Fingers, 1971)
The best of the band’s country song, “Dead Flowers” is similar to the previous year’s “Let It Bleed” in its portrayal of casual drug use and empty sex to ease the pain of everyday life. The lyrics harken back to earlier cuts such as “Play With Fire,” “Under My Thumb,” and other put downs of snobbish women dissatisfied with the band’s ribaldry, but there’s a sweetness hidden beneath the debauched veneer of “Dead Flowers” that make it the most endearing of any of those tracks.
19. Tumbling Dice (Exile On Main Street, 1972)
The signature Stones swing and swagger has rarely been on better display than on Exile’s lone hit single and one of the Stones’ most enduring classics. Originally conceived as the outtake “Good Time Women,” the song took flight when Jagger and Richards slowed down the original groove to a slinky crawl and turned the half baked lyrics into a richly conceived tale of a ‘lone crap shooter playing the field every night.’ Mick Taylor played bass on the song instead of Wyman, giving it the distinct feel of his melodic lead lines as opposed to Wyman’s usual jazz influences. As great as Wyman is, this is one song that never worked quite as well live because that groove was never 100 % replicated.
18. Rocks Off (Exile On Main Street, 1972)
“Rocks Off” could’ve been subtitled as “A Day in the Life at Villa Nelcotte.” It’s all about waking up at unknown hours, living life in a drug induced haze as the Stones fought to stave off the anxieties of living in tax exile through sex, drugs and rock and roll. Its jittery opening riff is one of Keith’s best and immediately sets up the song’s nervous energy, and Mick’s rarely had a more exciting vocal delivery than when he bellows “the sunshine bores the daylights out of me!” like he’s had a divine revelation. Also of note: the best horn arrangement on any Stones songs.
17. Waiting On A Friend (Tattoo You, 1981)
Having come from the Goat’s Head Soup era, “Waiting On A Friend” provides a sort of callback / coda to the band’s peak years. By the time it came to piece together Tattoo You, Mick and Keith’s relationship was just beginning to fray, giving the sweet “Waiting On A Friend” a sense of nostalgia and poignancy that elevates it among their most affecting ballads. It feels like the close of a particular chapter in the band’s career, one last glimpse of sunshine before the storm clouds of the 1980s’, often referred to as World War III by Jagger and Richards.
16. Moonlight Mile (Sticky Fingers, 1971)
With Richards off elsewhere, Jagger and Mick Taylor completed this road weary ballad at the appropriately wee hours of the morning, a perfect time to perfect its bleary eyed majesty. Like “Sway,” Paul Buckmaster’s string arrangement compliments the atmosphere perfectly, and the lyrics are the first time we realize life as a Stone isn’t all it’s cracked up to me: there’s isolation and loneliness once the curtain is drawn, and all Mick wants to do is lay down by his lady’s side…whoever that may be on a given night at the time.
15. Midnight Rambler (Let It Bleed, 1969)
Best remembered as The Stones’ most exciting live tune and the closest they ever came to a proper rock opera, there’s still something special about the spartan, quietly sinister studio take. Keith’s lurching, menacing riff is him at his most feral and vicious. For a song that’s about a serial murderer and rapist, you could not ask for a more appropriately demented, vicious sound. To this day, he still crunches it out with the same vigor. Mick, too, has always used the song to demonstrate the three core components of his showmanship: his snarling, jackal-like vocals, spastic yet compelling dance moves, and his superlative blues harmonica skills, which were never put to better use.
14. Start Me Up (Tattoo You, 1981)
The riff that launched a thousand sporting events, and roughly a similar amount of Stones concerts. Originally conceived years earlier as a reggae song, “Start Me Up” will go down as the last truly deathless Stones anthem, and it’s all thanks to Keith’s three chord call to arms slamming against Charlie Watts’ insistent, pulsating groove. They never sounded as vital again, and not even that ridiculous video can diminish its stature.
13. Ruby Tuesday (Between The Buttons, 1967)
The pinnacle of their baroque experimentations (“Play With Fire,” “Lady Jane,” “Out Of Time”), “Ruby Tuesday” is a snapshot of 1960s’ free spiritedness while remaining timeless thanks to its classical touches. It may well have the most beautiful standalone melody of any Stones song, one of Brian Jones’ last significant contributions to the band.
12. Wild Horses (Sticky Fingers, 1971)
One of their most covered songs, the original studio take of “Wild Horses” is one of the band’s finest. The guitars fall down like rain on a window pane and Jagger’s drawl is loaded with pathos as he bids Marianne Faithful and their doomed romance a fond farewell into the sunset. For a band whose guitar work is largely known for its caustic aggression, the acoustic work is subdued and sublime, and Keith’s brief, emotive solo is as good as any of his slashing intro riffs.
11. Can’t You Hear Me Knocking (Sticky Fingers, 1971)
Keith crunches out the serrated riff on this one like like he’s twisting someone’s head in a vise. While many remember the song more fondly for the Bobby Keys / Mick Taylor led jam in the second half of the song, the first half may be the best two and a half minutes of the band’s career: they never sounded punchier or tighter as the unit, and the only real disappointment is that it leaves you wanting more. That said, the Taylor / Keys jam is a fantastic and unique moment in their catalog, building up to an orgasmic crescendo that peaks just at the right moment.
10. Street Fighting Man (Beggars Banquet, 1968)
Coming in the wake of the Chicago riots and the war at Vietnam hitting a boiling point, “Street Fighting Man” was the right song for a very wrong time, and as a result it became one of their most eternally relevant. Keith’s lightning strike of a riff leaps out like the ‘shot heard around the world,’ and when Jagger sings “I’ll shout and scream and kill the king,” he sounds like he’s storming the castle and taking no prisoners. Whether it’s Chicago in 1968 or Ukraine in 2022, “Street Fighting Man” is still the right song for the wrong time.
9. Honky Tonk Women (single, 1969)
With all due respect to Blue Oyster Cult, no rock song has ever made better use of the cowbell, as it clangs seductively against Charlie Watts’ insistent backbeat. Also, there are few more iconic Stones images then Keith center stage, belting out the signature open G chords of “Honky Tonk Women” with just one hand, cigarette firmly between his lips. Mick sings with unbridled sexual enthusiasm about two locale specific one night stands in Memphis and New York City, and the chorus is the band’s most celebratory.
8. Beast Of Burden (Some Girls, 1978)
The band’s toughest ballad gets much of its muscle from Keith’s riff, which sounds at once defiant, tender, and melancholy. Mick’s vocal delivery is full of cocksure attitude; it’s Keith’s playing that gives “Beast of Burden” its weather beaten heart and exposes the narrator’s vulnerability that Mick is trying to conceal with his bravado. Also, the song features possibly Charlie’s finest drumming, showcasing his mastery of both technique and feel.
7. You Can’t Always Get What You Want (Let It Bleed, 1969)
The Stones’ answer to “Hey Jude” is a not so veiled kiss-off to the idealism of the swingin’ sixties; Chelsea, once the epicenter of the ‘flower power’ scene, had seen its flame gone out in a wave of drug use, political tension, and general disillusionment. Such wonton desires were slowly being replaced with a resigned sense of responsibility. This newfound maturity in their writing was another step in the Stones ascending to their artistic peak, establishing themselves as songwriters whose wit and intelligence extended beyond tales of sexual depravity and elusive women.
6. Brown Sugar (Sticky Fingers, 1971)
Debuted amidst the chaos of Altamont, “Brown Sugar” is maybe the nastiest and in recent years most controversial Stones song of them all. They were never ones to shy away from taboo subjects, and at the time the song’s tale of BDSM, interracial sex and the slave trade seemed par for the course for the World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band. The controversy over its lyrics didn’t deter the single to become the band’s sixth number one hit in the United States and one of its most enduring concert anthems…at least until their 2021 tour, when the song was finally put to rest amidst renewed criticism of its subject matter in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement. Even if it never gets performed live again, “Brown Sugar” has a secure legacy as the ultimate Stones party track; with its spiky riff and rumbling groove, “Brown Sugar” remains a raunchy good time.
5. Sympathy For The Devil (Beggars Banquet, 1968)
Originally conceived as a Dylan-esque folk ballad, the band instead made the wide decision to give this epic track a samba beat and the best guitar solo Keith Richards ever laid down, and the rest is history. A stinging indictment of mankind’s willingness to assign supernatural forces to stave off blame for their own atrocities, “Sympathy” is another track that will endure as long as there is turmoil in the world, whether or not the devil made us do it.
4. Paint It Black (Aftermath, 1966)
By 1966, the Stones had stepped out of the shadow of the Beatles and come into their own as performers and songwriters. “Paint It Black” kickstarted that evolution with its Moorish rhythms, revolutionary use of sitar and Charlie Watts’ brutish drum work. No one was doing songs this dark or ominous in 1966, and the song was later adapted as the unofficial anthem for the Vietnam era. The song was also a protogenic portent for the future punk and emo scenes, making it one of their most influential recordings.
3. (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction
The band’s signature track literally came out of a dream: Keith played around with a melody, fell asleep and woke up with the riff fully formed. The fuzzy, buzzing intro is the sound of rock and roll: rebellious, dangerous, sexy and grooving. A call to action. “Satisfaction” is the Stones’ and possibly rock and roll’s equivalent of the National Anthem. It’s their most enduring classic, and it’s all thanks to the man rightfully called the Human Riff.
2. Jumping Jack Flash
For many, “Jumping Jack Flash” heralded the start of the band’s peak years of 1968-72; it’s hard to argue against it. Now experimenting with unorthodox tunings and recording techniques, Keith Richards created a sound on “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” that was primal, urgent and completely inimitable. It’s a furious blend of the band’s blues roots, the burgeoning psychedelic scene, and their own slashing, swinging signature sound. The lyrics speak of survival, determination, and good times ahead, which could be seen as a summation of the Stones’ entire career. 54 years later, it’s still a gas, gas, gas when Keith smacks out those power chords.
“Gimme Shelter” is my favorite song of all time. Period. By anyone. I relented in the face of objectivity, but no Stones song, or any for that matter, will have as lasting an impact on me. Keith’s opening riff is the aural equivalent of being circled by sharks or slowly choked out by a large snake: it’s sinister, repetitive and takes its time before going right for the throat when you least expect it. It sets up the song’s apocalyptic fury perfectly, sweeping you right up like the storm in the opening line. Every subsequent moment of “Gimme Shelter” is a response to Keith’s dynamic intro, bringing out the best in each band member as they do their best to match the swagger and intensity he immediately brings to the table. Of course, it’s not just the Stones that make “Gimme Shelter” special; Merry Clayton’s strident mid-song solo and jousting with Mick on the finale add an undeniable sensuality and power that the song would lack otherwise. It is Clayton who completes the song, making it the Stones’ most fully realized, enduring and towering achievement.
Just in time for the summer, Harry Styles has arrived with Harry’s House, his most fully realized solo effort yet and the perfect soundtrack for hot nights on the dance floor and long drives to the boardwalk.
The record begins with “Music for a Sushi Restaurant,” which immediately sets the tone for the album; dreamy, funky and a little surreal, it’s a winner as an opener and is the beginning of an extremely consistent first half. Highlights include the sublime, McCartney-esque first single “As It Was” and the psychedelic “Grapefruit,” which sounds like the missing link between The Beatles and Prince. On each track, Styles sounds superbly confident in both his vocal abilities and his stylistic choices, showcasing the depth and growth he’s conjured since his 1D days.
The second half of the album is a bit more inconsistent; the maudlin ballad “Matilda” is an unfortunate diversion from the rest of the album’s sonic milieu, and tracks like “Keep Driving” and “Boyfriends” don’t achieve the instant ‘earworm’ status of the record’s better tracks. However, “Cinema” and “Satellite” are excellent, hypnotic tracks that add to the record’s strong qualitative track record.
Harry’s House is built on a solid foundation of thick grooves and warm, enveloping hooks; the production is crisp and punchy, giving the songs the required energy to bring Styles’ vision to come alive and create a familiar, inviting atmosphere that both relaxes and invigorates. While some moments flounder, the record is overall triumphant in its ambitions, and further creates excitement for the next phase of Styles’ evolution, which has been a thrill thus far.
By 1977, the Rolling Stones were in trouble. Their previous albums, It’s Only Rock’n Roll and Black and Blue, did not match the heights of their halcyon run of legendary albums from 1968 to 1973. The loss of Mick Taylor was a tremendous blow to them artistically, and Keith Richards’ drug habit was spiraling out of control and affecting his musical ability. Despite bringing in former Faces guitarist Ron Wood to the fold, the band struggled to match the fireworks of their peak years, and their live shows had become sloppy and lethargic, lacking in the vigor and danger that made their 1971-73 treks among rock’s most celebrated live experiences.
After their widely criticized 1976 tour of Europe, the band themselves realized what everyone had known for some time: the Stones needed an injection. Not the kind that was slowly killing Keith, but a fresh, energetic platform to reestablish themselves as rock’s most exciting band and a true force to be reckoned with.
On March 4th and 5th, 1977, the band booked two gigs at Toronto’s legendary El Mocambo club, a 500 seat venue where local bands made their bones, as opposed to the 20,000 seat arenas the World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band had grown accustomed to since their 1960s’ heyday. Keith had just been busted in Toronto on a heroine charge, so the performance was a sort of goodwill gesture in that regard. The band hadn’t played in a venue of this size since they were starting out.
Bootlegs of this show have circulated in fragmented form since shortly after the show was performed, but in 2022, in preparation for the band’s 60th anniversary, the Stones have finally released tracks from both shows in their entirety. The release, simply titled El Mocambo ’77, confirms what was thought of all this years: the El Mocambo shows are among the greatest and most important Rolling Stones shows of all time.
From end to end, this is the Stones at their best: raw, loud, gritty, snarling, dangerous, teetering on the edge of chaos. Sloppy, but ‘good sloppy’: the entire band is in a groove and playing for their lives, especially Keith who got his shit together for these shows and gave some of the most searing guitar work of his entire career. He owns this entire show and crushes every dirty lick, riff and rhythm that comes his way. Mick is at his lascivious best, Wyman and Watts hold down the fort as forcefully as they always have, and Wood fully comes into his own, perfecting his signature ‘weaving’ with Keith and laying down some smoking hot axe work of his own on tracks like “Crackin’ Up” and “Worried About You.”
There isn’t a weak performance of any of the 23 songs, but some of the highlights include arresting renditions of Stones classics “Honky Tonk Women” and “Jumping Jack Flash,” a pulsating “Hot Stuff,” and the forgotten gem “Dance Little Sister” that barely stays on track but manages to be one of the most exciting Stones live cuts of all time. The blues cuts, particularly “Worried Life Blues” and “Mannish Boy,” show why the Stones are the only white boys who can do black blues music justice, injecting their own personalities into music while maintaining reverence for their progenitors.
The sound quality brings out the revelatory quality of the full performances out further, not losing any nuances or making the music sound too clean for its own good. Everything you’re meant to hear jumps right out of the speakers.
Coupled with beautiful packaging that delves deep into the shows’ legacy, El Mocambo ’77 sits comfortably up there with Get Yer Ya Ya’s Out and Brussels Affair ’73 as one of their best live releases, a forceful reminder of when they were far more than rock’s most entertaining nostalgia act and truly the Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World.
About five months ago, I decided to watch Annie Hall for the first time. It was also the first time I had ever watched a Woody Allen movie. I expected to appreciate it, but what I did not expect was that I took an instant liking to Allen’s humor, as well as the way he portrayed relationships, anxiety and existential dread.
Fast forward to mid-April, and I have watched over 20 Allen films. These include bullet proof classics such as Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters, Sleeper, Crimes and Misdemeanors, and Midnight In Paris. The one film that outclassed them all for me, however, was Deconstructing Harry.
By 1997, Woody Allen was five years removed from his split with Mia Farrow and its accompanying controversy. His last several films boasted some of the biggest names he has ever worked with and showed that the respect and admiration he had achieved throughout his career had not been tarnished by his personal tribulations.
Consciously or unconsciously, Woody’s films in the aftermath of his legal issues were decidedly lighter affairs: Bullets and Aphrodite were madcap farces with reasonably happy endings, and Everyone Says I Love You was his first and only musical, with a bittersweet but ultimately hopeful conclusion. Woody has never admitted it, but one could deduce that the man was possibly trying to soften his image with the public. The films are largely lacking in the darker elements of his humor, such as his bracing existential critiques and caustic criticisms of religion and politics, with the exception of a few thinly veiled barbs.
For Deconstructing Harry, Woody returned to what he did best and unleashed the ugliest, most unpleasant and unsympathetic version of himself in the form of Harry Block, a successful writer who uses those closest to him as inspiration for his sordid, often deeply personal tales of humans at their worst.
A philandering, pill popping, thrice divorced wreck of a human, Block is unable to write for the first time in his life. He gets ideas but finds himself unable to put them onto the page. His son, the one part of his life where he’s actually put an effort into being a source of good, is forbidden from him by his second ex-wife, who also happens to be his former therapist. His mistress, who also happens to be his ex-sister-in-law, is driven nearly to suicide when his book destroys her marriage and relationship with her sister. The woman he really loves has decided to marry a close friend that he introduced her to.
In the midst of all this, Block should have a silver lining to look forward to: the college that once kicked him out has now decided to honor him as an esteemed alumni due to his success. This small bit of validation, however, feels hollow to him, as he feels he has no one to celebrate it with. Through a series of mishaps, chance encounters, and an impromptu kidnapping, Block manages to drum up enough enthusiasm within himself to make the trek out to the event, and along the way he discovers some significant and unpleasant truths about himself he needs to confront in order to continue his success.
As previously mentioned, Deconstructing Harry can be seen as a return to form for Allen when looked at within the entire trajectory of his career; it can also be seen as a farewell the Woody Allen we all know and love. As one astute Redditor pointed out, Deconstructing Harry may well be the last true classic Woody movie: like Manhattan, Annie Hall, and Hannah and Her Sisters, the film deals with a struggling creative type trying to make sense of failed professional and personal setbacks set agains the backdrop of New York. The themes of Judaism, existential dread, and finding a sense of purpose in a world that seems to not to provide one are all there. The only film post-Harry that revisits any of these themes is Midnight in Paris, and as good as that film is, it does not approach them with the depth or rawness that Deconstructing Harry does.
The loneliness of the creative process and being a struggling artist is personified by Harry Block; he mentions more than once that he cannot function in reality, but instead must rely on his art to get by in life. Writers are often told to write what they know, but Harry is the ‘worst case scenario’ of this advice, as his well of inspiration winds up alienating him from everyone he has attempted to care about.
Allen gives us a direct line to Block’s imagination, as the film alternates between Block’s real life and his visualizations of what he would like his stories to become or have become; one particularly funny and profound one features Robin Williams as Mel, an actor who one day literally goes ‘out of focus.’ Williams spend the entirety of his screentime blurry and distorted, until his wife and children are forced to get glasses so that he can be seen more clearly. Block’s therapist suggests that this mirrors Block’s own selfishness, as he expects the world to adapt to him rather than he change for the better.
Block’s characters, as previously stated, are based on his real life experiences; more specifically, they are vindicative, vengeful avatars of people in his own life he has come to view with contempt; Ken (Richard Benjamin) and Grace (Julia Louis-Dreyfuss) are in-laws sleeping around the side, much like Harry and his third wife’s sister Lucy (Judy Davis). Paul (Stanley Tucci) marries Helen (Demi Moore), his former therapist, which is the exact same trajectory as his relationship with his second wife, Joan (Kirstie Alley). Helen and Paul’s relationship falls apart when Helen embraces her Jewish heritage to a fanatical degree, similar to the spiritually inept Harry’s falling out with his estranged sister (Caroline Aaron). His father, who resented him when his wife died giving birth to him, is depicted once as a Jewish stereotype with a groteseque secret. His former best friend Larry (Billy Crystal) is now the Devil in Harry’s mind, because he is marrying Faye (Elisabeth Shue), a woman he loved but pushed away with his rigidity and neuroses.
Harry finds companionship in his hypochondriac friend Richard (Bob Balaban), his son Hilly (Eric Lloyd), and a hooker named Cookie (Hazelle Williams in the first major African American role in any Allen film), all of whom accompany him to his honoring ceremony. For a brief moment, Harry is content: he has friends, he has a sense of companionship, he feels loved and appreciated despite his flaws. As the journey goes on, however, his characters leap off the pages and confront him about his many transgressions and how they’ve hurt and alienated those who once truly cared for him. By the end of the film, Harry’s epiphany leads to him to realize he has but one true friend that he hasn’t alienated: his art; in order to maintain that relationship, however, Harry must come to terms with his failures and internalized resentments, so that the proverbial block on his creativity can be lifted.
Deconstructing Harry may or not be Woody Allen’s best film for me; it’s tough for me to make an argument for it being better than Crimes and Misdemeanors or Annie Hall. It is, however, my favorite of Allen’s films, for it speaks to the struggling artist that lives within all of us. It portrays the need to create and leave a legacy through art in painfully probing, uncomfortably accurate details. Its commentary is all at once brutal, sublime, and uplifting.
There are arguably three certainties in life: death, taxes, and a new take on Batman every five to seven years, usually accompanied by the promise that it will be the darkest or grittiest take on the character yet. This has been done to varying degrees of success; some succeed quite admirably (Keaton, Bale), some suffer under the weight of their ambitions (Affleck), and some just flat out fail (Kilmer, Clooney).
The latest effort, Matt Reeves’ The Batman, stars Robert Pattinson as the Caped Crusader; like all Batman films, it came riding on a wave of hype. Memes deemed Pattinson the ’emo Batman,” mostly due his gloomy disposition and a trailer accompanied by maybe the darkest and most depressing of all Nirvana songs (“Something in the Way”). Some even revived old Twilight jokes about ‘Batman finally being played by an actual bat,” because internet trolls are known for originality. Pattinson was gradually joined by Paul Dano, Zoe Kravitz, Colin Farrell, Andy Serkis, Geoffrey Wright, Peter Sarsgaard, and John Turtorro, a worthy selection of actors that created further buzz and speculation.
The Batman begins with the same basic plot as all Batman films: Gotham is being hopelessly ravaged by crime and poverty, most of the cops and politicians are corrupt, and the only hope for respite comes in the form of a masked vigilante who stalks criminals dressed as a giant bat. On Halloween night, the mayor of the city is brutally murdered while his family is out trick-or-treating, leading to a series of sadistic killings along with a series clues that lead to the victims exposure of their involvement in the seedy underbelly of the Gotham crime world. In addition to these brain teasing calling cards, the killer is obsessed with the Batman, leaving him clues in the form of greeting cards as to who his next victim is going to be and why.
In addition to the killer wreaking havoc in a city already consumed by it, the Dark Knight also has contend with a fellow vigilante who has adopted a cat as her avatar of choice, a police department with only one officer he can trust, and his alter ego Bruce Wayne’s own personal baggage.
With a sprawling runtime of three hours, The Batman tries to pack in quite a bit; while the film is often thrilling and intricate, it is almost as consistently bloated and plodding. The pacing often slows to a halt when Pattinson takes of the cape and cowl, with his voice overs presented as Wayne’s journal entry coming off as desperate attempt to modernize the characters. It throws in one too any double-crosses and plot twists for its own good, as if it’s trying way too hard to be clever and surprising.
The performances are mostly solid; as Batman, Pattinson is outstanding. Virtually flawless. Every time he is in costume, the film lives up to its potential. The voice, the look, the physicality, and the intense presence are all top notch. This is a Batman to be feared. One strength of the film is the focus on Batman as a detective, which plays out as he meticulously deciphers the Riddler’s sinister clues. His Bruce Wayne isn’t nearly as effective, but that’s a fault in the writing rather than Pattinson’s acting; overall, he knows it out of the park.
As a pre-Catwoman Selina Kyle, Kravitz oozes sensuality and charisma, while giving the character more depth and pathos than in previous incarnations; Michelle Pfeiffer is still the gold standard for onscreen Catwomen for me, but Kravitz is an easy second. Her chemistry with Pattinson is off the charts. Andy Serkis and Geoffrey Wright play Batman’s most trusted cohorts, butler / surrogate father Alfred and noble cop James Gordon, with a dignified subtlety that was missing in previous portrayals. Turtorro acquits himself well enough in what is essentially a standard mob boss role, but Colin Farrell really triumphs as The Penguin: he overcomes the novelty of being hidden under mounds of prosthetics and gives a truly affecting presence, turning the character into a mildly tragic figure who is ostracized for his demeanor and seen as a sort of bottom feeder in the Gotham crime syndicate.
The weak link is Paul Dano’s Riddler; while he is definitely the most brutal and intense villain to date, his actual performance leaves much to be desired. He spends most of the film wrapped in a gimp suit breathing heavily; while there are some interesting aspects to the characters (the ciphers he leaves at crime scenes are some of the best examples of Bats using the aforementioned detective skills), he ultimately comes across as a cliched of better fleshed out villains such as Hannibal Lecter, John Doe from Se7en, and Ledger’s Joker. His motive is barely evident, basically a carbon copy of Ledger in The Dark Knight in that he just wants to cause chaos in an already chaotic situation. There’s a loose connection to Bruce Wayne that is hinted at but never fully expounded upon, and Dano’s acting once he emerges from the costume is truly, painfully over the top and cringe-y.
Visually the film is stunning, probably the most realistic and accurate portrayal of Gotham City to date. The fight scenes are extremely well choreographed, and the score by Michael Giacchino is magnificently haunting and is as perfect for Pattinson as Danny Elfman’s was for Keaton.
The Batman is not perfect, but it ranks in the upper echelon of Batman films, anchored largely by a spectacular performance from Robert Pattinson. Its vision isn’t always fully realized, but it shows promise for future installments.
As of yesterday, Keith Richards is 78 years old; judging by his iron will and stupefying ability to withstand heroine addiction, a cracked skull, and a myriad of other instances that would kill a normal person, he will likely have 78 more when all is said and done.
More-so than his infamous lifestyle, the legendary Rolling Stones guitarist is defined by his body of work: known as the Human Riff, Keith’s ability to kickstart a song into the stratosphere with his slashing, ringing chords coupled with his unique sense of timing and melody make him one of the most instantly recognizable musicians of all time. Within seconds, whether it’s a Stones song or a cameo for another artist, you know when Keith Richards is playing, and you know it’s gonna be good.
In honor of Keith’s latest revolution around the sun, we count down arguably his 10 best, most recognizable and inimitable intro riffs on some of the Rolling Stones’ most enduring classic.
Pour yourself some Jack, light up a Marlboro and immerse yourself in the gritty aural magic of Keith Richards.
10. 19th Nervous Breakdown (single, 1966)
The ‘bull in a china shop’ barrage of chords that start off this classic 1966 single perfectly sets up the song’s humorously frantic tone. Coupled with Mick’s condescending ‘told ya so’ lyrics delivered at a rapid fire pace, it’s one of the best marriages of the Glimmer Twins’ strengths in terms of getting the feel for a song just exactly perfect.
9. Beast Of Burden (Some Girls, 1978)
The band’s toughest ballad gets much of its muscle from Keith’s riff, which sounds at once defiant, tender, and melancholy. Mick’s vocal delivery is full of cocksure attitude; it’s Keith’s playing that gives “Beast of Burden” its weather beaten heart and exposes the narrator’s vulnerability that Mick is trying to conceal with his bravado.
8. Rocks Off (Exile On Main Street, 1972)
The opener for the band’s sprawling masterpiece leaps out of the speakers like a panther courtesy of Keith’s clarion riff. Like “19th Nervous Breakdown,” Keith’s role is to set up a frantic, anxiety ridden tale of excess, paranoia, and mental decay, and he succeeds again with an edgier, darker approach that fits the squalid, wasted atmosphere of Exile on Main Street like a glove.
7. Midnight Rambler (Let It Bleed, 1969)
The Stones’ most exciting live tune and the closest they ever came to a proper rock opera, Keith’s lurching, menacing riff is him at his most feral and vicious. For a song that’s about a serial murderer and rapist, you could not ask for a more appropriately demented, vicious sound. To this day, he still crunches it out with the same vigor.
6. Start Me Up (Tattoo You, 1981)
The riff that launched a thousand sporting events, and roughly a similar amount of Stones concerts. “Start Me Up” is arguably the last truly deathless Stones anthem, and it’s all thanks to Keith’s three chord call to arms slamming against Charlie Watts’ insistent, pulsating groove. They never sounded as vital again.
5. Honky Tonk Women (single, 1969)
There are few more iconic Stones images then Keith center stage, belting out the signature open G chords of “Honky Tonk Women” with just one hand, cigarette firmly between his lips. While it’s not the official start of the song (more cowbell!), it’s the game changing moment when the song gets its wings and becomes one of the most enjoyably ribald romps of the band’s catalog.
4. Can’t You Hear Me Knocking (Sticky Fingers, 1971)
Keith crunches out the serrated riff on this highlight from the Stones’ best album like he’s twisting someone’s head in a vise. While many remember the song more fondly for the Bobby Keys / Mick Taylor led jam in the second half of the song, the first half may be the best two and a half minutes of the band’s career: they never sounded punchier or tighter as the unit, and it’s Keith who gallantly leads them into such a gritty sweet spot.
3. Jumpin’ Jack Flash (single, 1966)
For many, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” heralded the start of the band’s peak years of 1968-72; it’s hard to argue against it. Now experimenting with unorthodox tunings and recording techniques, Keith created a sound on “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” that was primal, urgent and completely inimitable. It’s a furious blend of the band’s blues roots, the burgeoning psychedelic scene, and their own slashing, swinging signature sound. Everyone on this track hit a new level artistically, but it was Keith who kicked the door down for the rest to follow suit.
2. Gimme Shelter (Let It Bleed, 1969)
I almost put this one at number one on the basis that “Gimme Shelter” is my favorite song of all time. Period. By anyone. I relented in the face of objectivity, but no Stones song, or any for that matter, will have as lasting an impact on me. Keith’s opening riff is the aural equivalent of being circled by sharks or slowly choked out by a large snake: it’s sinister, repetitive and takes its time before going right for the throat when you least expect it. It sets up the song’s apocalyptic fury perfectly, sweeping you right up like the storm in the opening line. Every subsequent moment of “Gimme Shelter” is a response to Keith’s dynamic intro, bringing out the best in each band member as they do their best to match the swagger and intensity he immediately brings to the table.
1. (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction (Out of Our Heads, 1965)
Could it have been anything else? Keith literally dreamed up the riff, fell asleep and woke up with it fully formed. The fuzzy, buzzing riff is the sound of rock and roll: rebellious, dangerous, sexy and grooving. A call to action. “Satisfaction” is the Stones’ and possibly rock and roll’s equivalent of the national anthem. It’s their most enduring classic, and it’s all thanks to the man rightfully called the Human Riff.
With its wall to wall cast of Oscar nominees (including four winners), eye popping promotional materials and an enticingly lurid true story behind it, Ridley Scott’s House of Gucci has been one of the most hotly anticipated films of 2021.
The film stars Lady Gaga as Patrizia Reggiani, a secretary at her father’s trucking company in Italy in the late 1970s’. A chance meeting with Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver) at a mutual friend’s party leads to a budding romance that introduces her to a world of glamour, wealth and intrigue she never could imagine. Maurizio is reluctant to get by solely on his famous last name, is studying to become a lawyer; furthermore, his father Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons, rocking the hell out of a Clark Gable mustache) does not approve of Patrizia’s comparatively meager upbringing and decides to cut both off from the vast Gucci fortune.
Maurizio and Patrizia get married and settle down into a quiet, comfortable life free from the pressures of being part of the Gucci empire; this changes when Maurizio’s uncle, Aldo (Al Pacino) invites them to his birthday party in an effort to groom him as his eventual successor; Aldo’s own son, Paolo (Jared Leto), is seen as an “idiot” incapable of running the business properly, someone lacking in both fashion and common sense. This is the first sign of tension between Maurizio and Patrizia and the rest of the family.
Upon returning to his family business, Maurizio takes Patrizia to New York where both are seduced by the family’s growing wealth and power, and as a result become disgusted with Aldo’s seeming complacency in growing and modernizing the brand. This leads to a series of betrayals that change the dynamic of both the business and the family, and ultimately leads to dire (and deadly) consequences for Maurizio and Patrizia’s marriage.
Like the clothing brand itself, House of Gucci is sleek, stylish, flamboyant and full of intrigue. Scott and the cast clearly understood the assignment at hand; a story built around such eccentric situations and characters is bound to have moments of camp, but make no mistake: House of Gucci is a seriously well made film that makes the most of its pedigree.
This is largely due to the acting, particularly Gaga’s performance; as Reggiani, she is dynamic, enchanting, intimidating and powerful. Her transition from harmless secretary living out the ultimate Cinderella story to a shrewd, malicious femme fatale is wholly believable and worthy of whatever major awards may come her way. She simply commands the screen in a way that wholly betrays the notion that this is only her second major leading role in a motion picture.
Driver, questionable accent aside, is similarly affecting in his role as the ill fated Maurizio, having a palpable chemistry with his leading lady that crackles with energy. Pacino and Irons, two venerable elder titans, make the most of their comparatively meager supporting roles. Only Leto truly whiffs, as his take on dimwitted black sheep Paolo feels more like a Super Mario audition than a serious, nuanced take on an actual person; everything from his accent to his makeup to his clothes feels hammy and forced. (Salma Hayek is unfortunately wasted in her role as Reggiani’s psychic friend and eventual coconspirator, Pina Auriemma).
Visually, the film is stunning; Scott has not lost his place as one of cinema’s most unique auteurs. His shots of the film’s various exotic locales in Italy are sublime, and his ability to film in a way that makes you feel like you were in on the action, feeling the emotions and tensions of the characters as he did in Alien and Blade Runner, has not dissipated.
House of Gucci is enthralling, evocative, over the top and ruthlessly entertaining; it moves along at a great place thanks to its great acting and intriguing, if slightly convoluted storyline. People will no doubt quibble over its accuracy, not least of all the Gucci family themselves; regardless, the film succeeds just as a pure piece of escapism and artistry, no doubt aided by its more than worthy pedigree.
Barring The Beatles when all were living, there has been go greater holdout on the ‘bands reuniting’ front than Swedish pop juggernauts ABBA…
…that is until now.
The quartet of Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson, and Anni-Frid Lyngstad have reunited 40 years after their last album, and in the wake of an ongoing renaissance of their music largely spurred by the smash musical Mamma Mia and its film adaptations.
ABBA broke up when its respective marriages (Agnetha to Bjorn, Ani-Frid to Benny) ended in rapid succession, as good as any reason to breakup a band. At the time of their breakup, ABBA was a worldwide phenomenon with over twenty hit singles to their name, including ubiquitous classics such as “Waterloo,” “Dancing Queen,” and “Take a Chance on Me.” While they were never critics’ darlings (some have called them the ultimate ‘guilty pleasure’ band), their fanbase was rabid and devoted, and heartbroken by the news.
In the ensuing years, ABBA’s popularity and success has only grown; 1992’s ABBA Gold compilation become their best selling release some 10 years after they split. In 1999, British playwright Catherine Johnson partnered with Ulvaeus and Andersson for Mamma Mia!, a musical consisting entirely of ABBA classics as the soundtrack to a convoluted but charming romantic comedy plot. The play was a raging success throughout the world, and firmly reignited the ABBA renaissance with no end in the sight; the success of Mamma Mia spawned not one, but two film adaptations that were met with similar plaudits.
Despite their enduring appeal, a reunion of the band seemed about as likely as a JFK Jr. sighting in Dallas this year; they have turned down as much as one billion dollars to reunite in any capacity. However, an informal private reunion in 2016 led to something of a 180 of their previous attitudes, and the band recorded two songs for charity in 2018. They also took part in the creation of a digital avatar project, which was set to tour shortly before the pandemic of 2020.
ABBA turned out to also be working on a new full album, which has now come into fruition in the form of Voyage; after 40 years away, there was some trepidation from fans as to whether the band could live up to the hype of such an event. Would a new ABBA album be worth it after all this time.
Well, happily, the answer is yes; for the most part, Voyage is deeply enjoyable and charming, just like the best ABBA hits; the dizzying power pop melodies and super crisp production that defined their biggest songs are fully present and sound just as fresh today as they did in 1977. The voices of both female lead singers have held up incredibly well, with nary a difference in tone or power compared to their heyday.
The album as a whole is rather top heavy, its best tracks coming within the first half; this includes the singles “I Still Have Faith in You,” “Don’t Shut Me Down,” and “Just a Notion.” These songs have all the grand hallmarks of classic ABBA, with irresistible hooks and dizzying harmonies. “Just a Notion” especially feels reminiscent of the band’s earliest hits, with a rolling piano providing Fältskog and Lyngstad the perfect vehicle for their signature vocal blending to hit its sweet spot. “When You Danced with Me” also adds to a very strong first half, recalling the lilting classic “Our Last Summer.” “Little Things” is the one weaker song here, although its message is charming.
The second half of the album is more forgettable, as the band tries a bit too hard to incorporate a more modern sound that falls flat, particularly on the cringe-y “Keep an Eye on Dan,” as well as the sappy and cloying “I Can Be that Woman.” That said, the whimsical “Bumblebee” and the chugging power pop of “No Doubt About It” are solid enough to keep the record afloat, and the closing “Ode to Freedom” is quite haunting and fitting coda should this be the last thing ABBA ever record.
Even if it’s for one album, it feels oddly comforting to have ABBA back; in a world constantly shrouded in uncertainty and darkness, ABBA’s aggressively shiny, shimmering sonic milieu provides a most welcome aural respite. Voyage isn’t a classic, but it’s a solidly enjoyable effort, and makes a strong case for ABBA’s enduring appeal.