Today is the birthday of the Rolling Stone, Keith Richards, who, despite all bets to the contrary, is still with us and is now 71.
While I might like to post about a song from Keith’s solo career—if only to give some distance between him and the Stones—those LPs go back a ways, Talk is Cheap (1988) and Main Offender (1992). So I’ve decided to go with a latter day recording—for the Martin Scorsese film of the Stones live, Shine a Light—of Keith singing the first song he sang totally solo on a Stones’ record. That record was Let It Bleed and it’s still one of the great showcases of Keith’s talents since it’s really his baby.
And here’s the song as it is back in 1969. Keith has a thin, reedy voice in the original and it sounds great against his slide guitar and sinewy picking. I fell in love with the song back in 1978 when I was discovering the great era of Stones music—and by then you could add it to “Happy” and “Before They Make Me Run,” two other Keith lead vocals with the Stones that were in the running for today’s song. But, God knows, there will be more Seventies music to come, so let’s pay tribute to Keith’s longevity by going with his much raspier and less bluesy vocal onstage, with Ronnie Wood doing the guitar chores.
It’s a short song that pretty much simply pays homage to that little je ne sais quoi that a woman—particularly her eyes and smile—can exert over a guy inclined to be impressed. “Hey, baby, what’s in your eyes / I saw them flashing like airplane lights.” He means runway lights, those flashing beacons that must become pretty familiar to a guy who has to be on the road a lot. But the question about what it is he sees flashing in her eyes, “and what’s that laughing in your smile,” lets her—like some kind of Mona Lisa—keep to herself whatever it is that’s hypnotizing him. Some of us recognize this as that phase called “falling under the spell.” It’s always eyes and smile does it. Always.
I’ve always liked the use of silver and gold and diamonds from the mines as images for value, but then to measure that value as “it’ll buy some time.” Because, yeah, how much time do you really have for the things and people and places you love best? So, let her—and she may be a model—keep smiling with her high priced looks, the best thing wealth can buy is time.
And that part of the song that drilled me, in 1978, was the verse that finds our boy on the hook, unable to get up to much because he wants to be with her—willing to sacrifice all his time to make time with her: “Tell me, honey, what will I do / When I’m hungry, thirsty too / Feeling foolish, that’s for sure / Just waiting here at your kitchen door.” Her kitchen no doubt has a nice little oven in it, and he’s fixing for something good. But that foolish waiting is what, in good blues fashion, the whole song seems to hang on. It’s not the situation of the guy in “Red House” who is going to show up at the door and be denied, it’s just the foolish feeling of having to show up there, led by your dick, y’know, or, well, one’s “appetites.” Though we’ve been told she’s got him, heart and soul.
And that state of being got can make one a bit prickly. And Richards gets that in there too with those emphatic “I don’t care”s, offered as a way of saying the floor is hers, she calls the shots, she’s got him, hook, line and sinker: “A flash of love, just made me blind / I don’t care, no, that’s no big surprise.”
No it’s not, since this is Keith talking here. One of the more devil-may-care of types out there in Rock’n’Roll Land. If anyone doesn’t give a shit, it’s Keith. He was a major force in what made the Stones the best from the mid-Sixties to the end of the Seventies, and he’s the one who kept the Stones rolling through the lesser decades after, which is why it still “says something” about survival and the strength of, as Nietzsche might say, how one becomes what one is, to see Keith belt it out with what can only be called a Stones’ showmanship. You fill my cup, babe, that’s for sure—and the cup runneth over.
Happy birthday, Mr. Richards!
Happy birthday, Mr. Richards!