Okay, Stones fans, a question for you: is there a more unfairly overlooked album in their catalog than Black and Blue?
I mean, I get it. It’s a transitional album.
“Black And Blue,” though rumored to be a collection of unfinished jams—“Hot Stuff,” “Hey Negrita,” “Melody,” “Cherry Oh Baby,”– specifically created as an audition tape to help new guitarist Ronnie Wood get acclimated, is the last Rolling Stones album to sound like the band that became one of the greatest bands in the history of music. Once “Some Girls,” the first proper release with Ron Wood and a stone classic, hit big, the sound of the Rolling Stones changed forever. Subsequently, all records that followed, were recorded with a new formula.
A big factor is Charlie Watts. 1962-1976 finds Charlie playing the kit in a variety of rock, r&b, and soul styles, showcasing the looseness usually associated with a jazz drummer, which of course, is what Charlie loved to play. Beginning with “Some Girls,” Watts employed a new technique, which I challenge you to find on any record prior—three hits on the hi-hat, no hi-hat hit on the snare hit. It is a very rigid way to play the type of raucous rock and roll the Stones had, up to that point, pretty much owned…
They used it for guitarist tryouts, fer goodness sakes. If, like I am, you’re a firm believer that the Mick Taylor era was peak Stones, then B&B is the first album on the downside of that peak. And it’s not as if the Stones today pull much of their set list from it.
But the album is not without its charms, some of them damned great. First of all, no full time second guitarist left Keef to fill the gap and nobody’s gonna tell me that more Keith Richards is a bad thing. Also, there are some great, great tunes on Black and Blue. “Memory Motel” and “Fool To Cry” are two of the best ballads the Stones have ever recorded. “Crazy Mama” may be stupid fun, but it rocks with the best of their stuff.
If an underrated album has an underrated song, surely it’s this one.
“Hand of Fate” has everything you’d want in a Rolling Stones song: great lyrics, growling, menacing Jagger vocals, those Richards guitar licks and that driving rhythm section. It’s one of the best songs they’ve recorded. (I used to play the crap out of it and “Crazy Mama” in my radio jock days.)
Okay, come at me, if you dare.