It's been a week for visiting old albums, and the Stones were the band in the spin cycle. Specifically, their monumental efforts Let It Bleed and Exile on Main Street. One could wax poetic and vaguely in the style of Greil Marcus about how these songs form a moment in time when so much of the invisible stuff that holds reality together would come undone unless we seized the moment, listened to the records, and acted on the philosophical irony our millionaire visionaries were laying out, but that is another round of binge daydreaming. What's important now is a realization, a reminder, of the particular genius of singer Mick Jagger's way of articulating, mumbling,
growling, mewling lyrics. Mick Jagger is a vocalist who learned to work brilliantly with the little singing ability God deigned to give him: knowing that he didn't have the basic equipment to even come close to simulating Muddy Waters or Wilson Pickett, he did something else instead of trying to sing black and black informed music-- talk-singing, the whiny, mewling purr, the bull moose grunt, the roar, the grunts and groans, the slurs and little noises, all of which he could orchestrate into amazing, memorable performances. One Plus One(Sympathy for the Devil)Godard's film of the Stones writing, rehearsing, and finally recording the song of the title, is perfect because it captures the irresolute tedium of studio existence (in between Godard's didactic absurdist sketches attempting to address the conundrum of leftist media figures being used by invisible powers to squelch true revolutionary change). More than that, we see Jagger piecing together his vocal, his mewling reading of the lyrics from the lyric sheet; his voice is awful, in its natural state. But we do witness Jagger getting bolder as the song progresses through the endless stoned jamming, a grunt added here, a raised syllable here, a wavering croon there. Finally, at the last take, Jagger is seen with headphones on, isolated from the others, screaming his head off into a microphone. At the same time, the instrumental playback pours forth in what is presumably the final take. Jagger, all irony and self-awareness, created something riveting. For all time with the marginal instrument, he was born with and is part of what I think is a grand tradition of white performers who haven't a prayer of sounding actually black who none the less molded a style of black-nuanced singing that's perfectly credible: Mose Allison, Van Morrison, Felix Cavalari (Rascals), Eric Burdon (early Animals), Peter Wolf, late of the underappreciated J.Geils Band. We cannot underestimate Keith Richard's contribution to Jagger's success as a vocalist. Someone had to know how to write tunes Jagger could handle, and Keith was just the man to do it. Richard's guitar work, as well, riffs and attacks and staggers in ways that match Jagger's strutting and mincing. Writing is everything, as always. Fogarty is obviously influenced by black music, and his voice does simulate an idealized style of southern black patois, but it's the tunes that make CCR's music matter. Fogarty is in the same tradition as Chuck Berry in his ability to write short, punchy tunes with a story to tell instead of philosophy to impose or depression to share.