Rolling Stones, “Honky Tonk Women” (07/11/69)

“Honky Tonk Women” would have made a great twenty minute cut on the Stones’ new album; as it is this disc is most likely the strongest three minutes of rock and roll yet released in 1969. It deserves twenty minutes because the Stones give us just the most tantalizing taste of everything they do well, of everything they do the best. In spite of Mick’s screaming, joyful singing, this time the star of the show is Keith Richards. He combines the cleanest, toughest guitar lines in rock with Charlie Watts’ jingling cowbell and steady drum shots for an introduction very similar to and equally as dramatic as that of Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.” Keith moves off after that, really fronting Mick himself, stretching sex with a smile out of every note, running up to the choruses with the same kind of perfect excitement Mike Bloomfield displayed on “Like a Rolling Stone.” On the last two choruses Richard sings beautifully behind Mick, bending the words in counterpoint to Mick’s straight shouts: “It’s a haaaaawwww-aw-aw-aw-aw-kytonky woman! Bam! Gimme, Gimme, Gimme, Gimme… ” It would have been a special gas to hear Keith sing a chorus all by himself.

Mick sounds as if he had more fun recording this number than since I don’t know when, kicking off the marvelous sax, bass, and guitar break with a sizzling “All reeeet!,” ending it all with his out-of-breath shout “now woooh!” Hero producer Jimmy Miller has it just right for Bill Wyman, bringing the bass up for the choruses to fill in all the gaps. And the lyrics fit Ethan Russel’s sneaky color photo on the single’s cover: “I laid a/ dee-vor-say/ in New York City/ Bomp ba-da…’ A Stones classic.

The flip side is simply the other side of the Rolling Stones: from the cheap pubs of “Spider and the Fly” and the barrooms of Memphis Mick threads his way up the ladder of the upper class, back to the girls of “The 19th Nervous Breakdown” and “Play With Fire” in their mansions in St. Johns Wood, Hampstead, and Chelsea. Slow notes on the guitar and the moaning of a french horn lead into a melancholy story in which no sympathy is wasted on anyone: “You can’t always get what you want…  Oh, no, you can’t always get what you want… you can’t always get what you want … But if you try sometimes, you might find…  that you get what you need.” The arrangement of this masterful tale of decadence is very reminiscent of Traffic, the chorus seemingly a marriage of “Feelin’ Alright?” and the best riffs from “Smiling Phases.” Al Kooper sits in on piano and organ, and comes up with his best music since Blonde on Blonde. For a man who’s been put down a great deal lately–if for good reason–Kooper shows that when discipline is imposed the fruits of his imagination are as good as they come.

We really couldn’t ask for more–the life and times of the Rolling Stones on one little record, and a cover picture that says it just as well as the music. Buy it, lay it on your stereo and hang it on your wall. It’ll look good there.

Rolling Stone, July 11, 1969

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