A Review of Crossfire Hurricane... and Hopefully Some Stuff You Might Not Know About “The World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band”
Now, don’t get all excited about that opener. Let me qualify that statement. In terms of impact, longevity and true rock and roll groove, the Rolling Stones have to be considered at or damn near the top.
Crossfire Hurricane is a great documentary. In 118 minutes of film it does a fine job of capturing all that was so great about the Rolling Stones. They are celebrating their 50th anniversary this year. You cannot cover the whole deal in a two hour movie. They did a great job of focusing on 1963-1981 which were truly the greatest years of the band.
Mick Jagger oversaw this project and I think he did a great job both in terms of film archives and the voiceovers describing what they are showing. When the film first starts and they mention that no cameras were allowed in the room during the interviews, I was initially a little disappointed. But I quickly got over that when I realized what had occurred in the absence of cameras. Because there was no camera peering into their “souls”, they were able to relax and just watch the footage Mick, and I am sure many others had put together and speak from the heart. I have never heard Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts speak so much, and so honestly about what was going on during those years. I have read that they recorded 80 hours of interviews and they sure picked some great moments to include in the film.
A few reasons I really loved this film:
• Mick Taylor was included in the interviews. They spent a good deal on his time with the Stones (1969-1974), considered by most to be the band operating at their peak. It also includes comments from almost all band members (Mick, Keith, Charlie and Mick Taylor himself) on the circumstances and significance of him leaving the band.(More details on this later)
• They took their time covering the early years of the band (1963-1965), when they were nothing more or less than an English Blues Band, doing covers of their heroes-Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Jimmy Reed, Elmore James and many others. Watching the crazy Beatlemania-Like reaction to them on their early tours was a revelation. I never realized that just like the Beatles, they could often only get in 4 or 5 songs during many shows before the whole place would explode, and they would be overrun by fans and have to stop the show.
• The film does a great job of showing many peak moments of this great band. Many of my friends who are not quite as old as me, have their first memories of the Stones from either the late eighties or nineties or the early 80’s with Mick and David Bowie prancing around singing “Dancing in the Streets” or the albums Undercover of the Night and Dirty Work. I am grateful to have first heard them in the Seventies. I have a vivid memory of putting my cassette deck next to my old Phonograph/Stereo Speakers and recording live the Memphis Show from the opening night of the 1978 Tour as it played on WMMS- the Cleveland Classic Rock Station I grew up with. Needless to say, the sound of that TDK-D cassette was craptastic, but I did not know that then, I only knew I had a live tape of the Rolling Fricking Stones.
The documentary begins with the Stones in their prime-the end of the 1972 U.S. Tour- Madison Square Garden. Truman Capote and Andy Warhol are hanging out backstage. Tina Turner kisses Mick hello. Mick does coke off a knife blade as part of his pre-show ritual. They get out on stage and kick it in. Street Fighting Man sounds great and then even do a Yardbirds rave-up at the end , which I have never heard them do on that song.
The film then goes back to the beginning, or close to it, showing quite a few clips of the Stones in their Chicago/Chess Records Blues period. “I Wanna Make Love to You” “Route 66” and “Around and Around” are all featured. I don’t know who did the commentary when they showed all the girls in the audience going mental and pissing themselves, but hearing him describe the craziness and talking about the flood of “your-on” in his quirky British accent, was quite hilarious.
Realizing after the release of their first album The Rolling Stones in April 1964 (all covers), that someone needed to start writing some original songs, their producer Andrew Loog Oldham, started prodding Mick and Keith to start writing some songs. I loved the footage of them siting on beds in hotel rooms, working on “Sitting on a Fence” and their first “official” song that appeared on the next album, “Tell Me.”
We move ahead to 1965 and “Satisfaction” becomes a smash hit, and the band becomes a sensation. They briefly show the 1967 Psychedelic Period of Their Satanic Majesties Request, and then it is on to a video they made for Paint It Black. This is one of my favorite parts of the whole film. I ended up going on YouTube afterwards and watching the entire video a few times. What a freak show. They are all painted up like Indians on the Davy Crockett Show. Keith and Brian have on these crazy Oversized Sunglasses suited for an Andy Warhol movie. It is probably my favorite Stones video ever. There was some type of shift that had happened with the band, and I think this song and the rest of Beggars Banquet signaled a new sense of direction and sound. The mood was getting darker and dirtier. Tribal grooves, country, and Stax like soul were being added to the original stew as new influences.
I also enjoyed the brief segment on the Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus Show. This event envisioned by the Rolling Stones and recorded on Dec 11 1968. It featured not just the Stones, but Jethro Tull, Taj Mahal, The Who, and Marianne Faithful. The most interesting band at the show was a one- time super group, “The Dirty Mac”, which was John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Eric Clapton, Mitch Mitchell and Keith Richards (playing bass). Check out the whole show if you get a chance, it is worth seeing at least once. Watching Mick and Keith sing “Salt of the Earth” in the middle of the audience is reason alone. I read recently that the Stones did not release this for 28 years because the Who had basically kicked their asses. The Stones had not toured in a few years, and they were not a well- oiled rock and roll machine at that point. Brian Jones is reduced to shaking Maracas during Sympathy for the Devil. He looks like a wasted zombie, with his eyelids drooping and his slack jaw daze. Have a few more pills and maybe some booze, huh?
It was obvious by this point that things had to change for the band. The band met with Brian at his home, and all agreed that his time with the band was over. He was dead 3 weeks later.
The big show already scheduled in Hyde Park became a memorial for Brian. It was also Mick Taylor’s first show. There is a DVD of that show called The Stones in the Park (here it is onYouTube) that is pretty good.
“Honky Tonk Women” is then shown from Madison Square Garden 1969, the site of their wonderful Get Your Ya-Ya’s Out- a truly great and often overlooked album from the Mick Taylor era. It captures the new band as they are just embarking on a five year period of epic albums...
Let it BleedFootage from the famous Muscle Shoals studio in Alabama is included as they record Wild Horses, Brown Sugar and You Gotta Move, all which appear on Sticky Fingers. I would have liked to be a fly on the wall at that studio session.
Get Your Ya Ya’s Out
Exile on Main Street
Goat’s Head Soup
It’s Only Rock n’ Roll
This brings me to one of my very few critiques of the film, and that is they spend a little too much time on Altamont. I guess I am just sick to death of the media making such a canned reference to this as the end of the sixties, summer of love, the opposite of Woodstock , etc. Maybe it was but it really wasn’t. Things had been shifting in the music and drug subculture for a few years at that point. Altamont was just one of the few chances that we are able to see it on film.
The Exile on Main Street footage is great to watch. It shows our heroes as they spend time hanging out in the south of France as tax exiles, while recording the new album at Keith’s Rented Mansion with the Rolling Stones Mobile Studio Truck.
A few nice quotes on the subject:
“We worked from 9 at night till 6 or 7 in the morning. The idea of playing a note before the sun went down was ludicrous” (Keith)There is also quite a bit of footage from the 1972 U.S. Tour, much of it from the bootleg movie “Cocksucker Blues” (watch it on YouTube) One of my favorite moments was watching Annie Leibovitz snapping pictures of Keith as he lays splayed out across a folding chair, wasted beyond belief. This is probably my favorite Keith picture ever.
“It was a nightmare. Instead of working on a song for 2 hours, you worked on it for 2 fuckin’ weeks” (Bill)
One of the most important quotes regarding the uniqueness of the Stones sound is bestowed upon us by Bill Wyman. “When we got together, something magical happened. Every band, they follow the drummer. We don’t follow the drummer. The drummer follows Keith. So the drums are very slightly behind Keith and I(the Bass) tend to play ahead(of the beat) and it has a sort of wobble to it. And it can very dangerous.”
That "wobble" was also very often on the verge of falling apart, but when it was locked in, they swung like no other rock and roll band.
I was also very interested in hearing the reason(s) Mick Taylor left the band in 1974. I knew from reading about the period a few of the reasons, but it was cool to hear it from the band themselves. Mick offers up: “I have no idea why he left the band. That was the stupidest idea I ever heard.”
Keith mentions his frustration that this version of the band was being broken up after he had spent some much time getting it together. But he also says,“There is another part of me that thinks somehow it was inevitable.”
Mick Taylor offers up his own reasons, but I could tell he was holding back a little, saying that in the end, it was a matter of survival. He had slowly slipped into heroin addiction over his last few years with the band, and getting away them and those influences was the only way he could see to get himself free.
I was thinking the other day about what a whirlwind this must have been for Mick Taylor. He joined the band when he was just 20 years old. He was part of 5 classic studio albums and probably twice that many tours over that five year period and now he was done and retired from the Stones. He was only 26 years old. If he could have been smarter and got his act together instead of quitting, he would probably still be playing with them today. Life is strange like that sometimes. The choices we make and have to live with.
So instead of Mick, Ronnie Wood becomes the second guitar player. This brings on a whole new version of the band in terms of dynamics and guitar playing. With Mick Taylor and Keith, there was a clear cut delineation between lead and rhythm guitar. Keith hardly took any leads. But when Ronnie joined the band, Keith and Ronnie started trading roles back and forth all the time, often in the same song. Their guitar tones were very close as well, so after a while it was hard to tell who was playing what. Keith calls it the "Ancient Art of Guitar Weaving" and it's pretty awesome stuff.
I have watched video of Ronnie just starting into a lead, and looking out of the corner of his eye and seeing that Keith is inspired and is going to take the solo. He then slams into the Rhythm part immediately and covers that end without anyone in the audience knowing that it really was not planned that way. That is a very hard thing to be able to pull off well, but Ronnie is a great and very intuitive player.
They conclude the film up with a montage of the band from 1975-1981. We get to see Mick run around in his NFL football pants again, thank God. A quick clip from the Shine A Light film from a few years ago and it’s a wrap. Like I mentioned before, it was wise to focus on the best years of the band and as I only noticed recently on the Cover Box of the Film, the subtitle of the film is “The Rise of the Stones” I think they got the job done.
GMoney is a special Guest Contributor for Coventry Music. He's a musician from Ohio. Follow him on Twitter at... @777GMoney.