The Rolling Stones turn 50 next year, an unprecedented milestone for a rock group and confirmation of an obvious truism: Nobody survives like the world’s greatest rock ’n’ roll band. Starting out as a purist blues combo that fronted a bad-boy image while recording the occasional Lennon/McCartney pop tune and string-laden ballad to help secure their popularity, the Stones deftly moved through a number of guises in the ’60s and ’70s while remaining essentially the same band at its core. When arena-rock reigned, the Stones became an excessive live act whose decadence was on par with Led Zeppelin; when David Bowie and glam became the hippest thing in England, Mick Jagger lathered on the mascara and campy posturing. By the time of 1978’s Some Girls, the Stones absorbed the energy of New York City’s punk and disco scenes so completely that it reinvigorated the band’s career, spawning their final (to date) No. 1 single in the U.S., “Miss You.”
That the slinking, four-on-the-floor-powered “Miss You” is regarded as one of the Stones’ most beloved hits—and not a trendy sellout on par with Rod Stewart’s “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy”—says a lot about how well the Stones (particularly Jagger) adapted to changes in the pop landscape in the first half of their career. With its aggressive, punchy sound, mile-a-minute new-wave tempos, and unabashed embrace of nightlife sleaze, Some Girls was a purposefully contemporary late-’70s pop record that didn’t seem like an attempt to pander or plunder from a new generation of bands intent on replacing the Stones and their aging peers. Rather, Some Girls showed that the Stones could pull off the old magic using some flashy new tricks.
Recorded during highly fruitful sessions in Paris in the fall of 1977 that would also form the basis of 1980’s Emotional Rescue and 1981’s Tattoo You, Some Girls rivals Beggars Banquet as the Stones’ funniest and meanest record. The title track is a goof, as is the country-western exercise “Far Away Eyes,” but “Respectable” and the furious urban paranoia of “Shattered” rank among the nastiest rockers in the Stones canon. The creative importance of pharmaceuticals is overstated in the band’s lore, but there’s no mistaking the cocaine hysteria coursing through the reckless sloppiness of “When The Whip Comes Down” and “Lies,” which stands apart from the Quaalude fog of the Stones’ mid-’70s work. But the group’s nexus of drug abuse, Keith Richards, is healthier and more prominent on Some Girls than on any Stones record since Exile On Main St., turning in the classic outlaw anthem “Before They Make Me Run” and one of the band’s best and most tender ballads, “Beast Of Burden.”
As with last year’s Exile reissue, the extra songs on Some Girls were finished up with some modern-day tinkering by Jagger. But this time, the post-production work is a lot less noticeable, and the outtakes overall are of higher quality. Nothing is truly essential, though the feisty ’50s rocker “Claudine,” the smoky blues track “When You’re Gone,” and the Richards-sung country weepie “We Had It All” are worthy finds for fans that haven’t already tracked them down on bootlegs. If the Stones were sneakier, they would’ve released the 12-song outtakes disc as a new record, and had one of their most critically acclaimed albums since, well, Some Girls. Instead, they’ll likely end up launching another gazillion-dollar grossing world tour next year. Turning into the most profitable oldies band in history was the Stones’ last and most successful adaptation of all.