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Stones, Jones and 'Continental Drift'

Andrew W. Griffin / Red Dirt Report
Two Rolling Stones albums - "Steel Wheels" (1989) and "England's Newest Hit Makers" (1964).
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OKLAHOMA CITY – It dawned on me this morning that The
Rolling Stones have still not decided whether or not they will be touring this
year in celebration of 50 years of being together. Thinking about this I pulled
out two of their albums – their 1964 debut The
Rolling Stones: England’s Newest Hit Makers
and their 1989 release (a
comeback at the time) Steel Wheels.

Both albums – 25 years apart – sound amazing. Different, but
amazing. On the former, covers like the rockin’ “Route 66” are terrific,
especially hearing a young Mick Jagger sing, “Oklahoma City looks oh so pretty”
is a real rock treat to these ears. On the latter, Keith Richards' lead vocal on "Slipping Away" is oddly appropriate and fits well on Steel Wheels.

The Rolling Stones have long loomed large in my family, at least with my Dad and I. My
father was (and remains) a huge fan of the English band that had their roots in
blues and early rock n’ roll. Copies of Get
Your Ya-Yas Out! The Rolling Stones in Concert
(1970) and Exile on Main Street (1972) were particularly
popular on our family turntable. Later, when I began collecting record albums
like December’s Children (And
Everybody’s)
(1965) and 12 X 5 (1964) and
collections like Big Hits (High Tide
& Green Grass)
(1966), I grew to really appreciate this innovative and exciting band. Stones music filled my teenaged bedroom where I conveniently
moved the turntable and could crank up "Get Off of My Cloud" and "I'm Free" to my heart's content.

So, I am a big Stones fan. My first album to review in
September ’89 for the  East High Messenger (the student paper
at my high school in Wichita, Kansas) was the vinyl version of Steel Wheels, which featured the singles
“Mixed Emotions,” “Rock and a Hard Place” and “Almost Hear You Sigh.” It was a solid Stones album and fit in well with other rock releases that year.

But of particular interest was “Continental Drift.” This key
track on Steel Wheels featured Bachir
Attar and the Master Musicians of Jajouka of Morocco. Red Dirt Report noted this while reviewing a couple of books in May
2011 about the life and mysterious death of Rolling Stones founder Brian Jones.
Many have speculated that Jones was murdered in that swimming pool at the A.A.
Milne house of Christopher Robin and Winnie-the-Pooh.

As I write this, The
New York Times
writes in their “Arts & Leisure” section for Sunday’s
edition a piece about “Jubilees and Living Histories,” noting, of course, that
this is the 50th anniversary of four notable groups – The Rolling
Stones, of course, The Beach Boys, The Chieftains and El Gran Combo. All but
the Stones have committed to a tour this year.

As Times writer
Ben Ratliff notes: “In July (1962), Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Brian Jones
gave their first performances, as the core of a band called the Rollin’ Stones,
at both the Marquee and the Ealing Jazz Club in London.”

Reminding us of this history – looking back to 1962, when
Jagger, Richards and Jones took their obscure American blues albums very seriously,
incorporating them into their own sound – one wonders what is preventing the
Stones from going forward with a tour, considering the immense success of their
recent A Bigger Bang tour. Back to
the England’s Newest Hit Makers debut – listening to those songs really makes an impact, even after all these years.

Jones, clearly the brains of the band, troubled as he was,
wanted to explore more “world music” instruments (the classical Indian sitar on
1966’s “Paint It Black,” in particular) and took a particular interest in the
“sinister, corrupt and incurably exciting” north African country of Morocco and
its haunting folk music featuring flutes, drums and horn sounds. Jones was
clearly ahead of his time.

Jones’s girlfriend Anita Pallenberg said Jones had wanted
the Jajouka sounds incorporated in the Rolling Stones music. Of course he would
die under mysterious circumstances in July 1969 and never hear that happen. An
album titled Brian Jones Present the
Pipes of Pan at Joujouka
was released posthumously in 1971 from tapes he made
in the Moroccan village just months before his death.

Writes Gloria Shepherd in her revealing book Brian Jones: Straight From the Heart:
“He visited the village of Joujouka in the Rif mountains of Morocco during the
summer of 1968. His friend, Brion Gysin, took him along to hear the villagers’
magical music performed. Outsiders weren’t normally invited to these private
ceremonies, but Gysin was looked upon as a special friend, for introducing this
local music to a restaurant he owned in Tangier.”

The Joujoukan villagers immediately embraced Jones for his
love of their music and culture.

“The instruments the Joujoukan musicians played were the
same as from ancient times and not common to Western musicians. Within a few
minutes, however, Brian was able to take their instruments in hand and play
along with them … The Master Musicians were so flattered by his genuine
interest in their ancient ceremonial music that they allowed him to tape hours
upon hours of the music played that evening.” Of course that became the album,
noted above.

Waiting 20 years, the Stones went to Tangier to record with
the Master Musicians of Jajouka for the “Continental Drift” track. The results
are remarkable, though one wonders had Jones lived if the band would have
agreed to take on more experimental sounds or simply stuck to the straight-up
rock n’ roll they were known for. Listening to England's Newest Hit Makers, that '64 debut, their cover of Slim Harpo's "I'm a King Bee" is absolutely outstanding. When they put their mind to a musical idea, there was no stopping the Stones. And Brian Jones was a major part of that process.

On the hypnotic and fascinating “Continental Drift,” Mick
Jagger sings: “Love comes at the speed of light … open the door and let the
light pour over …” It’s heavy and powerful and beautiful and I suspect Brian
Jones smiles every time it is played somewhere in the world.

But back in 1968, Jones and Jagger were not getting along
and Jagger was not interested in Jones’s ethnic musical interests. So what happened
in the intervening 20 years to make Jagger and Keith Richards change their
minds, writing and recording “Continental Drift”? Guilt? Vague nostalgia and
missing Brian Jones’s important contributions? No one but Mick and Keith can
really say.

As travel and music writer Graham Reid wrote in 2010, in
discussing “Continental Drift,” an “interesting piece of rock exotica,” as he
put it: “But ‘Continental Drift’ was an interesting oddity and you had to
wonder the motivation behind it: Jagger had never seemed a man prone to sentiment,
but it was 20 years since Brian Jones had traipsed off to North Africa to
record the Master Musicians of Jajouka … and for the Stones – Jagger and
Richards were patching up a severe falling out which had lasted years – to use
Jajouka musicians for this track seemed … What? An acknowledgement of shared
history and the tragedy surrounding Jones? Maybe just a digression? A
compromise of Jagger’s part to Richards who was vaguely interested in this
sound?” Again, it’s never really clear because the band never revisited that
sound, although they use it in opening their concerts.

Along with Reid’s post is a video showing the band in
Morocco recording “Continental Drift.” While Richards is joking around it seems
like just another task to complete for Jagger. He does contribute on drum to
the last bit of the song, along with the Master Musicians. Going through the
motions? Seems to be. Just an observation.

The psychedelic sounds of Their Satanic Majesties Request, which did incorporate some of
Jones’s instrumentation with sitarwas primarily a Jagger vehicle and Jones –
who was increasingly interested in sounds from the other parts of the world,
like Morocco – was looking to incorporate more international sounds into the
Stones sound. However, Jagger, along with manipulative manager Allen Klein saw
Jones as a “rogue” element.” By the time it came to record the more “back-to-basics”
Beggars Banquet, Jones’s ideas were
being increasingly ignored as Jagger was praised as the Stones’ “golden child.”
However, Jones offers up outstanding slide guitar on tracks like “No
Expectations,” sitar and tamboura on “Street Fighting Man” and harmonica on “Dear
Doctor” and “Parachute Woman.”

Writes Shepherd: “Brian felt the ‘new sound’ of the Stones
was nothing more than their regurgitating the same old stuff, and he wanted to
advance and create new, far-reaching sounds to further the band’s musical
career. He wanted to implement his dream of creating global music by
incorporating the sounds from many foreign lands, including the Near, Middle,
and Far East. He also wanted to study how different sounds affect people
spiritually and religiously, and then use these sounds to enhance the world’s
ambiance.”

And the band members acknowledged Brian Jones’s immense
musical talent. As Shepherd reminds us in her book, bassist Bill Wyman said “Brian
was the most progressive musician of the five of us, but he was never
encouraged to tilt his talents in a more commercial way.”

If only Brian Jones had lived. He had talked about forming a "supergroup" or sorts, perhaps with John Lennon and Jimi Hendrix, both of whom were leaving their famous groups and trying out new things as the dawn of the 1970's approached. Of course that was never to be.

A few years after Jones’s death, there was clearly a
deliberate effort, particularly on the part of Jagger, to keep the older Stones
material (read: Brian Jones era) off of their setlists. Jagger had even said at the time that singing the older material was his least favorite part of performing live. There would be no "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" or "Let's Spend The Night Together," and especially no "Paint It Black." Who would play the sitar?

Listening to the live Brussels
Affair
recording from their Fall ’73 tour in Europe, few songs that were originally
recorded with Jones were included, save for “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” “Street
Fighting Man,” and “Midnight Rambler,” and even those songs - save for the
absolutely essential Indian sounds Jones provided on 1968’s protest song “Street
Fighting Man” - featured Jones largely in the background. By ’73-’74, it seemed as though Brian
Jones's role of having been key to the Stones sound was severely diminished as the oddly
quiet, yet talented guitarist Mick Taylor “replaced” him.

Reading and reviewing Keith Richards' autobiography Life, I wrote: "Sadly, not much is said about the late and lamented Brian Jones, the actual founder of The Rolling Stones back in 1962. Jones had his particular problems by the late 1960's, not showing up for practice on time or much at all. Any real thoughts or feelings (Richards) may have had for Jones are not expressed to any great degree, except in nasty sorts of ways."

Sad, really. That said, it is still worth noting that despite all the animosity the two
had between each other, particularly towards the end, the track “Shine A Light”
was written by Mick Jagger about Brian Jones. Ultimately released on Exile On Main Street in 1972, Jagger
(with Richards in a co-write) does wish his old bandmate well, singing: “May the good Lord shine a light on you /
Make every song you sing your favorite tune / May the good Lord shine a light
on you / Warm like the evening sun
.”

Brian Jones left a tremendous musical legacy. It won’t be
forgotten.

Copyright 2012 West
Marie Media

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Andrew W. Griffin

Editor & Owner.

Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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