I’m at a bit of a loss today, since it’s usually Pete who is the Bringer of New Themes around here, but this time it appears it falls to me. But here we go!
So: You are rock ‘n’ roll. And you’ve made a record the fans will love and that you know will be played on the radio forever and ever. You have done your job, and done it well.
But … you don’t want to sell out, man. It’s a hit, it’s a classic, you know it. But you’ve still got to demonstrate that you are a rebel. You are indifferent to popular opinion. You are unique. So you take your great song, and … you give it a a really stupid name.
Like this one:
The Stones’ hard-driving “Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)” is named after the repeated chant of the backing vocalists. There seems no reason for that, and this song deserves better. It’s like those people who look at a little bitty beautiful defenseless baby and think, “I know! Kaydense!”
Still, this track from 1973′s Goat’s Head Soup does at least include its real title in parens, and nobody except the occasional sarcastic DJ has ever called it anything but “Heartbreaker.” Though of course that word is never heard in the song; every single time, it’s “heartbreakers.” And fair enough, I suppose. Guns and drugs can certainly be that, as illustrated by this pair of urban anecdotes. But why isn’t the parenthetical word “heartbreakers”?
The police in New York City
Chased a boy right through the park
In a case of mistaken identity
They put a bullet through his heart
Heartbreakers, with your .44
I wanna tear your world apart
Verse two is along the same lines, as a little girl overdoses in an alley and her mother laments, “She had no chance, no chance.”
Most of the British Invasion acts were great admirers of American R&B and soul, and many attempted songs with a soulful or bluesy sound, but the results are often uneven. And in a live show, it’s a general rule that an Englishman with a blues song in his teeth is a guarantee that one will shortly be bored senseless, and probably at great length. (No matter how exciting a given Englishman may be in other contexts.)
But Jagger is/was one of the few Brits with a gift for that sort of thing. Without ever affecting any sort of American or “black” mannerisms, he makes the American-soul-soaked “Heartbreaker” entirely plausible. That was Jagger’s particular talent, actually. With a not particularly large and often unmusical voice, he sings with the instincts of an actor.
The Stones are perhaps ranked too highly in the scheme of rock artists, what with all the “Greatest Band in the World” hype they generated, and particularly given that they had no definitive sound of their own (adaptation and synthesis were more their speed). But Jagger himself seems to be underappreciated, in a sense. He gets credit, rightly, for showmanship and charisma, but I’ve rarely seen praise for his very considerable abilities just as a singer.
“Doo,” etc. takes off like a rocket, with a Billy Preston-supplied keyboard opening, then Mick Taylor swings by with a wah-wah’ed guitar as Bill Wyman supplies the flexible, soul-flavored bass that will anchor a track that will soon have a lot going on. Charlie Watts’ drums, sharp and shallow, are a weak spot, however; something in the production on this record makes it sound like he’s pounding on a row of school lockers. Horns come roaring in shortly, but it’s all just a stage setting for a particularly strong Jagger vocal. The American urban milieu he’s singing about could have had nothing to do with his life at all in 1973, but doesn’t he make you believe it?