This article originally appeared in Issue 8 of Crawdaddy in February, 1967
You don’t have to be told that they are the Masters of the Revels. It’s obvious. But there are different ways of doing it. Because if the Four Tops call “Baby I Need Your Loving” their “national anthem,” the Stones like to turn their backs to the audience. Which proves that both love and arrogance sell.
But audiences are different also, which is why both sell. There are audiences you can turn your back on. And audiences you can’t turn your back on. The Four Tops just couldn’t turn away from their audiences…As for the Stones—why, it’s almost necessary. You see all this on Four Tops Live! and Got Live If You Want It!, two new albums by the Four Tops and the Rolling Stones. Both live concert recordings. (Not as live as the concerts they’re recorded from—one in Detroit, one in London—but they’ll give you some idea.)
The Four Tops album has thirteen songs, and by the very first one you know what’s going to happen. Old Levi turns on “It’s the Same Old Song,” telling the people, “Come on…Come on and help us out…” and the Tops are on also. Things are calmer by “It’s Not Unusual,” but on again with “Baby I Need Your Loving.” As befits a national anthem, here we find Levi (I’m telling it to you the way I saw it) in full bloom; he is the Master of the Revels—dancing across the stage, leaping off into the audience with his million-foot microphone cable, amongst the people, dancing with them, reaching out to shake their hands, laughing like good old King Cole, singing always. He talks to them—begging, from a position of strength, telling them to raise their “best voices” and not to worry, because “it ain’t gonna cost you anything.” And naturally enough, they do just what he tells them. He is, you know, the Master. There are five songs on Four Tops Live! that move this way: “|t’s the Same Old Song,” “Baby I Need Your Loving,” “Reach Out I’ll Be There,” “You Can’t Hurry Love,” “I Can’t Help Myself.” This last one is really very nice. It’s a whole living, breathing rock show. With the Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, Everly Brothers, Supremes, and the audience all cavorting. Under Levi’s direction. And Levi strutting so nice he might even cut old Marvin.
You see, the Four Tops are oh so good at getting an audience to dance and sing and groove. They’re best at doing that. They can really generate a sort of inevitable sense of and urge to movement. They’re such nice kinetic people, they master their audiences by commanding them to move—they tell them what nice, pretty, lovely, moving, grooving people they are. Nobody’s better than the Tops at this. And that’s why there are these five so fine cuts on this LP. You know what the Four Tops are? They’re dancing masters, really—singing dancing masters, singing a dancing music.
However, they also do stuff like “Climb Every Mountain” and “If I Had a Hammer.” That shows they’ve got wide taste. They groove on Rodgers & Hammerstein and Pete Seeger. Groovy. But when this stuff is on, things are a little quiet—they aren’t quite so masterful. Not one “sock it to me, baby,” not even a tiny “together.” Quiet. Quiet. But this shouldn’t be too discouraging. There’s always Marvin, and Phil and Don, and Diana and Flo and Mary, and of
course Duke and Lawrence, Levi and Obie; and even though this album is uneven, like the Tops’ concerts are, and even though there are difficulties with the sound—the band, and Duke, Lawrence, and Obie (in comparison to Levi) are all under-recorded—things aren’t really so horrible. Because even a quiet spot might be necessary: after all, once that dancing starts, you just can’t sit there.
There are twelve songs on Got Live If You Want It!; of them, ten are already out in one or two other Rolling Stones versions. And if this keeps up, we’ll eventually be able to pick a particular version of each Stones song to fit our most particular state of mind. Which is a beautiful prospect.
During the course of these twelve songs, Mick says “Thank you” once. That’s all he says to his audience. They say a lot to him, however; that is, they scream a lot. Constant, unchanging, same level, same pitch. It’s that kind of relationship. They’ve got themselves into a sort of formalized—mechanically controlled—vocal hysteria. Faintly ominous, perhaps, but never disturbing. Just something you get used to. Actually it provides an added instrumental dimension—an integral part of the music. Seeping in to fill out whatever spaces are available.
For the most part, these performances are nicely enough fitted to an hysterical audience. They’re excellent occasions for a formalized, mechanical, limited, stereotyped freak-out. Which is not any kind of catharsis at all. They’re a good example of the method of mastering an audience by cooperating with them. Before we knew what we now know, we used to call performances of this sort canned orgasm. Now we know they’re really instant hysteria. Like the audience they’re played for, they’re far too controlled and disciplined to be anything else. And aside from their hysterical rage, these performances haven’t much to do with the audience. It could be anything they’re playing. It’s the singer, not the song. And it’s the quality the singer imparts to the song that matches it to the audience. Because of this, Mick can turn from his audience, be arrogant. And Billy Wyman can chew his gum. And Brian can concentrate, mainly, on the dark patches beneath his eyes, beneath his golden hair. And Charles can statuesquely perch at his drums. And Keith can close his eyes and grimace into the mike—which is not at all a scowl. They can afford to do what they want, since what they do doesn’t at all matter. The Stones can train their audiences any way they wish. But once they’re trained, of course, they’ve a certain rigidity. Once they’re trained, you’re stuck with them. Virtues then have to be made of necessities; the Stones have to accommodate themselves to the people, to a degree. Make or not make something of them. Which the Stones may well have done. On this album, at least, that stabilized mechanical screaming seems part of the wholeness.
There are nice little ways to be musically hysterical. To be disorienting, that is, but not disorganized. To play to your audience. To master them by seeming to ignore them (arrogance), while actually cooperating with them. On this album the Stones go metal. Technology is in the saddle—as an ideal and as a method. A mechanically hysterical audience is matched to a mechanically hysterical sound. Side two of the album is a metal side. Most mechanical. It has the historic “Last Time,” one of the Stones’ first big metal songs but sounding pretty tame in this company, a very metallic “Time ls on My Side,” without the mellow yellow organ of the first try. A metal “I’m Alright”; and a moderately metal “Satisfaction” with metal mitigation supplied by Billy Wyman’s newly super-miked bass, which sounds as if San Francisco in August and the Airplane and Jack Casady might have had something to do with it. It also has a significant merger of the metallic and the morbid: “19th Nervous Breakdown” so very morbid that Mick actually says
“Mommy!” And, last of all, the to-date definitive metal song: “Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow?,” as hysterical and tense as can be. So much finer than the single version. A sloppy performance—but never flaccid. Some bad detail, but lots of tension. It’s a mechanical conception and realization (like all metal songs)—with the instruments and Mick’s voice densely organized into hard, sharp-edged planes of sound: a construction of aural surfaces and regular surfaced planes, a planar conception, the product of a mechanistic discipline, with an emphasis upon the geometrical organization of percussive sounds. And to top it off, the whole thing is accented by Keith’s great sighing vocal (unknown tongues).
Side one is less metallic and more ominous. “Not Fade Away” is so instrumentally frantic that Mick sounds lyrical in comparison to the instruments with which he can’t keep up. And “Lady Jane” is certainly one of Mick’s most mincing performances. He can mince with the best of them. There also are two non-metallic, hysterical amphetamine-rage songs: “Under My Thumb” and “Get Off of My Cloud,” in which the hysteria is a matter of high accelerations generated out of a newly super-miked percussion and bass. But in order to really appreciate Charles and William, let’s skip “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” and turn to the incredible “Fortune Teller,” which I’m told nobody likes at first, which is quite precise, which is supposed to be funny (hey, the words) but which is far funnier because it comes out scary. It’s the product of some awfully good conventional playing—over and over, the same bass/percussion pattern. And apparently Charlie Watts grew a mustache for the occasion.
Levi already had one.