Listen to this track from Dartford Kent and London’s favourite rock n roll and R&B quintet the Rolling Stones, with their 1978 hit single “Miss You” as taken from their landmark album that year, Some Girls.
The record was cut and put out just as the band, and the course of pop music, was in something of a transition, being pulled in at least two directions toward new wave and disco. Guitarist Keith Richards was in dutch with the RCMP with charges of drug trafficking. Mick Jagger was in the process of negotiating new deals for the band, while also attempting to update their sound.
And what was more of an update than this, a clear and present disco record from the Greatest Rock n Roll Band In the World®? But, all is not what it seems on this single, the band’s last (to date) US #1 hit something of a latter-day hit just before their identity as an album band with top 40 hits was to be replaced instead with megatours.
Originally a purist Chicago-inspired blues band, The Stones had been adding in various flavours into their music since they began recording albums; Motown in “Satisfaction” and “Let’s Spend The Night Together”, Indian textures in “Paint it Black”, chamber pop in “Lady Jane”, psychedelia on “2000 Light Years From Home” and “We Love You”, country music in “Dead Flowers” and “Wild Horses”, and so on. Yet the disco thing rankles a lot of fans, standing as something of a cash grab by a band threatened to be made obsolete by the new sounds coming out of New York City, where Jagger was then based.
Members of the band were in and out of disco clubs by the time this record was arranged and cut. Perhaps the Stones felt the pressure from rising trends, and from the backlash of punk bands slagging them as dinosaurs in the press at the time. Maybe they just were caught up in club culture, as many were at the time. Either way, the evolution of mainstream R&B had long moved away from the blues in its pure form, which was the Stones’ base. But, to me “Miss You” is an exciting record that completely beats the odds.
This is because it’s not just a disco record, put out during a time when disco was selling big. To me, it holds just as much Little Walter as it does that four to the floor disco beat. The blues harmonica wails on this one, played by one of the few guest musicians on it, Sugar Blue. This texture places it in that ’50s Chess Records camp easily. It kind of juxtaposes the band’s roots with that then-modern dance sound.
Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts plug into what one would have thought was an entirely unfamiliar groove to them. But, they kick it out like veterans. And why not? After all, disco is, at least in part, a product of soul and R&B, which they’d been playing for almost two decades by this time.
Wyman in particular studied the source material, fashioning that burbling bassline after time spent in disco clubs. Charlie, steady as a rock no matter what style the band played in, hooks in and stays there. Between the rhythm section, Sugar Blue’s harp playing, and the interlocked Richards/Wood guitars, to me this is one of their best singles.
And the addition of Mac McLagen’s electric piano is always welcome.
The Some Girls album is almost universally looked upon as the Rolling Stones last fully realized album post-Exile on Main Street, with this song being representative of a time when they were unafraid to try new formulas where hit singles are concerned. The disco found on this track is a good example, as is the stripped down sound of songs like “Shattered” and “When the Whip Comes Down” appealing to the back-to-basics zeitgeist of late ’70s rock.
The mantra for years after this from rock critics speaking about all subsequent releases from the Stones has been “their best since Some Girls” (see also David Bowie “his best since Scary Monsters“). But as far as innovation with this tune, ultimately the Stones were just playing R&B, as they had done since they gathered as a band. That they decided to embrace where R&B had gone by the time they cut this record in the form of disco, in this sense, was just business as usual.
This is true even if it was a radio smash. Up until this point, having hits was business as usual, too. But, this would be something of a last hurrah for the Stones as a top ten act on mainstream radio. They’d have radio hits after this in “Start Me Up”, “Undercover”, “Mixed Emotions”, and “Love Is Strong”. But, the importance of their new albums would diminish, and be replaced by megatours, merchandise, and branding. The pressure to keep up with the trends would be largely gone, something which could possibly be looked upon as simply ensuring that they would remain set in their ways.
For those who haven’t yet, check out The Rolling Stones official website.