The Rolling Stones Play “Waiting On A Friend”

Rolling Stones Tattoo YouListen to this song by early ’60s London blues-boom quintet turned ’80s stadium-filling champeens The Rolling Stones. It’s “Waiting On a Friend”, a smash single from 1981’s equally smash-success full length record, Tattoo You. This new record would be their last (to date) to hit the top chart positions internationally. The album would also make several “best records of the 1980s” lists by the end of the decade. This would be pretty ironic, considering the album’s origins.

By the end of 1980, and after something of a hiatus period as a live act, the Stones were eager to tour again, and to do so behind a new record. Of course, the timing was a bit tricky. It takes time to make an album, and to write new songs. So, with the help of Chris Kimsey who served as co-producer on their previously successful album Some Girls, and their not-as-successful predecessor to this new one Emotional Rescue, they raided their own vaults for some bits and pieces to turn into new tracks. From here, lead singer Mick Jagger wrote a few new melodies and lyrics to shore up that earlier material as well as lay down some new vocal tracks. This song came out of that process, with the original backing track dating back to the late 1972 Goats Head Soup sessions, complete with parts from former Stone Mick Taylor on guitar, and stalwart sideman at the time Nicky Hopkins on piano.

This cobbling together of old material from a previous decade rushed out in time for a tour doesn’t sound like a likely recipe for a landmark album, does it? Well, it was anyway, with this song being a high point. So, what is the secret to its success? Read more

Sonny Rollins Plays ‘St. Thomas’

Listen to this track from post-bop last man standing, jazz giant, and respected saxophone colossus Sonny Rollins. It’s “St. Thomas” his signature song from 1956’s album named, appropriately enough, Saxophone Colossus.  This is a tune for which Rollins is credited for composing, although in actuality it’s derived from  a folk song originating  from the country of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, the birthplace of his parents, and a tune he would have heard as a child.

Like many jazz musicians, Rollins started out his recording career at a very young age. He mixed with a rich talent pool of contemporaries on the scene by the late 40s and early 50s New York City including Thelonius Monk, Bud Powell, Clifford Brown, and Miles Davis.  This was a time when be-bop was winding down to cool jazz and post bop.  The sounds of R&B didn’t  escape his musical ear either, inspired as he was by Louis Jordan’s jump blues, which is a musical strain that led directly to rock n roll by the end of the decade.

But, Rollins’ path remained to be straight stylistically on the jazz road for the most part, but for this little gem of a track on the Prestige label (same as Miles Davis by the mid-50s) that featured on his essential Saxophone Colossus album. The record also features Tommy Flanagan on piano and the incomparable Max Roach on drums.  The album is recognized as his masterpiece, and this tune to be his signature.  And what a tune it is, beaming with sunshiny optimism, helped along by Rollins keen emphasis on melody and roundness of tone that make it a welcoming invitation to jazz fans and newbies all at once.

Still, Rollins would not stop here, but neither would he continue without interruption.  He took a musical sabbatical by the end of the decade (one of a number), simply to re-evaluate his direction (while still maintaining a regimen by practicing regularly on the  Willamsburg Bridge in New York City).  He returned in 1962 with the comeback record, again appropriately enough, The Bridge.  In the meantime, “St Thomas” took on a life of its own, re-entering the vocabulary of island jazz musicians such as the Skatellites, who recorded it in 1964 and helping to usher in ska as an independently defined style. Ska as a musical form of course would later go on to influence new wave and punk.

Rollins would continue to delve into various musical avenues off of the main street of post-bop jazz, including fusion, jazz funk, and continue an exploration of Calypso forms as well.  He is an active musician today an one of the remaining pioneers of post-bop jazz, touring and recording regularly even in his 80s.

For more information about Sonny Rollins, check out SonnyRollins.com.

Enjoy!