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The Wayback Machine - 100 Years Ago by The Rolling Stones

retroview by Kevin Harvey

I’ve argued against the destructive Wall of Expectations for years, which is not to say I haven’t crashed into it, or that I’ve devised a foolproof way of driving around it when I see it. (Dylan’s TEMPEST album is a perfect example of my inability to hear what is actually on a disc the first few times I hear it. Dylan now sounds like Eddie Rochester, and that is a beautiful thing.) What I have perfected is the ability to sneak up on overlooked tracks: destroying context by playing albums backwards, picking tunes at random; and, most important, staying within reach of the Phantom Jukebox of Misplaced Swag, otherwise known as the Wayback Machine.  Playing the Virgin Records reissue of the Stone’s Goat’s Head Soup in the l’Auto this morning- (Does Virgin still exist? When did the Stones leave ‘em?) I set off an inventory.
Soup came out in 1973, the first year of the Plague, when the Creativity Wave seemed to break over what had turned overnight-post-Exile; Dylan’s retreat- into the graveyard of Music to Live One’s Life By.  I’ve always thought that the primary reason GOAT was a letdown was the opening track, Dancing with Mr. D, felt like a cheesy retread of Sympathy for the Devil: The Stones had never looked so transparent.  And this was the follow-up to Exile, a steaming sludge pile of genius muck. 

Well, we were wrong. Goat’s Head Soup is a very good, well-played, cohesive entity, quite possibly a high water mark, just above Tattoo You and Some Girls.  (I can feel the Girls fanatics scrambling for their pistols.) So, let’s forget Mr. D for a moment and focus on Goat’s second track, today’s forgotten beauty, 100 Tears Ago. Put simply: It’s killer, a beautifully performed song that opens with haunting echoes of The Band; it’s not, however, an attempt to sound like the Band- in fact The Band had been around long enough for groups to stop emulating them- but a song redolent with history.  There is something ancient here, timeless in the deepest sense of the word. “Went out walking through the wood the other day,” sings Mick and you don’t question him, you don’t even think of Jethro Till, rather some weird take on Washington Irving! “Mary and I, we would sit upon a gate/just gazin’ at some dragon in the sky.” Wait a minute Mick just say DRAGON- not dragon-shaped cloud, but DRAGON! Mind you now, this isn’t the criminally underrated Satanic Majesty, it’s the follow-up to Exile and Mick is coping Robert Plant lines! “Well, it seemed about a 100 years ago…” And suddenly the song picks up, shaking off the mist, turning into a Stone’s song, before Mick asks: “Don’t you think it’s wise not to grow up?” A line that might fit on Dandelion, a song the Stones pretend they never recorded! And then it picks up again, heading towards Stone’s turf.  The grow-up question is asked again; the song changes gears again, and then again: “They call me lazy bones…” They do? They’ve called you everything possible BUT lazy bones. And forget Rip Van Winkle, it’s a Stone’s song with a great lead and an unintelligible Mick howling behind the maelstrom.  Which, after a bucolic opening in the Lake District, is where they leave us.  It is a song built in sections, closer to the way Jimmy Page would construct songs in Zep 3 than anything Robbie Robertson ever wrote, which is to say, it begins in the past but it burns its way forward with a ferocity that is easy to miss, even easier to forget. Put it on when you can really listen to it. See what you think. And then explain dragons to me.