On your It's Only Rock 'n' Roll album you did a great version of the Temptations' "Ain't Too Proud to Beg," and now you're doing a version of "Imagination."
It's like a continuation, and I've always wanted to do that song — originally as a duet with Linda Ronstadt, believe it or not. But instead we just did our version of it — like an English rock & roll band tuning up on "Imagination," which has only two or three chords . . . it's real simple stuff.
I like the lines: "Soon we'll be married and raise a family/Two boys for you, what about two girls for me?" There are those girls in there again.
Yeah, I made that up. In reality the girl in the song doesn't even know me — it's a dream . . . and we're back where we started this conversation.
"Of all the girls in New York she loves me true" is one of the lines from your version of this song. And in fact the entire album is full of New York City settings and energy.
Yeah, I added the New York reference in the song. And the album itself is like that because I was staying in New York part of last year, and when I got to Paris and was writing the words, I was thinking about New York. I wrote the songs in Paris.
It's a real New York record.
Hope they like it in south Jersey [laughing].
There's the gay garbage collector on 53rd Street in "When the Whip Comes Down," Central Park in "Miss You," the sex and dreams and parties and the schmattas on 7th Avenue in "Shattered" — and there's a distinct Lou Reed-cum-British vaudeville tone to some of your singing on "Shattered."
Every time I play guitar my engineer, Chris Kimsey, says: "Oh, here comes Lou Reed again." But I think a lot of English singers do that — there's a kind of tradition, it's natural. In "Shattered," Keith and Woody [Ron Wood] put a riff down, and all we had was the word "shattered." So I just made the rest up and thought it would sound better if it were half-talked.
I'd written some of my verses before I got into the studio, but I don't like to keep singing the same thing over and over, so it changed. And I was noticing that there were a lot of references to New York, so I kept it like that. Some Girls isn't a "concept" album, God forbid, but it's nice that some of the songs have connections with each other — they make the album hold together a bit . . . But then there's Bakersfield [laughing].
My favorite song on the album is "Beast of Burden," in which your voice and the filigreed interplay of the guitars bring back for me Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Smokey Robinson and even the early guitar solos of Peter Tosh.
I quite like it, but I didn't expect anyone to really go for it, certainly not as much as you. It's surprising. But I wonder what other people are going to think of the album. I mean, we've been knocked a lot recently — I don't really know what they expect us to do.
Exile on Main Street was probably the last of your albums to have been widely admired.
Yeah, but if you read the reviews, you'll find that they were terrible!
How successful were your last few albums?
It depends on how you measure it. We sell about 2 million albums worldwide. It's nothing compared to Fleetwood Mac, and if we'd been a bit more aggressive, perhaps we could have sold more. But life goes up and down. Some people sell 20,000; we sell 2 million, so that's not bad. I think there are some good songs on our last albums, but they probably lacked direction.
On the new record, the band is much more together; they really played well during the sessions — and not only on what you hear, but also on all the stuff we did. We did so much that we didn't know what to do with all of it. We had four songs with the same uptempo idea, and I originally thought of having every song be a continuation of the other. Ian Stewart, who plays piano with us, said: "Everything seems to be in A." And I said: "Well, Beethoven wrote whole symphonies in one key, what does it fucking matter?" So we decided that the songs that would go on the album would be the ones that we finished first!
I've noticed that you can really hear the words on Some Girls, whereas on other albums, they're mostly buried.
During the mix, I kind of decide — not very consciously. I just put it up and that's how it comes out. It depends on the song. If the words are good we bring them up; if they're useless, then . . .
But on Exile on Main Street the words were great, yet it was hard to hear them — "Tumbling Dice," "Rocks Off," "Rip This Joint."
Yeah, a lot of people told me that. Maybe the rest of the band would prefer it if I weren't too loud, and I'm so good anyway [laughing]. But you know, people often interpret lyrics in ways you never meant. Sometimes I'm aware, when I write something, that a line can be taken in two ways, and I don't really want to say what everything is about. It's a lot more fun for people to interpret them in their own way.
With a song like "Shattered," however, I thought we had to hear the words a bit, so . . . it's not really just a question of loudness, it has to do with clarity of diction — whether I enunciate properly. And if I don't, you have to have it louder, and even then people don't understand what you're saying.
I read somewhere that you bit off the front part of your tongue when you were a kid, and that this was a kind of initiation rite.
[Laughing] Bullshit. I just bit a little bit off. That idea sounds as if it came from some-place like Creem magazine.
At the risk of being so accused, it sometimes seems that the way girls swallow you up — as some of your songs suggest — is the way you yourself seem to swallow up your words.
Maybe it's just my bad enunciation [laughing] running away with me. And it's also because I like the sound of words, the way the noises come out. In "Shattered," where you have "sha-dooby," I wanted that to be heard, because it's as much a part of the song as the words. Van Morrison and Dylan do that kind of thing. Everyone does it, actually.
And on "Beast of Burden," you sing: "You're a pretty pretty pretty pretty pretty pretty girl," which seems to me a sexier, more ironical variation on Buddy Holly's "Pretty pretty pretty pretty Peggy Sue."
Yeah, it's true, I never thought of it. It's funny, that. But to me it's just a sound — it could be "pretty pretty happy happy" . . . or whatever. I wasn't thinking of Buddy Holly at all; it's a completely unconscious thing.
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