Sunday, June 8, 2014

Track of the Week: Ron Wood, "I Can Feel The Fire"

When I was younger, I never understood why Ron Wood had been the choice to replace Mick Taylor in the Rolling Stones.  Taylor's playing provides some of the best moments on Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street, by far my two favorite Stones records back then and still to this day.  By contrast, I never rated Wood as a guitarist, and always figured he was in the band because he had the right look and was Keith Richards' drinking buddy.  The Stones' albums from the mid-70s onward have been almost universally lackluster, so that didn't make me think much of Wood, either.

As I got older and started digging the Faces, I soon learned the error of my ways.  Back in the early 1970s there was perhaps no greater rock band in the world, and Ron Wood was a big reason why.  The man's slide guitar is simply thrilling on tracks like "Around the Plynth," and he absolutely burns up the frets on "Stay With Me."  It was around the time that I was discovering the Faces that my friend Edward played me Wood's first record, the hilariously titled I've Got My Own Album To Do.  It is a dig at Rod Stewart, who had begun focusing his attentions on his solo albums rather than with the Faces.  (Stewart still contributes to this album, though.)

The album's title is enhanced by its cover, showing Wood looking disheveled and hungover, wearing a rather unfortunate Hawaiian shirt beneath his frayed rooster coif.  It's a real case of truth in advertising, since the album takes the Faces' penchant for ragged and spirited rocknroll that makes up in feeling what it lacks in precision.  I was lucky enough to find this gem on vinyl at the WFMU Record Fair last weekend, and have been playing it to death since.

There are plenty of good songs, but "I Can Feel The Fire" is a great listen because it would be the best Stones song of the mid-70s if it was an official Stones song.  Keith plays guitar and Jagger sings backup, and their mark is all over this thing.  It is heavily influenced by the same reggae sounds that also inflected the Rolling Stones' music at the time, but incorporates them much more effectively and skillfully.  This does not sound like a rock band playing at reggae, but rather a real gutbucket bar band that can play just about anything and just happens to dig reggae.  The guitars are great without being flashy, the melody catchy, and the feel masterful.  (It also doesn't hurt to have the great Ian McLagen on organ.)  In many ways this is a precursor to the Clash's reggae-inflected numbers, although Joe Strummer would never have copped to it.

"I Can Feel The Fire" makes me a little wistful since it shows what the Stones could have been after their peak, but never were.  They did indeed go in new directions (witness the disco of "Miss You" and reggae of "Emotional Rescue"), but rarely with the requisite effort.  With Keith messed up smack and Mick distracted from music, Ron Wood's infusion of new blood and yes, fire, could only go so far.

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