Friday, January 25, 2008

Shuffle : Can't You Hear Me Knocking?

I love guitars. The way they sound. Especially electric guitars.

The first music I felt a real sense of ownership with, the first music that felt like mine and mine alone, was, sadly and without any cool or cachet whatsoever, not even in an ironic retro way, Hard Rock. Soft Metal. Hair Metal. The official name in the metal magazines back then was "Glam Rock", but thats just ridiculous. Glam Rock is what T-Rex and Bowie and the Sweet played in the 70s. I didn't like that, not yet anyway. I liked Whitesnake. Motley Crue. Poison. White Lion, Great White, Skid Row, Warrant, other bands whose names I don't even want to type. The first gig I ever went to was Bon Jovi. The Point Depot, Dublin, 1989, I think. I was 14. At the end, when they played "Wanted Dead or Alive", there were clips of Clint Eastwood in "High Plains Drifter" on the giant screen behind them. I thought that was pretty cool.

Of the bands I liked back then, there are a few I still listen to fairly regularly : Guns n Roses, Aerosmith, Van Halen. They all transcend their own genre, I think. And the first two have a lot more in common with the Rolling Stones than they do with Winger or Love/Hate. Anyway, I think this is why I like guitars. I'm pre-set, to an extent, to prefer music that uses guitars, drums and bass. Even if its in a middle-of-the-road, no feedback, absence-of-galloping-riffs kind of way. Back then I developed a taste for the way electric guitars sound, and I've yet to lose it. It led me away from that music but through the likes of Cream and the Kinks and all the music of the 60s and 70s, and on to every other type of music I like today. It led me to the Rolling Stones.

"Can't You Hear Me Knocking", from the Stones' 1971 album "Sticky Fingers" is a classic guitar song. It starts off with an amazing intro. Just the riff, played by Keith Richards in as dirty a style as possible, with the kind of feel only he could reasonably impart. You hear it and you can imagine him doing one of those stupid bent-leg-and-elbow poses he does when hes playing. And its a great riff, funky and bluesy at once, yet given a sort of fuzzy slinkiness by Keef's playing. It also contains a brief silence between the first and second movement, a real glory for any riff. Then the rhythm section kicks in, Jagger goes "Yeah" off-mike, and its off in all its glory.

The first two minutes of the song are typical Stones from that (their greatest) era. Near-perfect blues rock by a stunningly tight band, strange, menacing Jagger lyrics ("Y'all got cocaine eyes/Yeah, you got speed freak jive now") spat out angrily, soulful backing vocals on the chorus. The best Stones songs feature great interplay between the lead and rhythm guitars and this is no different - Keef chopping away at that riff, Mick Taylor filling in his gaps with light, almost delicate little chords. A piano comes in at some point, what sounds like an electric organ too. You're waiting for it to rise to a crescendo, and it seems to be heading that way, when it all suddenly drops away around the 2:42 mark. The song virtually stops, leaving only percussion, then a sinuous guitar figure and the beginning of an extended, tension-filled saxophone solo. Again the song masses behind this and it seems to be rising to a spectacular ending of some sort. But it doesn't end. It drifts along for a few seconds, without any seeming direction, until Mick Taylor's crystalline lead guitar cuts in out of the left channel at 4:40. He seems to be tentatively playing with a melody until Jagger lets loose another "yeah", again off-mike, and then he lets himself go and starts constructing a beautifully tuneful, laid-back solo. The band follows his lead - its probably the closesnt the Stones ever got to Jazz - until he edges into a rising, repetitive melody, they all pick up on it and the song ends in a perfect cymbal-crash at 7:14.

I love that solo. The entire thing is just lovely, and contrasts with the great riff, an example of an utterly different kind of guitar-playing, showcased by Keef at the start of the song. Taylor, who had replaced Brian Jones as lead guitarist only a few months before, said : ""Can't You Hear Me Knocking" is one of my favorites. (The jam at the end) just happened by accident; that was never planned. Towards the end of the song I just felt like carrying on playing. Everybody was putting their instruments down, but the tape was still rolling and it sounded good, so everybody quickly picked up their instruments again and carried on playing. It just happened, and it was a one-take thing. A lot of people seem to really like that part."
Yeah Mick, I really like that part.

Its also immensely cinematic, which explains why it was used twice in films in the last decade. Brilliantly by Martin Scorsese in "Casino", where he edits an extended sequence to the song, but less well by Ted Demme in "Blow". It may, in the face of some incredibly heavyweight competition ("Gimme Shelter", "Moonlight Mile","Let It Loose", "Stray Cat Blues" etc) be my very favourite Stones song, and its from my favourite Stones album. Yeah, I love "Exile On Main Street" too, and its probably overall a better album, taken as a whole. But "Sticky Fingers" has the better songs, I think. There are fewer of them, but its highlights are absolutely amazing. "Can't You Hear Me Knocking" is perhaps the highest of those lights....



Blogger Beezer B said...

I like guitars. I don't love guitars. Well I do but for the sake of conversation I don't. Not like I love drums.

This song has always been a toss of a coin for me because CHARLES OWNS THIS SONG. I don't know what all that Keef talk is about. He just plays a blues on it. CHARLES KILLS THE TRACK, in three different ways. So I kind of love this track too, but...

That sax? that shit is some on-top-of-the-bar-leaning-back-with-eyes-closed-honking cheesy blues club sax that I just can't live with.

So really I like Keith on it too and its some real nice guitar and I LOVE the drums on it. So on one day its my favourite cut on the album but on another it kind of annoys me.

Charles is the man.

12:52 pm  
Blogger David N said...

"He just plays a blues on it"? You what?
Thats like saying Charlie just keeps time. Its true, but it doesn't tell the whole story.

That sax you describe is rock-sax, not jazz-sax. For a Stones song, it fits just right, it becomes just another element. Like the drums. A great element, but just part of the wider scene. Whereas the guitars - the guitars are the stars of the show.

But yeah I'll grant you that Charles is the man.

1:08 am  

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