Hello. I spoke to President Obama yesterday, so it’s only fair I speak to you today. He told me to tell you hello. (Actually, he didn’t. I’m imagining he told me to tell you hello. You probably won’t read this anyway, so it doesn’t matter much.)
Mick, I’m one of your more unusual fans, in that I didn’t discover you by means of your work with the Rolling Stones. The first time you were seared into my consciousness was when you performed solo at the televised Live Aid concert in 1985. Bette Midler introduced you as “everybody’s idol,” and then you came bursting out onto the stage singing “Lonely at the Top,” a song from your ignominious solo debut album, She’s the Boss. You were flapping in the breeze like one of those plastic wind guys you see at all those car dealerships – you were flailing this way and that, looking awkward and goofy and cool at the same time.
At the time, I was awkward and goofy and not as cool, so I was inspired by someone who moved as dilapidatedly as you did and still got kudos for it. I stole your every move, your every smirk, even your little rooster tail you do with your fingers behind your bum. It got me laughs, but it also got me to embrace my own physical awkwardness and celebrate its grotesquery in a respectable way. I can never thank you enough for that.
I confess, though, that I haven’t listened to She’s the Boss since around the time I purchased it back in 1985.
It’s very much a product of its time, filled with synth drums and electronicy keyboards. Sad to say, it hasn’t aged well. And if I’m being honest with myself, it wasn’t very good at the time, either. But I didn’t know any better. It seemed funny and silly, and I still saw you as sort of a joke, but a good joke, the kind of joke I wanted to associate myself with in order to get people to laugh at me, too.
Then I picked up Dirty Work in 1986.
Dirty Work has been hailed as “the worst Stones album ever,” but it was my first Stones album, and I quite liked it, thank you very much. See, with Dirty Work, I got it. I understood that the Stones worked because they were raw and authentic. No cute keyboard riffs; no synth anything; just guys with snarling guitars and you with your snarling vocals. (The day-glo colors on this album makes it look like another 80s cheese romp, but it isn’t – except for, you know, the cover.) The whole Stones oeuvre, even with a lesser outing like this one, was all ugly and nasty and all kinds of fun. Your eel-like shenanigans made sense in the Stones context in a way they didn’t with your vapid solo material. The stones weren’t polished or pretty; they were all rough edges. So of course their singer flailed like a ferret in heat.
(By the way, parts of Dirty Work haven’t aged well, but other parts have. “One Hit to the Body” is in my top ten all time favorite Stones tunes with its speeded-up Gimme Shelteresque hard driving riff, and “Harlem Shuffle” is still a groovin’ delight. And Keith’s “Sleep Tonight” remains his best ballad ever, hands down. The rest of the album sucks out loud, but you probably already knew that.)
I left on a mission for the LDS Church in the fall of ’87, so I missed your second solo album, Primitive Cool.
I’m so grateful I did.
Mick, all you have to do is look at the cover of that thing, with you as a hobbit or a Vulcan or something holding that dippy ring, and you knew something was wrong. Watching the video for the brain-dead anthem “Let’s Work” makes me want to poke my eyes out with a sharp stick.
With all that background, I had very low expectations for your 1993 solo piece, Wandering Spirit. Boy, was I wrong. You didn’t try to run from your Stonesiness – you embraced it head on, making Wandering Spirit the best Stones album the Stones never recorded.
Seriously, it’s some of your very best work, within the Stones or without. It recognized that you knew what your strengths were, and that you were willing to play to them even outside the context of the Stones.
Which brings me to the purpose of my letter today.
As soon as it became available, I downloaded a copy of your latest magnum opus, the debut deluxe edition of your self-titled album of your supergroup Superheavy. I’d heard the first single “Miracle Worker,” and it seemed pleasant enough. So I listened to the rest of the album.
Mick, it’s no Primitive Cool, but it’s no Wandering Spirit, either.
The fact of the matter, Mick, is that when you try to dress yourself up all respectable-like, you look absolutely ridiculous. With lush arrangements and soaring melodies or ethnic, across-the-world mash-ups, your performance highlights a reality you should have realized long ago:
You can’t sing.
Please recognize that that hasn’t been an impediment to your career. Indeed, it’s been one of your greatest strengths. No one wants to hear a real singer wail his way through “Start Me Up.” Can you imagine Pavarotti sneer his way through a lyric like “My hands are greasy, she’s a mean, mean machine?” You work as a performer because of your attitude, your chutzpah, your defiance of convention, not your pretty voice. Your voice is ugly. It’s raw. It is not the voice of a man of wealth and taste. When you sing alongside Joss Stone with these otherworldly arrangements and modern autotuning and whatnot, you are the aural equivalent of a guy who wears jeans and a wife-beater T-shirt to officiate at a church wedding.
Mick, next year marks the 50th anniversary of the Rolling Stones. Your bandmates want an album and a farewell tour. So does your public. And you don’t want to give it to them, because you’re too busy trying to be something that you’re not.
As a lifelong Mick fan, please reconsider. Don’t make me make you watch the “Let’s Work” without being under heavy sedation.
P.S. I would vote for your for president before I would vote for Jon Huntsman.