Unplugged with Beatles vs. Stones...

In the unfolding thoughts about this "unplugged" thing, I was pleasantly surprised yesterday to recall the way both The Beatles and the Stones played with this, too. I've blogged about my favorite Stones' "country" songs before (everything from "Country Honk" to "Sweet Virginia") but never anything about my Top Five acoustic British Invasion tunes. So, while I may have already worn out this theme for some, I think it is just getting started for me.


+ Things We Said Today:was originally written for A Hard Day's Night but not used after it was recorded in 1964. It is one of my favorite McCartney tunes and stands the test of time.

+ Blackbird showed up on the so-called White Album (actually The Beatles) from 1968.It too is a McCartney tune, a tender tribute to the African American quest for social/racial justice. I have been playing it with affection since those early days.

+ I'll Be Back is another song recorded/written for A Hard Day's Night but omitted from the film in 1964. It did, however, find its way into the British soundtrack album and then Beatles 65 in the USA. It is a mostly John Lennon lament that I continue to enjoy - especially the chord changes and harmonies - even while noting Lennon's less than mature attitude towards his lovers.

+ I've Just Seen a Face is a terrific love song that owes a debt of gratitude to US country music. It is just too much fun to sing, play and harmonize on - and lest anyone doubt that McCartney loved love songs, just take a listen. From Rubber Soul in  the USA and Help in the UK in 1965.

+ You've Got to Hide Your Love Away is a heart-breaking Lennon song from the Help soundtrack that is every bit as angst laden as "I'm a Loser" or "No Reply." Insightful critics have observed the blaming/shaming misogyny in many of Lennon's early songs with the Beatles and it flows through this Dylan-esque tune, too. Outwardly life was soaring, while inward he was starting to crash and burn and he tended to blame the women in his world.

If the Beatles drew on Dylan and country influences for their "unplugged" oeuvre, the bad boys of English rock and roll were a bit more eclectic taking in the blues, country, and western, English folk songs plus a nod or two toward the music hall tradition.

+ Factory Girl from the phenomenal Beggar's Banquet in 1968 opens with a quasi-country blues riff followed by some congas, a mandolin and a fiddle before Jagger starts to sing about his low down lover from the factory:  she's got curlers in her hair who ain't got money anywhere. A total gas.

+ Sitting on a Fence picks up on the non-blues folk song tradition in 1965. It was offered to a British duo, Twice as Much, who had a Top 40 hit but failed to make it on to the terrific album Aftermath in 1966. It has an Appalachian feel to it, a bit of harpsichord and some truly regrettably sexist lyrics that were all too common and blunt in the day but have finally become scandalous and blacklisted from the songs my mates sing we me today (at least so far as I know.)

+ Lady Jane from the 1966 masterpiece, Aftermath, shows Brian Jones bringing new musical influences to the dominant songs of Jagger and Richards. It comes from Jagger's reading of D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover and mixes mid 60s flower power with Elizabethan balladry and psychedelic instrumentation. Kind of a hoot to listen to again after all these years.

+ Sweet Black Angel is arguably my favorite unplugged Stones's song next to Factory Girl. It comes from the equally wild and creative double album Exile on Main Street in 1972 and is a love song to Angela Davis. It sounds like a country blues, but is a plea to set Angela free with an Islands back beat. This was the B side to Tumblin' Dice but I wore the 45 out listening to this track.

+ As Tears Go By was written for Marianne Faithful and released by her in 1964. It includes a sweet oboe with a simple 12 string guitar background - and a string quartet, to boot! I can remember pining after girls who looked like Marianne Faithful back in high school - and much of it took place while playing this song over and over again. Alas, young love and the sirens of tragic romance for a teen, yeah? It was released by the Stones on December's Children in 1965.

Bonus tracks:
+ You Got to Move: There may not be a better, down'n'dirty British blues take on Mississippi Fred McDowell than the 1971 recording of "You Got to Move." It is TOTAL attitude at the height of the Stones' groove! The rest of Sticky Fingers is freakin' amazing, too but I couldn't sign off without including this gem.

+ While My Guitar Gentle Weeps:  Thank the Lord that the Beatles' Anthology kept track of this version of Harrison's finest contribution to music and spirituality from 1968. While I am moved to tears by Clapton's solo guitar on the White Album's final take, the haunting hurts expressed in this version make it a worthy addition - and fitting close - to this chapter of the unplugged legacy.


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