Sunday, 27 January 2008

Lyrics & their meanings Part 5 - Jumpin' Jack Flash

Ever wondered what your favorite song was about? Probably not, which is good because a nice melody and tune are far more enticing than words. Church hymns have truly inspiring lyrics and meaningful messages but don’t really jump out of the record stores. At last a biased attempt is being made to determine what some of the best-loved tunes are really about. We will have a look at the background of these songs and see if history can tell us if any light can be shed on these cryptic verses, poignant prose or just Grade Two poetry

Jumpin' Jack Flash (1968) Rolling Stones

By the Mid-Sixties The Beatles and the Rolling Stones had reached the heights of popularity and would continue to stay there for decades to come. While the Beatles were already hugely influential, there was no denying the Stones their place in history. Great songwriters and performers in their own right the Stones biggest mistake was to try and match the Beatles Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band album. Their Satanic Majesties Request The Rolling Stones answer to ‘Sgt Peppers’ was a self indulgent, drawn out piece of nonsense that took too long to record for very poor results. With the exception of She’s a Rainbow and maybe 2000 Man the album was not up to scratch for the usually consistent Stones.
The band had not seen the top of the singles charts since Paint It Black two years earlier. Jumpin’ Jack Flash was a kick-start for the floundering Stones. Recorded during the Beggars Banquet sessions it was released as a single to herald what was to come. It was far removed from the previous album as in much it contained harder, rockier song with Jagger’s trademark snide lyrics making a big comeback. With their Satanic Majesties album the only thing that ruffled a few feathers was its title. A song like Jumpin’ Jack Flash ’made the Stones dangerous again.
The story goes that this track wasn’t even a traditional Jagger/Richard tune. As Bill Wyman recalls “We got to the studio early once. And there was just myself, Brian and Charlie- the Stones NEVER arrive at the same time, you know – and Mick and Keith hadn’t come. And I was just messing about and I just sat down at the piano and started doing this riff, da-daw, da-da-daw, da-da-daw…. And then Brian played a bit of guitar and Charlie was doing rhythm. We were just messing with it for 20 minutes, just filling in time, and Mick and Keith came in and we stopped and they said, ‘hey, that sounded really good, carry on, what is it’
And then the next day all I can remember…. We recorded it and Mick wrote great lyrics to it and it turned out to be a really good single” Jagger was so inspired that wrote the lyrics almost straight after he heard the music. All up he took less than an hour to come up with the fractured fairy tale style of lyric. He was very economical with the words but what he wrote fit the song perfectly. Nasty words for a dirty riff. Nothing more, nothing less.
With the past year the band had become the human headlines, whereas the Beatles seemed untouchable with their OBEs: the Stones were on everybody’s hit list. In fighting over women and control of the band had strained relationships between key members Brian Jones, Mick Jagger & Keith Richard. And it was a well-documented fact Jones was so smashed during the recording of Satanic Majesties that he had virtually no input to the whole project.
This album was the last project Jones played before he quit the group a year later then to die tragically only a few days after that.
Alarmist blamed the Stones preoccupation with Devil worshipping on the current state of the band and the misfortune that seemed to befall those who were close to the group. Songs like Sympathy for the Devil, Street Fighting Man and Jumpin’ Jack Flash were all considered by the worry-worts to be songs designed to raise the public mischief, but it was just the Stones returning to their blues and country roots and being a proper rock band again. One good thing the Stones never followed the Beatles into was retirement from performing live.
When Jumpin’ Jack Flash was released in May 1968 Jagger only comment was that the song was ‘…the most basic thing we ever did’. In an interview in 1995 after he’d had a while to think about it he added, ‘ It’s a metaphor for getting out of all the acid things’.
Obviously Jagger had finally realised Their Satanic Majesties Request was as bad as every one had told them.
Jumpin’Jack Flash was a historic turning point for the Stones. Bill Wyman has always maintained what he contributed in the studio and to Jagger/Richard compositions was for the betterment of the group but steadfastly claims ownership to the riff. It can also be claimed and it was possibly the last great contribution from Brian Jones. Keith Richard in an interview with author Terry Southern said ‘when I play that first riff in Jumpin’ Jack Flash, something happens in my stomach – a feeling of tremendous exhilaration, an amazing superhuman feeling .An explosion is the best way to describe it. You just jump on that riff, and it plays you. It’s the one feeling I would say approaches Nirvana’
And that from someone that conventional drugs have been unable to kill.
But Mick Jagger’s affection for the song is a tad indifferent. Dave Jerden, engineer on the Stones’ Dirty Works album and Jagger’s solo effort She’s the Boss recalls that while working in Paris he was summoned by Jagger into the studio. Jagger was there to record new vocals for Jumpin’ Jack Flash for the Whoopie Goldberg film of the same name. Jagger had the original master with him.
“ Well I should make a copy,” Jerden said, noting there were no open tracks left on the tape for a second vocal. “No, I’ll just go over the original vocal” Jagger replied. Which he did, meaning the original master performance is gone forever. So much for history.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Jumping Jack flashes were a type of fireworks that sometimes fired off in Keith Richards nearby neighboirhood