The Rolling Stones are the epitome of rock and roll, the blues-born bad-boy alternative to the Beatles during the 1960s and hitmakers of the ’70s and beyond. While they may have lost the battle of the ’60s as runners up to the Fab Four, they’ve definitely won the contest of time, still touring to this day despite the recent loss of founding member and drummer Charlie Watts. The Stones were a tight bunch, with the only significant line-up change being the replacement of original creative pilot and troubled multi-instrumentalist Brian Jones with guitar extraordinaire Mick Taylor, who himself was subsequently replaced by Ronnie Wood.
Despite the core of the band staying together through the years, there have been a handful of notable side projects for the Stones. Some have been difficult to stomach – yes, I’m thinking of the time David Bowie and Mick Jagger covered Martha & the Vandellas’ ‘Dancing in the Street’ – but some have been earnest efforts worthy of merit. Overall, Keith Richards has likely yielded the most success as a solo artist, releasing two very listenable albums in Talk is Cheap (1988) and Main Offender (1992) amidst his ongoing creative feud with Jagger.
Alas, I step back to 1970 for my pick for the best solo single of any of The Rolling Stones, with Mick Jagger’s ‘Memo From Turner’. The single was recorded in 1968 for the soundtrack of Performance, a crime drama written and directed by Donald Cammell in which Jagger was cast in a supporting role. The film tells the story of a killer on the run who is ultimately sheltered from the law at the home of a mysterious and withdrawn rock star, Turner, the character played by Jagger. The film was polarising upon its release due to the cocksure delve into sadism and depravity. On the one hand, it spurred a cult following from kooky youths that grew over the decades with numerous references in popular culture, most notably with Big Audio Dynamite’s use of audio samples taken from the film for use in their most popular hit, ‘E=MC2’. On the other hand, there was shock portrayed beautifully by the wife of a Warner Brothers executive, who, as legend has it, vomited out of sheer disgust during an early screening of the film.
Now, back to the lecture at hand, the single ‘Memo From Turner’, for me, is a real treat to the ears with an evocative, stream of consciousness vocal performance from Jagger, made legendary by Ry Cooper’s catchy slide guitar riff throughout. With the added talent from the likes of Russ Titelman on guitars and Randy Newman on keys, the soundtrack was on to a winner. The song perfectly captures the theme of Performance with the dark, wry swagger of a world where the lifestyles of gangsters and rock and roll oddballs collide.
Some will swear by the genius of Performance and label it a must-watch, with some ranking it up there with the greatest films of all time. I can’t guarantee whether you will enjoy it or vomit on your living room carpet I’m afraid, and wouldn’t dare to try. In any case, I can say with confidence that if you haven’t listened to ‘Memo From Turner’ yet and you’re partial to a bit of rock and roll, then you will not be disappointed.