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Rolling Stones songs: Back to Zero
*Click for MORE ROLLING STONES SONGS 1962-PRESENT
It’s a monkey living on my back/ I can feel my spine begin to crack…
Written by: Jagger/Richards/Leavell
Recorded: RPM Studios, NYC, USA, July 16-Aug. 17 – Sept. 10-Oct. 15; Right Track Studios, NYC, USA, Nov. 5-Dec. 15 1985
Guest musicians: Bobby Womack (guitar), Dan Collette (trumpet), Chuck Leavell (synthesizer), Anton Fig (shakers)
*Data taken from Martin Elliott’s book THE ROLLING STONES COMPLETE RECORDING SESSIONS 1962-2012
Mick Jagger wrote this song about his fear of a nuclear war.
This is the only Rolling Stones song Chuck Leavell got a writing credit for. Formerly with the Allman Brothers Band, he played keyboards with The Stones through the ’80s.
Along with “Winning Ugly,” “Back To Zero” was one of two songs Mick Jagger wrote for Dirty Work. This was the first time in Jagger’s career that The Stones weren’t his priority: He was fed up with the band and focused on his promoting his 1985 solo album, She’s The Boss.
From the The Rolling Stones – All the Songs book:
Despite the arrival at the head of the Soviet empire of Mikhail Gorbachev, who announced the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and spoke of perestroika and glasnost, in the mid-eighties, the world remained divided into two blocs. The Cold War was still a reality. “Back to Zero” can thus be interpreted as a warning about the threat of nuclear war and its potential to wipe out the planet. More than twenty years after Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” now it is Jagger’s turn to worry about the world his grandchildren will inherit. Or perhaps the lyrics are a metaphor for his desire to undertake a change of artistic direction. Either way, “Back to Zero” has never been performed live by the Stones.
Everything changes, even in the world of the Stones. Chuck Leavell is credited alongside the Glimmer Twins as co-writer of “Back to Zero.” This was a first: no one outside the inner circle had ever been given this honor before. Not even—from within it—Bill Wyman, who, incidentally, does not play bass on this track. Instead, the bass line is played on a Yamaha DX7 synthesizer (as is the timbale part) and doubled by a real bass guitar, played this time not by Ron Wood, but almost certainly by the excellent John Regan, who would also play bass on Mick Jagger and David Bowie’s cover of “Dancing in the Street,” recorded in June.
How could the Stones have released a track like “Back to Zero”? This is a funk track, but well below the standard of the best proponents of the genre, and again with that synthdominated sound—metallic, cold, soulless—that Keith thoroughly abhorred. The talent of Philippe Saisse, who lends a hand here on synthesizer, with Dan Collette, who plays trumpet in the coda, and Anton Fig, who is most likely responsible for the percussion (tambourine, congas, maracas) is not in doubt, but they add nothing to the music of the Rolling Stones. Theirs is a completely different approach. Fortunately, there is plenty of guitar, all in a very funky style, to provide some reassuring color and relief. This is split between Keith Richards, Ron Wood, and Bobby Womack. As for Mick Jagger, the singer remains in the same register as before, his voice once again sounding extremely strained.
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