Rolling Stones songs: The Singer Not the Song
*Click for MORE ROLLING STONES SONGS 1962-PRESENT
It’s not the way you give in willingly/ Others do it without thrilling me…
Written by: Jagger/Richard
Recorded: RCA Studios, Hollywood, USA, July 2-12, Sept. 6-7 1965
*Data taken from Martin Elliott’s book THE ROLLING STONES COMPLETE RECORDING SESSIONS 1962-2012
The early Rolling Stones (and in fact, the Rolling Stones throughout their career) were never all about raunchy, bluesy rock. They also penned a fair number of tuneful, poppy romantic songs, even if those were never dominant in their repertoire. “The Singer Not the Song,” appearing on the December’s Children album in late 1965, is one of the more overlooked ones.
In retrospect, it’s kind of a bridge between their early, wimpy Merseybeat-like original songs — which they tended to give to other artists to record, rather than do themselves — and their more mature pop/rock, non-blues-based tunes, such as “Lady Jane” and, a little later, “Ruby Tuesday.” “The Singer Not the Song”‘s still been criticized for being a little too sappy, and for the undoubtedly out-of-tune guitars and harmonies (as if those were rare events on early Rolling Stones records). But it’s a fairly attractive British Invasion-like pop tune with a tinge of folk-rock in the heavy use of reverberant acoustic guitars (and a tinge of groups like the Beatles in the greater use of harmonies than usual).
There are also some hints of tenderness and vulnerability in both the lyrics and the way they’re sung, as if to signify that there was more to Mick Jagger and the boys than sardonic rebellion and misogyny. The phrase “it’s the singer, not the song” is itself pretty lyrical and abstract for an early Rolling Stones song — almost philosophical — and helps put this in a more sophisticated league than earlier pop/rock ballads the group had written. The final chorus, too, has a weird leap into falsetto harmonies, on what’s been speculated is an actual attempt to sound like the Four Seasons.
Not too many people have heard it (or ever will), but there was a good, somewhat more rock-oriented 1966 cover of the song with organ, folk-rock 12-string guitar, and a key change for the final verse by the Pittsburgh group the Napoleonic Wars, as heard on the obscure ’60s garage rock compilation Burghers, Vol. 1. More well known is the version done by Alex Chilton in the mid-’70s, shortly after the breakup of Big Star. The original Rolling Stones version, incidentally, was probably more visible in Britain, where it was used as the B-side of “Get Off of My Cloud” (though it was only an LP track in the States)
From the The Rolling Stones – All the Songs book:
Mick Jagger and Keith Richards borrowed the title for the B-side of the
British single “Get Off of My Cloud” from a 1961 feature film directed by
Roy Ward Baker. This film created something of a stir upon its release
because it deals with the love of a seductive young woman for a Catholic
priest, and the ambiguous relationship between the priest and a criminal.
The latter is an atheist and although he accepts the priest (the singer), he
does not accept his religion (the song). Mick Jagger adapts this idea by
transposing it to the relationship between a man and a woman. What he
wants to get across is no doubt that the important thing for the man is not
simply to be with a woman, but to choose one who understands him. The
last verse reveals that for the narrator There’s something wrong. Has he
chosen an unsuitable companion after all?
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