rolling stones winning ugly 1986Can You Hear the Music?


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Winning Ugly by The Rolling Stones

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And we’re heading for the heartbreak/ Heading for the blues..

Written by: Jagger/Richards
Recorded: RPM Studios, New York, USA, July 16-Aug. 17 1985; Right Track Studios, New York, USA, Oct-Decx. 1985
Guest musicians: Chuck Leavell (synthesizer), Janis Pendarvis and Dolette MacDonald (backing vocals)
*Data taken from Martin Elliott’s book THE ROLLING STONES COMPLETE RECORDING SESSIONS 1962-2012

From Songfacts:
Along with “Back To Zero,” this was one of two songs Mick Jagger wrote for Dirty Work. Keith Richards did most of the work on the album because Jagger was busy promoting his solo album, She’s The Boss. Jagger also refused to tour behind Dirty Work, which infuriated Richards.

Two extended versions were released as 12-inch singles, the “London Mix” and “NY Mix.”

From the The Rolling Stones – All the Songs, The Story Behind Every Track book:
“Winning Ugly” is one of Mick Jagger’s main contributions to Dirty Work, the other being “Back to Zero.” In this song, cynicism is given free rein. The protagonist is prepared to do whatever it takes to win, even if that means fixing the competition. This is a dream opportunity for Mick Jagger to lead a new assault on those who want to rule the world: I never turn a hair, just like the politicians, he sings in the first verse. There is cynicism here, then, but at the same time schizophrenia, because back in the dressing room (is the character some sort of artist?), the other side is weeping as a result of winning ugly. “Winning Ugly” says a great deal about relations between Mick and Keith, which is perhaps why the song has always, to this day, been left off the set list for the Stones’ tours!

It is impossible to discern the Stones’ roots in this song. Although reasonably well done, it sounds like a second-rate imitation of Duran Duran, some of whose members had in fact visited the Stones during the sessions for Dirty Work. Right from the intro, the sound and general vibe announce that this is the eighties, with all the infelicities of that era. Although John Regan plays a very good bass and Charlie’s drums really rock, Chuck Leavell’s keyboard and synthesizer work, based around Keith’s guitar chords, has much in common with the mediocre productions of this period.

The resulting sonority is typical of what poured out of FM radio stations all over the world twenty-four hours a day during these years. It is just a pity that the Stones succumbed to it. Although Keith has revealed that the riff of “Winning Ugly” was inspired by Marvin Gaye songs, such as “Stubborn Kind of Fellow,” “You’re a Wonderful One,” and “Can I Get a Witness,” it is not easy to hear the Motown spirit in this track. On the other hand, his guitar lick is excellent and, as he himself would admit, has given a lot of trouble to all those who have tried to play it, despite being disconcertingly simple.

Alan Rogan explains that Keith plays it on Ron Wood’s blond 1959 Fender Telecaster. Ronnie in turn plays another rhythm guitar part, and both guitarists enhance the track through the addition of various other parts. Jagger does what he has to do without any real inspiration, and can be sensed casting around for other paths to pursue solo.