God damn the early 70s must have been fun. We’ve all seen Almost Famous and the life of a somewhat known (fictional) band looked great, so imagine what it was like to be in the World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band! Well, in 1974 Woody had the best of all worlds when he started out as a member of The Faces with Rod Stewart and then jumped over to be a Rolling Stone when guitarist Mick Taylor left. In between he recorded a star studded solo affair that stands up as a case study what you can do when your best friends are rock stars.
Just look at the personnel listing according to Wikipedia:
* Ron Wood: vocals, guitar, percussion
* Keith Richards: guitar, vocals, percussion
* Mick Jagger: vocals, guitar
* Willie Weeks: bass
* Andy Newmark: drums
* Ian McLagan: organ, piano, synthesizer
* Sterling: steel drums
* Ross Henderson: steel drums
* Mick Taylor: bass, guitar, organ, synthesizer
* George Harrison: guitar, backing vocals; unconfirmed
* Jean Roussell: organ, piano
* Pete Sears: bass, celeste
* Micky Waller: drums
* Martin Quittenton: guitar
* Rod Stewart: backing vocals
* Ruby Turner: backing vocals
* Ireen & Doreen Chanter: backing vocals
Not only did Ronnie have his best friends play, but George Harrison co-wrote one of the songs (“Far East Man”) that would end up on the ex-Beatles‘ own solo effort. Just imagine how raunchy the studio got. A listen to the album gives you a good idea.
Kicking off with a tune that his new employers likely had in mind when they later penned the better tracks of Tattoo You, “I Can Feel the Fire” sports that distinctive Jagger vocal and attitude. Rumor has it that Wood and Jagger wrote it together as well as the Stone’s hit “It’s Only Rock and Roll (But I Like It)” and in a bit of lopsided negotiating Wood agreed to remove his name from the latter if he could retain full writing credit for the former. Guess which one is bringing in more royalties today. Regardless, it’s almost as tasty and tropical as the ugly shirt Ronnie’s wearing on the cover.
Another classic is “Mystify Me,” which I had first heard several years ago when Son Volt covered it. It’s so easy to see why Keef poached Ronnie from the Faces. This song as much as “It’s Only Rock and Roll” illustrate Wood’s shared affinity for blues-based pop music and his ability to get down with the island sounds that everyone from Jimmy Buffet to Stephen Stills was huffing at the time. What became top-sider Yacht Rock started as open shirted cabana rhythms. Ronnie was there.
There was also a taste for raunch that surely put him in the Stones’ good graces and Album closer “Crotch Music” is a strange instrumental that must have some affect on one’s crotch but I am damned to figure it out. Then, of course, there’s the bizarre Thomas Organ pre-programmed beat that I know I grooved to as it emanated from my Grandma’s giant parlor keyboard when I was a kid. In an album packed with funky electric pianos and groovy organs manned by Face man Ian McLagan, it seems someone had a stoned run-in with the Thomas that launched the Mother of all noodle-y jams. Buzz kill? Yeah, a little.
Like the album cover, this is an album that captures a moment in time and then seems to “improve” on that moment with unnecessary flair and unflattering posturing, but wasn’t that what the 70s were all about?