RAMBLIN' ROUND: Stones roll back with 'Living in a Ghost Town'

Joel Ryan | Invision/AP photoThis April 4, 2016 file photo shows members of The Rolling Stones, from left, Charlie Watts, Ronnie Wood, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards at the Rolling Stones Exhibitionism preview in London. The Stones have released a surprise new song Friday, called "Living in a Ghost Town," reflecting conditions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, including the lockdowns in place at in various cities around the world. 

Once when you wanted to get a new release of a recording by a favorite singer or band, you had to go to the record store and hand over your money before you could go home with a shiny new piece of vinyl.

That changed eventually to cassettes, then CDs, and finally to the myriad ways music can be accessed, downloaded, uploaded these days.

Some artists became such favorites of mine that I sometimes buy their new recordings unheard — that is, until said artist or band would release something that didn't live up to their own high standards.

It's not that I expected a masterpiece every time. I felt OK with artists following a masterwork followed by a more modest offering. All I asked is that the songs be heartfelt and not sound as  if  they were tossed off just to put out something new or to satisfy a contractual demand.

Once, you had to either hear a song on the radio, hear it from a friend or catch a television performance when an artist released something new.

Not anymore. Now those works are just as likely to pop up announced on your computer, phone or other electronic device. How ironic that the artists to make the best use of the new medium over the past few weeks were Bob Dylan, who's released two previously unheard recordings over the internet resulting in his first number one song for digital downloads with "Murder Most Foul" — and now the Rolling Stones have a surprise release of their own.

"Living in a Ghost Town" features a deep groove and is the Stones' best release of an original song in years. They already have a video of the song available on Youtube.

It features speedy camera shots of empty streets in cities such as London, Los Angeles, Toronto, Cape Town, South Africa; Kyoto, Japan, and others.

Over a rhythmic groove, Mick Jagger sings lines such as "You can search for me; I had to go underground. Life was so beautiful, then we all got locked down."

Stones guitarists Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood play some funky chords and a few spiky leads, with drummer Charlie Watts laying down the beat, then Jagger breaks into a bluesy harmonica solo.

Yep, the Stones are back with their first release of an original song since 2012, when the band released "Doom and Gloom" and "One More Shot" as two new offerings on yet another compilation album of their greatest hits — a three-disc-set called "GRRR!"

Their December 2016 album "Blue & Lonesome" won a Grammy for Best Traditional Blues Album — but it consisted of Stones covers of recordings by blues artists such as Little Walter, Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters. The Stones last released an album featuring original music back in 2005, with "A Bigger Bang."

I've been braced for a flurry of songs about dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, but didn't expect the Stones to be among the first major artists to release one.

Both Jagger and Richards said in an interview with Zane Lowe of Beats 1 they didn't originally intend for "Living in a Ghost Town" to be about the global pandemic, which hadn't been heard of when the Stones began recording the song in LA back in 2019. However, Jagger said the song seemed to suit these times so well, he went back and revised a few of the lyrics.

"If I write something or if I write something with Keith Richards, or whatever, it's going to be great," Jagger said. "It can't just be good."

If "Living in a Ghost Town" is any indication of what music on the new album-in-progress will be like, the Stones are off to a great start. Richards said the new songs have a soul music feel, without anyone intending it that way, and a few tracks have already been completed.

"Living in a Ghost Town" marks the second high-profile outing by the Stones in less than a week. Last Sunday all four of the Stones were featured on a split screen where they were separately sheltering in place, performing their song "You Can't Always Get What You Want" as part of the "One Word: Together at Home" broadcast. It proved a program highlight.

The Rolling Stones originally planned to be touring North America beginning in May as part of the second stage of their No Filter tour. Promoters postponed the concerts in March, due to the COVID-19 virus.

Included on the tour were a May 24 concert in Austin, Texas, followed by show at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas on May 29. Ticket-holders have been advised to hold onto their original tickets and await further information.

Now, the Stones have some time of their side with the shutdown and shelter at home guidelines. Richards said they can use it to write some more songs.

Oh yeah, one more thing. I started this column talking about how once upon a time you could walk into a store and plop your money over if you wanted to buy a new vinyl record by your favorite group or solo singer.

On June 26 the Stones plan to release "Living in a Ghost Town"  — as a 10-inch single on orange-colored vinyl. Talk about things coming full circle!

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com.

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