Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Rolling Stones - Undercover

This week (November 7th) marks the thirtieth anniversary of Undercover, the seventeenth studio album from the Rolling Stones. This 1983 release spent twenty three weeks on the US Billboard Album chart, peaking at number 4, and eighteen weeks on the UK album charts, peaking at number 3.

Side one opens with “Undercover of the Night”, a political song about activities in Central America. As the first single, it reached number 27 in Australia, number 20 in Germany, number 18 in Switzerland, number 13 in France, number 11 in the UK, number 9 on the US Billboard Hot 100, number 4 in the Netherlands, and number 2 on the US Billboard Mainstream Rock chart. The thing that I have always liked about this one is that opening with the guitars and drums; they pull me in immediately. It was a solid track to dance to at college parties, especially with strobe lights flashing overhead and the volume cranked. It is clearly the highlight of the record for me.

“The second single She Was Hot”; it went to number 60 in Australia, number 54 in Germany, number 44 on the US Billboard Hot 100, number 42 in the UK, number 18 in the Netherlands, and number 4 on the US Mainstream Rock chart. The song features pianos from both Ian Stewart and Chuck Leavell. I remember this one from the charts and from MTV video rotations.

“Tie You Up (The Pain of Love)” focuses on sexual domination and oppression.

“Wanna Hold You” shows off a heavily early Beatles influence; it sounds like something Lennon and McCartney might have whipped up. Not to mention, the title sort of plays homage to “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” with about six letters dropped off. Keith Richards, the primary author of the track, takes lead vocals here.

“Feel on Baby” fuses a Jamaican rhythm and a dub beat with interesting results.

Side two starts with “Too Much Blood” which charted at number 38 on the US Mainstream Rock singles list. This one, which includes a rap by Mick Jagger, and a saxophone solo by David Sanborn, focuses on the growing violence in the media at the time. Guest Jim Barber plays the main electric guitar parts on the track.

“Pretty Beat Up” is a post-breakup song with Jagger describing how wrecked the guy has become since his woman left him.

“Too Tough” is up next. It has a classic Stones sound to it.

The B-side to the first single was “All the Way Down”, this record’s country-twinged track. The lyrics are self-referential, with Jagger comparing his own early snotty attitude to that of the kids of the day.

“It Must Be Hell” closes the album with another bit of social commentary.

Having grown up with a huge Rolling Stones fan (my older brother) in the house, I definitely had my full exposure to the band’s albums. However, Undercover was out during a period where he and I were in different spaces most of the time; I was off at college and he soon enough had moved down south. So, except for the singles, most of this album remained an unknown to me. Listening to it all in its entirety for the first time for this review, I liked it. There were plenty of ups and very few to none downs for me. I definitely think I could get into it more with repeated listens in the future.

For 1979’s Some Girls, click here.

For 1981’s Tattoo You, click here.


HERC said...

This one is one of my all-time favorites. Bought it a couple weeks after it had been out, on the day I got my boombox off of layaway at the base exchange in November 1983. It was first album I ever played on the boombox and it sounded AWESOME.

This was my fourth album from the Stones after Emotional Rescue, Tattoo You and the double album greatest hits collection Hot Rocks 1964-1971. They sounded wildly different from each other and I thought that was pretty cool.

Then the 12" singles for both "Undercover Of The Night" and "Too Much Blood" came out and my appreciation of those two songs was taken to an even higher level, a level I didn't even think was possible. I recorded a tape of the album and substituted the extended remixes of those two songs in place of their puny album counterparts. Later made a similar CD with a couple of extra tracks.

Had no idea why but this was the album I chose to listen to as I drove downtown for jury duty today. It just called to me. Then to come home and find out you featured it and it was the 30th anniversary was a happy coincidence. Full disclosure: I also grabbed The Feeling's Join With Us and Cut Copy's new one, Free Your Mind. Listened to The Feeling on the way downtown and on the way home I popped the Stones disc in. Cut Copy just went along for the ride.

The ersatz Undercover CD I listened to:

Undercover Of The Night [Extended Version] 6:22
She Was Hot 4:40
Tie You Up (The Pain Of Love) 4:12
Wanna Hold You 3:12
Feel On Baby 5:03
Too Much Blood [Dance Version] 12:33
Pretty Beat Up 4:03
Too Tough 3:46
All The Way Down 3:40
It Must Be Hell 5:03
Think I'm Going Mad ["She Was Hot" B-side] 4:20
Feel On Baby [Instrumental] 6:27

Martin Maenza said...

Interesting that you listened to this on the same day I posted it. We must be on a similar vibe (or you know your 1983 release schedules well). :)