Purchase: Too Much Blood, from Undercover
I love deep cuts from bands that the serious music enthusiast might generally feel well-informed about. The Rolling Stones have vaults of under-heard music: b-sides, live material, unreleased, unearthed, under appreciated. I could go on. The Stones have a made a lot of great music.
They have under-heard albums, too. I know the argument that they haven’t produced anything of real value since Tattoo You, but, if you feel that way, I think you’re missing the point. The Stones are kings of the mountain in terms of rock ‘n roll greatness. They put out a lot of lead-weighted stuff, but in context to their entire career and the span of the history of rock music, anything they put out is always worthy of a deep listen and tends to grow in terms of quality, the more time you give it. Certain snapshots of the Stones might not sound all that great in context to what they were doing at the time, but going back, almost everything they put out is pretty good. The joy of listening to the Stones is there is so much music they are like a continually undiscovered country. Listening to the Stones should be undertaken as a survey course, rather than a micro-history. There’s a lot of sound and a lot of story and all of it relates to the era it came from.
Take for example Too Much Blood, off 1983’s Undercover, a decidedly uncritical, disliked entry in their discography. I like Undercover, as an album and a song—the title track is funky, razor-blade sharp dance rock, with a serious Latin-tinged, tin can rhythm. It reminds me of the go-go drummers who used to set up shop on the streets of my hometown, Washington, DC, laying down bottomed-out, tribal beats on an array of over-turned plastic buckets. Have you ever heard that sound? It is unrivaled in terms of lo-fi funk, and the sound is unique to the streets of DC. But, both Undercover and the go-go sound certainly pay back to their antecedent Latin-Carib grooves.
Undercover has that same walloped, whip snap sound. It’s a fantastic album opener. And then, four tracks later, we have the messed-up, drugged-up, half-spoken murder ditty Too Much Blood. And, Too Much Blood is pretty much a wtf moment. The song is a funked-up run through the jungle with Jagger doing what might be some of the first crossover rapping in rock music. Starting with a distinctly ‘80s horn line, and then throwing in some pinging guitars, Too Much Blood grooves along at a dithery slip, until the break, where Jagger starts to tell the true tale of Japanese cannibal killer, Issei Sagawa, who murdered and ate a French woman in 1981. Sagawa went on to earn a strange celebrity in Japan, but that was much later. But in 1981, he was treated in the media as a sensation rather than the monster he was. A “movie of the week” excitement surrounded him, and Jagger uses Too Much Blood as a half-hearted commentary on media and the pervasiveness of violence and lurid sensationalism. It rings as true back then as it does now. Jagger goes on to talk about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and how people mistake it for reality. The highlight of the song is Jagger, in his very best London swagger saying, “Oh no. Don't saw off me leg, don't saw off me arm…” Of all the famous British accents, Mick’s has got to be my favorite…
By modern standards, it is nothing special, yet Too Much Blood sounds like a document of a certain era, a crossing of the streams of disco, funk, and rock giving way to something more modern. While it was in reality a one-off track (the full band doesn’t even play on it) born from mucking about in the studio, it sounds somewhat ahead of its time, looking toward the crossover and hybridization that is now so celebrated over multiple genres. It's not so 80s to be too 80s; yet it's a strange, groovy little departure from the band that can pretty much depart in any direction they want and still sound like themselves.
One more thing: the video is linked below. I don't really know what to say about it. Best just to watch...