Every so often, a pub conversation with like-minded music obsessives inevitably turns to: ‘If you could go back in time and see any band or artist in concert, who would it be?’
For me, aged 48, it would be Dylan in 1965 / 1966 – after he’s ‘gone electric’, The Smiths on what would turn out to be their last tour, in 1986 – I believe ‘The Queen Is Dead’ was them at the peak of their powers – and The Rolling Stones on their infamous 1972 ‘Stones Touring Party’ trip to the US and Canada, after that magnificent run of albums: ‘Beggars Banquet’ (1968), ‘Let It Bleed’ (1969), ‘Sticky Fingers’ (1971) and ‘Exile on Main Street’ (1972).
It’s to that Stones tour that we turn today for my Classic Clips choice – a great rendition of my favourite Stones song, ‘Dead Flowers’, which, in my view, is also their best americana moment. I like the early to mid-‘60s Stones material, but I particularly love from ’68 to ’72, when their country and soul influences started to creep in alongside their beloved blues.
‘Dead Flowers’ is a heroin-flavoured honky tonk – ‘I‘ll be in my basement room, with a needle and a spoon’ – and Jagger sings it with his tongue firmly in his cheek, as he acknowledged in a 1995 interview: “I Iove country music, but I find it very hard to take it seriously. I also think a lot of country music is sung with the tongue in cheek, so I do it tongue-in-cheek.”
He adds: “The harmonic thing is very different from the blues. It doesn’t bend notes in the same way, so I suppose it’s very English, really. Even though it’s been very Americanised, it feels very close to me, to my roots, so to speak.”
In 2003, Jagger said: “The ‘country’ songs we recorded later, like ‘Dead Flowers’ on ‘Sticky Fingers’, or ‘Far Away Eyes’ on ‘Some Girls’ are slightly different [than our earlier ones]. The actual music is played completely straight, but it’s me who’s not going legit with the whole thing, because I think I’m a blues singer not a country singer – I think it’s more suited to Keith’s voice than mine.”
That’s as maybe but watch this classic clip from Texas in 1972 to see Mick and Keef having a great time doing ‘Dead Flowers’, and Mick Taylor playing a blistering guitar solo.
And while you’re at it, check out some great versions of it by Townes Van Zandt and Caitlin Rose on YouTube. Both artists manage to make ‘Dead Flowers’ sound like one of their own compositions, rather than a cover of a tongue-in-cheek country tune by a bunch of upstarts from London, England.