Last week the band played an intimate release show in New York celebrating its latest album, “Hackney Diamonds.” Now hear songs from the new LP in conversation with ones from the past.
Last Thursday, I had the absurd good fortune of going to Racket — a 650-capacity club in Manhattan that one recent Google review called an “intimate venue, perfect vibe to see a small concert — to see a seven-song set by … the Rolling Stones.
I know. I know. To quote the lead single from the band’s new album “Hackney Diamonds,” don’t get angry with me.
The show was technically a release party for “Hackney Diamonds,” the Stones’ first album of original material in nearly two decades. (Jon Pareles spoke to them about it last month.) And though rumor had it the band would be playing, I did not believe it until I was standing several people back from a stage onto which Mick Jagger — 80 years old; unflagging; approximately a women’s size 00 in both jeans and leather jacket — strutted and announced, “We’re going to play old! We’re going to play new!” Even then, I did not quite believe it.
They greeted our fair city with “Shattered,” that eternal anthem of New York squalor and survival. (I wish the song sounded more dated 45 years later, but alas there are still rats on the Westside and bedbugs uptown.) Ronnie Wood shredded exuberantly; Keith Richards strummed coolly in purple silk; Jagger shadoobied in fine form. They sounded — miraculously — just like the Rolling Stones.
Well, with one obvious absence: Charlie Watts, the band’s longtime, quietly virtuosic drummer, who died in 2021. Steve Jordan, who was Watts’s personal pick to take over, meshed well with the group’s live energy, though. (The bassist Darryl Jones, the keyboardist Matt Clifford and the backing singer Chanel Haynes — who had a particularly impressive turn on “Tumbling Dice,” rounded out the lineup.)
The set, as Jagger implied, pulled from the fresh and the classic, which is appropriate for a show introducing “Hackney Diamonds” to the world. There’s a throwback spirit to the album, but it also sounds rooted in the present tense, thanks in part to the production of the 32-year-old Andrew Watt. “Hackney Diamonds” at times also plays like an A-list rock ’n’ roll revue, featuring contributions from Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney and Lady Gaga — who, at Racket, came out for a transcendent encore of “Sweet Sounds of Heaven,” clad in a glittery jumpsuit that matched the smoldering fireworks display of her vocals.
I’m still reeling from this show (did it actually happen?), so consider today’s playlist a postscript to it. I wanted to place some of the highlights from “Hackney Diamonds” in conversation with older Stones songs, to chart certain progressions and recurring sensibilities.
Also, my dad has had familial Stones bragging rights for my entire life for seeing the “Exile on Main St.” tour in 1972. Please allow me my long-awaited hour of boasting.
1. “Start Me Up” (1981)
There’s an easy but irresistible simplicity to the leadoff track from “Tattoo You,” a bare-bones Stones classic: two verse chords, that chunky little riff, steady but shuffling percussion. The brilliantly low-concept music video — an early MTV staple — is also a master class in rock star charisma. (The cutaways to a smiling Watts are the best.) (Listen on YouTube)
2. “Angry” (2023)
Similarly, the Stones don’t overcomplicate things on “Angry,” the first single and opening track on “Hackney Diamonds.” I like the negative space in this song, which puts all of its elements — grumbling guitars, fleet-footed beat, Jagger sass — in stark relief, really making them pop. (Listen on YouTube)
3. “Under My Thumb” (1966)
A musical highlight of the Brian Jones era (some crucial marimba playing here) marred by some of the more controversial lyrics in the Stones’ catalog, “Under My Thumb” tells the spiteful story of a sexual power struggle — well, one side of it, anyway. (Listen on YouTube)
4. “Depending on You” (2023)
“I invented the game but I lost like a fool,” a heartbroken Jagger sings on this mid-tempo ballad, sounding uncharacteristically regretful and even repentant. The change has come: He’s under her thumb. (Listen on YouTube)
5. “Street Fighting Man” (1968)
Though some found the lyrics incendiary when it was first released in the tumultuous year of 1968, “Street Fighting Man” sounds less like a call to revolution than a cheeky, somewhat self-deprecating show of support from the sidelines: “What can a poor boy do ’cept to sing for a rock ’n’ roll band?” Jagger sings atop Richards’s spikily textured rhythm guitar. “’Cause in sleepy London Town there’s just no place for a street fighting man.” (Listen on YouTube)
6. “Whole Wide World” (2023)
The Stones revisit those London streets on this menacing rocker, though they don’t sound quite so sleepy this time around: “The streets I used to walk on are full of broken glass,” Jagger sings, referencing the image from which the new album gets its name. (“Hackney diamonds” are the shards of debris left over after a robbery.) The members of the Rolling Stones are obviously a long way from the shadier streets of Hackney now, but on this song they sound nostalgic (at least in theory) for a more hardscrabble past. (Listen on YouTube)
7. “Gimme Shelter” (1969)
An ominous, era-defining anthem that Jagger once called “kind of an end-of-the-world song,” “Gimme Shelter” is all about Richards’s serpentine riffs and the explosive guest vocals of Merry Clayton, the only female singer to be prominently featured on a Stones album for 54 years. At least until … (Listen on YouTube)
8. “Sweet Sounds of Heaven” (featuring Lady Gaga and Stevie Wonder) (2023)
… this gospel-tinged “Hackney Diamonds” highlight, which finds Lady Gaga and Jagger pushing each other ever higher into the stratosphere. (As if that weren’t enough star power, Stevie Wonder also plays keys on the track.) As the album’s producer Andrew Watt said, “She joined the band on that song. She’s almost embodying Merry Clayton.” (Listen on YouTube)
9. “Stop Breaking Down” (1972)
The influence of blues artists — especially Black American blues artists — looms large over the Stones’ entire discography. That’s explicitly apparent on the ambitious double-album “Exile on Main St.,” particularly on this grimy rework of a 1937 Robert Johnson song. (Listen on YouTube)
10. “Rolling Stones Blues” (2023)
The finale of “Hackney Diamonds” is this back-to-basics take on the Muddy Waters song that inspired the band’s name all those years ago. As Pareles put it in his profile, “It’s just Jagger’s voice and harmonica and Richards’s guitar, unadorned in real time, circling back to the love of the blues that brought them together as teenagers. It could be a career postscript or a reaffirmation.” (Listen on YouTube)
Look at me, I’m in tatters,
The Amplifier Playlist
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“The Rolling Stones, Past and Present” track list
Track 1: “Start Me Up”
Track 2: “Angry”
Track 3: “Under My Thumb”
Track 4: “Depending on You”
Track 5: “Street Fighting Man”
Track 6: “Whole Wide World”
Track 7: “Gimme Shelter”
Track 8: “Sweet Sounds of Heaven” (featuring Lady Gaga and Stevie Wonder)
Track 9: “Stop Breaking Down”
Track 10: “Rolling Stone Blues”
Over the weekend I saw Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon” — a great, challenging, heartbreakingly gorgeous American epic that I cannot recommend highly enough. I was especially moved by Robbie Robertson’s score (completed before his death earlier this year), which fuses blues and folk with the music he heard growing up on Canada’s Six Nations Reserve. It’s a fitting coda to a singular career, and luckily much of it appears on the soundtrack released last week. Give it a listen.