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45 at 45: The Rolling Stones Miss You in Paris

I’m gonna Miss You in Paris…

As in write about it, from the French capital where a certain song was recorded. Because not only is this the 60th anniversary of the Rolling Stones’ debut release — their first 45 being a cover of Chuck Berry’s Come On in June 1963 — but it’s also the 45th anniversary of their soulsy blues disco combo Miss You, their last chart-topping single to hit the sweet spot in either the US or UK to date. This is its story…

Love ’em or hate ’em, it’s hard to dispute that The Rolling Stones are one of the most enduring bands in the history of popular music, even if Paul McCartney claimed George Harrison got the Stones their first recording contract with Decca, all those years ago.

Whether that’s true or not doesn’t really matter. Jagger, Richards and co. took advantage of their opportunities, made lots of money and created several seminal albums along the way. The Brits also found success on the American Billboard singles chart, where they placed eight 45s in pole position between Satisfaction in 1965 and Miss You in 1978.

The latter would become the band’s biggest hit of the 1970s, and their final chart-topper to date, in the US at least; while in the UK the single gave them their first top three hit for seven years, where it was lodged behind John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John’s Grease monkey You’re The One That I Want and Boney M’s Rivers Of Babylon/Brown Girl In The Ring. Plum, plum. 

Sitting near the nexus of where blues and soul collide with the dance floor, the trailer for the band’s 14th album Some Girls confirmed the Stones still had the magic. Miss You gave the band its first US chart-topper in nearly five years (Angie landed in 1973) and helped give the band its second wind. 

The Stones had always been bold with taking on new challenges, especially if the influence was African-American or Jamaican-based. Mick Jagger was also conscious of commercial trends, but he was also usually wise enough to understand what could easily be integrated into the band’s repertoire. So if there was an act, aside from David Bowie, who could challenge their listeners’ perceptions about what rock is, it might as well be the so-called “greatest rock ’n roll band in the world.”

Nevertheless, Miss You was a shot across the bow for your traditional Stones fan, a harbinger of things to come (i.e., more overt nods to disco on Emotional Rescue). Though by the time Miss You hit #1, at least a few veteran rockers had messed around with the soon-to-be-ubiquitous disco, trying to figure it out. ABBA and The Bee Gees, of course, had wholesale reinvented themselves, transforming into the most dominant pop groups since the Fab Four. But more typical was something like Love Is Like Oxygen, the final top tenner from former glam yelpers Sweet. Their chart swansong attempted to fuse slick, nervy disco stomp with the radio-friendly AOR of bands like Boston, and was also the sort of thing that inevitably led to instant backlash. (Love Is Like Oxygen peaked at No. 8 a few weeks before Miss You made its ascent.) 

Aside from the bluesy hook line played on harmonica by Sugar Blue, the sax by Mel Collins and the distinctive Wurlitzer electric piano of Faces keyboardist Ian McClagan, ask anyone to tell you the first thing they notice about Miss You and they will probably say, “Mick Jagger’s vamping vocals” (partly delivered in falsetto in harmony with Keith Richards and Ron Wood) or “Bill Wyman’s propulsive bassline.”

The Stones‘ first ever 12″ single, there‘s even an extra 50 seconds of it on this rare 8-track cartridge version.

Curiously, according to Bill Wyman, in his book Rolling With The Stones, attests that the evolution of the song happened with Jagger jamming in a tour rehearsal with Billy Preston, who played keyboards on The Beatles’ Get Back / Let It Be.

“The idea for the [bass] lines came from Billy Preston. We’d cut a rough demo a year or so earlier after a recording session. I’d already gone home, and Billy picked up my old bass when they started running through that song. So when we finally came to do the tune, the boys said, ‘Why don’t you work around Billy’s idea?’ So I listened to it once and heard that basic run and took it from there. It took some changing and polishing, but the basic idea was Billy’s.”

Recorded in the latter half of 1977 at EMI’s Pathé-Marconi Studios in the west of Paris, while it sported the obligatory four-on-the-floor bass drumbeat of disco, Miss You is really just a funky soul groove, which — as Jagger, who’d been frequenting New York’s Studio 54 with Jerry Hall realised — was pretty much all disco was, with a slightly different, more insistent Philly drumbeat, which Charlie Watts, pilled off with trademark aplomb, naturellement.

The difference between Miss You and, say, the later Emotional Rescue, is that Miss You fits more easily into what the Stones were all about: a bluesy slither overlaid with twin minor-key guitars riffing off of each other, meaty-sounding and prominent in the mix, while a raw, soulful Jagger swagger speak-sings lyrics that are at once sexy, macho, urbane, street, and a bit witty: 

“It’s just some friends of mine that say ‘Hey, what’s the matter man?/We’re gonna come at 12/With some Puerto Rican girls that’s just dying to meet yooou/We’re going to bring a case of wine/Hey, let’s go mess and fool around, you know, like we used to’.” 

Indeed, whether it’s a disco song or just a very Rolling Stones version of a disco song, they really don’t make ’em like they used to.

Steve Pafford, Paris

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