All About You

This just came up on shuffle. I have loved this song deeply from the moment I bought the album, the (on cassette!) day it came out. So I figured I would excerpt the entry for the song, from my book, Rocks Off: 50 Tracks That Tell the Story of the Rolling Stones. Forgive the lazy lack of formatting.

All About You
January-February 1979, Compass Point Studios, Nassau, Bahamas
November-December 1979, Electric Lady, New York City (possible overdubs)
LP Emotional Rescue June 1980

Hanging Around with Dogs: The Stones Slip Into Another Valley.

A perfectly fine LP, Emotional Rescue has some good songs, a few genuinely hilarious ones like the title song, (“I’ll be your knight in shining armor … on a fine Arab charger….”), and at least one great one, the ballad “All About You,” sung by Keith. It is a bitter lyric about being “sick and tired of hanging around with dogs like you,” virtually spit out by Keith. As with many Stones songs, it could be viewed as a breakup song with a lover, but was more likely a vitriolic reflection of bad times between Keith and Mick. Though their relationship was given a bit of a jump start as Mick helped Keith through his trial and rehab, tensions became acute as the two clashed over business and the direction the band should take.

Overall, though, the Emotional Rescue LP marks the real drop-off in quality of new material by the Rolling Stones. Many will argue that the next record, Tattoo You is among their best, and I would agree that it is an excellent collection. However, let’s set that aside, as that record consisted purely of outtakes from their golden period, rescued from the dustbin, fleshed out, and polished, mostly by Mick and Chris Kimsey. “Emotional Rescue started in the same place in Paris,” Kimsey explained. “It started where we’d left off [with the Some Girls sessions]. There were quite a few tracks left over from Some Girls that we didn’t use and Emotional Rescue was a strange album for me. I don’t remember much of [the sessions] because it didn’t seem very good to me at the time. [The sessions] spawned Emotional Rescue which was a very different sounding record. It was a little haphazard, that album. And then we sort of moved off to Nassau to do more tracking and overdubbing, and then went to New York. The great thing about Some Girls was, it was Paris and then we mixed it in New York. That was it. And I think it sounded better for that rather than hopscotching all over the place.”

As Peter Silverton wrote in his review of Emotional Rescue for Sounds in 1980, “Emotional Rescue as the least committed Stones record ever…. It’s the most obvious way of dealing with your own myth. Just pretend it doesn’t exist. And do the best you can. The cover would maybe have you believe otherwise. The thermographic photos (of the Stones and who else?) hint that there’s a little looking below the surface.”

And that was a good review! Which is sort of the point. Mick more or less stopped investing himself in Stones songwriting around this time, chasing after hits and putting in less personal inspiration. The album as a whole is laid back, as if the band needed to express their stored-up aggression on Some Girls, and, having accomplished that, they went back down to the islands and Paris to record a chill collection of light Euro-disco, faux reggae, cartoonish new wave, and polite pop-rock. “Mick is a great flavor-of-the-month person,” said Charlie. But if “Miss You” was a heavy throbber, then “Dance (Pt. 1)” was a skinny-bottomed boy’s chardonnay-sipping pose at a passé Paris discotheque. The dance material just sounds like a flimsy version of the obvious influences of Chic and early Prince. But the songs seemed to become exercises in Stones-like posturing for Mick, as the band struggled to keep it all together as a unit, even while reaching ever-stratospheric heights as a money-making touring entity. “My attention span is so limited,” said Mick in 1980. “You know, I just love to make up songs and I don’t even like to finish the words. I just like to sing ooooh all the way through. And then I’m happy after that. I don’t want to do anymore. That’s it. I don’t even want to hear it again.” By his own admission, songs were disposable.

For those looking for actual humanity in Stones records after Some Girls, a good place to start would be the Keith-sung ballads, like this one. They might not always be the “best” songs, and they were almost certainly never considered possible hits, but the heart and soul of the band could usually be found hiding in those booze-besotted, nicotine-fogged corners of the records where an increasingly raspy Keith stepped up to the blue-spotlighted mike to offer his take on matters. “(Mick and Keith) fought a lot during that album because Keith thought Mick was getting his way too much,” Kimsey told an interviewer, “and Keith had to fight for what he believed. Keith fights for his half of the Glimmer Twins.” The biggest source of tension at this point did involve that musical cliché, musical differences. According to Bill, Keith accused Mick of “listening to too many bad records.”

Kimsey expanded on the fraying band dynamic: “It was different [than working on Some Girls]. To me, it was like Keith was waking up. I think he had missed quite a few years. I didn’t feel that there was much energy or determination with [Emotional Rescue]. It’s an album with my least favorite songs. It’s a real odd mixture.“ Kimsey noted that the Mick and Keith were working separately more often. “It was almost like doing a Mick album and a Keith album. Keith had really started really digging into himself and enjoying his own songs more. There was a lot of time spent on his songs, with him overdubbing vocals, vocals, vocals, vocals.”

By the spring of 1978, Keith had more or less kicked junk for good, with the nursing of Mick and Jerry as they stayed up in Woodstock, New York, along with Keith’s personal manager, Jane Rose. By getting off the stuff, Keith effectively drove the final nail in the coffin of his relationship with Anita, who Keith might have been with forever had she cleaned up along with him. Instead, she plumbed lower depths, including the scandalous affair of a 17-year-old would-be suitor who shot himself in the head with a revolver while playing a game of Russian roulette at her rented house on Long Island with her children present.

In October, 1978, Keith had his trial in Toronto and was given a sentence of one year’s probation. The government of Canada really did not want to imprison a popular rock star on the trumped-up charge of trafficking, which they knew full well was not his intent. The fact that Margaret Trudeau had been hobnobbing with the band at the exact moment and at the location of the bust only sullied the matter politically. But it was a Stones superfan, a young blind woman named Rita Bedard, from Quebec City, who gave the presiding judge an elegant exit from the controversy. She convinced Judge Lloyd Graburn to show leniency for Keith. She explained that she had followed the Stones from gig to gig and that Keith asked the truckers that hauled their stage rigs to take her with them and assure she got to the next show safely. “She came forward and went to the judge’s house, after office hours and at night, knocked on his door and told him this story,” writes Keith. “Two days later I had the next hearing and it was, ‘OK, you’re sentenced to perform a concert for the blind,’ which we gladly did.” The Stones and Ronnie’s side band, the New Barbarians, Keith taking part in both acts, performed the show for the Canadian Institute for the Blind in April, 1979.

The outgoing Ronnie was also the catalyst for a general newfound appreciation that the band found for each other. “There’s such a great rapport going now between the band that people actually say to each other, You played great tonight! – which we’d never say,” said Bill Wyman at the time of the 1978 tours. “That’s never been said in 12 years. I’ve never been told, ever, You did a great set tonight. I’ve only been told, You were out of tune tonight.”

But Ronnie was also speaking up for himself at this time. “Ronnie [was] trying to claim a stake in the songwriting,” Kimsey continued.” Because he would come up with bits he never got credited for. I mean, Ronnie would always say, ‘Chris, make a note. I wrote that! I wrote that! That’s my bit!’”

Things between Mick and Keith continued to vacillate between love and hate. Keith had written the Some Girls track, “Beast of Burden,” for Mick, “…to say, ‘Thanks, man, for shouldering the burden,’” according to Keith. “The weird thing was, he didn’t want to share the burden anymore.” By 1980 was now a control issue, and Mick did not want to relinquish that aspect of his power. “The phrase from that period that rings in my ears all these years later is ‘Oh, shut up, Keith,’” he writes. It cut him badly. So while there is undoubtedly some of Anita in “All About You,” it seems to have more in it about Mick, who Keith felt was condescendingly treating him like a child.

“That song was hanging around for three years,” Keith told Rolling Stone in 1981. “After researching to make sure it wasn’t somebody else who wrote it, I finally decided that it must have been me.” While Keith was recording vocals for ”All About You,” he asked Earl McGrath, who was running Rolling Stones Records, to come up to the roof of Electric Lady Studios. There, Keith said he threatened McGrath that he would throw him off to the pavement below if he did not act to somehow repair the damage being done between Mick and Keith. “I said, you’re supposed to be the go-between with Mick. What’s going on,” writes Keith. “I wanted to let him know how I was feeling about this. I couldn’t bring Mick up there and throw him off, and I had to do something.”

Such urgent desperation can be heard in the lyric of “All About You.” It’s a killer R&B ballad, a devastating and deeply emotional track, raw, stark, savage, and tender, one of the most soulful songs since Exile. And like the gospel-informed ballads on Exile, part of what makes “All About You” so affecting are the backing vocals, rough-and-tumble harmonies layered on by Keith and Ronnie. The overlapping phrasing, off-mike mumbling, the drunken horns, and late-night weariness amount to a stripped-down deconstruction that echoes like the lonely hollows in the space that Keith remembered hearing as a kid coming over the midnight airwaves from Radio Luxembourg, the “end of Lonely Street” darkness heard on the sparse “Heartbreak Hotel.” In addition to guitar, Keith filled in missing space left after the original basic tracks with piano and bass. “I never knew what Keith was going to (put) on it, I never knew what he wanted…” said Charlie soon after a very sparse sketch of a track was recorded. “But it was a great track to play. That’s being a drummer, you know? … How he made a song out of it, I don’t know.”

“It had a little bit of sentimental input there about his feelings for Mick at the time. Just listen to the lyrics,” said Bobby Keys, who was back on his first Stones album since Goats Head Soup. Keith has said that “All About You” was just one of a few songs with at least some of the barbed lyrics aimed at Mick. He writes, “It was at that time when I was deeply hurt.”


Buy the book here, or at your favorite indie retailer. I believe I also have a few signed hard cover copies left. Email, if interested.

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