How far can you travel on one really good riff? If your name is Kurt Cobain, the answer is about three and a half minutes, with slight variation. If your name is Avicii, it’s probably closer to five minutes, but then you’ve got all that fading out and those bass drops to keep people distracted. But if you’re Keith fookin’ Richards and Mick fookin’ Jagger, it’s something closer to eight. Because of size restrictions, we can’t actually stream the extended 8’36” version of ‘Miss You’ which was re-recorded on 12 inch vinyl because it will completely crash the entire thing, but you get a pretty good indication of how it’s going to turn out on the regular five minute swagger from 1978’s Some Girls. Slow-burning, sexy and engrossing, ‘Miss You’ has absolutely everything going for it except variation, of which is has practically none. Jagger changes up his vocal approach to help delineate between chorus and verse, but it’s not exactly rocket science. Like all great blues swindlers past and present, The Stones knew they had something magnetising on their hands and also knew better than to mess with it. Sure, they could modulate, or write a B section (to be fair, they actually did, but nobody really remembers it and it takes you three minutes to find it) or something, but why would you mess with a formula? Do you see Swedish house DJs changing key or time signatures? If it ain’t broke, friends…
This all sounds very romantic but the truth is I love challenging music. There’s nothing more exciting to me than approaching a song and having next to know idea how it was composed, which instruments I’m hearing or how an actual band managed to put it together. A great example of this is Radiohead’s ‘Pyramid Song’. So what attracted me to ‘Miss You’ wasn’t that it was particularly complex, but that it seemed to use some smart ideas in a way that was so intelligent that it sounded the opposite. If you listen to backing figures here, and I mean actually listen, they’re not dumb. The disco keyboard chords that you hear already-extinct-Faces-frontman Ian McLagan playing, which are the root of the entire harmonic structure of the song, move quite quickly. There’s a step-down at the end of each turnaround which could be a cycle of fifths but is more likely a blues scale, and it’s augmented by the preposterously funky bass of Bill Wyman, who really must have gone to town in the studio. Between that and the guitars and all the extra session musicians they seemed to have found haunting the streets of PAris and London – seriously, saxaphones, harmonicas, you name it – a very decent riff gets its own legs and starts becoming A Song.
None of it would succeed, of course, without the outrageous self-belief of Richards, who could literally sing about any sort of woman, man or child in the ’60s and ’70s and you would believe him one hundred percent. That he gives up his rockstar toughness to try his hand at a little Bee Gees falsetto makes this song all the more endearing; it’s like between whistling it and putting on the head voice he and his band acknowledged that you were going to be hearing many repeats of the same thing, but damned if you weren’t going to have a great time joining in.
The Rolling Stones – ‘Miss You’