Normal service is resumed, with a bang. The sixties’ baddest band are back! After a mid-decade run where they never seemed to leave the top of the charts, this is The Stones’ first #1 since ‘Paint It, Black’ a little over two years ago. Has their sound changed while they’ve been away?
Jumpin’ Jack Flash, by The Rolling Stones (their 7th of eight #1s)
2 weeks, from 19th June – 3rd July 1968
Yes, and no. The second you press play you know it’s a Rolling Stones’ song. It’s got that vibe and that swagger – with an intro that begs to be turned up. But it’s heavier than what came before, heavier even than the pounding ‘Get Off Of My Cloud’, or the cynical ‘Paint It, Black.’ The one thing that we’ve been missing in recent months – years even – amongst all the eclectic, easy-listening, flower-power hits of ’67-’68, is finally here: some down and dirty rock ‘n’ roll.
Watch it! The lyrics are equally in your face: I was born, In a cross-fire hurricane, And I howled in the morning drivin’ rain… (or is it: at my ma in the drivin’ rain….?) Either way, it’s the story of a boy, a creature, who appears to have risen from the deep to terrorise the world… I was raised, By a toothless bearded hag… All told over the same simple, relentless riff. Some sources claim that Jagger and Richards were inspired by the latter’s taciturn gardener, Jack Dyer. Others that it was inspired by the poetry of William Blake. Keith Richard’s biographer claims that the opening lines – the ‘crossfire hurricane’ -refers to the fact that he was born during a German bombing raid in 1943.
Like many legendary rock songs, its origins are perhaps lost to the mist of time (and possibly because the band were too high to remember). Also like many legendary rock songs, the lyrics are pretty out there. The last verse goes all biblical: I fell down, To my feet and saw they bled… I was crowned, With a spike right through my head… ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ was written around the same time as ‘Sympathy for the Devil’, in which they portrayed Satan as a man of wealth and taste. Were they doing the opposite to Jesus here? In the end, though, his tough back-story doesn’t matter. He’s Jumpin’ Jack Flash and life’s a gas, gas, gas… The overriding message being don’t sweat it? Things’ll turn out alright in the end? Enjoy it while it lasts.
I mentioned in a previous post – ‘The Last Time’, I think – that every time a Stones record comes along at the top it feels like your big brother’s cool but slightly terrifying friends have crashed your party. You’re floating along with your nice Manfred Mann discs and your catchy Union Gap records and then wham! – Mick and the boys rock up. They fade into ubiquity sometimes, and have certainly become caricatures of themselves in their old age, but hearing The Rolling Stones in context like this really shows how thrilling and dangerous they were. This was never my favourite song of theirs growing up, but hearing it now for the first time in a while… I’m enjoying it way more than I thought I would. And I’ve got it turned up loud.
The outro goes slightly trippy, as the band intone Jumpin Jack Flash, It’s a gas… and the organ and the guitars intertwine. At the time, this was a bit of a comeback statement. They had tried to jump on the psychedelic bandwagon with singles like ‘We Love You’ and ‘She’s a Rainbow’ and, while not commercial disasters, they weren’t monster hits like ‘Satisfaction’ either. And let’s face it, you don’t come to the Stones for hippy-love vibes, do you? You want them to rock, and rock this single certainly does. They’ve played it at pretty much every live show since. It’s their most performed song, one of their signature hits. And it’s with a tear in our eyes that we realise they only have one more chart-topper to go…