Greatest Songs, #496: “Miss You” by The Rolling Stones

Album: Some Girls (Rolling Stones Records)
Year: 1978
Written by: Mick Jagger & Keith Richards
Billboard Hot 100: #1


From Rolling Stone:

With Charlie Watts channeling a disco groove, “Miss You” became the band’s first Number One hit in five years. “It’s not really about a girl,” Jagger said. “The feeling of longing is what the song is.”

From Wikipedia:

“Miss You” was written by singer Mick Jagger jamming with keyboardist Billy Preston during rehearsals for the March 1977 El Mocambo club gigs (yielding Side Three of the Love You Live album). Although guitarist Keith Richards is credited for co-writing, Jagger is generally regarded as the principal composer.

Mick Jagger and Ron Wood insist that “Miss You” wasn’t conceived as a disco song, while Keith Richards said “…Miss You was a damn good disco record, it was calculated to be one.” In any case, what was going on in discos did make it to the recording. Charlie Watts said that “A lot of those songs like Miss You on Some Girls… were heavily influenced by going to the discos. You can hear it in a lot of those four-to-the-floor and the Philadelphia-style drumming.” For the bass part Bill Wyman started from Billy Preston’s bass guitar on the song demo. Chris Kimsey, who engineered the recording of the song, said Wyman went “…to quite a few clubs before he got that bass line sorted out.”, which Kimsey said “made that song.” Jagger sang a good part of the chorus using falsetto “ooh”s often in unison with harmonica, guitar, and electric piano.

Unlike most of Some Girls, “Miss You” features several studio musicians. In addition to Sugar Blue, who according to Ron Wood was found while busking on the streets of Paris, Ian McLagan played understated Wurlitzer electric piano, and Mel Collins provides the saxophone solo for the instrumental break.

From allmusic, reviewing the album:

During the mid-’70s, the Rolling Stones remained massively popular, but their records suffered from Jagger’s fascination with celebrity and Keith’s worsening drug habit. By 1978, both punk and disco had swept the group off the front pages, and Some Girls was their fiery response to the younger generation. Opening with the disco-blues thump of “Miss You,” Some Girls is a tough, focused, and exciting record…

From, reviewing the album:

With Richards mired in heroin addiction, the Stones laid low for much of the mid-’70s, but reemerged with this irresistible set of songs reflecting Jagger’s immersion in New York City nightlife. Their most danceable (and best-selling) album is a showcase for Watts and, especially, Wyman, whose exuberant bass powers “Miss You,” the greatest disco tune ever recorded by a rock group.

From Rolling Stone‘s original review of the album in 1978:

With Bob Dylan no longer bringing it all back home, Elvis Presley dead and the Beatles already harmlessly cloned in the wax-museum nostalgia of a Broadway musical, it’s no wonder the Rolling Stones decided to make a serious record. Not particularly ambitious, mind you, but serious. These guys aren’t dumb, and when the handwriting on the wall starts to smell like formaldehyde and that age-old claim, “the greatest rock & roll band in the world,” suddenly sounds less laudatory than laughable–well, if you want to survive the Seventies and enter the Eighties with something more than your bankbook and dignity intact, you’d better dredge up your leftover pride, bite the bullet and try like hell to sweat out some good music. Which is exactly what the Stones have done. Though time may not exactly be on their side, with Some Girls they’ve at least managed to stop the clock for a while.

This is no small accomplishment. It’s not a big one either. Thus far, the critical line claims that Some Girlsis the band’s finest LP since its certified masterpiece, Exile on Main Street, and I’ll buy that gladly. What I won’t buy is that the two albums deserve to be mentioned in the same breath. (…) Instead, Some Girls is like a marriage of convenience: when it works–which is often–it can be meaningful, memorable and quite moving, but it rarely sends the arrow straight through the heart. “It took me a long time to discover that the key to acting is honesty,” an actor told the anthropologist Edmund Carpenter. “Once you know how to fake that, you’ve got it made.”

For the most part, the Stones “act” superbly on the new LP. They’ve stripped down to the archetypal sound of two or three guitars, bass and drums (and, more importantly, ditched the vacuousness of Billy Preston), and it’s wonderful to hear the group blazing away again with little more than the basics to protect them. Everything’s apparently been recorded as close to live as we’d want it, and the overdubbing and extra musicians have been kept to a minimum. But at their best, the Rolling Stones used to play and sing a brand of rock & roll noir as moody, smoke-filled and ambiguous as the steamy and harmful atmosphere of such film noir classics as The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep.Where Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were once a pair of Humphrey Bogarts (or, in keeping with Some Girls’ imagery, Lauren Bacalls), they’re now more like–who?–Warren Beatty and Robert Blake. Gone is the black and white murk, and the vocals are way up in a nicely messy but pastel mix. While the Stones may have gone back a dozen or more years for the sound and style of the current album, what they’ve really done is to reshoot Rebel without a Cause as a scaled-down, made-for-TV movie. The rebellion–with the exception of Richards’ powerful “Before They Make Me Run“–lacks a certain credibility, and the cause is simply survival.

With their eerie dual commitment to irony and ecstasy, the Stones, as rock critic Robert Christgau has pointed out, have always been obsessed with distance. On Some Girls, however, the distances are too great, and it would take a far better singer than Mick Jagger to bridge the gap between the notoriety of his jet-set lifestyle and the straightforward, one-man/one-woman sentiments of true love he expresses in “Miss You” and the Temptations‘ “Imagination.” […] Because Jagger is such an excellent singer, he almost makes you believe everything he says, but it’s that “almost”–which wouldn’t matter at all if he weren’t a Rolling Stone, i.e., the best–that keeps Some Girls from going right over the top. Too often, we’re faced with a question that goes well beyond the usual some-tension-within-the-material-is-necessary argument and into the area of, why is this man lying when he’s obviously pleased as punch with himself and is getting roomfuls of satisfaction? After all, if you don’t believe that Jay Gatsby really loves Daisy in his divinely crazy way, what good is it?