It was Mick Jagger’s birthday on Saturday, and that’s enough of an excuse for me to spotlight a Rolling Stones song this week. This tune, the closing track off of 1978’s Some Girls, features one of my favorite vocals in the Stones’ catalogue.
No one is going to argue that Mick is the most technically proficient vocalist of all time, but the great thing about rock & roll is that no one cares how you sound as long as you mean it. There’s nothing technically complex about “Shattered”—no tricky interval jumps, no impressive vibrato. In fact, it’s basically rap. Like I talked about last week with Van Morrison, though, Mick’s strength is in his inflection and rhythmic sense. Like the way he intones insouciantly at 0:32 that “life is just a cocktail party,” or his surprise at 1:03 when he discovers “I can’t give it away on 7th avenue” (love the way he bends the last syllable of “avenue”).
These little inflections balance the sections where he screams and repeats himself almost like a tic, creating counter-rhythms and building musical tension. The words that get this treatment: sex, success, up, tough, and flatter, respectively, unlock a deeper tension in the tune.
“Life is just a cocktail party,” and the other lines are sung with this glassy-eyed, oblivious delivery, coked-out and blasé, while the words that he screams all relate to New York City’s image—sexy, successful, tough. The constant ping-ponging back and forth between the two styles gives a pretty good idea of New York in the late ‘70s and early 80’s—for some, a spaced-out substance fueled pleasure center (hi, Studio 54!), and for others a dangerous, dirty metropolis. Maybe Mick didn’t intend that, but he just turned 71, so let’s cut him some slack and just say he did, shall we?