Thursday, 25 June 2009

The Rolling Stones 'Undercover Of The Night'

Chart Peak: 11


The original video to this track isn't on YouTube (at least in the UK) but it doesn't really matter because I've seen it anyway; once the family acquired a video recorder one of its main duties was to assemble a collection of pop videos (since you couldn't just turn on the telly and expect to see one back then). I don't know where my Dad must have taped this one from though, as it was apparently banned by the BBC for its violent content, and probably wouldn't have been shown anywhere at a time when five-year-olds were allowed to be awake. The main thing I remember about the video is that Keith Richards plays the leader of a gang of kidnappers who wear masks of skulls (although with hindsight, some might argue whether that qualifies as a disguise for Keith). Apparently he shoots Mick Jagger at the end, which he may have enjoyed, knowing the tension between the two of them at the time.

Anyway, the track itself seems to pick up on this rather tense atmosphere, and also carries one of Jagger's few directly political lyrics, about dictatorships in South America and his grotesque imagery ("The opposition's tongue is cut in two") is matched by the production, full of odd bass runs, jump cuts and of course that reverse-echo effect that is the track's most distinctive feature. Although that's clearly of its time, it succeeds in lending the record a distinctive atmosphere, and reinforcing the dark impact of the subject matter. It also seems like the last time the Stones were really trying to do something they hadn't done before and thus stands as something of a landmark. And that chart peak is one they haven't beaten in the 25 years since, either, although I wonder whether it could even have crept into the Top 10 without Jagger's odd pronunciation of the title phrase. This was one track I found myself being more impressed by than I'd expected.

Also appearing on:
Now 29
Available on: Undercover

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