Rolling Stones – “Sweet Virginia”

I love Tiny Revolution as a political site. Here Bernard Chazelle switches to another passion of his, and  serves up some musicological theorizing about a song my old caddymaster hailed as the greatest hangover song of all time.

In the process he makes some broad comments about the Stones, and the old Beatles-v.-Stones flame war which, surprisingly, doesn’t devolve into absurdity in the comments section. Some bright people posting. Here’s his bottom line on the Stones:

They’re no songcrafting geniuses, their melodies are often banal, their harmonies simplistic, their lyrics silly or offensive, and they’re passable instrumentalists. Naturally, the Stones are the greatest rock band ever.

What gives? The thing is, in rock ‘n’ roll none of these things matter all that much. No rock tunesmith holds a candle to Gershwin or Cole Porter, anyway. Craftsmanship is not the point.

What’s the point then? To convert high energy into art. Rock is about emotion, not style; feeling, not beauty; desire, not sensuousness. Rock is not about courtship, it’s about sex.

That no other sub-genre of western music shares rock’s “kinetic primality” (I just made up the phrase, no doubt the high point of this post) has a two-word explanation: the blues. Yes, you can always rely on white rock musicians to misappropriate the blues as a vehicle for affected maturity, self-importance, and pretentiousness — Muddy Waters Meets Nietzsche kind of thing. But the Stones, bless their souls, have always remained loyal to the spirit of the idiom, which is to channel misery into joy, not to channel misery into more misery. If rock is a rhythm, a riff, and an attitude, then no one beats the Rolling Stones.

As regards the specific song, Chazelle says, “‘Sweet Virginia’ is a 16-bar country blues. (An anti-drug song, I guess?) Like Dylan’s “Idiot Wind,” it begins on the subdominant of the key (a classical device going back to the fugal tradition of Baroque music) and on to the cadence II-I.” I can’t really see Keef thinking like that (and I don’t think that’s what Chazelle is saying. Only that there is some sort of intuitive/instinctive genius at play in the process of writing pop songs.)

And thinking about the song got me thinking about my old caddymaster, an early hero to the thirteen-year-old me.  The power of the Google was impressive. I found him. Insurance company exec; donated well over $10 grand to Republican candidates in ’08. Another hero bites the dust. But he was right about “Sweet Virginia.”

Rolling Stones – “Sweet Virginia”

7 thoughts on “Rolling Stones – “Sweet Virginia”

  1. Last I checked, the Stones were still rockin’, and getting it done live, and still recording, which I dig.

    The Beatles have been, in large part, relegated to the trash heap of dying radio, Anthology albums, and PBS television fund raisers.

    Those are just the facts. The Stones continue to create well into their sixties. Sadly, the Beatles chose to abandon what made them great about 40 years ago. That’s a big void.

    Sweet Virginia?

    It is an all-time favorite song of mine. In the top 100 of my lifetime, if I could really narrow it down to that.

    And I have the faintest recollection of waking up, hearing Mick revving up the pipes and smelling the spilled beer and bong water……

  2. I am impressed by the stones’ longevity. their best work is what rocknroll is all about. i love that you can hear fingers sliding up and down the neck on “rocks off” to kick off what is without doubt one of the top handful of albums ever. and i bet not a second of it was put down without super impressive amounts of drugs and alcohol…..

    still, they have had many many bad albums since that peak in, what, 72? and that mick sounds good live on this version of sweet va. is the exception that proves the rule. mostly live he sounds like a dying toad…..

    the beatles did what they did and got on with their lives. they made some good records after they broke up. in fact i would match up their output since breakup with that of the stones’ post-exile.

    throwin’ down! let the flame war commence!

    1. Sorry, I thought we were speaking of Rock n’ Roll and two bands: Beatles v. Stones, not the individuals that made up the bands and what they did post break-up. Wings would be hard pressed to be categorized as RnR, in my book. Sell out popish band, with a couple of decent songs (and I hold out as a truism that EVERY band, despite how disdainful they can be in their entire body of work, has a good song or great song or three.)

      1972? What are you talking about? I think you need to go through your Stones’ category of albums once again. Additionally, some of the shite albums grow on you with time…Emotional Rescue, for instance.

      The Beatles did their thing and moved on with their lives? That’s ripe.

      They broke up because they were getting bludgeoned about the noggin’ by The Monkey Man.


  3. Awright! A dialog. Or flame war. Whatever. I LOVE the best work of the stones. That’s the best I can do. Growing up, I took the Stones over Beatles pose, because I was 13 and thought one had to choose.

    I will take your word for why the Beatles broke up!

    1. Thought it best to join the crowd under a nomme de plume.

      I love both bands, but listen more to the Stones. It might be because I roomed with one of my brothers as a kid and received nothing but Beatles: on records, 8 tracks, reel-to-reels, and live geee-tar. He was a real hack guitarist.

      Interestingly, my hack geee-tar brother has a son at Juilliard, playing classical guitar. The Juilliard Orchestra just played at Lincoln Center. It was glowingly reviewed in the NY Times. Nephew even was named in the review for his guitar strumming capabilities. I give my hack geee-tar brother a load of crap for not flying out to NYC to take it in. He is cheap. He has lots of money, but is cheap. One of the reasons I think he has lots of dough is because he is so cheap. But, that’s for another time….

      Interesting blog you’ve got. Seriously. Well done. You must have been an English major.

  4. Yeah, having lots of money usually means being obsessed about it, which kind of takes all the fun out of it.

    Cool beans about your nephew.

    Thanks for the kind words abt. the blog.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Scroll to top