On 25 June 1968, comic legend Tony Hancock was found dead. He had long struggled with bouts of depression, and since moving to Sydney, Australia, his career hadn’t gone as well as he hoped. Hancock committed suicide with a cocktail of vodka and tablets, leaving a note which said ‘Things just seemed to go wrong too many times.”
Not so long ago, the Rolling Stones were a pretty regular occurrence on this blog, but following one of their finest number 1s, Paint It, Black in 1966, the band suffered some dark times over the next two years.
Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow? reached the top five, which was an impressive feat for such a ragged, messy production. 1967 also got Jagger and co off to a great start, with the double A-side Let’s Spend the Night Together/Ruby Tuesday hitting number three in January, and their album Between the Buttons was also released. It saw the group delve deeper into studio experimentation, and has become somewhat forgotten over the years, which is a shame. It was to be the last time they worked on a full album with producer Andrew Loog Oldham.
1967 saw the biggest bands of the time embracing drugs, but because the Rolling Stones had a reputation as the bad boys of pop, the press and police decided they were the group to pick on. Over the next few months, members of the Stones would be raided by police, while newspapers ran exposes on their alleged sordid activity. Oldham was so freaked out by all the attention, he fled to the US. Tensions within the Stones were also growing, with Brian Jones’s girlfriend Anita Pallenberg ditching him for Keith Richards.
That spring, Jagger, Richards and Jones all faced prison sentences for drugs. Jagger and Richards were imprisoned but released on bail the following day. Surprisingly, The Times stuck up for them, running the famous editorial ‘Who breaks a buttterfly upon a wheel?”. While they awaited their appeal hearings, the group recorded the single We Love You as a thank-you to their loyal fans. Much underrated, the song features John Lennon and Paul McCartney on backing vocals. Oasis should have covered this, back in the day.
With all three free in December, the band released their answer to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Sadly, the mostly self-produced Their Satanic Majesties Request fell flat. It sounded rather forced by comparison. It turned off fans and critics alike. Having said that, it’s not as bad as the reputation it has gathered over the years suggests. The bad acid trip 2000 Light Years from Home is excellent and She’s a Rainbow is a lovely slice of flower power.
With the band smarting from the unusually negative feedback of their recent work, they were clever and lucky enough to know that a change was in the air, and like many of the top artists, they went back to basics as they set to work on what would become one of their best albums, Beggars Banquet. They knew they had struck gold with Jumpin’ Jack Flash, and decided to release it long before the album was ready. The Rolling Stones were serving notice. They were back, and then some.
The lyrics to Jumpin’ Jack Flash came about while Jagger and Richards were staying at Richards’ country house. They were woken one morning by gardener Jack Dyer trudging past a window. A startled Jagger asked what the noise was and the guitarist replied ‘Oh that’s Jack – that’s jumpin’ Jack.’ Playing around on the guitar, Richards played around with the phrase, with Jagger adding ‘Flash’.
At least, that’s the story the songwriters have given over the years. Bassist Bill Wyman feels he deserves a credit too, claiming he came up with the main riff while messing around on a piano. Jones and Charlie Watts began jamming along, and an impressed Jagger and Richards entered the studio before working on the lyrics.
Whatever the jumping-off (pardon the pun) point, the band came up with something special. Jumpin’ Jack Flash is a blistering return to form, full of dark imagery, so dark it was actually comical, like much of Jagger’s best material is. And whoever wrote that riff, it’s up there with (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction. The reference of being ‘born in a crossfire hurricane’ was a reference to Richards being born during the Blitz. Theories as to what’s exactly going on lyrically are probably delving too deep. What’s clear is the band are shaking off the bad acid trips and negative experiences of 1967, and are ready to let rip once more with their own take on the blues. Jumpin’ Jack Flash is the personification of all the bad shit, and he’s been to hell and back in his life, but ‘it’s alright now’. Personally, I wonder if Jack is actually dead and living it up in hell, but it’s just an idea.
One thing’s for sure, after being in the Beatles’ shadow in 1967, this is a better number 1 than Lady Madonna. Unusually, that’s Richards on the bass, with Wyman on the Hammond organ as the song draws to an end. Their new producer Jimmy Miller created one of the most primitive-sounding Stones singles since Loog Oldham was finding his feet a few years previous. Miller also helps out on the backing vocals at the end.
A month after its release, the Rolling Stones were at number 1 for the seventh time. Up above you can see one of the promos they made, in which they mime the song while wearing lots of make-up. They look as cool as fuck. Jagger also occasionally adds some live interjections to proceedings. By the time they got to number 1 for the last time, Jones was dead.
In a mighty catalogue of classics, Jumpin’ Jack Flash stands out as the song they turn to when performing live most often, and they tend to open most shows with it, even after all those years. They choose wisely, as it’s always going to be guaranteed to set the scene and get any crowd in the mood to witness rock legends.
Richards and Wood joined Aretha Franklin on a cover of the song used on the film bearing its name, starring Whoopie Goldberg in 1986. Other covers range from the surreal (386 DX) to the impressive (Ananda Shankar).
Written by: Mick Jagger & Keith Richards
Producer: Jimmy Miller
Weeks at number 1: 2 (19 June-2 July)
Welsh footbaler Iwan Roberts – 26 June
Actor Adam Woodyatt – 28 June
Writer WE Johns – 21 June
Comedian Tony Hancock – 25 June