The Rolling Stones have outlived and out-rocked so many artists that they exist in a place where they and their music defy time itself. It hardly matters that they haven’t put out a great start-to-finish album in decades. In fact, their last truly perfect LP, Some Girls, came out 40 years ago on June 9, 1978. (Yes, 1981’s Tattoo You could be considered a classic too, but it’s essentially a collection of outtakes, so it’s not quite on the same level.)
This stellar effort — which followed a creative slump the Stones had been in since 1972’s Exile on Main St. — was appropriately met with success: It went No. 1 on the Billboard 200, scored two top 10 hits on the Hot 100 (including their last No. 1 single, “Miss You”) and became a massive seller. Some Girls also has the distinction of being the only Rolling Stones LP to even be nominated for the Album of the Year Grammy.
You just knew Some Girls was going to be something special from that iconic album cover. And 40 years later, the music still doesn’t disappoint. It sets off with a funky disco strut on first single “Miss You,” which shows the Stones had been paying attention to the hot music of the day. You can hear echoes of the Bee Gees and Chic, but it’s still all Stones with its bumping bass line (courtesy of Bill Wyman) and sleazy swagger. On the prowl, Mick Jagger pouts out a vocal that is both bluesy and bawdy.
The Stones keep their soulful flow on the second single, “Beast of Burden,” which demonstrates just how well they absorbed classic R&B into their British blood. Tough and tender at the same time, this midtempo ballad—which hit No. 8 on the Hot 100—is the melodic heart of Some Girls.
As if to further display their love of R&B, the Stones — with guitarist Ronnie Wood now added to the lineup — cover the Temptations’ 1971 hit “Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me).” But their reimagining of the tune makes it their own, roughing up all the smoothness of the original.
Elsewhere, Some Girls shifts gears with the wistful country twang of “Far Away Eyes,” a lilting waltz that may not be as sentimental as it seems. And the Stones tear into freewheeling rockers like “When the Whip Comes Down,” “Lies” and “Respectable” with a raw, rambunctious energy that sometimes threatens to veer out of control.
Meanwhile, “Shattered,” the single that closes the album, sounds like a jam that somehow became a full-blown song on the strength of a casually cool groove and Jagger’s peacock moves.
But the title track, with its woozy wobble, doesn’t hold up as well because of some politically incorrect lyrics that make you cringe, especially in the era of #MeToo and Time’s Up: “Black girls just wanna get f—-d all night,” Jagger drawls. Thankfully we’ve come far enough in 40 years where that lyric wouldn’t fly anymore.
That unfortunately dated moment aside, though, Some Girls captures the Rolling Stones at a time when they were at their commercial peak—and when they were still close enough to touch their creative one.