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4.16-BACKSTREET GIRL (Rolling Stones)

Mick Jagger
Mick Jagger

LISTEN

[Intro]

I don't want you to be high.
I don't want you to be down.
Don't want to tell you no lie--
Just want you to be around.

     Please come right up to my ears.
     You will be able to hear what I say:

     Don't want you out in my world.
     Just you be my backstreet girl.

Please don't be part of my life.
Please keep yourself to yourself.
Please don't you bother my wife--
That way you won't get no help.

     Don't try to ride on my horse.
     You're rather common and coarse anyway.

     [Chorus]

[Break]

Please don't you call me at home.
Please don't come knocking at night.
Please never ring on the phone--
Your manners are never quite right.

     Please take the favors I grant.
     Curtsy and look nonchalant, just for me.

     [Chorus]

     Just you be my backstreet girl.


Like Lady Jane, the Stones return to the era of Lords and Ladies for Backstreet Girl, and the lyric recalls the ironic simplicity of some of Ray Davies’ lyrics at the time. It sounds like the singer is landed gentry addressing a servant girl. To the tune of a pretty waltz, the lyric points out the cruelty and exclusion that the relationship entails in the antagonist's voice; the Stones mock the attitude expressed by the Old World song. (Only the idea that the girl should come “right up to my ears…to hear what I say” is rather awkwardly nonsensical.) The accordion accompaniment, unique and moving as it is, giving the song its exotic psychedelic quality, accents the idea that the lyrics express olde time ideas. Some very tasteful, mellow chime-like sounds accompany the music to create the impression of being within measure and civilized. Cruel and quite civilized, with all commands spoken with a please while expecting a thank you.

This is a pretty traditional tune performed with grace, even down to Jagger’s subtly nuanced singing, strapped with a lyric that expresses the desire of a villain, an exploiting aristocrat, a decadent Beau Brummell. It is my recollection that Backstreet Girl was chosen to be a single in the Summer of 1967, but the song came to the USA instead on Flowers, an album that includes “flower power” in its cover art, but is actually a collection of odds and ends and singles that hadn’t found their way to album format in America yet. As I recall Backstreet Girl was withdrawn from distribution in the USA as a single, after alerting radio stations of its release. Maybe it was a marketing scheme to get the public to buy the album. The impression it made, given that it was the Rolling Stones, was that the tune had been censored: that the group, having slipped by the censors with the sexual innuendo of Lady Jane and Let’s Spend the Night Together, weren’t going to be allowed do it again! The censors had caught on: this was a song about prostitution! Also, at the same time as the release of Flowers in America, Mick Jagger was sentenced to three months in jail in the UK for possession of amphetamines, and therefore was considered by many responsible adults as a criminal.

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