The Rolling Stones—
Undercover Mixes

Released 1983 on Rolling Stones
The Seth Man, March 2009ce
“I remember hearing ‘Undercover of the Night’ first time and thinking they musta been listening to the Pop Group!”
- Julian Cope, 2008CE.

In 1983, the 12” single was not a new thing for The Stones as they thought enough of the format as far back as 1976 by issuing the promo-only “Hot Stuff”/“Crazy Mama.” Another followed in 1978 in the wake of “Some Girls” with a ‘Special Disco Version’ of “Miss You” suitably lengthened and groove-widened for high steppin’ use. Then in 1980, an extended remix of “Dance (Pt. 1)” took the track and elongated it over two sides as “If I Was A Dancer (Dance Pt.2)”/“Dance (Instrumental Version).” However, all this was trumped by what came next: the dub remix of “Undercover Of The Night”/“Feel On Baby” and the 3-track “Too Much Blood” EP. These were shattering proto-electro clash anomalies replete with stuttering sampling and additional deconstructions that sought to chop up and carve the tracks into a place where few if any of the handful of contemporaries of The Stones’ dared to venture forth -- let alone any other Rock bands, period. Even relative newcomers didn’t take things this far: content to leave many of their ‘dub’ or ‘all night version’ B-sides as just slightly longer instrumental versions of their A-sides with little or no modifications. What The Stones did was more iconoclastic than Blondie’s extended mix of “Rapture,” The Clash’s “Radio Clash” EP or even any PIL 12” simply because it WAS The Stones AND they had far more to lose by embracing pioneering elements that dislocated their sound into the extremities of dance floor sound techniques.

Ever since the eighties, these two Stones EPs never registered a single positive response from any Stones fan I’d play them for until the needle lifted up. My claim that these two singles were psychedelic because they were so different from what one had come to expect from The Stones were met only with groans and rolled eyes of bored fans that, even during that first full year of the MTV eighties, rejected ‘em outright as merely ‘disco.’ Disco? I ain’t got time for that now! They even poo-poo’ed the accompanying album’s sticker-splattered sleeve, figgering the triangular patch under the crotch of the cover’s otherwise nude model wasn’t gonna be the promised show time and decried it as a last ditch effort for credibility with such a workaday, sub-Warhol device. I’d finally ask ‘Yeah, but you still wanna know what’s underneath, right?’ and then refuse to reveal what was. (Actually, I couldn’t remember except that it was none of the woman’s anatomy, but that wasn’t the issue. I looked while others kept theirs hermetically sealed; Either in the secret hope it would wind up accruing a value greater than or equal to an unpeeled copy of the first VU album, out of boredom or both.)

With MTV already a full blown cultural epidemic, The Stones finally hiked their once-lagging video acumen into high gear with two uncompromising videos for “Undercover Of The Night” and “Too Much Blood.” No longer miming in a rented studio, hiding behind thermograms or hangin’ ‘round the Lower East Side, a quantum leap was made by hiring director Julien Temple which resulted in casting the band in parallel plot developments that yielded something far more inventive that what usually aired on MTV at the time (comprised for the most part by post-apocalyptic dance routines, South Sea island reveries, haunted house scenarios, cheap ‘it-was-only-a-dream’ plot resolutions, amateurish film noir or some other shopworn motif with practically every lyric conspicuously mimed.) Set in nighttime Central American locations, the videos were immediately engaging with violent and humourous twists at every turn while sound effects constantly erupted over the music as an interior channel surfing world continued throughout. In “Undercover Of The Night,” Mick took on the main character roles (natch) and Keith was typecast as an assassin (double natch) while Bill, Charlie and Ronnie fleshed out the background behind their instruments or as masked abductors. The follow up video for “Too Much Blood” was no less disturbing in its depiction of a woman splitting an otherwise quiet evening between being terrorised by blood seeping out from every appliance she touched and intently watching The Stones throw threatening shapes on her (soon bleeding and consequently defenestrated) TV set.

Like the videos, the songs reeked with an unsettling air of oppressive darkness. Even in their un-remixed state, “Undercover Of The Night,” “Feel On Baby” and “Too Much Blood” stuck out from the rest of the “Undercover” album like a sore tongue and were The Stones’ most errantly experimental moves on one album since “Their Satanic Majesties Request.” (Weirdly, the labels on both albums read ‘Front Side’ and ‘Back Side’ stedda plain old ‘Side 1’ and ‘Side 2’.) But despite the fact “Undercover” weren’t experimental all the way through with much of it echoing familiar shades of “Some Girls”/“Emotional Rescue”/“Tattoo You”-styled buffers, the gruesome threesome listed above was an entirely new sound for The Stones. Burnished with a futuristic gleam by the wonderknobs of long-term Stones co-producer Chris Kimsey, abrupt sampling and FX-upon-everything stabbed throughout while as if in electronic ode to the percussion-inclined nature of their previous work with Jimmy Miller, acoustic and synthesized drums were punched in and out all over the place.

This handiwork carried over with severe application onto two EPs and made those twelve inchers resound with vibrations twelve foot wide, twelve foot deep and twelve foot high. “Undercover Of The Night” featured even more distracting sampled blasts and rattling firecracker snare rolls than on album as they constantly permeated a jagged and slinky funk. The B-side was an authentic dub of “Feel On Baby” that dispensed with the lead vocals altogether in a room full of percussive mirrors with its rebounding bass line the only constant. Then a subsequent 12” saw two separate versions of “Too Much Blood” handled (and mishandled) by a team of outside engineers that made it forget who it was for most of the time as they buffeted it with beats, samples and a whole arsenal of remix materiel while myriad edits revived chunks of sound as punctuation over staccato rhythms with sudden, tightly echoed electronic drums and clap tracking galore. Yet for all the time these proto-techno effects conspired to twist up, rip apart and send flying into oblivion anything that permitted its ejected splinters to be recognisable as ‘The Stones,’ they couldn’t. Because those Volkswagens of Rock’n’Roll were too tough (as they themselves taunted on another song off “Undercover” spared the vicissitudes of remixing) and their base elements were altogether too distinctive and too dirty to destroy or render anonymous.

“Undercover Of the Night”/“Feel On Baby”
Slapping a fake ‘Extended Cheeky Mix’ sticker and Stones tongue over the bare ass on the cover? Nice.

The wide-grooved Euro 12” vinyl of “Undercover Of The Night (Dub Version)” held far clearer audio presentation than its unmixed album counterpart with the original elements reassembled, reshuffled, interrupted and strung out for far longer. The opening machine-gunning electronic snare roll rattles over a red carpet of groove that rolls out fringed with echoed drumming and that ubiquitous dive-bombing guitar blast paired with e-drums that only roughly sounds like ((((“DA-DA-DA-DA-DA-A-A-A-A-OOOUUUWWWGGHH…”)))) but feels like a detonation going off between your ears instead. In the breakdown, four of these samples roar out of nowhere to propel you backwards like the guy on the sofa in the Maxell commercial. Timpani can be heard rumbling innocently in the background during the pressure dropped fade/slight return still intact from the album’s structure only it runs longer, and...Hey, where are the vocals? Oh, there they are: on Jagger’s streecawner “doo-doo, doo, doo, doo-doo”-ing a wordless cockcrowing to bolster the groove. An additional outro instrumental of audible organ, jagged guitar riffs and pounding timpani ensuing right before its conclusion is signalled with a final accent of ((((“DA-DA-DA-DA-DA-A-A-A-A-OOOUUUWWWGGHH…”)))) that impacts into a wall of sickeningly slow echo slapback.

“Feel On Baby” was the isolated reggae move on “Undercover” album. With a groove and inflection displaying a far greater degree of intuition of said Jamaican idiom than “Cherry Oh Baby,” it comes as little surprise that the rhythm section here is none other than drummer Sly Dunbar and bassist Robbie Shakespeare. In its filleted form as “Feel On Baby (Instrumental Dub),” the track was stripped back to expose a sinewy lead bass line backlit with African percussion and shorn of all vocalising save the amplified background vocal/gruff repetition of the title by Keith. In a huge and becalmed surrounding, click-clacking contributions from Senegalese percussionaires Moustapha Cisse and Brahms Coundoul alongside Sade sideman Martin Ditcham organically play off Shakespeare’s slow and deliberate bass. Over time, this acoustic and electronic percussion’s electro-dub netting gradually shifts from a weightless hang to a heavy shroud over its jungled rhythm enclosure. Keith’s rhythm guitar drops out, drops in yet always retains its underlined, drop shadowing echo. An organ passage swells overhead far more prominently and longer than on the LP edition, while additional blasts of the same rapid-fire machine gunning e-drums from “Undercover of The Night” reappear to ping-pong from speaker to speaker. Jagger blares out see-sawing harmonica while Richards’ cross-hatching rhythm is gradually displaced by another thicket of e-drum explosions until a single thunderous down stroke from Keef dissipates all except the nighttime cricket percussion that soon settle up and retreat one by one back into the darkened bush.

“Too Much Blood”
A bloodied and traumatised Jagger pushes his horrified mug forward while Keith stalks in the background with his hollow-bodied axe raised like an avenging angel of death moments before administering a final sacrificial strike.
The “Too Much Blood” EP was a huge production number. Involving an auxiliary of players and arrangers appearing alongside Mick (lead vocals, electric guitars), Keith (guitars) and Stones guitar technician Jim Barber (guitar) it would appear to be Robbie Shakespeare once more on bass with either Sly Dunbar, Charlie Watts or both on drums. The reoccurring brass blasts were blown by Chops, a session horn section whose core members Dave Watson and Darryl Dixon appeared on Parliament’s “Funkentelechy vs. The Placebo Syndrome” and “Trombipulation” LPs as well as albums by P-Funk offshoots Quazar and Mutiny. More recently, their distinctive brass placements had appeared on releases by The Sugarhill Gang and Grandmaster Flash & The Furious 5. These guys had brass in the pocket, and no less so on “Too Much Blood” with a memorably sharp accenting in the chorus. Also from the ranks of nascent NYC rap culture was former DJ / producer / arranger / programmer / remixer Arthur Baker: a cut-and-paste studio in human form best known at the time for hijacking Kraftwerk’s “Trans Europe Express” into a Bronx-bound subway for Afrika Bambaataa’s sensational single, “Planet Rock.” Assisting Baker were engineers Chris and Tom Lord-Alge, the two-man edit crew of The Latin Rascals alongside trays of electronic scalpels and chainsaws.

The surgery was a success only the patient looked, sounded and danced nothing like he did pre-op. The hotwired remix of “Too Much Blood (Long Dance Version)” was the result of stripping an already spartan track down to its rhythm section, constant hi-hat pulse, three-way guitar crosstalk and horn theme then rethreading it all through a pounding beat with multiple percussive overlays and processing it all through a blender set at Burroughsian cut up. The prime victim of this procedure were Jagger’s vocals, used and re-used alongside a whole additional set of his piquant bon mots, coarse ad-libs and derisive critiques of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video. At 12:33 minutes, this version of “Too Much Blood” is too much of everything: a carnival of beats, edits and samples dart in at angles like a nighttime fire fight accompanied by flares constantly popping off overhead. Holographic percussion lays down a near-“Sympathy For The Devil” introduction over Jagger’s opening vocal gambit of “Oh... Oh no...” and oh no is right for stentorian thumping and push-button staggering bursts in all around the 2-ply beats already edging into the original and pushing it off to one side. Its ceaseless production line rhythm stops for nothing even as timbales galore gallop in and out and it’s only when the once familiar horn theme gets super-stuttered, cut away and echoed in the first of many instances of push-button abuse does the beat lurch to any degree -- but winds up snapping back to attention every time, anyway. Additional synth lines dart in and out to sew the rhythm up even tighter as edits are jammed in out of nowhere: A synth bass appears to fun/c/k up the proceedings, push button sampling gets stuck on a split-second passage and a squalling public saxophone solos like it never did on the album version. Finally, a clearing is made for Jim Barber to unload chiming guitar riffs that gradually nudge into a solo while Jagger riffs on the sort of thing to be found late night on the Bois de Boulogne:

“Dance with a one-legged woman:
Fifty francs!
Good night...

Suddenly, the plug is pulled and it all grinds down to an echoed halt: But for only several seconds, as the trauma is revived with Jagger intoning into a nighttime jungle clearing before an assembled tribe at the foot of a towering voodoo idol: “Mean-mean-mean-mean-while...back in the jungle...Whoa huh HAHAAHAHAHAHAA...!” Hahahahaha: he got it off David Johansen (who got some off him in the first place, anyway) who in turn picked up a case of it offa The Cadets back in ’55 in a cultural Möbius strip winding back on itself forever -- neatly underlined by the percussion track currently zipping by backwards into hyperspace. It parts for the hardfloor stampeding to recommence in air-locked propulsion while the push-button freak-outs make Jagger’s vocals stutter wildly as if he’s traipsing over that red coal carpet of yore. Pounding drums, drums and more drums beat, encircling the rapid rhythmic sampling of Jagger’s cries and yelps. Another edit and flitting synth clusters dance and dart off-beat until a Caribbean percussion squad parachutes into this Junkanoo delirium. The horn theme is punched back in as additional stuff is cut away, inserted and added at a dizzying pace over a swarm of multi-sampled, pitch-controlled vocal samples. Someone pulls the plug a second time, causing fragments of music combined with bits of Jaggered vox e-detritus sampled at several beats per nanosecond to blur, hit the wall and bottom out into dead silence.

The eight minute “Too Much Blood (Dub Version)” see the original vocals scrapped and replaced by newly-recorded adlibs, jibs and jabs from Jagger. In a distant room, the bass line booms over e-drums and beats that crack with digital precision. More Jagger vocal samples whizz by the doubled-up in strength drum beats like flaming shards as his ghostly “Wooo, wooo, wooo...” scans the horizon like searchlights. More primal screams get sampled until a repeated “V-v-v-very v-v-v-very-very fuckin’ funny, Michael!” gets stuck and doesn’t let go. It cuts in over and over until the increasing echo turns it into a veritable conversation with itself and sprays over a wide trajectory. Hugh synth bass solo funks up against sax shrieks as further overlays of repeated vocals and phrases echo at variable speed. Now a long forgotten dream, the horn theme passes by. In pieces. Timbales return and all the while, the hollowed out bass line continues from its position in the furthest studio corridor. Apropos of nothing, Jagger pipes in:

“Werewolf keeps turning into this bleedin’, fuckin’ falcon. What’s it all about, y’know? I mean, give me a fucking break...They can’t fuck because she’s a falcon and he’s a bleedin’ fuckin’ hawk! Well, I mean: they can’t get it on obviously,’know: it’s a bit involved...”

So is this remix. It’s a rush hour of edits, beats, echo and percussion until flitting keyboards renter to dance hither, thither and yon to signal the track’s slow corrosion. Jagger’s done roasting “Thriller” and has reverted to wordlessly gitchy-gitchy-ga-ga all over the place in a reverb-treated dub tank. He lets loose two final screams before a tsunami of echo swipes everything mercilessly into silence.

Thus ends the final remixed doppelgänger that hitched a ride to the heart of darkness and almost didn’t return. Then again, maybe they didn’t. The smell of sex...the smell of suicide...All those (dream) things The Stones just couldn’t keep inside...Along with fleshing out a half an hour’s worth of extreme alternative editions of an already reinvented sound hung out on the furthest extremities.

While for some it’s all too easy to dismiss The Stones outright and consign their successes within their huge body of work to that neat and multi-generational/critically-approved ‘65-‘72 era of achievements, anybody who knows and feels what Rock'n'Roll is knows it ain’t that easy -- Especially with a group with such a varied catalog of high-calibre low-riders as The Stones. And outside of their keepin’ on keepin’ on for as long as they have, these two remix 12”s mark what may be the Stones’ last truly great experiment. Or at very least: solid evidence of an undying resilience that time has yet to prove to be surpassed by any group.