Jan 30, 2023, 06:29AM

The 15th Cut Is the Deepest

Relax. Have a smoke or Orange Crush and sit on a fence. What Year Is It (#250)?

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Not long ago I saw the Rolling Stones’ staple “Jigsaw Puzzle,” the final track on the first side of the band’s near-perfect Beggars Banquet, referred to as a “deep cut.” In what world would that be? I understand the meaning of “deep cut”—as in forgotten, under-appreciated or lost in the shuffle—a phrase that became common with music critics, as far as I can tell, at the beginning of this century, but it’s useless to me. I’d guess there are “deep cuts” on albums by, say, Aztec Camera, The Easybeats, The Cyrkle, Simple Minds or Billy Bragg, but the Stones? Ride on baby, not on your life.

You could, if pressed, make a far-fetched case for the band’s “Sittin’ On a Fence,” since it’s never been performed live and though recorded during the late-1965 Aftermath sessions, it first appeared on the compilation Flowers in 1967, but then again, the over-played “Honky Tonk Women” was a hit single and also wasn’t on a “proper” release, relegated to the just-for-profit Through the Past, Darkly (despite the cool octagonal record cover) in 1969.

The song grabbed me as a 12-year-old mostly for the title and because sitting on fences (as shown above) was a common activity, just like chewing Bazooka gum, popping Dots, shooting toy guns with clay pellets, riding bikes, and getting together with neighborhood pals for after-school pick-up game of baseball or football. I never see anyone sitting on a fence today—and there are plenty on the block where I live—but it’s still an all-time great expression, and not a linguistic “deep cut,” at least to my knowledge.

Mick Jagger’s lyrics for the song are slight (although Keith Richards’ acoustic guitar is beautifully simple), and, like “As Tears Go By”—Jagger’s “Yesterday,” written before Paul McCartney’s never-needs-to-be-heard-again song was a monstrous hit—and kind of weird and world-weary for an already-affluent young man of 22, but Jagger-Richards compositions were rarely regarded as worthy of study in university classes.

“I’m just sittin’ on fence/You can say I got no sense/Trying to make up my mind/Really is too horrifying/So I’m sittin’ on a fence.”

I wondered at the time if the Stones song was an unsubtle reference to the Lovin’ Spoonful’s goofy 1965 hit “Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind,” but much as I dug John Sebastian, that tune, even with funnier lyrics, didn’t have the weight of the Stones’ “throwaway.”

I sat on fences as a kid. The picture, taken by my dad, shows me, cousins Steve and Phil Duncan and my brother Gary at our Uncle Joe Duncan’s Glen Head, Long Island backyard. (Joe’s and Aunt Winnie’s house was the fanciest in the family; not only was their basement “finished,” with a separate fridge for Cokes and Rheingolds, and a player piano, but their walk-up attic was filled with very cool memorabilia, like old campaign buttons and jazz/swing 78 records, and it was only on special occasions that the younger rascals were allowed to rummage through the gold.)

Consider these clues to determine what year it is: Granny (Irene Ryan) was the star of The Beverly Hillbillies, which debuted on CBS; Stanley Kubrick moves to England and never returns to America; Andy Warhol debuts the first 32 of his revolutionary Campbell's Soup Can paintings; John Ford directs his last masterpiece; Pete Best is fired from The Beatles and replaced by Ringo Starr; Marilyn Monroe dies and Jennifer Jason Leigh is born; Jean-Luc Godard and Anna Karina make their third film together; How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying won the Drama Pulitzer Prize; Scott Carpenter orbits the Earth three times; Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring is released; Joan Cusack is born and Charles Laughton dies; and The Chieftains were formed in Dublin.

—Follow Russ Smith on Twitter: @MUGGER1955


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