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Music / Steel Wheels

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More between rock than a hard place...

Steel Wheels is the nineteenth studio album (twenty-first American album) by The Rolling Stones, released in 1989. It is their final studio album to feature Bill Wyman, who chose to quit shortly after the live Flashpoint, his departure made final in 1993. After 30 years with the band, Wyman decided he finally had enough. Reasons include his developing fear of flying (despite being a former RAF cadet), his frustration at not being able to have much creative influence (or having any of his songs being used by the band), his interest in exploring other areas, and most importantly his need to get his personal life in order. He would be replaced by Darryl Jones, who remains an unofficial member to this day.

Steel Wheels is generally considered to be the band's comeback album. After the turmoil the Stones spent through much of The '80s, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards finally (albeit temporarily) sorted out their differences early in 1989. Within a matter of weeks had finished writing and began recording the album, at a rate not seen since the mid-60's. Although it marked (yet another) return to their roots, the sound is clearly of it's era, mainly due to the mildly prominent synthesizers and now-dated production.

Upon release, it was greeted with a positive response, and remains one of the more highly rated later Stones albums. Fan favourites include "Mixed Emotions" (Which became their last major hit in the US), "Rock And A Hard Place", "Terrifying", and "Slipping Away".


Side One

  1. "Sad Sad Sad" (3:35)
  2. "Mixed Emotions" (4:38)
  3. "Terrifying" (4:53)
  4. "Hold On To Your Hat" (3:32)
  5. "Hearts For Sale" (4:40)
  6. "Blinded By Love" (4:37)

Side Two

  1. "Rock And A Hard Place" (5:25)
  2. "Can't Be Seen" (4:09)
  3. "Almost Hear You Sigh" (4:37)
  4. "Continental Drift" (5:14)
  5. "Break The Spell" (3:06)
  6. "Slipping Away" (4:29)

Principal Members:

  • Mick Jagger - lead vocals, guitar, harmonica, keyboard, percussion
  • Keith Richards - guitar, backing and lead vocals, bicycle spokes
  • Charlie Watts - drums
  • Ronnie Wood - guitar, vocals, bass, dobro
  • Bill Wyman - bass

Continental Tropes:

  • Alliterative Title: "Hold On To Your Hat".
  • Animal Motifs: "Terrifying", where Jagger describes himself as:
    I'm lazy as a lion
    My body's just for you
    Crazy for you
    I'm sneaky as a snake
    I'm dirty as a dog
    I'm rutting like a goat
    I'm horny as a hog
    (...) You're graceful as a bird
    My heart is on the wing
    You're gentle as a dove
    If a humming bird could sing crazy for you
    You're gunning like a deer
    I'm wily as a fox
    You're faster than a mare
    I'm stronger than an ox
    I'm faithful as a swan
    I'm darker than a bat
    I'm friendly as a bear
    And tougher than a rat
    (...) I'm restless as a cat
    All caged up in a zoo
  • As the Good Book Says...: "Blinded By Love"
    The Philistines paid for Samson's blind rage
  • The Atoner: The protagonist of "Mixed Emotions". Partly based on Jagger and Richards more or less burying the hatchet.
  • Break Up Song:
    • "Almost Hear You Sigh"
    What will I do without you?
    They say that life goes on
    I'm feeling sorry for myself
    I can't believe you're gone
    • "Slipping Away"
    Slipping away
    Just as you have touched my heart
    I wake up babe and we're apart
  • Crossover: The Master Musicians At Jajouka and The Stones perform together on "Continental Drift".
  • Deliberately Monochrome: The music video of "Almost Hear You Sigh" is in black-and-white.
  • "Double, Double" Title: "Sad Sad Sad"
  • Fake-Out Fade-Out: "Continental Drift" has a few of those moments near the end.
  • Gypsy Curse: "Break The Spell"
    There's a gypsy all dressed in white
    Put my hand out, ask the question
    Here's the silver, do you have the gift of sight?
    Can you break the spell?
  • Intercourse with You: "Terrifying"
    Terrifying love
    I get these strange, strange, strange desires
  • Love Makes You Dumb: "Blinded By Love"
    Don't mortgage your soul to a stranger
    Don't be blinded by love
  • New Sound Album: At least, it's the Stones most 80's album. The track "Continental Drift" was also a different sound for the band as it featured the Moroccan folk band the Master Musicians Of Jajouka, who had previously worked together with Brian Jones on his only solo album: Brian Jones Presents the Pipes of Pan at Jajouka.
  • One-Word Title: "Terrifying".
  • Pep-Talk Song: "Sad, Sad, Sad"
    Now you're sad, sad, sad, sad, sad, sad
    But you're gonna be fine
  • The Power of Love: "Continental Drift"
    Love comes at the speed of light
    Love comes at the speed of light
    Love comes in a strange disguise, love comes
    Open the door and let the light pour over
  • Protest Song:
    • "Hold On To Your Hat"
    Hold on to your heart
    Hold on to your hat
    Don't give me no shit
    Don't give me no crap
    Hold on to your head
    Don't give me no rap
    I've had it up to here
    With your yakety-yak
    • "Rock And A Hard Place"
    People are hungry
    They crowd around
    And the city gets bigger as the country comes begging to town
    We're stuck between a rock
    And a hard place
    Between a rock and a hard place
    This talk of freedom and human rights
    Means bullying and private wars and chucking all the dust into our eyes
    And peasant people poorer than dirt
    Who are caught in the crossfire with nothing to lose but their shirts
    Stuck between a rock and a hard place
  • Shout-Out:
    • "Blinded By Love" references Cleopatra VII and Mark Anthony, Samson and Delilah, as well as king Edward VIII of England, who was forced to abdicate the crown in 1936 because he had fallen in love with a commoner, Wallis Simpson, who was also American and divorced.
    The poor Prince of Wales
    He gave up his crown
    All for the trivial pursuit of a parvenu second-hand lady
    • In the 1995 The Simpsons episode "Lisa's Wedding", set in the future year of 2010, a poster can be seen in Lisa's room with the text "The Rolling Stones Steel Wheelchair Tour", a pun on their Steel Wheels tour.
  • Special Guest: The Master Musicians Of Jajouka note  appear on "Continental Drift". In 1968 Brian Jones recorded an album with them, which was only posthumously released in 1971 as Brian Jones Presents the Pipes of Pan at Jajouka.
  • Step Up to the Microphone: Keith Richards sings lead vocals on "Can't Be Seen" and "Slipping Away".
  • Stop and Go: "Rock And A Hard Place" has the music stop briefly at a few points, only to continue again when Jagger takes the word again.
  • World Music: "Continental Drift" has a Moroccan musical atmosphere, performed by the folk band The Master Musicians of Jajouka.