It’s Only Rock ’n’ Roll (But I Like It)

Various Artists for Children’s Promise

1999: Universal Music 1566012
1999: Universal Music 1565982

  1. It’s Only Rock ’n’ Roll (But I Like It) Single Version
  2. It’s Only Rock ’n’ Roll (But I Like It) Arthur Baker’s & Rennie Pilgrem’s Rawkin’ Roll Mix
  3. It’s Only Rock ’n’ Roll (But I Like It) Shaft’s Radio Mix
  4. It’s Only Rock ’n’ Roll (But I Like It) Mickey Finn & l’Double—The Innovative Flex Remix
  5. It’s Only Rock ’n’ Roll (But I Like It) VIDEO
  1. It’s Only Rock ’n’ Roll (But I Like It) Full Length Version
  2. It’s Only Rock ’n’ Roll (But I Like It) Phats & Small Mutant Disco Mix
  3. It’s Only Rock ’n’ Roll (But I Like It) Ruff Driverz Innercity Sumo Mix
  4. It’s Only Rock ’n’ Roll (But I Like It) Deadly Avengers Takes the Mick Remix

featuring Keith Richards, Kid Rock, Mary J Blige, Kelly Jones of Stereophonics, Jon Bon Jovi, Kéllé Bryan, Jay Kay of Jamiroquai, Ozzy Osbourne, Womack & Womack, Lionel Richie, Bonnie Raitt, Dolores O’Riordan of The Cranberries, James Brown, The Spice Girls, Mick Jagger, Robin Williams, Jackson Browne, Iggy Pop, Chrissie Hynde, Skin of Skunk Anansie, Annie Lennox, Mark Owen, Natalie Imbruglia, Huey, Fun Lovin’ Criminals, Dina Carroll, Gavin Rossdale of Bush, B B King, Joe Cocker, The Corrs, Steve Cradock & Simon Fowler of Ocean Colour Scene, Ronan Keating, Ray Barretto, Herbie Hancock, Francis Rossi & Rick Parfitt of Status Quo, S Club 7, and Eric Idle

Leaving the quality of the various remixes aside, for the nonce, I want to state unequivocably that this single is a solid, welcomely-placed addition to my music library. I didn’t encounter it until 2007, as its original appearance in 1999 came when I was mightily preoccupied with my own affairs and those of the Balkans, and anyway it was a UK thing that doesn’t seem to have made much of a splash Stateside.

That’s the background for this. The foreground is all gush, so if you’re looking for critics’ snippy banter, look elsewhere. I’m not 100% emphatic about every aspect of this single, but I do believe that it’s an excellent realization of a truly perfect idea, and we don’t see enough of those in the real world.

What makes it so great? For starters that it presents 37± contemporary musical artists performing that one now-iconic song in their own style as if this were a compilation rather than a charity effort. So every artist appears here in their own context and “sound” while still contributing to the overall song. And that song has always been a groovy one even if its lyrics are a bit muddied by ambiguous priorities and parameters. The lyrics’ weaknesses are completely obliterated by the genuine endorsement of them by all of these artists, each of whom has embraced and adapted them in their own way. That’s magical, that’s powerful.

And then there’s the mix!! JESUS what a heady treat that is! Probably at the logistical and ego-massaging level it must have been at least a bitch and a half, but whatever happened resulted in a truly great product. And I don’t say that lightly: whenever I listen to this track I am amazed and profoundly impressed by the artistry and legerdemain of the mixing team who had to juggle all of those guns and make it seem like it was all choreographed from the start.

Other than the celebration of the original song itself, I think my favorite aspect of this track is the fascinating pairings of the various contributors. This is even more appreciable when one watches the video, which is simply magnificent on its own, but even on the audio single there are some combinations which make me think “DAMN, how’d you cook up such an unlikely combination??” Dolores O’Riordan and James Brown, for example? Or B B King and Skin of Skunk Anansie?

It involves a fascinating array of faces from the pop-music scene of 1999—some timeless, some fleeting, some purely of that moment. The two weakest presences announce themselves by name—underscoring their lack of substance—Spice Girls and S Club 7. Everyone else contributes and maybe expects to be known, maybe not. The true pillars of Rock here are James Brown, B B King, and of course Mick Jagger and Keith Richards (whose presence imbues the proceedings with not only genuine grit but also a certain legitimacy); there are also lasting presences such as Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Annie Lennox, Iggy Pop, Herbie Hancock, Chrissie Hynde, and Joe Cocker, as well as of-the-moment contemporaries who range from the survivors to the of-the-day fluff who evidently got included because of record-company wheeling-and-dealing. (Anyone heard from S Club 7 recently?) Much of the lineup would be of interest only to U.K. music fans of the day, yet even so there’s a delicious sampler platter to be experienced here.

I first encountered this while I was mining for obscure Annie Lennox nuggets. After I’d watched its video a handful of times, I realized I really had better track down the audio and video tracks in legitimate form, and I did so thanks to my dear The video is even better than the single, as it visually pastiches all of these performances and combinations; I value it even more after learning of the constraints its production team faced when it was decided to produce a video: among other things, a total of 15 minutes to rehearse and film Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne as the two of them were on tour together.

I must return to the fact that Mick Jagger’s involvement here keeps this puppy from being a “We Are the World” jobby. When he appears, whether in the audio single or the video, the scenario is nailed back down to its origins and its primacy is restored in all its fundamentally intense trappings. And everyone involved has their own take on the song, and they all celebrate it in their own way. That’s the greatest aspect of this project, and why I appreciate it so much. The video is the pluperfect form of the single. I seriously take my hat off to the people who mixed this amazing array of material.

As for the instrumental references, the various remixes emphasize The Who’s “Baba O’Riley,” Eric Clapton’s “Leila,” and The Beatles’ “Back In The U.S.S.R.” among others.