You know that scene in Goodfellas when Ray Liotta’s character Henry is out of his head on cocaine and convinced he’s being followed everywhere by police helicopters? Soundtracked by a fast-cut montage that jolts from Nilsson’s Jump Into The Fire to Mick Jagger’s Memo From Turner to The Who’s Magic Bus, it’s a great marriage of music and film, the trio of FM radio rockers the perfect foil for Henry’s descent into uncontrollable paranoia. As perfectly pitched as the movie’s soundtrack is, from streetcorner doo-wop standards and Italian crooners via Spector’s Wall of Sound to classic rock as the story moves through the decades, I think Martin Scorsese missed a trick. How he never thought to find a space for the Rolling Stones‘ Fingerprint File has always baffled me. For a director with such a handle on how to splice music and movies together, it would have been a perfect fit.
Rolling Stones – Fingerprint File
All open-tuned, phased and flanged riffing with the odd tickle of wah-wah, Fingerprint File is serpentine funk rock; Sly and the Family Rolling Stones, perhaps. It’s Mick and Keith on guitars, Mick holding down the choppy open-handed rhythm while Keith splashes multiple colours of blooze funk on top. Bill Wyman hands bass duties to Mick Taylor in what would be his last recorded input for the Stones – and, with a fluid and wandering freestyle, the boy Taylor bows out in exquisite fashion.
Wyman moves over to synth, his vamping chords ghosting in and out of the thick funk stew inbetween the ubiquitous Nicky Hopkins on piano and Billy Preston doing his best Stevie Wonder routine on the clavinet. At the back, the ever-reliable Charlie, the true boss of the Stones, is loose and louche, his brilliantly-recorded airy and alive drums a tiny half-beat behind the others – all the more important for adding that general air of flung-together grooviness that runs through the whole thing like everything else the Stones touched once their hair had grown in direct proportion to the length of their songs. What a sound!
Jagger’s vocal is pure creeping coke paranoia, confident and self-assured, but with one eye over his tiny-vested shoulder. In fact, given the stuffy nose he sings most of it with (there’s even the odd ssssniff-ff now and again), I wouldn’t be at all surprised if you told me he’d had half the GDP of Columbia stuffed up his nostrils prior to he or Keith pressing ‘record’ at the mixing desk. Over the course of the track he runs the whole range of his schtick; he sings, he drawls, he sleazeballs, he pronounces the end of every line with exaggerated comic effect (‘haaa-yee-aaa-igh‘, ‘daaa-yee-aaa-own‘, ‘ultra vaaa-hlet-laaa-eee-aa-ight‘), at one part he breaks into a wiseguy, street-smart proto-rap. It’s quite the performance.
The lyric, no doubt inspired by Watergate and Nixon and the political climate of the mid 70s is presciently on the mark for the 21st century; you know my moves…you’re listening to me…feelin’ followed…feelin’ tagged…some little jerk in the FBI keeping papers on me, six feet high….it gets me down…these days it’s all secrecy and noooo privacy… All perfect Goodfellas material too, as it goes.
Good night, sleep tight, whispers Jagger at the end, knowing full well that that’s the last thing you’ll be able to do. If you’re not wide eyed at the thought of being snooped on 24/7, that groove’ll make you want to return the needle to the start of the track and play it just one more time. As far as underplayed Stones’ classics go, Fingerprint File is one of their very best.