September 19, 2011


Jack Flash, Jumping

“I got the moves like Jagger," Adam Levine keeps repeating in Maroon 5's "Moves Like Jagger" video—as if it's a mantra, or as if he can eventually make it true if he says it enough. It's a fair mistake to make: Ke$ha, after all, kicks boys to the curb unless they look like that particular 68-year-old. But there are plenty of reasons why Levine wouldn't want those moves. In fact, it might be a wise idea for him to snag any other moves he can find.

The version of Mick Jagger to which Levine's alluding is the shirtless strutter, the eye-shadowed, menacingly louche love god of a thousand bootleg films. (Let us charitably assume that Christina Aguilera's way-out-of-synch lip-synching for her verse in the video is director Jonas Åkerlund's little tribute to that aesthetic.) He's got moves; it's possible to cop them, as the various Jagger impersonators in the video demonstrate.

But, despite Levine's suggestion, they haven't always been the same moves. You can see the evolution of Jagger's onstage presence by following a single Rolling Stones song, like "Jumpin' Jack Flash." One of its first extant renditions on video is the 1968 performance the Stones shot for their Rock 'n' Roll Circus film. The salient fact of Jagger's dancing here is how awkward it is: check out his woozy little pirouette at the 2:58 mark.

Jagger got more into the song, and generally more comfortable with his physical persona, by 1969. In that performance, Mick's wearing an American-flag top hat and a tight long-sleeved shirt with an omega on it, as well as a scarf tossed behind him to suggest a cape. He looks like a dork. He moves like a dork. And he doesn't care. And it looks fantastic. As he put it in 1978, "I think I'm a terrible dancer... I can't dance steps. I just leap about, and sometimes it's very ungainly. It's hard dancing when you're singing."

The essence of Mick's dancing is that he's super-conscious that he's being watched, but dances as if the only person he's moving for is facing away from him. He can be entirely ungraceful, deliberately or accidentally; he freezes parts of his body into a stiff strut while others wiggle freely. (A little bit of his actual moves--foot motions, in particular--seem to have been picked up from James Brown: see, for instance, the filmed 1964 performance by Brown for a movie in which he more or less blew the Stones off the stage.) The overall impression, though, is of someone who's frantically seeking out more sensation with every part of his body: the motions of an overwhelmed lover.

Over the course of the '70s, Jagger grew more comfortable with moving to entertain an audience rather than stopping to observe and connect with them—see, for instance, this 1972 performance of "Jumpin' Jack Flash," by which time he's acquired his habit of bracing his hip with his left hand, and shaking his head a little too much while singing.

By this 1976 performance, the vocal performance itself has dissolved into a mass of half-rotted consonants and vowels, but Jagger's dressing to show off his seductive shoulder-swings and half-repulsive limb-flapping. He bends over and his legs keep stepping; he has nothing to do with his hips, so he swivels them.

"What I'm doing is a sexual thing. I dance, and all dancing is a replacement for sex," he said in 1966. "What really upsets people is that I'm a man and not a woman... What I do is very much the same as a girl's striptease dance." That's true, as you can see when Jagger dances with a woman. Observe his famous two-song duet with Tina Turner at 1985's Live Aid concert. It's not the kind of dancing where he leads and she follows, or where there's any kind of contrast between their movement styles: they more or less mirror each other the whole time. (He sheds his shirt, and awkwardly squeezes into a bright yellow jacket that's waiting for him; when he rips off her skirt, it's as if he's trying to take care of another parallel bit of choreography.)