POP MUSIC; Keith Richards: Stones Icon, Rock Survivor
New York Times article by Karen Schoemer
Oct. 18, 1992
It's somewhere past midnight in a recording studio on lower Broadway, and Keith Richards is smoking. All around him the lights have been lowered for atmosphere. Every time he takes a drag, the tip of his cigarette glows red like a beacon. Mr. Richards, the longtime rhythm guitarist for the legendary Rolling Stones, stands behind a microphone, preparing to do a vocal track for his second solo album, "Main Offender."
He takes another drag, then attempts to clear his throat. This simple-seeming task proves no mean feat. He's got decades' worth of nicotine down there, and one single harrumph isn't about to do the trick. The throat-clearing turns into a hacking cough and Mr. Richards winds up laughing. He straightens up and looks into the control booth for a cue, but the engineer isn't quite ready. So he lights up another cigarette.
Mr. Richards is wearing what he calls his uniform: a grayish T-shirt, skinny black jeans faded to gray, black buckle boots and a worn, frayed pale-blue denim jacket with the Triumph motorcycle logo on the back. He's got a dark green headband across his forehead, and his eyes seem to be outlined in black eye liner. Other than that, he doesn't so much wear his cool as kind of carry it around inside of him.
Watching Mr. Richards work is a little bit like seeing a piece of rock-and-roll soul in action. Now 48 years old, he remains one of the genre's central movers and motivators: in addition to the release of "Main Offender" this week, he is the subject of a new book, "Keith Richards: The Biography," by Victor Bockris, published by Poseidon Press. "Keith is the great rock icon of our time," says Mr. Bockris. "And he knows that. I think he digs it because it's a good thing, in the same way that Muddy Waters was the great icon of urban blues."
Despite Mr. Richards's age and stature, he continues to move forward. When the engineer finally rolls the tape, he starts dancing loosely with the music, grooving, bringing down his hand in time with a downbeat or guitar chord. Every movement seems effortless, genuine. The song is a pretty, stripped-down ballad called "Yap Yap," and for the next hour or so Mr. Richards will try to nail the first two verses. He has a bit of trouble, partly because of his approach. Neither the words, nor the way he sings them, has been set. Nothing has been written down or decided. Each take comes out slightly differently. Sometimes he just plain fumbles a line, which gives him another good laugh.
As a guitarist, Mr. Richards has always been known for raw passion more than flashy technique, and his singing, too, seems to a great extent instinctive. Each time the engineer plays the track, Mr. Richards drops words and phrases into crevices left by the music, using the vocals as just another texture. "I can't walk into a room with a sheet of paper and say, 'I've got a song,' " he explains later, taking a break and having another smoke. "The song has to come from the music. That's the way I build them up. I'll say, 'Well, I was going to sing about love here, but now it's got to be about hate.' Just depends on how it sounds. Every track has to give you an attitude.
"See, rock-and-roll, as a form of music on paper, is very simple," he continues. "But there are variations you can get in there, and one of the biggest ones is with time, and with phrasing. A lot of it's instinct. Once you spot something, you just grab a hold of it and say, 'O.K., let's see where it goes.'
"Really," he says, starting to smile, "there's no grand strategy. There's no great brain behind this thing. Ha!" He wanders away, chuckling, a trail of smoke curling in the air.
After 30 years with the Stones, Mr. Richards may be reaching yet another peak. In 1988, while the Stones were at a momentary standstill, he recorded his first solo album, "Talk Is Cheap"; the following year he and Mick Jagger reunited to write the material for "Steel Wheels," and the ensuing world tour, which included four sold-out dates at Shea Stadium, was arguably the Stones' most successful ever, at least on a financial level. Mr. Richards has come to "Main Offender" armed with the confidence of a new era. Where "Talk Is Cheap" was almost a retrospective of sounds -- from Chuck Berry-style boogie and James Brown funk to smooth, Memphis soul and Mr. Richards's own brand of riff-happy rock -- "Main Offender" is honed, concentrated and more cohesive.
The album has its share of all-out guitar jams, especially the leadoff track, "999," a celebratory exercise in the riff-based groove. But throughout, Mr. Richards subordinates melody to rhythm, which manages to make "Main Offender" less commercial than its solo predecessor, a record that did not exactly yield a string of hits. At a point in his life where he could be kicking back and doing what comes easy, Mr. Richards is actually striving for a slightly new direction. "There's a lot of things I do that I can't help," he says. "Like that guitar sound. You know who that is. But I don't want to do the expected thing. I want to push it."
The instinctive route has worked so far. His guitar sound is just the musical manifestation; Mr. Richards's habit of doing exactly what he wants without regard for the consequences -- on stage and off -- has fueled the mythology. The Keith Richards image can be summed up in a famous photograph taken by Annie Leibovitz backstage at a Stones concert in 1972, when he was in the throes of his legendary heroin addiction. He's stretched back in a chair, passed out, his hair pushed in a thousand directions, scarves draped about his neck, his shirt open and a rose-buckle belt about his waist. "Oh, that ," he says today. "A man at work trying to grab a nap, you know what I mean?"
That image remains one of rock's sturdiest totems. Every few years a new generation of rockers tries to cop the attitude, and even now, as a new crop of MTV-era bands is trying to recapture some of rock's pre-MTV idealism, Keith Richards clones continue to roam the landscape.
When the Black Crowes slam into two-guitar overdrive, the sound can be traced back to Mr. Richards. When Slash from Guns 'n' Roses stands playing his guitar with a cigarette dripping from the corner of his mouth, the pose belongs to Mr. Richards. When Kurt Cobain of Nirvana was rumored to be indulging in Mr. Richards's once-favorite drug, the roots of that dangerous glamour were clear. Mr. Richards has even survived some of his imitators: Johnny Thunders, who adapted the ethic to the punk era with his late-70's band, the Heartbreakers, died in 1991 of drug-related causes.
"Most artists in our business lose their magic as the business changes and as the artists age," says Phil Quartararo, the president of Virgin Records, which has released both of Mr. Richards's solo albums. "Keith has not only retained his magic, he's gotten better. For people in Guns 'n' Roses and countless other bands that admire this guy, where else would they turn? Keith was the first purist, and he's one of the only remaining purists."
What made the image so potent to begin with was that it didn't seem contrived. Mr. Richards's poses only became poses after the fact; there's a sense that the myth is more perceived than intended. In person, he goes a long way toward deflating some of the myths. He's not intimidating. He has a sense of humor. He's approachable, and very flesh and blood.
A few weeks after the completion of the album, Mr. Richards sits in his management offices in midtown Manhattan. The uniform of the recording sessions has been replaced by a sea-green silk jacket, navy corduroy trousers and purple-and-tan Nikes. "I've changed my whole look since the record," he explains. "Off with the denim and the black, buckled shoes. It was a point of honor: 'I ain't gonna take this off until I finish this record.' I got it washed once or twice, but it was really getting pretty funky."
Ask Mr. Richards about some of rock's younger guns, and he can deflate them as well. The Black Crowes? "Aw, do me a favor," he groans. "I would have thought that by now somebody could come up with something a little more original. The singer, he reminds me of that comedian, Eno, Emo . . . Emo Phillips." Nirvana? "Never heard of them," he says. "I've been there, but I've never heard of them. The name sounds promising. Is it a lot of blokes with long hair and guitars around their necks?"
The fact remains that Mr. Richards could be in danger of being phased out by his progeny. Just as hip-hop retools James Brown, and the Rolling Stones once repackaged rhythm-and-blues, bands like the Black Crowes and Guns 'n' Roses are marketing Keith Richards better than he does himself. Mr. Richards is not made for MTV. "I think there's a confusion with videos and music," he says. "You're mixing two senses. You've got the eyes, which will always take the flash, and you're trying to use them to take in the music.
"I used to like it when TV and rock-and-roll didn't get along," he adds. "To me, TV is the family and the house. Rock-and-roll is something outside the house. But there again, I'm probably one of the main offenders, pardon the pun. We were some of the guys playing Ed Sullivan. In the 60's, we'd say, 'We're going to be on the road somewhere, so we'll give you a film clip,' and he would take it. I'm not saying these were the first videos, because they were filmed. They were fun, because you didn't realize that you were starting off some fledgling industry, which is now a billion-dollar thing."
From their begining in 1962, the Stones were at the vanguard of the anti-establishment; even among rock acts they were considered among the most threatening to the status quo. As host of the television show "The Hollywood Palace" in 1964, Dean Martin made a crack about the Stones' long hair and introduced them by saying, "I don't know what these kids are talking about."
Mr. Richards says: "To him, we were just some drag act. All that stuff, it was like you were just thrown in the deep end. Ed Sullivan, Dean Martin -- wow! I'm big time now! You're on after the elephants! At that time we must have been the most bizarre thing he'd ever seen. The elephants were normal to him."
In the early 70's, England effectively threw the band out of the country on the basis of a tax charge. "When they couldn't bust us, and they tried, they put the economic screws on us," Mr. Richards says. "We have to leave England or no more Rolling Stones. Which is pretty funny -- that England has to expel a rock-and-roll band." But by the late 70's and the punk explosion, the Stones' position flipped and they became part of the establishment. "We were watching this gang of kids that can't play pull the same number that we played in the early 60's, which is to be outrageous," says Mr. Richards.
Now, 15 years after that, Mr. Richards is essentially the vanguard within the Stones. With the "Steel Wheels" tour, the group has turned rock-and-roll into large-scale theater with fireworks, giant inflatable dolls, elaborate stage sets and strings of hits that spanned three decades of recording history.
Mr. Richards and Mr. Jagger plan to start working on material for a new Stones album in early '93, but in the meantime the band is at a lull. Mr. Jagger, who has his own solo album due out next month, has already oiled the MTV machinery by appearing on the channel's Video Music Awards show last month. Charlie Watts has gone jazz, releasing his second album tribute to Charlie Parker earlier this year. Ron Wood, himself something of a Keith Richards clone, made a ripple or two with a solo album, "Slide on This," last month. And Bill Wyman has said he has left the group. "When we're ready to work, I'm hoping he'll be there," Mr. Richards says. "I've spoken to some of his old girlfriends that know him really well who've said he'll probably be there."
Mr. Richards, meanwhile, continues to forge ahead on his chosen path. "Main Offender" is tougher and more tempermental than any record the Stones have released in years. Written into its riffs and grooves are tiny, subtle notes on a life spent in rock's thick shadows at the edge of the spotlight. The ballad "Yap Yap," with its funny, rhythmic title, is itself about words: how it feels to be always talked about and interpreted, and how words can only go part of the way toward explaining what's inside.
"I go for something that sounds great, and if you want to try and figure out exactly what it means, let me know," Mr. Richards says. "Because there's no exact meaning to it. It's like life. It's all a little jagged and a little misunderstood."
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About the New York Song, ‘Bazooka Joe Don’t Live There Any More’ by Singer-Songwriter Gone Marshall
The New York song, ‘Bazooka Joe Don’t Live There Any More‘ (aka, ‘Bazooka Joe’), is an alternative folk & rock song I wrote as an homage to an old school New York neighborhood hero. The song was inspired by my association and friendship with long time resident of Little Italy’s MacDougal Street, Mr. Leonard Cecere, who ran a small but famous mailbox and card shop called ‘Something Special’ on the corner of Houston Street and MacDougal streets in New York City’s SOHO/Greenwich Village.
I’d first stumbled upon Lenny and his shop, ‘Something Special’ when I was in need of a mailbox at the time, as I’d just relocated back to New York City, in a self-funded effort to complete a documentary about street booksellers in New York. (*Note: That movie, ‘BookWars’, went on to have a decent art house run and international TV sales; it’s now part of the Circulating Film & Video Collection at the Museum of Modern Art, NYC)
At the time, I had very little funds, and no real place to live, as I was in between rented rooms as a self-funded indie filmmaker. So, I needed a mailbox first and foremost.
I was living in a small rented room on Morton street in the West Village, so I went scouting around to find a mailbox in the neighborhood.
What I encountered was ‘Something Special’, an old-school, slightly dog-eared combination card, gift, trinket and mailbox shop on the corner. It was a real old time, independent establishment through and through, something that must have been standard in the village throughout the 50s, 60’s and 70s, up until New York really started to develop.
It would have been in the year 1999 or 2000 that I met Lenny and his shop. Even then, New York City was really beginning to change, with many of the dive bars and hangouts of the East Village being converted into condos, and the central village area becoming more posh and upscale – a far cry from its scrappy 1950’s/60’s roots.
Yet, here was Lenny and his shop, ‘Something Special’. His shop was like a time capsule, not deliberately so, I think, but an actual neighborhood shop and corner store which had been planted there for decades and was still going strong.
Lenny and his wife, Lucy, were long time, original residents of that corner of SoHo-Little Italy, where it just meets up with the Village, and they were beloved by all. Basically, they were neighborhood heroes, as far as I could discern…
I didn’t realize this at the time, as I was just seeking a mailbox at first… it turns out that a lot of famous people (celebrities, writers, you name it) had mailboxes at Lenny’s shop too. Other notables who didn’t have a mailbox there would stop in for a coffee, or donut, or just to shoot the breeze with Lenny. I guess celebs needed a nondescript mailbox, and folks who appreciated the ‘real, old-school New York’ would stop by Something Special just to remind themselves of the original neighborhood spirit of the city.
Sara Jessica Parker, one of many celebrities who had a mailbox at ‘Something Special’and whose headshot was on display
Actor Matthew Broderick’s framed headshot stood atop a jumbled shelf in back of the register
Lucy Lawless (Xena the Warrior Princess), whose framed publicity still also stood behind the register at ‘Something Special’. Some lyrics from the song refer to her ‘jungle dress’ and a ‘warrior princess in the mud’ 🙂
Lenny was not the time to proclaim anything, though he proudly displayed the photos that his celebrity fans would give him on the shelf behind the counter. Sarah Jessica Parker (‘Sex in the City’) had her photo in there, as did Matthew Broderick. Lucy Lawless (‘Xena the Warrior Princess’) had her photo in there; she was wearing a sort of leopard skin outfit which I refer to in the song as a ‘jungle dress’, feeding us with ‘fire and thunder’
There were a few other notables in the neighborhood too, there on the corner of MacDougal and Houston, who either had a mailbox at Lenny’s or just stopped in to say “Hi”.
As I recall, Patti Smith had a house next door or nearby, for instance. I bumped into her a few times while stopping off to get a donut or coffee soda, or to pick up my mail. Nobody bothered anyone if they were visiting ‘Something Special’, as if it were an unwritten code of conduct. I mean, you could run into someone notable there and just say ‘hey’ or ‘ how’s it going?’, and then go and get your mail.
Lenny would greet everyone the same way: ‘Hi Patti’. Or to me, when I showed up once with a box of videotapes of my movie after it had finally been released:
(My real name is Rosette, which is French actually, though Lenny converted this into Italian)
‘Hey Rosetti. When you gonna’ be famous? You got a movie now. You wrote a book too.’
‘Ah…I don’t know Lenny. I’m just doing what I can.’
(It didn’t matter to Lenny that I was still scraping to get by – literally. I even painted his storefront once in exchange for mailbox rental, I was cutting it so close)
‘You want a cup of coffee?’
Anyway, Lenny and his shop, ‘Something Special’ is at the heart of the song, ‘Bazooka Joe Don’t Live There Any More‘. I’m quite sure that any listeners who knew Lenny or his shop, or some of the folks who hung out there, would recognize a lot from the lyrics.
Actually, I should now explain how the song got its title. Lenny told me once, I think it was a winter day actually, maybe that’s how we got on the subject, how he’d served in the Army during the Battle of the Bulge, aka the Ardennes Offensive, in 1944. He mentioned that, while he was not a front line soldier (*I forget now what he told me he was doing, he could have been an engineer or support troop), the offensive took place so suddenly – per Hitler’s plan – that the US forces had no time to compose themselves properly.
So Lenny related to me how a seargent had come up to him with a Bazooka, which is a shoulder launched anti-tank weapon and told him:
“Cecere, take this Bazooka and guard that bridge. Nothing crosses that bridge. Not even if it’s one of our tanks or vehicles, ’cause the Krauts are using our stuff against us. If they try to send a tank across , you take them out with this. Aim at the ground just in front of the tank, so’s it bounces up underneath where the armor is thin” (All this is per my recollection now, from our discussion, I may have some details off but that’s essentially what Lenny told me).
Lenny took the Bazooka, without any training, and guarded that bridge. He told me nothing happened in the end, but for the few hours or a day that he was standing there, it was just Lenny with a bazooka against the Wehrmacht.
(*There’s actually an extended bridge section in the song which refers to this moment, but I had to take it out because the song was running too long. Here are the lyrics for this missing section:
EXTENDED BRIDGE (*extended version only, not present in current track)
When the battle lines bulged / I stood there at the bridge / My finger on the trigger / On the Ardennes grimy ridge
Take this rocket, son / Front line’s gone, pick up a gun / Punch it at the lip of Earth / ‘Neath the Tiger’s grey steely girth
I saw squirrels some birds / But no charging tank / Clouds broke for our Thunderbolts / I went back to my rank
Transition Back to Main Bridge C-> A -> C -> A
So, I had to put the bazooka reference in the song, and I fit it into the title. It also made a bit of sense to allude to the popular Bazooka Joe bubble gum comics which were launched in the 50’s. The Bazooka Joe sensibility kind of matches the feeling of ‘Something Special’, which was in its multi-purpose way, also a candy shop for school kids passing by on their way home from school.
Now, WHY did I write the song? Well, per the lyrics, I found myself many years later, in 2017 or so, living far, far away, starting to make more music and writing more songs. I had pivoted from filmmaking to songwriting. So, I was poking around on the internet one afternoon looking for ‘Dean Martin songs’ (per the lyrics of the song), as I wanted something with a crooner-like aspect to cover.
Then it occurred to me, as time had passed, and as life had grown busy (and sometimes frantically so, as I had been trying to make creative projects and stay afloat for a couple decades already) that I’d lost touch with Lenny over the years. He flitted into my mind though as I looked for Rat Pack music, you know, Dean Martin, Sinatra, and the like. Something about Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra reminded me of Lenny all of a sudden.
Well, I figured, that, yes, it’s possible or even likely that Lenny may have passed away – I think this was 2017 that I was looking for the Dean Martin songs – but I couldn’t know for sure until I looked.
Anyway, I did search for him online and found out that, indeed he had passed away, I think the year before.
Even though I now knew, logically, that time passes by and waits for no one, it still hit me very hard for some reason when I saw Lenny’s obituary there facing me online. Because he was a kind of neighborhood hero, along with his wife Lucy actually. Real life, everyday heroes, quite possibly saint, or at least saint-like, though I am not Catholic, I believe he and his wife Lucy were.
Not to mention that I had some great personal memories of him, his shop, the ‘real New York’ portal that it was, and all the folks who passed through and populated ‘Something Special’.
On the other hand, there’s also a wistfullness to the song, in that ‘Bazooka Joe’ does not live there any more. He (Lenny and many other old school neighborhood heroes) is physically gone. His memory is not gone, but that type of person – open, frank, character-driven – seems to be becoming scarce these days.
Passing elephant nose man from the Greenwich Village, NYC documentary, ‘BookWars’
New York City’s character, well Manhattan at least, also seems to be homogenizing somewhat as it develops and prices the ‘characters’ out of the city, bit by bit. I’m not the first to point this out, by the way – this is also one of the themes that appears in the aforementioned New York documentary I made, ‘BookWars’.
I should also say though, in fairness, that Jackson Heights and other areas in Queens and beyond still seem to have a lot of character…but in terms of Manhattan and the Village, the old school people like Lenny and places like ‘Something Special’ are disappearing, bit by bit. It would be great if a new generation of ‘old schoolers’ may somehow emerge to take their place, if that may somehow be possible.
Anyway, I don’t know why it took me a couple years to actually gather the song fragments, formulate them, and produce them into a final track. Well, I’m still emerging music artist, with limited (self) funding – that’s one reason. My creative mind and momentum was also derailed here and there for rather long stretches when financial situations demanded my full attention.
Of course, that’s not my motivation with this tune, as it’s an homage, and is beyond strict valuation.
Which is why I had to push ahead with it…it’s really something straight from the heart.
So, I chugged ahead, along with some other great session players (some working remotely) and finally completed the song. The elapsed time from recording the first scratch guitar and vocals to the final master and mix was about 5 months.
The elapsed time from reading about Lenny’s passing to releasing the final track was about 3.5 years.
Who knows, maybe the song needed a long time to sit and brew, as it’s really rather a dense and detailed clipping of a real time and place, and full of memories to handle with grace and care. I think I approached this song like a documentary to some degree, maybe because of my filmmaking background?
Anyway: I hope folks can gather something nice from the song, and that they may be moved by it in a ‘Special’ way!
Gone Marshall, Songwriter, ‘Bazooka Joe Don’t Live There Any More’
‘Bazooka Joe Don’t Live There Any More’
A Song by Gone Marshall
Writing, Composition, Acoustic Guitar, Main Vocals: Gone Marshall
Fingerpick Acoustic Guitar: Richard ‘RJ’ Marshall
Female Vocals: Ieva Zdram
Electric Guitar: Jake Bisognin
Percussion: Brian Petry
Bass: Alan Reynolds
Mixed by: Skyler Taylor & Jason Rosette
Produced by Jason Rosette @ CAMERADO (ASCAP)
(c) 2020 Camerado Music & Jason Rosette obo dba Gone Marshall
REVIEWING THE CHARTS: 05/12/2020
Earlier this week, I finished and released by end-of-year list of the Top 10 Best Hit Songs of 2020, which, for once, was on time, being released on the 1st – or 2nd – of December, depending on your time zone. That means I’ve already spent hours discussing music, and to be honest, I have a pretty bad headache in addition to this, so you know, I’m not really in that chart-reviewing spirit. Thankfully, we have very few songs to review here, and a lot of it should be pretty inoffensive. Now, before that, let’s talk about the actual state of the charts because it is looking ridiculous. Ariana Grande’s “positions” spend its sixth week at #1, and welcome to REVIEWING THE CHARTS.
Much like last week, it was an absolute bloodbath for any non-Christmas song this week, and this especially affects the hip hop and R&B on the chart. In the UK Top 75, which I cover every week, there’s a drastic difference to the US Billboard Hot 100, and that is the lack of radio. Radio impressions or plays have never been counted on the UK Singles Chart, and whilst in the States, I understand that a lot of Christmas songs rely on the radio, this is not true at all across the pond, because, for whatever reason, Christmas songs are streamed and bought a lot here even 60 years after the song’s original release. This is likely due to a smaller, arguably less diverse population and the immense amount of streaming service-curated playlists, which serve the same purpose as radio and often have the exact same label gimmickry and payola. Regardless, there is a stupid amount of drop-outs and fallers this week, for pretty big tracks as well. Now as I said I only cover the top 75 of the UK Singles Chart because it’s just easier and really, who cares about those last 25 songs? On the UK Singles Chart proper, Lewis Capaldi’s “Someone You Loved”, one of the biggest hits of 2019 and 2020, just spent its 100th week on the chart, which is insane, especially for a modern song. I think the song is dreadful but it is one of the biggest songs of all time here on the Isles, and since we’re going by my measures, it just dropped out (after spending seven weeks at #1, mind you). Of course, that’s not the only notable drop-out – and to be notable, you have to have spent five weeks on the chart or peaked in the top 40 – this week. Let’s list them, shall we? We have “Watermelon Sugar” by Harry Styles, which spent 40 weeks on the chart, as well as #1 hit “Savage Love (Laxed – Siren Beat)” by Jawsh 685 and Jason Derulo, “Giants” by Dermot Kennedy, “Mood Swings” by the late Pop Smoke featuring Lil Tjay, “Lighter” by Nathan Dawe and KSI, “Take You Dancing” by Jason Derulo, “Holiday” by Little Mix, “Tick Tock” by Clean Bandit featuring Mabel and 24kGoldn, “Come Over” by Rudimental featuring Anne-Marie and Tion Wayne, “Lasting Lover” by Sigala and James Arthur, “Holy” by Justin Bieber featuring Chance the Rapper, “One Too Many” by Keith Urban and P!nk, “Papi Chulo” by Octavian and Skepta, “Heat Waves” by Glass Animals, “Deluded” by Tion Wayne and MIST, “Confetti” by Little Mix, “pov” by Ariana Grande (to make way for another one of her songs we’ll get to – also probably the only actually good song that dropped out this week) and finally, “Life Goes On” by BTS off of the debut at #10. On the chart proper, this is one of the biggest free-fall drops of all time, and honestly, who wasn’t expecting this? Speaking of falls, we have a lot of those too. Whilst these are fallers, you should consider how impressive they are for even trying to survive the holiday season, which just can’t be done for a lot of these songs, even the biggest hits of the year, some of which we just mentioned. One of the funniest parts of this to me is that KSI of all people survived the overload of Christmas songs through his Craig David chorus on “Really Love” with Digital Farm Animals down to #17. For a former YouTuber, he has an immense amount of star-power and it’s kind of worrying. Otherwise, our notable fallers include “Paradise” by MEDUZA and Dermot Kennedy at #24, “Train Wreck” by James Arthur at #25 (not a good week for either of these guys – or anyone), “Monster” by Shawn Mendes and Justin Bieber at #26 off of the top 10 debut, “Mood” by 24kGoldn featuring iann dior at #27, “Head & Heart” by Joel Corry and MNEK at #29, “Get Out My Head” by Shane Codd stripped of all of its gains at #31 (seriously, whilst most of these songs were fading naturally prior, this is worrying), “Lemonade” by Internet Money and Gunna featuring NAV and Don Toliver at #34, “Lonely” by Justin Bieber and benny blanco at #42 (giving him four songs as a lead artist on the chart – OCC, that’s not how your dumb rules work; be consistent), “See Nobody” by Wes Nelson and Hardy Caprio really having the most intense combination of streaming cuts and Christmas music at #44, “Wonder” by Shawn Mendes flailing at #45 (it will probably rebound next week), “Blinding Lights” by the Weeknd at #46 (same here), “Golden” by Harry Styles at #47, “Loading” by Central Cee at #48, “What You Know Bout Love” by the late Pop Smoke at #49, “i miss u” by Jax Jones and Au/Ra at #50, “Sunflower (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse)” by Post Malone and Swae Lee at #52, “UFO” by D-Block Europe and Aitch at #55, “Plugged in Freestyle” by A92 and Fumez the Engineer at #56, “Princess Cuts” by Headie One featuring Young T & Bugsey at #60 (which happened to play as I was writing this), “Looking for Me” by Paul Woodford, Diplo and Kareen Lomax at #61, “WAP” by Cardi B featuring Megan Thee Stallion at #62, “Diamonds” by Sam Smith having the biggest fall to #63, “Ain’t it Different” by Headie One featuring AJ Tracey and Stormzy at #65, “Chingy (It’s Whatever)” by Digga D at #69, “Come Over” by Jorja Smith and Popcaan at #70, “SO DONE” by The Kid LAROI at #71 and finally, “Flavour” by Loski and Stormzy at #74. A YouTube comment on the video version of this chart read, “RIP to hip hop and R&B in the UK, 2020-2020”, and, I mean, it’s a fair assessment. That’s not all though, folks, as we have the returning entries, most of which are very explicitly Christmas songs. Let’s start with “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” by Sam Smith at #75, and continue up the chart with “Cozy Little Christmas” by Katy Perry at #73, “Christmas Lights” by Coldplay at #72 (always the best song on the entire chart whenever it returns), “A Little Love” by Celeste from the John Lewis advert at #64, “Feliz Navidad” by José Feliciano at #54, “Santa Baby” by Kylie Minogue at #57, “Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!” by the late Dean Martin at #54, “Sleigh Ride” by the Ronettes at #52, “Mistletoe” by Justin Bieber at #43, “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” by the late John Lennon, Yoko Ono and the Plastic Ono Band featuring the Harlem Community Choir at #40 (always the worst song on the chart whenever it returns), “Wonderful Christmastime” by Paul McCartney at #39 (this is an accurate ranking of the Beatles), “Jingle Bell Rock” by the late Bobby Helms at #38, “Holly Jolly Christmas” by Michael Bublé at #37 and “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” by the late Andy Williams at #36. Yes, that’s five consecutive Christmas songs returning to the top 40, made all the more ridiculous when you realise it’s topped off by “HOLIDAY” by Lil Nas X... at #41 – and it actually gained this week! Oh, and we don’t stop there either as not only do we have “Santa Tell Me” by Ariana Grande returning to #16 as well, but we also have all of the gains this week. All of our notable gains are in the top 40 and all but one are Christmas songs, so let’s start with “One More Sleep” by Leona Lewis up to #33 (our greatest gain this week) and continue up the chart with “Merry Xmas Everybody” by Slade at #32, “This Christmas” by Jess Glynne at #28, “I Wish it Could be Christmas Everyday” by Wizzard at #23, “Driving Home for Christmas” by Chris Rea at #22, “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” by Justin Bieber and Brenda Lee at #21 and #19 respectively, “Underneath the Tree” by Kelly Clarkson at #20, “Step into Christmas” by Elton John at #18, “Do They Know it’s Christmas?” by Band Aid at #15 (looking at this chart, I think we ALL know exactly what time it is), “Merry Christmas Everyone” by Shakin’ Stevens at #14, “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” by Michael Bublé at #13, “Fairytale of New York” by the Pogues featuring the late Kirsty MacColl at #9, “Last Christmas” by Wham! at #3, and finally, “All I Want for Christmas is You” by Mariah Carey at #2. I don’t know if I’ll be happier if a 1994 classic hits #1 for the first time this Christmas, or an Ariana Grande song about sex positions takes the Christmas #1, given, of course, that LadBaby doesn’t pull something out of his ass last minute. Christmas also actually lands on a Friday this week, so there’s potentially two Christmas #1s: the #1 on Christmas Day and the #1 that includes Christmas Day. I mean, there’s this issue every year but since the chart week literally starts and ends on the day this year, I guess we’ll just have to see what the Official Charts Company decides. For now, after not-so-swiftly covering all of that garbage – and there’s three weeks more of it to come, folks – let’s discuss some of our new arrivals, none of which I imagine will be all that interesting but, hey, at least they’re not Christmas songs. In fact...
#68 – “Body” – Megan Thee Stallion
Produced by LilJuMadeThatBeat
...It’s the antithesis of what it means to be wholesome, commercial and festive. You all know and love Megan Thee Stallion by now, and whilst I didn’t listen to that debut record yet – it is 17 songs after all – I have heard pretty positive reception so I will check out Good News at some point. Rico Nasty did release a record that’s only one less track and 13 full minutes shorter, so to be honest, I’m a lot more excited to check out that album, even if it won’t have any impact here. I did laugh at the track list when I saw “Intercourse (feat. Popcaan & Mustard)” though, which is one of the few times I have genuinely laughed at just a track list. “Shots Fired” is a pretty great Tory Lanez diss track though, so I’ll say that. “Body” is relatively deep into the track listing, yet seems to be the biggest hit, mostly because of that polarising earworm hook and the music video. Oh, yeah, and it straight-up samples a woman having an orgasm, so don’t expect this to stick around. In fact, that’s the only melody behind this dirty South bounce-adjacent track, and even with that, it only comes in on that chorus, which is less annoying to me as it is just catchy. It’s not like men haven’t done the same thing, though, I mean, Dr. Dre famously – or infamously – “paused 4 porno” on his album 2001, and just in 2018, Kanye released “XTCY”, a song that is hilariously lacking in any kind of moral compass, let alone born-again Christianity. It did the same thing that “Body” does with the moaning yet it also covers it in this really eerie sample, as well as spare 808s and a drum beat that doesn’t feel like it gets in the way of whatever the hell Kanye’s doing on this track. It also helps that the moaning doesn’t just come in on the chorus, instead we have a string swell to distinguish it, and that Kanye has more of a comical lyrical nature on “XTCY”. This comparison is only fair when looking at the production, though, as whilst Kanye has “sick thoughts”, Megan is just bragging about her own body-ody-ody-ody-ody, etc. over a pretty mainstream, accessible beat, even if it has really ugly, loud 808s that kind of do get in the way of the rapping here. Thankfully, Megan rides this beat forcefully – no pun intended – and with some really great wordplay, even if there are a few immediately dated references here and there. That third verse is also pretty funny, and whilst I don’t want to focus too much on this song – it’s a family show after all – this is pretty lively and whilst I’m not a fan of this beat, Megan makes it worth sitting through and honestly, the song sounds a lot shorter than it is. Check it out.
#67 – “Love is a Compass” – Griff
Produced by PARKWILD
I didn’t say the word “compass” on purpose knowing this song would be next, although perhaps I subconsciously snuck the word in. Maybe I should have made it seem like I foreshadowed this song, but honestly what about this warrants foreshadowing? I don’t mind Disney music at all. In fact, a lot of the films are full of really classic compositions that have aged incredibly, including the Renaissance era of their films, especially. In fact, “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” from Mulan – the original – is one of the few soundtrack songs that is directly related to and featured in the film yet I can still listen to outside of that context. I’ve not even watched either Mulan – or have Disney+ - so it’s not like I’m a big fan, but I can appreciate the music when I find it, even if I mostly despise everything Disney stands for as a company. The issue with this is that it cannot apply to “Love is a Compass”. I’m sure Griff and her producer PARKWILD are talented musicians, but this is purely a product. This wasn’t even made for an original animated feature, or a painfully weak adaptation of one of their original animated features starring Will Smith as the Genie. This is a generic piano ballad made for an advert, because just like literal shops and manufacturing companies like John Lewis, Disney has a Christmas advert. There’s nothing artistic about this. This “emotional” piano ballad is layered in reverb and egregious Auto-Tune that drains Griff of whatever emotion her delivery could have had. It doesn’t sound good in this context at all and it is so obvious, which is unfortunate because her voice, Auto-Tuned in a similar way, could easily work over more lo-fi and interesting production. As it is, this is repulsive, sonically and on every other level beyond that.
#66 – “Angels Like You” – Miley Cyrus
Produced by Louis Bell and watt
So, Miley Cyrus dropped her album, Plastic Hearts, last week and I expected more impact on the chart but the two singles are really THAT big that not any of the album cuts had much of a chance, even if “Prisoner” dropped a few spaces. Other than that, “Midnight Sky” is still in the top five and near the end of the chart, we have a debut: “Angels Like You”. It’s clear why this charted because this isn’t just a highlight from the album or a personal favourite of mine, but it’s a fan favourite honestly, a career highlight – which may not be hard to make, I mean, it’s Miley Cyrus we’re talking about – but it still impresses me with how much I really love this song. This is more of a mellow ballad than many of the tracks surrounding it on the record, with Cyrus’ raspy country twang finally met with a fitting blend of acoustic guitars and a genuine orchestral swell in the chorus, even if at times it decides to start clipping. The shift in guitar tone to a dirtier, aggressive one after the first chorus is a genius touch, and even the pretty stiff drum machine here feels like it adds a lot to the power of this song, especially when it starts kicking behind the screeching guitar solo, leading into an admittedly anti-climactic final chorus... that might even be fitting for the content, which is a break-up song but not one that decides to deflect blame or even focus entirely on the break-up, rather being an acknowledgement of what both parties here did wrong, and why they ended up in the relationship to begin with. Both Cyrus and her ex-girlfriend Kaitlynn Carter were in rough spots coming off of previous relationships in late 2019 and those dark spots are what Cyrus understands lead to the collapse of this relationship. She discusses the lack of connection between the two in the first verse, leading to a literally nameless relationship where it was full of romantic gestures but not any depth. The chorus is a complex look at how Cyrus knew she would look back on the relationship as little more than a fling, but how she regrets that this is her only view of the relationship. She didn’t want anything more and split after things started getting too serious, and feels genuine guilt for using Carter to heal her own depression, because “misery needs company”. She uses the biblical metaphor to demonstrate how she feels she tugged down her girlfriend, described here as an “angel”, to the hell Cyrus thinks she resides in, which may be melodramatic, sure, but I’d be lying if I said Cyrus doesn’t completely sell it here, with some of her best vocals to date, backed up by gorgeous production and really well-written lyrics. This is a genuinely brilliant ballad, give it a listen.
#58 – “Naughty List” – Liam Payne and Dixie D’Amelio
Produced by TMS
I’ve been writing these producers as “TM5” for so long without realising it’s an abbreviation for “The Music Shed”. Anyway, I hope we can all agree that Liam Payne is probably the worst off when comparing the One Direction boys and their solo careers so far. Harry Styles is one of the biggest stars in the world, making a twist on 70s classic rock that I don’t like at all but he IS making headlines and having massive chart success. Niall Horan is having mild success making rock and folk albums that are honestly alright, ZAYN has two albums under his belt that may not be listenable but at least the first one was a success and he did go into a more mature R&B direction, and Louis Tomlinson might not have been met with any success from his album earlier this year but at least there’s some quality there. Liam Payne, however, has been releasing straight garbage to no fanfare for the past three years, dating back to “Strip that Down” with Quavo, and continuing down the path of feigning maturity and development with music clearly not backing it up, demonstrated by the bisexual fetishism on his delayed debut album and how his collaborations went from relying on Zedd to relying on J Balvin to relying on TikTok stars on a sexually-charged Christmas single that couldn’t even crack the top 50. I have no idea who Dixie D’Amelio is other than seeing her sister’s controversies on Twitter in passing, but it is depressing that a major-label pop star needs D’Amelio to chart this high – and no, given his most recent singles with bigger features like A Boogie wit da Hoodie and Cheat Codes, as well as the shoddy performance of his last Christmas song, I’m not even considering that it’s the other way around. This immediately, in its first 15 seconds, makes sure you know this will be awful, with its tedious acoustic guitar strumming fused with cheap sounding sleigh bells and dated trap percussion, even with little “hey!” gang vocals straight out of 2014 that make this sound a lot less new and fresh than I think Payne thought it did. Also, something about these lyrics sounds really odd when you consider the age gap between the two vocalists. I mean, D’Amelio’s 19 years old, so it’s not like this is illegal in any way (and they didn’t have any chemistry to begin with), but the childlike imagery in the chorus just makes this gross. “Santa saw the things we did and put us on the naughty list”? This has less subtlety than 3OH!3’s Christmas song they released this year. Yes, that happened, and somehow the two washed-up early 2010s pop stars made a “dirty” Christmas song that is miles better than Liam Payne’s, probably because of the more interesting lyrical detail, and that, you know, it isn’t a duet. Check out “KISSELTOE” if you’re interested, it’s really good. I liked their comeback single with 100 gecs too so I’m pretty excited for whatever comes out of 3OH!3’s recent productivity. This song, on the other hand, as well as the upcoming joke, is just Payne-full.
#53 – “No Time for Tears” – Nathan Dawe and Little Mix
Produced by Tré Jean-Marie and Nathan Dawe
Okay, so, I understand the marketing of releasing a single after a long time of not releasing a single and after your singles have all dropped out of the chart, but Little Mix are just being managed horribly here. Why would you release a single in the Christmas season that you want to be big? This isn’t a holiday song in any way and doesn’t even sound like one, so releasing it this early into the Christmas season is just begging for it to be forgotten and eventually flop. Nathan Dawe is an EDM DJ so he doesn’t need this type of promotion as long as he can tour next year and he’s got big features, and Little Mix don’t need any extra singles because they’re still in the top 10 and they’ve branched out to reality television. Just let the girls breathe for a second and enjoy their success. Oh, and this song isn’t just logistically unnecessary, it’s sonically unnecessary, acting as a house-pop club banger with that standard piano sound reminiscent of 90s house that has been adopted recently by DJs, with any of the infectious melodies and genuine drive sucked out of it, especially if Dawe is going to add a Goddamn trap breakdown in the second verse with the most pathetic set of percussion I’ve heard in years on a house track. It’s not like Little Mix are saving this either because the lyrical content is re-tread and their performances are largely unrecognisable from each other and songs they’ve made before. Yeah, this isn’t offensive, but it isn’t interesting, outside of that bridge, but even then it builds up perfectly to a chorus that’s interrupted by a pointless, repetitious interlude. This song isn’t just uninteresting, it’s inherently unnecessary on all fronts, which if anything, is just kind of sad.
#35 – “All You’re Dreaming Of” – Liam Gallagher
Produced by Simon Aldred and Andrew Wyatt
Surely out of all of these songs, I’d have the most to say about our top 40 debut, with Liam Gallagher, former frontman of legendary rock band Oasis, and his new lead single, right? Well, no, because here are some unfortunate truths: Oasis made two good albums, and they’re not as good as you remember. Liam Gallagher is an awful person who continued to rip off his own band with his new one, without the songwriting ability his brother Noel had. Liam continues to be persistent in his making of enemies for no other reason than publicity. Noel’s reaching out to Liam for the sake of at least reconciliation goes completely unnoticed, ignored or criticised by Liam for no discernable reason other than an on-and-off again facade that’s been going on for more than a decade. Noel wasn’t even that great of a songwriter, relying mostly on musicianship and other people’s melodies he liked to co-opt for his own tracks. None of their solo work has been listenable yet still gathers attention that I imagine is to the dismay of those other band members in Oasis who, ultimately, made those classic albums as much as the Gallaghers. Where’s the praise for Bonehead, Guigsy or even Gem Archer, who stuck it out despite decreasing popularity, utter lack of musical quality and increasing tensions between the people who kept the band afloat until they decided to break up? Both Noel and Liam look at Oasis with regret or admiration depending on how they feel that day but when you look at who REALLY won that Britpop battle tabloids liked to hype up in the 1990s, you realise how far away Oasis was from Blur or even Pulp in terms of not only their songs but having their stuff together. This new song is complete garbage as well, with a pretty awful mixing job, Liam being as distinctively nasal and infuriating as he is with any of his songs let alone his uninteresting ballads, and the COVID-19 charity pandering that comes off as really false, especially since even after Noel released an Oasis track this year as a result of the lockdown – and Liam whining about how he wants to bring the band together to help the NHS – he criticised the honest release of the demo, which Noel wrote and sang himself. It’s also especially telling how the proceeds are only going to benefit charity for its first month of release. Afterwards, Liam and the label can scrape up whatever leftover streams they get from diehard fans. I don’t like Band Aid at all, in fact the song is pretty damn rancid, but at least they keep on recording updated versions to give to modern charities. Liam, you’ve got a bank account the average Manchurian would dream of. This charity single is a fraud, and a pretty hypocritical, immoral one at that.
I think on principle on how fake it is and how awful the song is, I have to give Worst of the Week to Gallagher... but I have a rule against crowning any kind of charity single with that title. At the end of the day, at least something at some point is going to the people who need it. Worst of the Week in that case goes to “Naughty List” by Liam Payne and Dixie D’Amelio, with a Dishonourable Mention to the product that is Griff’s “Love is a Compass”. Best of the Week should be obvious as it’s going to Miley Cyrus for “Angels Like You”, with an Honourable Mention to Megan Thee Stallion’s “Body”. Here’s this week’s top 10:
May I remind you this is the first week of December? Anyway, I doubt Shawn Mendes will make anything through the barrage of holiday tracks, but if he does, that’s next week. Thank you for reading and follow me at @cactusinthebank for more ramblings of this sort, I suppose. See you next week!
2.11 Ruslan Denisov #67
1 [ Men chanting in native language ] [ Church bell tolls ] [ Indistinct shouting ] You lie.
[ Breathing heavily ] Would a simple servant of God have this? You're no more a priest than I am.
Here's your burning bush.
So talk to your God.
[ Keypad beeps ] [ Ringing ] This is Burke.
We have a situation.
[ Knock on door ] Officer Collins.
We spoke on the phone.
Detective, thanks for coming.
Susan, this is Detective Wilcox with Metro PD.
I've brought him up to speed.
Ames, we'll do whatever we can to find your husband.
Eugene disappears sometimes to Atlantic City, once to Vegas, but he always calls, and he's never gone for more than a few days.
And I understand there's some incident that happened before his absence-- Eugene came home.
He said he got an anonymous tip about trespassers over by one of the marina docks.
The Lieutenant went to check it out, came back about an hour later, said he got the scare of his life.
He ran into an FBI agent on one of the old ships, said she pulled out a gun as he was boarding.
An FBI agent? Said the FBI was looking for two fugitives who escaped Cumberland the night before.
If something happened to Eugene, it's got to be one of them.
Don't you think? This agent he spoke with-- is there any chance your husband got a name? He did better than that.
She gave him a card.
Special Agent Elizabeth Keen.
Aram: I've never seen anything like it.
What is it? I don't know.
It was I think it contains some kind of message.
Where'd you get it? I need you to see if you can figure out what it is, how it works.
There are people who are far more qualified at this kind of thing than me.
But none that I know and trust.
- [ Footsteps approaching ]
Red: - I hope I'm interrupting.
You're not answering your phone.
So leave a message.
Two, in fact.
We have a new case, Agent Keen.
Then tell Cooper.
That's not how this works.
I think I left my soup in the microwave.
Liz: I know exactly how this works.
You lie, say what you need to say to make me believe you actually care-- That's not true.
You're after the Fulcrum.
It's why you're here.
Not to help me or protect me or whatever spin you're selling today.
Well, I'm not buying it.
From this point on, there's no reason for us to talk unless it's about the work.
Then let's work.
I think you'll find today's most intriguing story on page 20, bottom-left corner.
"According to Uzbek authorities, Father Aleksandr Nabiyev, a local priest in the Tashkent Region of Uzbekistan"-- You're intrigued because a priest was kidnapped? No.
I'm intrigued because the priest is not a priest.
From what I hear, the good Father Nabiyev is an agent of the CIA.
That's a crime, Agent Keen.
Going back to the Cold War, the CIA has a long and controversial history of using religious figures as spies in violation of executive orders, internal CIA policy, and promises made by every president since Ford.
And you know who kidnapped this agent? I do.
Unfortunately, he's an associate of mine.
His name is Ruslan Denisov.
He commands a nasty, little band of separatists known as SRU.
Translated, they are the supreme republic of a free, righteous, and independent Uzbekistan.
I told Ruslan it was a bit much, but he can be quite melodramatic, not to mention violent and entirely unreasonable.
Politics are his passion, and to fund his separatist agenda, he's become something of an abduction mogul, specializing in senior executives of foreign corporations working in or passing through the region.
He holds them for ransom at prices far above market standard.
Your company has made it clear it has no interest in paying for your release.
And you do business with this man?
Don't underestimate the usefulness of a nasty band of armed separatists.
But lately, Ruslan's been breaking promises.
His temper has cost me and my partners considerably more than he's worth.
So everybody wins.
You help us rescue the agent, we eliminate a thorn in your side.
Careful on this one, Lizzy.
You have more than just a blacklister to worry about this time.
The CIA will do whatever it takes to keep this quiet.
Aram: Richard Gagnon, Executive VP for a French video-component manufacturer.
- Here he is before he was taken - [ Keyboard clacking ] and here he is the day SRU released him in exchange for $2 million cash.
We have a list of over 30 victims.
Navabi: I don't understand.
This guy makes a fortune taking corporate execs.
Now he takes a CIA agent.
Why change the business model? Let's find him and ask.
Aram: I'm sorry, but people's faith is sacred.
Religion should be off-limits to spies.
Wouldn't work in my country.
Yeah, well, the Agency knows the law, so they've gone this far, something big is going on in that area.
Wright: It's a simple question, Mr. Heyworth.
Is Father Nabiyev an operative of the CIA or not?
We all know that would be illegal.
That's not an answer to my question.
Not to my knowledge.
Look, I didn't call this meeting to make a case against the Agency.
We're here because I have an informant who I think can help get your man back safely.
If he were our man-- and I'm saying "If"-- the Agency would prefer to handle this on its own.
If an American citizen's been kidnapped overseas, that's FBI jurisdiction.
If he's your asset, I can keep you involved.
If not, you're out.
Agent Cooper, your task force will run point on the investigation and any hostage negotiations.
My people can leave tonight.
Liz: Commander Kushan.
I'm Agent Keen.
This is Agent Ressler.
On behalf of the Bureau, we appreciate your help.
Let me be very clear, Agent Keen.
It is you who are here to help me.
This is an Uzbek military operation.
All due respect, sir, an American citizen has been abducted.
Which is why we have extended the courtesy of our invitation.
But you will not be negotiating with Ruslan Denisov, and you will not be negotiating with me.
And you will turn over your firearms.
If that's a problem and you wish to return to your country-- No.
My men will escort you to your hotel.
We're being watched.
I didn't notice him.
I was too busy checking out Hugo Boss on the corner.
Whoever he is, he isn't a fed.
That suit wasn't bought on a government salary.
The other one, the watercolorist, she-- legs like a shot-putter.
She gets me in this headlock.
I black out.
Next thing I know, I wake up, no sheets, vaseline everywhere.
The lipstick on the mirror overhead reads, "Same time next year?" I haven't missed an art expo in Basel since.
Lizzy! Please excuse me.
What are you doing here? I promised to help.
I can't be an effective resource if I'm thousands of miles from the action.
It's not safe.
We just saw the CIA at the airport.
- They see you-- - I'll be sure to say hello.
Uzbekistan has no extradition treaty with the United States.
Who are your friends over there? Go get cleaned up.
We'll have dinner.
I know a wonderful little hole in the wall that's actually in a hole in the wall.
[ Elevator bell dings ] What's going on with you and Reddington? You two have a little lovers' quarrel? I don't trust him.
Reddington's untrustworthy? Hmm.
[ Elevator creaks, thuds ] Aah! Welcome to my country.
Denisov: The FBI in Uzbekistan-- for a year, I tried to get your attention.
Now here you are because the only thing Americans understand is violence.
If you know so much about Americans, you'd know that our government doesn't pay ransoms to terrorists.
One man's terrorist, another man's freedom fighter.
I don't want your money-- not for myself, anyway.
As you can see, business is good.
I took your Agent Burke for another reason completely.
Burke-- that's his name? Almost 25 years ago, my country sold an American company, Anneca Oil, the rights to build a pipeline through Tashkent to Andijan Region.
The price was absurd.
The Uzbek people received a fraction of the value.
Corruption-- well, you know.
These things happen, and I don't care.
But now, the pipeline is leaking.
Leaking? Hundreds of villagers have been killed, hundreds more are sick, and the company does nothing.
Our lawyers are no match for your wealthy attorneys.
The American embassy looks away.
The CIA is here, watching, doing nothing, reporting on any threats to your American interests.
Denisov-- I took one of theirs.
A vice president of Anneca Oil.
I tell him that there are chemicals in the water that we drink, that our children bathe in.
But he says no.
The company did tests.
The water is safe.
So I did a test of my own.
I give him back to you now to show you my good faith so you can show the others the truth.
The negotiations for your Agent Burke begin tomorrow.
We saw hostages, at least four.
I don't think Agent Burke was one, but he's probably there.
We have got to find that compound.
That won't be easy.
The local army can't even find them.
Well, we got your photo of the guy Denisov released-- the Anneca VP-- compared it to known company execs and got a match-- Jeffrey Hanover.
How long ago was he taken? That's the thing.
I don't know.
From what I can tell, Anneca never reported him missing.
- You're kidding.
- They tried to handle it privately.
If that pipeline is leaking, the last thing they want is attention.
Yeah, well, I'll tell you one thing.
Whatever it was eating at Hanover's flesh, it wasn't just water.
Female doctor: He should survive.
His skin has been burned, corroded.
And the chemicals? It's certainly consistent with prolonged exposure to benzene and polycyclic hydrocarbons commonly associated with oil development.
Thank you, Doctor.
Dean Walker, EVP at Anneca.
Just wanted to say thanks for bringing Jeff home.
It's all part of the job.
I just flew in.
Company sent me straightaway.
If there's anything you need, I'm here to help.
Yeah, I doubt that.
We saw you this morning watching us at the airport.
How long have you really been here? Three weeks.
The company sent me to deal with Denisov, see if we could work something out.
Privately? Jeff's family wanted it that way.
They were afraid if the FBI got involved-- Maybe you're the ones who were afraid.
Anneca's got nothing to hide.
This leak Denisov keeps talking about-- he the one responsible.
It's a scam.
His men sabotage the pipeline and then demand a fortune because the locals are getting sick.
Kushan: So this is how you respect my operation? I told you, you have no authority here.
Denisov contacted us.
Commander, I know this is your case, but if denisov wants to talk to the FBI-- Not an option.
It's an option if Denisov says it's an option.
He's the one who's holding an American hostage.
Yes, a Frenchman, a German, and many others.
You can't order us not to talk to him.
I could arrest you and your partner for interfering in my investigation.
Ressler: What investigation? You've been tracking this guy and his group for over a year.
He's still abducting innocent people, holding them for ransom-- You and your partner will remain at the Tashlan Hotel under military guard.
If you try to leave, your stay in Uzbekistan will be a lot longer than you bargained for, hmm? Red: Well, you certainly make friends fast.
[ Ice cube clinks ]
Truth is, I'm impressed.
Not with you-- with Ruslan.
He never really struck me as a man of the people.
The guy's a psychopath.
He's in over his head.
He doesn't know anything about pipelines.
Agent Keen is late.
She's having room service.
What, are you in the doghouse? Oh, that's a shame.
She's gonna miss the most tantalizingly delicious khorem baklava.
Ruslan's a criminal.
Even if Anneca comes to the table, Denisov would have no idea what to ask for.
The guy doesn't even know enough to know what he wants.
The lawyers would eat him for lunch.
You may be right.
When's the next sit-down? Tomorrow morning.
Well, given your new entourage, I gather you may need my help to attend.
Actually, I think we've got that covered.
[ Elevator bell dings ] [ Elevator creaks, thuds ] Mr.
Denisov, thank you for your willingness to talk to us.
The Bureau spoke with Anneca Oil, and the good news is, they want to fix this.
That is good news.
To be honest, I was a little worried.
I mean, who am I? I'm just a criminal.
I don't even know enough to know what I want.
I will not be negotiating this deal myself.
I've decided to bring in a professional, someone to make sure that the company lawyers don't eat me for lunch.
Mr. Denisov, it is my pleasure to be here.
My name is Raymond Reddington.
And you are?
I've spoken to my agents.
They assure me Agent Burke is alive.
So, where are we? My people are concerned.
They were driven to a village less than 40 miles from the SRU compound.
They saw the damage being done by the pipeline firsthand.
Your people know where the compound is located? They don't know the exact location, but based on drive time and the terrain they encountered, we think the compound is somewhere near the southeast base of the Zarafshan Range.
We can have a black-ops team on the ground tonight.
That would be a mistake.
We don't know with certainty if Agent Burke is even there.
I'm willing to take that chance.
And destroy the trust they're trying to build with Denisov as well as endanger the lives of those still on the ground? I agree.
At this point, a raid is premature.
Agent Cooper, I'm assuming your informant can be of assistance on this one? From what I hear, he's right at the center of this.
Then we stay the course for now.
Red: I will see to it that every one of your interests and expectations are met or exceeded.
What the hell are you doing? I'm sorry.
It's been a while since I've done one of these.
Did I screw up already? You're not really gonna negotiate for Denisov, are you? You're the one who insisted that our interaction be strictly professional.
You gave us this case to help us get the agent back, not represent the other side.
Agent Keen, in this world, there are no sides, only players.
Are we really supposed to sit here and hammer out a deal? Absolutely not.
I was thinking we might get out for a bit.
The first day of negotiation is rather like the first day of school.
Get out? Where? Let's go on a field trip, shall we? [ Goat bleats ] Denisov: What you're smelling is benzene, a common pollutant in oil production.
It's in the air we breathe and the food we eat.
We boil all our water for drinking and add andrographis to counteract the toxins.
Does that work? No.
Carcinogens are ingested and cause melanomas, damage internal organs-- lung, liver, and kidney failure.
Somewhere, 6,000 miles away, a group of bean counters in a boardroom did a cost-benefit analysis and concluded that these people aren't worth the cost of responsibly maintaining their pipeline.
Ressler: The exec I talked to, he said your men were sabotaging the pipeline.
Said it was a scam.
My youngest brother died of benzene poisoning last year.
So, who's the hostage here, Agent Burke or these poor devils? Look, I don't care what math they did.
No company can ignore this.
It's bad for business.
Only if someone can prove the truth.
Anneca spends a fortune on lobbyists to make sure that doesn't happen.
Maybe we can contact the State Department, see if they can apply some pressure try and clean up this mess.
And I can see to it that Agent Burke is released unharmed.
See? No sides.
[ Cellphone rings ] Keen.
Wilcox: Agent Keen.
I'm glad I caught you.
You know, you're not an easy woman to reach.
Who is this? Detective Martin Wilcox, Metro PD.
Assistant Director Cooper's office gave me your number.
I hope I caught you at an okay time.
What's up, Detective? I'm looking into this missing-persons case.
The vic actually works for the PD.
It's a Lieutenant Ames, DC harbormaster.
How can I help? I heard that you two ran into each other up on one of the harbor rigs.
It looks like you gave him one of your business cards.
I think you said something about the FBI searching for fugitives out of Cumberland.
Thing is, I-I've made a few calls, and nobody seems to know anything about it.
Well, that's because it didn't happen.
It was a cover.
I couldn't share why with the Lieutenant at the time.
Is there any chance you can share it with me now? Might help me clear this case.
Well, you're gonna have to tell me something.
I mean, you being out there alone, drawing your weapon, giving a false story-- it raises some questions.
I've already said more than I can say.
May I ask-- Lieutenant Ames-- who reported him missing? His wife.
Married 32 years.
Well, I hope you find him, Detective.
[ Uzbek folk music plays ]
Liz: You told Ruslan the State Department was open to the idea of an inquiry.
You haven't touched your baklava.
You told him, and he's not interested? Just one bite.
I didn't come here for the baklava.
I came here to talk about the negotiation.
- [ Tango music plays ] - [ Applause ] Red: Ah.
A Russian milonga.
Watch closely, Lizzy.
Everything you need to know about negotiation is there in the tango milonga.
We've got eyes on the SRU compound.
Heyworth: You spoke to Commander Kushan? Yes, sir.
He understands we want this resolved tonight.
I want full deniability for the Agency.
Get out in public, far away when this happens.
We've been ordered to stand down, but local authorities dealing with local issues-- nothing we can do about that.
[ Tango music continues ] At the outset, they are opponents.
Each has something the other wants.
They size one another up, assessing risk, setting boundaries, challenging each other to breach them.
A sensuous battle-- violence and sex balanced on the blade of a knife.
Nothing given that is not earned-- nothing taken that is not given.
This is the pure essence of negotiation.
Not a poker game, but a milonga.
What's wrong? Everything.
Commander, we have searched all the buildings.
There is no sign of the hostages, including the American.
When exactly did this happen? Cooper: Last night around 2100 hours.
Uzbek Special Forces are reporting a full-scale raid of the compound.
It was the CIA-- the man in the restaurant, he wanted to be seen in public.
What about Burke? They went this damn far, they better have found him alive.
According to the official report, they haven't found him at all.
It was an all-out assault.
At least a dozen SRU fighters were killed by an army unit led by-- Commander Kushan.
How the hell did he know how to find the compound? Heyworth.
That son of a bitch was ordered to stand down.
[ Knock on door ] - Who's on the phone? - Cooper.
I want you to hear this.
Reddington, you know this wasn't our move.
The CIA-- The CIA did what the CIA does.
I expected as much, which is why Agent Burke and the other hostages were moved from that compound.
The question is why on earth you would share the compound's location with the very people I advised you not to trust.
I'll deal with Heyworth.
Oh, Heyworth is the least of your troubles now.
I warned you about Denisov.
I told you he was violent and unstable.
How do you think he'll react to losing a dozen of his men? You think he'll kill Burke? I have no idea.
But now I'm afraid Denisov may not trust me, and I certainly don't trust you.
The negotiations are over.
Denisov: I was stupid to trust you!
I was stupid to think that they respected us or would deal with us fairly! Take a breath.
I told you to move the hostages.
Your assets are intact.
He was left behind at the compound, abandoned by his commander.
Ruslan, he's more valuable alive than dead.
Not to me.
I hope that made you feel better.
[ Breathing heavily ] Aah! The CIA killed you, you understand? They did this!
Sacrifice the bishop.
God, I can remember it like it was yesterday.
I was in Steven Bash's rec room down in the basement, eating fried egg and bologna sandwich when he did it.
Did what? Who did?! Bobby Fischer.
It was game 13, move 50-- rook takes bishop, B5.
He sacrificed his bishop.
[ Slaps leg ] That's when Russia lost the Cold War.
It was staggering.
Spassky had no answer because he had no endgame, and neither do you.
When you capture and kill a CEO, you incur the wrath of a company.
When you capture and kill a CIA agent, you incur the wrath of the US government.
That's boots on the ground, drones overhead.
What will be your answer to that? My men were murdered.
- A message has to be sent.
- [ Grunts ] You're only seeing the next move.
People have been pillaging your country's resources since time began.
Someone has to offer a better alternative.
That someone could be you.
Ruslan, there is an endgame here that you don't yet see.
But you see it, don't you, Agent Burke? I don't know what you're talking about.
Denisov here is so blinded by anger, he thinks this problem started when he became aware of it.
But you and I both know that's not true.
Why don't you tell us about Zhabin? I don't know anything.
The CIA put you here for a reason.
They violated their own policy and federal law to hide you among locals because there's a secret they want to protect.
Now tell us about Zhabin.
Make no mistake, Mr. Burke.
My friend here is still making the bed he'll have to lie in for the rest of his life.
But my bed is made, and I assure you my bed accommodates a broad spectrum of behavior.
So you tell us what little you know about Zhabin, or I'll put you in the ground myself.
Give me the gun.
Leonid Zhabin-- he's the former cabinet minister, part of the old Soviet regime.
Ran this whole region from the late '70s to the early '90s.
A ruthless, corrupt, evil man.
He gave Anneca the right to build the pipeline.
And in return, he got a massive kickback and piece of the ownership interest.
Possibly insane, very religious now, as if that can save him.
All these sick people are his fault.
[ Mutters ] Red: Maybe he doesn't like you.
For you, I'm afraid absolution won't be quite so easy to obtain.
I need all the details of exactly how the Anneca Oil rights were sold-- for how much, including gratuities, contingencies, and all the participants.
I want absolution in the next world, not a life in prison in this one.
But it's the confession, not the priest, that gives us absolution.
[ Gurgling, muffled shouting ] [ Gasping ] The US government says this isn't torture.
What do you think? [ Gurgling ] Let me talk, please.
Look at yourself.
Rich as croesus, and you let Anneca Oil poison your own countrymen.
We didn't just poison our countrymen.
We killed them, hundreds of them.
Looks like we're hostages now, too.
Ressler, I think I'm in trouble.
You think you-- I got a call from Metro PD.
They've got a missing-persons case, the DC harbormaster.
He showed up where I was holding Tom.
Whatever you're about to confess, Keen, don't.
I didn't kill him.
It was Tom.
Tom? Why would Tom kill the one person in a position to rescue him? To protect me.
I realize how insane that sounds.
I met the harbormaster the first time he showed up and gave him my card, told him I was there searching for two fugitives.
You lied to him.
To explain why I was there.
I had no idea Tom would kill him.
I tried to stop it.
Was there witnesses? Somebody must have been watching Tom while you weren't there.
There was someone.
Thanks for coming down.
Look, I don't think I can help you.
You can't keep me here.
Take it easy.
Nobody's keeping you here.
Just want to ask you a few questions, then you're free to go.
Wilcox: Tell me about Elizabeth Keen.
[ Cellphone ringing ] Where have you been? Good news.
I've reconsidered our position.
Negotiations will resume immediately.
Did you talk to Denisov? No questions.
Burke's dead, isn't he? No.
We have new evidence to present.
There is one proviso, however.
That mouthpiece from Anneca, the one you spoke to? Bring him along.
We can't leave.
Kushan's doubled the guards outside.
It's too risky.
I may need to have a chat with this Commander Kushan.
We'll come to you.
See you in an hour.
We've been through this.
I don't know what you're talking about.
Well you are Samuel Aleko, the same Samuel Aleko who was the custodian for an abandoned vessel docked in DC harbor, a rig called the Phoenix.
Yeah, I got to say, Sam, I've seen guys tripped up by a lot of things, but zebra mussels? Yeah, that's a first.
[ Papers rustling ] Ah, there it is.
Yeah, see? Y-y-you-- you spoke to the shellfish inspector, and y-you refused to let him board, and you promised to vacate the slip.
See? I know you were there.
You gentleman are doing a wonderful job.
Traffic coming into the city.
Price of progress.
This is Dean Walker from Anneca.
Who's this? The smoking gun.
Ugh! That sounded dramatic.
This is the new evidence that you were talking about.
Ex-minister Zhabin hasn't been in power for 20 years, and with all due respect, sir, the man is not mentally well.
Perhaps not, but "In a mad world, only the mad are sane.
What the hell is he talking about? History, Mr.Walker.
My new friend knows a great deal about the history of your company's pipeline.
History is not new evidence.
Or maybe it is.
As it turns out, we do agree on one key detail.
Your company's current pipeline is not the worst thing on earth.
Then what is? The first pipeline-- the one Anneca built in 1988, four years before the current one.
Is that what he told you? The man is delusional.
There was only one pipeline.
We broke ground to build it in '92.
Read the contracts.
The contracts do say that.
It started before the Wall fell.
Uzbekistan was still a constituent republic of the Soviet Union.
Gorbachev was changing our future.
I was allowed to secretly open our markets for an American pipeline.
This is fiction.
I sold the rights to them that year, and they built the first pipeline right away.
You couldn't even wait to do it right! We were all so greedy.
The first line was an unmitigated disaster.
Hundreds were killed.
Whole villages became ill.
I still see their faces.
Then the Soviet Union collapsed, and all hell broke loose.
Anneca paid Mr.
Zhabin to orchestrate a cover-up.
Bury the dead, destroy any record that the first pipeline ever existed.
It wasn't the only disaster cloaked by those momentous events, hidden from view in the fog of a new world order.
It's a good story.
But that's all it is-- a story from a crazy old man.
Who happened to keep a complete set of the original documents in the hope that, one day, he might find the courage to set things right.
You engineers did better the second time around.
At least this one took 20 years to start leaking.
If this is true and Anneca is responsible for hundreds of people's deaths, then you and the other high-level executives will be prosecuted.
Reparations can be paid to the alleged victims.
We can fix this.
Reparations are all well and good, but the people I represent don't want you to fix it.
They don't? No.
The Uzbek people have had quite enough of Anneca's promises.
They want you to leave.
Pack up your pipeline and leave.
[ Scoffs ] That won't happen.
Denisov thought you might need some additional incentive, so Mr.
Zhabin was kind enough to direct him to one of the mass graves where victims of the first pipeline are buried.
His men are on their way there now.
I can stop them if we have a deal.
[ Clears throat ] Can I get some water, please? Oh! Yes! Of course.
This is the water they drink in the villages, the ones directly above your pipeline.
Talk to your board.
You have 24 hours until we go public.
[ Camera shutter clicks ] Effective immediately, Anneca Oil has elected to cease operation of its local pipeline.
And we are thrilled to announce some exciting and highly profitable new initiatives on the horizon.
We got to go.
SRU just confirmed-- Agent Burke's being released.
Where? Drop point outside the city.
construction of three new schools for the people of this great country.
And now I'll take a few questions.
It's good to meet you.
I've heard nothing but terrible things.
What kind of deal are we talking about? It all depends on what you got to say, how valuable it is to the case.
I can take you to the body.
Is that valuable enough? They should be here any time now.
Director Heyworth, the agents are on site.
Do not move until they take possession of the asset.
SOG team is standing by in the perimeter, awaiting your go.
Once the exchange is complete, I want Reddington taken into custody.
If Denisov shows, kill him.
Car's arriving now, sir.
Team Leader, stand by.
Can you confirm Reddington is in the vehicle? Affirmative.
Man: We have eyes on target.
Reddington's out of the car, sir.
Nobody moves until I give the order.
Sir, I tried to stop him.
You and I have a problem.
Take a step back, Harold.
You ignored a Justice Department directive.
You told Kushan how to find that compound.
- You can't prove that.
- You and I both know my people are there to protect an asset of yours.
- I can neither confirm nor deny-- - If anything happens to those agents, the next time your phone rings, it'll be the Attorney General calling.
Man: Sir, standing by for your order.
Sir, our window's closing.
Requesting authorization to take immediate action.
[ Receiver slams ] I need your help.
Commander Kushan and his men are at my compound.
His men are.
If you can get me out of the country-- I can.
But I won't.
They will arrest me.
Sooner or later, we all must pay for our crimes.
[ Knock on box ] Is Kushan You still don't see it, do you? The endgame.
You could run this country, Ruslan.
What you've done is that important.
You brought a multinational corporation to its knees, saved countless lives.
You'll make this country billions.
You may go to prison for a bit.
But you will emerge a hero.
One of the few standing in your way is Commander Kushan.
[ Knock on box ] Well, not standing.
[ Commander Kushan? - [ Knock on box ]
Woman: More on this breaking story.
Just hours after Anneca Oil's announcement that the company is shutting down its pipeline comes this surprising development.
The government and French oil conglomerate Savillion have reached a deal to nationalize a brand-new pipeline.
The deal, said to be worth billions, should gain easy approval and will be finalized within days.
of the way
I knew you had to have an angle.
Elizabeth Keen, this is Claude Hippeau, Senior Vice President of Savillion.
You were having drinks together the day we arrived.
You knew exactly what was gonna happen.
I had an inkling.
Au revoir, mon ami.
[ Smooches ] [ Pats back ] Give my regards to the wife-- and the mistress.
That's why you wanted Anneca to abandon the pipeline, to clear the way for another company to get the contract? You say that as if it's a bad thing.
Anneca shuts down operations, the victims are well compensated, maybe get a little justice, a new firm is poised to deliver a state-of-the-art pipeline-- everybody wins.
You get a payday from Savillion for making it happen.
Vive la France.
Did you find anything?
I mean, uh, yes.
Looks like some kind of beta technology.
A recording device.
I'm thinking it's late '80s, early '90s.
But how it works, what it does I don't have the faintest idea.
Have you spoken to Mr. Reddington about this?
But he might have some insights.
You have to tell me-- promise me you will not talk to Reddington about this.
Mum's the word.
[ Door closes ] We got a deal, right? No jail time if I testify? You're not gonna believe what I have to say.
Tell me about Elizabeth Keen.