Of all the biblical imagery that dots our pop tones, “roll away the stone” has rock flair. Two masterful rock songs, Leon Russell’s and Mott The Hoople’s ROLL AWAY THE STONE, both live up to the solid promise the iconography provides.

Mott the Hoople

Mott the Hoople

Penned by Ian Hunter, Mott’s version portrays the stone as his obstacle to love. He announces from the get go:
Baby if you just say you still care
Follow you most anywhere
Roll away the stone, roll away the stone.

The partner in question need only roll away the cold shoulder, say she cares,  and let Mr. Hunter offer the chance to fall in love once again.  Of course, we don’t trust him for a second. Ian is always the cad, but also a chum, someone to sing along with at the dancehall. So you can’t get too offended.  It is that same lowbrow charm that gives ALL THE YOUNG DUDES its emotional core. You always dig hanging with dudes like this.
Once this idea is established he can let down his guard:

Leon Russell

Leon Russell

There’s a rockabilly party on Saturday night
Are you gonna be there
(Well I got my invite)
Gonna bring your records
(Oh, will do)

Mission accomplished. He’s got the “bird” and the records too. He calls out in triumph…
Made it!

Leon Russell is also looking for a connection but this classic track from his classic debut album clings more desperately. He is the jilted lover in the tale:

Well it’s such a strange world that I’m living in
She was my woman and he was my friend
But I was wrong again

Great lyric economy here, but the point is that Leon understands he has lost, that he just couldn’t see the strange changes she put him through. It is a song from the other side. Still, what I really like about this song is his image of redemption. He asks her to..

Roll away the stone
Don’t leave me here alone
Resurrect me and protect me
Don’t leave me laying here
What will they do in 2000 years?

He hopeless and hapless, pining for her brief return, and figures it will take a couple millennia. This twisted sentiment lays over one of the best rocking tracks ever put down with both Eric Clapton and George Harrison riffing it home. The Stones would do well to reference it if they attempt that last album.

Both tracks are essential rock. I appreciate how Hunter and Russell found ways to incorporate the same religious image, and move it into the profane with no qualms.  In Ian Hunter’s case religion is not the point.  After the party and the girl and the records he will be found out and the stone rolled back.  But what about old Leon?

What can this poor boy do?

His is a bit of a mystery, which is why I favor it. The stone remains. Makes me want to roll my own…

Listen and enjoy the masters!!!! ~ Chris LeRoy