Shine a Light
Vocals: Trey (lead); Sharon Jones, Saundra Williams (backing)
Original Artist: The Rolling Stones
Original Album: Exile on Main St (1972)
Historian: Martin Acaster (Doctor_Smarty)
When faced with the tragedy of watching a loved one tread the less sanctified path of alcohol and drug induced self-destruction, sometimes the only thing left to do is pray for divine intervention. "Shine a Light" is a stunning example of such a prayer. Inspired by former Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones, this Jagger ode to his stumbling friend pleads for the glory of God to shine upon him and save him from himself. Sadly, for Brian Jones this grandest of interventions was not to be.
An early version of "Shine a Light" was originally recorded in March 1968 during the Beggars Banquet sessions. This early version was subsequently recorded as "(Can't Seem to) Get a Line on You" by Leon Russell at Olympic Studios in October 1969 with the assistance of Mick Jagger on vocals, Charlie Watts on drums, Bill Wyman on bass, and Mick Taylor on slide guitar. When Russell's self-titled album was released in 1970, "Get a Line On You" was not included; however, it eventually surfaced as a bonus track on the 1994 re-release of the album. After the death of Brian Jones – perhaps the reason for Russell not releasing the track – Mick Jagger revised the lyrics and the Rolling Stones recorded a third version at Olympic Studios in July 1970. The album version – which includes Billy Preston on keyboards, Jimmy Miller on drums, and Clydie King, Joe Green, Venetta Fields, and Jesse Kirkland providing backing vocals – was recorded at Sunset Sound Studios in Los Angeles between December 1971 and March 1972.
By comparing the Leon Russell and Exile version lyrics we can actually bear witness to the decline of the song's inspiration; for instead of a "smile on your face for every high school girl that you meet," Jagger's sweet honey lover is now "making bloodshot eyes" at every woman that he meets. The latter of course being Trey's lyrical reinterpretation of the original Exile version lyric "make you shut your eyes" that persisted through the first three performances of the song by Phish. Either way there were far too many flies on the walking corpse that was once his friend. Clearly an act of the good lord was required to ensure his salvation.
By the time Phish finished playing the penultimate track of their Exile set at Festival 8 (10/31/09), it would have been difficult to find a Phish fan that would not proclaim such an occurrence had in fact saved a guitar-playing friend of theirs from the same fate that befell Brian Jones. It was a truly transcendent moment imbued with a healthy dose of revivalist glory as Trey in effect sang the song to himself. The light of the good lord was indeed shining on us all. Consequently, the tormented angst of loss that cascades from Jagger's vocals on the Stones album version is transformed by the guest horns and soulful backing vocals into a feeling of joyful praise for the grace granted this time around.
Phish performed "Shine a Light" twice more during the remainder of 2009, unfortunately without Sharon Jones and Saundra Williams on backup vocals, Dave Guy on trumpet, David Smith on trombone, and Tony Jarvis on saxophone. "Shine a Light" was played as an encore at the 12/04/09 Madison Square Garden show that featured the first "Glide" since Coventry, perhaps a not so subtle apology for the conditions that prevailed at the time of that ungodly train wreck. As a fitting tribute to the glorious year of rebirth the band had enjoyed, "Shine a Light" also appeared in the second set of the 12/31/09 Miami show that brought it to a conclusion.
Based on its continued appearance in 2010 setlists, "Shine a Light" appears to be the Exile song that is going to be added to the regular rotation Phish repertoire, perhaps taking a few of the regular encore slots where "Loving Cup" would ordinarily appear. In the 2010 versions to date, Trey has been faithful to the "official" lyrics for the song with respect to the condition of Brian Jones eyes ("shut" rather than "bloodshot").
So "When you're drunk in the alley, baby, with your clothes all torn... and your late night friends leave you in the cold gray dawn... may the good Lord shine a light on you, make every song you sing your favorite tune!"
Phish, "Shine A Light" – 6/17/10, Hartford, CT