The Rolling Stones - Part 3
Beggars Banquet (1968)
"Pleased to meet you and I hope you guessed my name"
Best Song: Street Fighting Man or Stray Cat Blues
Worst Song: Prodigal Son
...Could anyone have been expecting this? After quite a few pop albums in a row (Yes, I consider Majesties a pop album), the band randomly released this, which is absolutely nothing but straight roots-rock. And what is roots-rock, you ask? Well, it's a glorious combination of country, blues, and straight rock'n'roll, which, in essence, makes this genre the most quintessentially American genre of all. In other words...this thing's about as far from Brit-pop as one can get.
And, in all honesty, as great as those albums were...I don't think that this is a bad thing in the slightest. I don't know how much farther the band could have taken that genre, and, let's be honest, it's pretty obvious that roots-rock is The Rolling Stones' genre du jour. How do we know this? Well, aside from this and the next three albums being among the greatest ever recorded, it should also be said that the Stones have essentially stayed in this genre ever since '68. I think it works pretty well for them.
So yeah, Beggars Banquet. It's really good. It's probably my least favorite of the four, but it still gets a perfect score, so "least favorite" is sort of a relative term when we're talking about these albums. There's nothing too special going on here, as far as mood and flow is concerned. It's just a collection of ten jaw-droppingly fantastic songs. Oh darn.
Well, I suppose I should be honest and say "eight jaw-droppingly fantastic songs", as "Prodigal Son" and "Parachute Woman" are both merely decent. Of course, this doesn't really matter, since they're both fun and short, but I did feel the need to throw that disclaimer out there. So there you go.
Everything else? ACES! ABSOLUTELY ACES! My personal favorite is probably the sleazy, threatening "Stray Cat Blues", which essentially defines the word "lumbering". Jagger's vocal performance drips with sneering aggression (The "OH YEAAAAAHHHHH" sections give me chills every time I hear them), and Keith's manic riffage and guitar squealings absolutely RAWK. And aren't those piano and mellotron sections cool?
And then there's the acoustic rocker "Street Fighting Man", which has an absolutely brilliant vocal melody and some really cool sitar playing from Brian Jones. "Salt of the Earth" invents the classic "big, epic 'bring it all on home' number at the end of the album" trope in wondrous fashion, and "Factory Girl" is a catchy little country ditty.
"Jigsaw Puzzle" features Jagger doing his best Dylan impersonation (in lyrics only), and while it overall comes across more as sheer randomness as opposed to Dylan's surreal, impressionistic style, it's still a load of fun. And it's catchy. And check out that manic slide guitar! And don't forget the soothing, gorgeous "No Expectations"! It's easy to let it pass you by, but don't -- it's just as good as any of the other acoustic Stones ballads from this era. "Wild Horses" included.
And of course, this thing kicks off with the absolutely amazing "Sympathy for the Devil", which manages to sound simultaneously like a tribal jam and a roots-rock anthem. It's got some of the coolest piano playin' ever featured on a Stones album (that says a LOT, if you think about it), and Jagger's delivery is just as awesome as normal. And dig Keith's minimalistic solo! Of course, the art of the minimalistic solo would REALLY be mastered on the next album's opener (as well as on the live version of "Sympathy" from Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out), but it still sounds fantastic here.
Oh, it's soooo good. Probably not the best place to start with the band, but MAN, is this thing amazing. Get it soon.
Let It Bleed (1969)
"I'll stick my knife right down your throat, baby, and it hurts"
Best Song: Gimme Shelter
Worst Song: Let It Bleed
Where do I start? I mean, it's somewhat easy to write about Exile, since its actual content is somewhat obscure, but this? I mean, what am I supposed to do, describe "Gimme Shelter" for you?!?! And pretend you haven't heard it approximately 18'234 times via movies, TV shows, and radio? And "You Can't Always Get What You Want"? Oh, I'm sure you've never heard that one before.
But on the other hand, how many times have you heard "Love in Vain" or the title track on your local oldies station? Not many, I would imagine. So there are still some slightly obscure gems on here. But again, with a few exceptions, those aren't really the reason that you would come to the album, anyway!
Ugh. Let's begin. It starts with "Gimme Shelter". It's apocalyptic. It's threatening. Merry Clayton absolutely DESTROYS her vocal performance (and I mean that in a good way). The moment when Jagger screams "WOOO!" at her while she delivers the "Rape, murder, it's just a shot away" bridge is one of those all-time great moments in rock'n'roll. The intro is killer. The harmonica solo is amazing. The guitar solo is amazing. Keith's riff is probably his best ever. Jagger absolutely owns his delivery. It's my favorite song of all time. Let's continue.
"Love in Vain" is a gorgeous country ballad that I didn't really like for awhile. Now I do. Jagger grates a bit, but still. Gorgeousness.
"Country Honk" is a decent reinterpretation of "Honky Tonk Women". I would have preferred the original...but hey, you can't always get what you want.
"Live with Me" is next. It's an AWESOME riff-rocker. A proto-"Brown Sugar", if you will. Don't you just love Jagger's maniacal questionings?
Then there's "Let It Bleed", which is my least favorite track on the album. And if you shortened it by about a minute, I probably couldn't find any flaws with the song. These songs are good, if you can't tell.
Oh, and then we get "Midnight Rambler", which is absolutely AMAZING. It starts out as a decent enough riff-rocker, nothing too special, and THEN the "don't 'chu do 'dat" section hits and the whole thing speeds up like mad. If you fail to see the genius of this section, try this. Pay VERY close attention to Keith's riffage and how it interacts with Mick's manic harmonica. JUST LISTEN TO THAT. Ohhhhhhh, it's so amazing. And then we hit the cool, moody breakdown section where it's mainly just Mick doing a call-and-response thing with Keith's guitar. It sounds amazing...obviously. And then all of this goes into the big, showstopping finale, which is just wonderful, and then randomly, out of the blue, a more intense version of the initial section kicks back in, before Mick suddenly screams out "I'LL STICK MA KNIFE RAGHT DOWN YER THROAT BAYBEE AND IT HOITS!!!!". And then the thing ends suddenly, leaving you completely emotionally battered.
You are then rescued with Keith's gentle "You Got the Silver", which I absolutely adore. It's simple, yes, but it's SOOOO pretty. And the rousing ending is neat, as well.
And then the piano tinklings of "Monkey Man" hit. Oh, "Monkey Man". How I adore you. It starts out simply enough, as yet ANOTHER near-perfect riff-rocker, and then it hits. Oh yes. You know what I'm gonna say. I realize it's rather unoriginal to say it at this point, but I have to -- that solo where Keith's riffs and the piano come together and begin playing parts that work PERFECTLY with each other is yet another one of those all-time classic rock moments that just leave you speechless. And then Mick comes in with "IM A MONKEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEHHHHHHHHHHH MAN!". And then there's "You Can't Always Get What You Want". And then the album ends.
It's a difficult album at first, it really is. You buy it, and you're like "Well, yeah, there are those two songs that everybody and their brother knows and loves, but the rest of the stuff...eh. I should have just stuck with Hot Rocks." And that is indeed an understandable statement. But you see, the thing is, all of these songs (bar the two classics) are very strong growers, and a big majority of them are groove-driven. So, in all honesty, I can't see myself enjoying "Monkey Man" or "Midnight Rambler" if I couldn't get into the groove. And that took a couple of listens to acquire. But when you "get it"? OHHHHHHH MAN, IT'S SO GOOD.
And that's not even mentioning the album's absolutely EXCELLENT flow! It's one of the best-flowing albums I've ever heard that doesn't take advantage of interlocking tracks! Every song plays PERFECTLY off of the ones proceeding and following it. You really have to hear this album, but if you're a Stones newbie, I'd try some other ones first. (See the order of accessibility at the end for more info on that) It's my 2nd favorite Stones album, and on some days, my very favorite Stones album. Have at it.
Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out! The Rolling Stones in Concert (1970)
"Yes, it's alright now / In fact it's a gas"
Best Song: Sympathy for the Devil
Worst Song: Stray Cat Blues
One heck of a grower. The first few listens you'll think "Eh, it's alright, but none of the songs ever surpass the originals, and there's really nothing interesting going on here. Plus, Jagger isn't really doing much." However, eventually you'll realize that only one of those complaints is actually valid, that being the one about Jagger. But eh, his showcase will be on the next album.
No, the enjoyment you draw from this album comes from nothing but the the guitar interplay. And trust me, that stuff's good enough to hold the whole experience on its shoulders. You see, this here live album is the world's introduction to Mick Taylor on lead guitar, and I can't think of a better introduction. He plays absolutely perfectly off of Keith throughout, and man...it's probably the greater guitar performance I've ever heard on any live album. There, I said it.
You want examples, eh? Look no further than "Sympathy for the Devil". The tribal madness of the original is exchanged for a shuffling rhythm from Charlie, and while the verses are all well and good...that solo. Oh, that solo. It completely blows away the original (and don't forget that the original was no slouch either), and it just rocks away tirelessly in all its minimalistic glory as Bill pulls out a manic bass riff, Jagger squeals all sorts of "Ooo hoo hoo"'s, Keith keeps on a-riffing underneath it, and Charlie keeps the shuffling beat perfectly. Greatness.
And of course there's "Midnight Rambler". Taylor doesn't get as much soloing time here, but that's alright, because Mick and Keith get into all sorts of call-and-response funsies during the mid-sing break. Just listen to that powerful crushing sound that Keef is able to get out of his guitar. Wow. (This is also a good time to mention that the guitar tones on this album remain amazing throughout)
Funny enough, I actually enjoy this version of "Jumping Jack Flash" more than the original because of the differences in vocals, as opposed to the guitar dueling. It's kinda subtle, but the way Keith harmonizes with Mick during the chorus sounds AWESOME, and Mick's delivery throughout is pretty darn great. Also, I was never too big of a fan of the original version's production, so the guitar-heroic RAWK theatrics of this one appeal to me much more.
"Love in Vain" is another great Taylor showcase, and "Live With Me" and "Honky Tonk Women" are both perfectly acceptable performances. Neither quite surpass their respective original (Not enough guitar in "Live With Me", and I miss the horns in both cases), but they both work fine here. Keith's work on "Honky Tonk Women" is particularly admirable.
However, I must say that I don't care for this version of "Stray Cat Blues". The loss of the piano and mellotron is quite unfortunate, and the song is slowed WAY down, thus making it lose its awe-inspiring power. I'm not too crazy about the two Berry covers either. Neither do anything too offensive, but eh...I'd prefer some more originals...
...which is exactly what you'll get on the new (well, kinda) 40th anniversary edition of the album!! You'll also get some decent tracks from opening acts B.B. King and Tina Turner, but that's beside the point. The bonus tracks you'll get on this here special edition are as follows: "Under My Thumb", "I'm Free", "You Gotta Move", "Prodigal Son", and an obscure little number called "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction". So, the question is: should you buy the entire box set, just grab those five tracks off of iTunes, or just completely ignore the release?
Well, to be honest, I haven't listened to the B.B. King and Tina Turner sets much, so I can't say a whole lot on that front. However, I have listened to the Stones tracks quite a bit, and I must say...they're alright. "Under My Thumb" grooves along pretty well (the marimba line is played by Bill), "Prodigal Son" is pretty fun (as is "You Gotta Move"), and "Satisfaction" is quite awesome, as it's played at what is essentially mach speed (plus the guitar work is AMAZING). So yeah, major fans of the album would do well to pick those up. Casual fans? Eh, "Satisfaction" is pretty essential, and "Under My Thumb" is as well...albeit more arguably.
So let's bring it all home. A great live album, that's for sure, but just no going into it that you're essentially getting it for the guitar work. If your main Stones listening pleasure comes from Jagger, and you're not really that interested in hearing 40 minutes of guitar interplay...aw, who am I kidding? This stuff's amazing. It's essential. It's a 14. On to Sticky Fingers!