Saturday, February 22, 2014

57. Beggars Banquet (1968) The Rolling Stones



1. Sympathy for the Devil
2. No Expectations
3. Dear Doctor
4. Parachute Woman
5. Jigsaw Puzzle
6. Street Fighting Man
7. Prodigal Son
8. Stray Cat Blues
9. Factory Girl
10. Salt of the Earth

Some bands are lucky enough to have a classic album in their catalogue. A select few can manage two or three. The Stones not only have (at least) four great albums to their name, they were fortunate enough to have them in a row. The run of albums that they started in 1968 hasn't been matched by anyone, with the possible exception of their Liverpuddlian rivals, before or since.

After the misstep that was 1967's psychedelic pop experiment For their Satanic Majesty's Request, the Stones decided to forgo any attempt at mysticism and get back to what they did best: riff based rock and blues based ballads.

Anyone who was still smarting from the disappointment that was Satanic Majesties must have entered the Banquet with a sense of trepidation. An opening track called Sympathy for the Devil would seem to suggest more lame psychadelia. How wrong they were. Sympathy is just magnificent and it's testament to how good the Stones are that this isn't universally acclaimed as their best song. If it was recorded by any other band it would be their signature tune that stood head and shoulders above all else but it comes from the same group who gave us Jumping Jack Flash and Satisfaction which means it's up against some fairly stiff competition.

Sympathy has a roaring groove and lyrics that are just insanely fun to shout loud. I've got dozens of live versions of Sympathy and in every one you can heard the audience go nuts when that opening drum beat sounds. When Mick kicks in with a "wow" it's just electric. "Pleased to meet you! Hope you guess my name!" if there are words more fun to shout out loud then I'm not sure what they are. I love this song so much that not even the 7,000 "woo woos" at the end get repetitive. It's just golden all the way and for anyone worried by the previous effort it sent a loud and clear message: the Stones are back.

Further outstanding blues riffage is available courtesy of Street Fighting Man which opens side two with some more explosive brilliance. Street Fighting is a powerhouse rock and roll track which picks you up, slaps your around the face for a bit and then deposits you satisfied in your furniture. It sounds like a band who have studied the art of combining force with groove and mastered it quickly.

There's a lot of fairly low key Stones songs on Beggars, probably more than any other album. No Expectations is one of their most overlooked ballads which is a pity because it's phenomenal. Mick's brash attitude and sleazy blues credentials made him a difficult thing for a lot of people to accept in the late sixties but if he'd had angelic looks and a clean cut image this track would have received a lot more attention. It's a blinder.

Jigsaw Puzzle deserves to be liberated from it's current status as mere album filler. It's a great chance for Charlie Watts to show off his drumming skills and even though Nicky Hopkins sounds like he's still playing Sympathy for the Devil on piano it's still a great chance for him to demonstrate his much missed ivory tinkling abilities.

Unlike Sticky Fingers, Beggars does have a misstep or two. Most notably Salt of The Earth which is a woefully patronizing attempt to idolize the working class. It's a horrible piece of shlock songwriting which should have been forgotten about completely but their occasional attempts to revive it in a live setting have never served to turn it into anything more palatable. It didn't work back when The Stones were struggling artists and it works even less now that they use private jets to fly between their multiple mansions. The same can't be said for Factory Girl which is always a treat when it gets a surprise run during a show (and even when it was rewritten as Glastonbury Girl for their 2013 Glasto debut).

If you only know the Stones from their multiple best-of albums you deserve to check out their four album run. Beggars, Bleed, Fingers and Exile are four albums who have to be heard in their entirety to appreciate what an incredible run this band was on back in the late sixties. It didn't matter that their founding member was sliding out of their musical sphere, all that mattered was Mick and Keith's incredible songwriting ability, which for a few years eclipsed anyone else writing music anywhere in the world.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review: "Even though I don't like much of the Stones' work I know that, at lest to me, all music is good to someone, even if I don't like it. I gave this five stars because I myself trying to write songs, know that I would hate to have a LP that didn't get any reviews."

-That's kind of sweet. I don't like this but I gave it five stars because I know songwriting is hard. Presumably he's given a five star review to every album on amazon then?

So is this a Banquet you'd like to be invited to or not? Let me know below.

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