Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Rolling Stones 12: Beggars Banquet

Beggars Banquet is the first of several Stones albums from the undisputed height of their career. While it does sound of a piece with its time—such as the occasional use of a Mellotron and Indian instruments—they mostly went back to basics, concentrating on guitars and the straight production style of Jimmy Miller, an American who’d recently worked with Traffic.
You may have heard it so many times, so you’re forgiven for skipping the first track on side one, the well-worn “Sympathy For The Devil”. You’d be well rewarded by diving straight into “No Expectations”, featuring Brian Jones’ last great contribution to the band (the mournful slide guitar) and the great Nicky Hopkins on heartbreaking piano. This song always conjures mental images of a stream in the woods for some reason. “Dear Doctor” is a funny one; who would have guessed they could be this clever? “Parachute Woman” is a chugging interlude before the epic “Jigsaw Puzzle”, with its Dylanesque cast of characters. Right there you’ve got a classic album side, and you’d be excused to lift the needle back to “No Expectations” several times before finally flipping the record over.
On to side two. The first thing to say about “Street Fighting Man” is that there’s not a single electric instrument on it—the drums and acoustic were recorded to a cassette and everything else was added after that, which is why it sounds so distorted. Get down indeed. “Prodigal Son” is a dirty blues tale right out of the Bible, while “Stray Cat Blues” is about as far as you can get from the Bible. The drums here are just one reason why Charlie Watts should be knighted. This is an incredible performance, and the last minute or so still kills every time—Mick’s “ba-ba, ba-boom boom CHA”, the rumbling bass, Charlie and Nicky taking over while Keith strangles a few more notes out of the guitar, and on out till the mix stops. “Factory Girl” is a fiddle-laden slice of English folk, while the closing “Salt Of The Earth” could pass for the real thing. Keith sings the first part of this one, and his young voice is already wrecked.
Beggars Banquet is one of the more unlikely country albums by a rock band, along with Elvis Costello’s Almost Blue. While it’s definitely electric, and no one would confuse it with Garth Brooks, the majority of the tracks sports acoustic guitars and hick vocalizations. But calling this “Stones do country” risks a disservice to an album that needn’t be pigeonholed as such.
The album came out in the days when bands (in the UK, anyway) would have put out a new single the same week, with tracks that weren’t on the album—in this case, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”, which you can find on any number of hits collections, and the unjustifiably buried classic “Child Of The Moon”, which can be found on More Hot Rocks. Back in the days when you’d put Beggars Banquet on one side of a 90-minute Maxell (usually with Let It Bleed on the other), both of those songs had to be added at the end of the side. Rules, after all, are rules.
The 50th anniversary of the album would have been an excellent opportunity to include that single, any of the outtakes that dribbled out on Metamorphosis, and of course, unheard sessions and whatnot. Instead, the anniversary packages were limited to yet another remastered CD and, if you bought the vinyl version for thirty bucks, a flexidisc with a “rare” Jagger interview and a one-sided 12-inch 45 of “Sympathy For The Devil” in mono. At least, in respect to the history of the album, the invitation style cover shown above was used as a slipcase over the infamous toilet shot that had originally prevented the LP’s release, yet had been the standard cover since the album’s reissue in 1986 on CD and remastered vinyl.

Rolling Stones Beggars Banquet (1968)—5

1 comment:

  1. Probably my favorite Stones album, "No Expectations" is definitely one of their finest moments (first heard in a crazy TV show from the 90s - Wild Palms.