Monday, January 4, 2010

Rolling Stones 14: Let It Bleed

Let It Bleed finds the Stones in transition. Recorded over the better part of a year, it straddles the brief period where Brian Jones was on his way out and Mick Taylor was on his way in. But while the band was in flux, they made every song count.
“Gimme Shelter” creeps in with that spidery guitar and spooky backing vocals, setting a tone of genuine unrest. Then it’s back to the Delta (just like on Beggars Banquet) for the lonesome blues of “Love In Vain”. The difference is that this time, he’s watching the train leave instead of getting on it. “Country Honk” is a cowpunk version of “Honky Tonk Women” (the current single, not on the album) with different lyrics and a nice little strum. “Live With Me” gets its fire from Keith on bass and a few stolen Chuck Berry licks along the way. The side ends with the title track, filthy as ever, and thankfully that Amstel Light commercial went out of rotation before we had to kill someone. (While we’re at it, we still haven’t forgiven Elton John for stealing its melody for “Sad Songs (Say So Much)”.)
“Midnight Rambler” is a mini-blues opera in four parts, with that wailing harp and Charlie keeping time like a clock. This one would gain power onstage. Keith shines like a dirty diamond on “You Got The Silver”, in a way that’s almost gentle. (The story goes that Keith had to sing this because Mick wasn’t around; however, a Mick version does exist, but it pales compared to Keith’s.) “Monkey Man” is a tour de force, with every instrument doing its part, plus Nicky Hopkins keeping up on piano. This is easily one of their best-ever songs, and certainly one of the least known. On this album, however, it’s only a setup for the grand finale in “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”. Prefaced for some reason by the London Bach Choir, the song builds and builds through its verses before bringing the choir back in as counterpoint. Your enjoyment of this say may be tempered by how many times you’ve heard it, or how many times you’ve sung it drunkenly while staggering through New York City.
Let It Bleed fits perfectly in the catalog, part of the suite from Beggars Banquet to Sticky Fingers, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves. It’s a classic, right down to the deceptively innocent cover. (Just so you know, that old-fashioned record changer includes a cake, a bicycle tire, a pizza, a clock, a tape canister, and a plate. The photo on the label was retouched to include Mick Taylor instead of Brian.) There’s not a clunker in the bunch. At this point they truly were contenders for the best band in the world, and headed off to Altamont to claim the title. (As with Beggars Banquet, the anti-Beatles continued their own 50th anniversary campaign with another box that included the album in stereo and fold-down mono on both CD and vinyl with a book and a 45 replica. No outtakes.)

Rolling Stones Let It Bleed (1969)—5

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