12 November 2007

Essential Albums: the Rolling Stones' "Beggars Banquet"

Mick and Keith
(photo (c) Annie Leibovitz circa 1975)

In an earlier post, I recommended a greatest hits album as an introduction to the late sixties Rolling Stones' music. Now file that one away and get your hands on -- and ears into -- the real deal, 1968's Beggars Banquet.

This is a "transition-back" record -- back that is from the musical disarray of Her Satanic Majesty's Request -- to their adopted American roots: blues, country, and straight ahead Keith-driven rock and roll. And not coincidentally, the Stones hiring Jimmy Miller as producer in '68 to give the band some much need direction; it was from Miller that the Glimmer Twins learned their craft. The result, in the view of many -- I'm an Exile on Main Street man myself -- is the best album the Stones ever released.

The final touch was adding Nicky Hopkins on piano. As Jean-Luc Godard's film Sympathy for the Devil (titled One Plus One in its European release) clearly shows from extensive documentary footage of the song Sympathy for the Devil evolving in the studio, it was Hopkins on piano and Richards on bass that formed the core tracks around which the band and company built the haunting cut the song became. Further, the Godard film shows and the song gave us an aural portrait of the maddening chaos of North America in 1968. As Wikipedia put it, "[t]he dissolution of Stone Brian Jones is vividly portrayed, and the tragic chaos of 1968 is made clear when a line referring to the killing of (John F.) Kennedy is heard changed to the plural after the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy in June [1968]." As a lyric/poet, Jagger has never been better than on Sympathy.

There is, truly, not a bad cut on Beggars Banquet.

Take Street Fighting Man, for example. I listened to this song for years before I tore the chorus lyrics out of it, but it didn't matter. Keith and the band deliver all the revolution you can take without you ever knowing that Jagger's telling us, in the chorus, "But what can a poor boy do, but to sing for a rock and roll band? 'Cause in sleepy London town there's just no place for a Street Fightin' Man."

Further, Jagger and Richards never made the "sum greater than the parts" better than on the vocal/acoustic guitar masterpiece Back Street Girl.

And Beggars Banquet would be the last time -- despite ongoing lack of credit to certain musicians who played on their later albums -- that they failed to give song writing credit as was due. One of the gems of this record is the acoustic parable Prodigal Son, written by but uncredited to The Reverend Robert Wilkins.

The lessons of this record are simple: give credit where credit is due; if you get lost in a psychedelic haze, get back to your roots; and, foremost, if you are unfamiliar with the deep album cuts that I fail to mention above, you simply cannot understand where much of today's "adult alternative" music comes from.

Oh yea, and watch out for those Stray Cat Blues!



Paco Malo said...

TK writes, via email, "Brilliant analysis. Very enjoyable to read and remember the days of listening to this album with no pressure demanding the completion of the next task on the list. Thanks."

DaBigGalute said...

Yo Paco - time flies. Dat dere strip mall where your chevy land-boat took us to see Godard is sooooo long gone. And the sorry strip mall that replaced the original is now floated away by Kat! Peace, bro.

Paullinator said...

Hey I learned something (or maybe I'm reminded of something I've forgotten). I don't think I knew of this movie.

So, who started the fire in the studio when this was filmed?

Paco Malo said...

I asked the Paullinator about the studio fire referred to above. He writes: "See the wikipedia article on the movie. - at the end of the article.


During filming of The Rolling Stones' recording, a fire broke out in the sound studio. While footage of the studio on fire was not included on the film, it does exist and has been used in other films."

Me: I've never seen the "studio on fire" footage, but it certainly adds to the already abundant mythology surrounding this song.