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Music Review: The Rolling Stones – Beggars Banquet

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Something happened to The Stones on the way to the Beggars Banquet. Throughout the year that followed the release of Their Satanic Majesties Request in November 1967 The Stones entered a period of turmoil, tragedy, and somehow amongst all the chaos, emerged triumphant.

Their Satanic Majesties Request, (a parody of the wording on the British Passport – ‘Her Britannic Majesty etc’ – thus further endearing them to the establishment) was very much an album of its time. Recorded throughout August and September that year the sessions were interrupted while Mick and Marianne travelled to North Wales with The Beatles to attend Maharishi Marhesh Yogi’s seminar. As the album was near completion influential manager Andrew Loog Oldham departed and a month later Brian Jones received a nine month jail sentence for drug offences. He was released from prison when his sentence was commuted to three years probation.

In December Brian collapsed and was rushed to hospital officially suffering from exhaustion. The psychedelic influence of the summer of 1967, runs through the album which, having been released in time for Christmas, sold well, reaching number three in the UK. It contains its own highlights but it was what was to follow that would cause shockwaves.

By March 1968 when they went in to the Olympic Studios in West London to record Beggars Banquet, both time and The Stones had moved on. They recruited the late Jimmy Miller, who had been working with the band Traffic, to produce the album. He was to be involved with the band throughout this golden era that saw them release a run of arguably their finest ever albums. An agreement had also been made with radical film maker Jean-Luc Godard, who wanted to include the band at work in the studio to run as a backdrop to his counter culture film One Plus One. It is a revealing and rare insight and shows the band working through the various possibilities of what would become “Sympathy For The Devil”. Mick and Keith had certainly tapped into a rich source in that studio and to see them working at this particular time makes the film a fascinating study.

The film also shows that the future of Brian Jones within the band was becoming increasingly fragile. He appeared sadly withdrawn and remote from the main creative process. The signs of the band’s direction were there when “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” was released as a single in May 1968, becoming their first number one in the UK for two years. That month Brian’s flat was again raided by the drug squad and he was once again arrested,  not good as he was on probation. Street riots, including particularly violent ones in Paris and London, added to the backdrop for Beggars Banquet. The Stones, now well and truly the epitome of all things apparently anti-establishment, watched, listened and went into the studio and totally captured the mood of a troubled time.

The album opens with the final version of “Sympathy For The Devil” – possibly the ultimate Stones track or certainly one with the most dramatic undercurrent. To open an album with Mick’s devil persona singing ‘please allow me to introduce myself’ is powerful stuff indeed. More conflict occurred when the album’s original cover was considered too ‘guttural’, by the record label. In its depiction of the inside of a graffiti covered toilet and in an act of defiance it reappeared with a cover showing a formal invitation to the Beggars Banquet itself.

“Street Fighting Man” inspired by a particularly violent student versus police clash opened the old side two (in the days of vinyl) thus ensuring that both sides of the album opened dramatically. The beautiful blues of “No Expectation”, played now in hindsight, is sadness personified. It represents one of Brian Jones’ last great contributions to the band that he still considered his. He played a range of instruments on the album including harmonica, mellotron, and sitar but his influence was definitely in decline. Beggars Banquet is overloaded with sheer quality such as the sleazy country blues of “Parachute Woman” and the bottleneck soaked “Jigsaw Puzzle”. “Prodigal Son” and “Stray Cat Blues” both carry the incredible vibe through to the mandolin and fiddle backed “Factory Girl” and on into the superb gospel infused “Salt of the Earth”. Final mixing took place in Los Angeles in July.

When finally released towards the tail end of 1968, it represented a colossal leap forward. It was nothing short of a pivotal year for The Stones. Mick and Anita Pallenberg, began work starring in the classic film Performance. Not released until 1970, it came complete with realistic scenes of heroin and rock star excess. “Street Fighting Man” was banned in Chicago and Brian Jones bought Cotchford Farm where he would tragically drown only eight months later. In early December The Stones put on their Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus along with John & Yoko, Jethro Tull, The Who, and Taj Mahal. All going on within this, condensed version, of a year in the life of the Rolling Stones.

If Beggars Banquet and 1968 had been important, it merely lit the way for what was to come. 1969 saw poor Brian depart, Mick Taylor arrive, The Stones free concert in Hyde Park, a huge tour of America including the fateful Altamont Speedway concert, and the release of Let It Bleed – another out and out classic. It was a period where The Stones were at their most ‘dangerous’ and ‘powerful’ and where, despite the turmoil, chaos and ‘attention’ from the establishment they cemented their legend forever.

Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers & Exile On Main Street all capture the satanic majesty of The Rolling Stones. Not content with that they then released Goats Head Soup & It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll and, of course, so much more. Who would have guessed back in 1968 that The Rolling Stones would still be here forty years later?

Go to The Official Rolling Stones Website for news and information.

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About Jeff Perkins

  • On paper, Beggars Banquet is truly the album for which you’ve made your case: one of the best rock ‘n’ roll albums from one of the best bands. I acknowledge that, but I’ve never really liked it, and I’m not sure why. I guess because it’s the break in a cold trail in the search for the crucial missing link – how did the Stones go from being so rooted in the pop 60s scene to making music so timeless?

    Totally unrelated, but I saw a video of Keith Richards singing a duet with Norah Jones – Love Hurts. OK – so when did Keef become such a technically good singer? Look it up on youtube if you don’t believe me – I just about didn’t believe it myself.

  • Jeff

    Hi – I’m really grateful for the above – I hadn’t seen the Keith and Norah video – it’s great ! Thankyou – Jeff

  • thomasG

    Dear Mosquito – I’ve heard the comment before from rock fans NOT alive at the time who don’t quite “get” BB and wonder how they created BB after “Between the Buttons” (1967) and “Majesties” (1967). Most of the songs were recorded to get a “roots” feel. Thus some were recorded on a tape recorder, the tape run into the studio board, and then back to the tape recorder and finally mixed in the studio (SF Man is most famous example). When I first heard it as a teenager, I loved it but it sounded “thin”, not as rich or deep as other albums of the time. As for being a pop 1960’s band, you must go back to their earlier albums and music idols to see the jump. The Stones loved blues and country music. BB is Rock Blues and Rock Country. Psychedelia for many bands (Beatles also) looked to be a dead end. You can hear blues on all very early Stones albums and classic Rock Blues on “Aftermath” (1965) where they have slide guitars, harmonicas, a Country tune (“High and Dry”) and “Going Home”, an 11 minute Blues excursion on the same record with “Paint It Black” and “Lady Jane”. “Music from Big Pink” by the Band had come out in 1967, as well as Dylan’s “John Wesley Harding”. The Byrds were doing “Sweetheart of the Rodeo”. Blues and Country based music is more “timeless” than psychedelia, they have long histories and memories. Plus, The Stones in 1965 did “Satisfaction”. It’s not the greatest song but as a sound it changed things. I was 12 and when I heard the fuzz, metallic riff, I was entranced. The sound, the riff, the groove, mattered more than the melody or words. The jump from “Satisfaction” to BB is a short one. Life experience filled in the rest of the gap.

  • zingzing

    ahh, mosquito, thomas, etc. this is truly what bothers me about beggar’s banquet and the stones in general. they are quite troublesome. their best work was both their most ambitious (or at least when their high ambitions were actually executed) and their most derivative.

    their work from 65-67 showed them becoming increasingly ambitious on the sonic front, but their songwriting… judgment, maybe, was becoming more clouded. blame brian jones, i suppose.

    by 1968, they’d gone back to what they knew best (early blues and rock), but with a whole new perspective, and most importantly, songwriting that pushed off the excess (most of the time) of their 67 work, while maintaining all the ambition.

    but! even their greatest 68-72 work is just rock n roll. maybe some of the best ever produced, but showing none of the innovation that such a great band could have shown. they settled into their groove, as it were. and quite a groove it was.

    still, for my money, there was equally amazing rock coming out at the time (dylan, the band, beatles), and a lot of music that was far more innovative (oh god).

    i don’t mean to take anything away from the stones. all of these albums are superb. but they still bother me. the stones are a great rock band. but they aren’t anywhere near the greatest.

    just my opinion. shoot me.

  • Thomas – yes, you’re right – the Stones always did have their roots in the blues, and in some ways simply by shifting their focus they moved from pop to rock. I understand that. But I wanna know the why of it – and why at that point in time.

    Zing – ‘sfunny a young person just said almost the same thing to me the other day, “I don’t get the Stones – they’re OK, but they don’t play anything special.” I never did come up with a good retort other than to quote Keef: “On any night, ANY BAND can be the world’s greatest r’n’roll band.”

    So, zing, stir up the hornet’s nest – just who is he world’s greatest rock and roll band if not the Stones?

  • zingzing

    well, jesus… depends…

    in 1968, it was the velvet underground
    in 1969, it was the band
    in 1970, it was the stooges
    in 1971, it was faust
    in 1972, it was… oh, probably the stones
    (and in 1973, it was the stooges again, because raw power is the greatest bunch of guitar-bass-drums-vocals ever put down on tape.)

    as i said, i love the stones. have no problem with them as they are. and i think what they played was special. it’s just not… innovative. nothing there that hasn’t been done before.

    maybe it’s because it’s been done sooo many times since that it gets to me. rock n roll kinda ended right there. that sound defines what is strict rock n roll, doesn’t it? if you want to claim yourself as a rock band, who do you sound like? the stones.

    that’s not to say rock music in general stopped moving forward, but it certainly found its bedrock.

    (btw-the fall is the greatest rock band ever. just so you know.)

  • The Fall? Well, I would never have guessed.

    Luv your choices for the year by year. Didja ever hear the expanded version of Funhouse? I like it even better than Iggy’s remix of Raw Power.

  • zingzing

    you mean the 8-cd sessions album? with 10 or 15 versions of each song? nah, i haven’t heard it… but i am intrigued. i just figure it might be too much of a good thing.

    iggy’s remix of raw power is stupendous. i love it how if you put a track from it on a mix cd, it totally shocks the hell out of the listener with its volume. crazy album.

    as far as the fall goes, they win almost by default. few bands veer of the(ir) beaten path yet sound so much recognizably themselves. and mark e. is pure… whatever he is. plus, they are nearly inexhaustible. i’ve been a fan since high school and i still own maybe only half their stuff. it’s a fun thing. every now and again, i’ll just go out and get one. then i go on a fall kick.

  • No – there’s a 2 disc version by Rhino – the original and then 12 songs taken from the multiple takes plus the single (!?!) mix of down on the street b/w 1970 (single!?!? what were they thinking?). Outtakes are “Slidin the Blues” and “Lost in the Future” which are dispensible, but are at least “songs” in the way LA Blues isn’t.

    Yep, New Raw Power is great, but the original was a teaser and a promise of all that music could be if you could get past the mainsream.

    The Fall, eh?…………. your good taste is near impeccable, zing (i.e., unable to be pecced, whatever that means), so I guess this choice is maybe a connaisseurs (sp?) only thing goin’ on. As for moi – I’ll hold out for the Who – even down to the last two fighting to stay out of the seniors’ condos.

    But – for one brilliant, shining moment, a few weeks or months after their first album came out, I think it was Television – rock and roll (momentarily) taken to the next level, all heart and mind and high class and down on the street all at the same time – the perfect balance.

  • zingzing

    ok, you say the who, which i agree with on a band-as-synergy thing. they had the “four guys in a room” thing down. actually, it was four guys in an auditorium thing, but whatever. they had that “we are one” going on, i’ll give them that.

    [it=that thing which is rock, from here on out.]

    but the fall…. my god. they had whatever the who had, plus they had longevity. they could totally go for it, any time, any place, in any style, in any which way they wanted to. they win it almost by default–default meaning they’ve had it since 1978, and have continued, nearly non-stop, to have it. other bands, such as the who, had it for a while, but they couldn’t hold it. the fall barely even need to hold it, they just have it.

    television is a good example. they had it on marquee moon. they were feeling it, but they couldn’t hold it.

    lots of other bands have had it. talking heads, wire, gang of four, bowie, fugazi, black eyes, unicorns… it’s happened time and time again.

    but the fall has always had it. that’s what makes them the greatest. you can always count on the fall to give you some head nodding, mind-boggling shit.

    as for on the street as a choice for a single… what else would you pick off the album? it’s as good a choice as any. that thing is a monolith. and 1970 is the shit. that album moves from relative accessibility towards pure noise, and 1970 is the end point. quite crazy. you know who produced that shit? the guy who produced “louie, louie.” how can that be wrong?

  • zingzing

    shit, i meant, “la blues” when i said “1970.” my bad.

  • zingzing

    at least the second time i said it.

  • Alrighty then, zing, give me the short list of the essential Fall and I’ll try an track some of it down for a listen/relisten.

    The Who, the Stooges, Television – all groups whose least substantial recordings I’d choose to listen to 9 times out of ten before Beggars Banquet. And you can put the Mick Taylor Stones’ releases on that “A” list as well.

  • zingzing

    the fall, like the stones, go through periods… so, it’s difficult to ever get a full grasp on them, even when you get a majority of their albums. that’s one of the things that makes them great.

    if you want the easiest way out, just track down the complete peel sessions box set. it’s 6 discs covering nearly every facet of their career. it’s not horribly expensive, if you’re going the legal route.

    if you want to go for the studio albums, get the following as a primer:
    live at the witch trials
    hex enduction hour
    this nation’s saving grace
    infotainment scam
    the unutterable
    the real new fall lp

    they also have a boatload of comps out, some of which cover certain eras… it’s a dangerous path to go down, as you’ll soon want the albums and it’ll just be a waste of time/money.

    i’d say get the peel sessions. it’s the best intro you could get, it’s cheap, and it leaves you open to all the studio albums you want.