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 He appeared sadly withdrawn and remote from the main creative process.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?
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