Let It Bleed and Exile On Main Street remain my favorite two Rolling Stones albums and are considered to be two of the best rock albums of all time.
It was a different Rolling Stones that entered the studio to create Let It Bleed. Brian Jones had been fired from the band and only contributed on two tracks. He would be replaced by Mick Taylor, who also would contribute on two songs. Thus, it would be basically a four person quartet who would put this all time classic album together.
Mick Taylor would bring his blues guitar virtuosity to the group and prove to be the perfect foil to Keith Richards. While Taylor was not skilled at the seemingly endless number of instruments Brian Jones was, what he could do was play the guitar almost as well as anyone in the world. Taylor would force Keith Richards to be a better guitarist so as not to be embarrassed. This guitar duo of Richards and Taylor would be responsible for some of the of the best rock ‘n’ roll ever produced.
Mick Taylor’s first contribution to The Rolling Stones sound was on the classic single “Honky Tonk Women,” which was released several months before Let It Bleed. This brilliant song featured the dual guitars of Richards and Taylor, a solid foundation by Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman, and an inspired Mick Jagger vocal rocking above it all. “Honky Tonk Women” would be another single release only and not be included on the studio album.
“Gimme Shelter” is almost a companion piece to “Sympathy For The Devil.” It is another ominous song by The Stones that brings the 1960s to a close. The Stones were saying that flower power and the summer of love were gone and the Vietnam era had arrived. Merry Clayton’s screaming vocal compliments Mick Jagger and sets the tone for not only this album but for the next several years.
“Midnight Rambler” is one of my top ten Rolling Stones songs. It features one of last Brian Jones contributions to the group. “Rambler” is a sophisticated, complicated song with tempo changes and mood swings. Charlie Watts drives the song throughout and Mick Jagger provides a subtle vocal on this long song that you don’t want to end. I saw The Rolling Stones perform this song live about 15 years ago and I remember it as the highlight of the concert. The songs structure is made for improvising within a live setting.
“You Can’t Always Get What You Want” closes out the original release of Let It Bleed. This melodic, smooth flowing song is a brilliant counterpoint to the tone and texture of “Gimme Shelter.” The opening by The London Bach Choir is unique in rock history. The shared keyboards by Billy Preston and Nicky Hopkins push the song along while Mick Jagger provides a very relaxed vocal. You even get Al Kooper on the French horn.
Other highlights from Let It Bleed include the dual guitars of Taylor and Richards on “Live With Me,” a country reworking of “Honky Tonk Women” on “Country Honk” with some slide acoustic guitar by Mick Taylor, and an emotional lead vocal by Keith Richards on “You Got The Silver” which also featured Brian Jones farewell. And that still leaves such songs as “Love In Vain,” “Let It Bleed” and “Monkey Man” for your listening enjoyment.
The legacy of Let It Bleed remains strong today. If you want a good introduction to the music of The Rolling Stones, this is a good place to start. Let It Bleed is deservedly revered as a rock masterpiece.