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Although the rivalry between the Beatles and the Rolling Stones was largely a media construct (they were in fact friends, and played on each other's records from time to time), the Beatles did generally have stronger albums overall. This is probably not really any fault of the Stones', as record labels were notorious for hacking up albums into different running orders for release in US and UK markets, meaning an album of the same name could be a very different affair (see 'Out of Our Heads' as a prime example of this). Strong singles were left off in favour of filler, and a lot of their 60s albums are a frustrating affair. However, with the release of 'Beggars' Banquet', the Stones had made the album their favoured format, and had a lot more control over its content. 1969's effort, 'Let It Bleed', is a triumph in the face of adversity.
This was the last album to feature key member Brian Jones, who tragically drowned in his swimming pool in the summer of 1969. They'd also been busted for drugs, and spent time in prison. Most bands would quail at the prospect of continuing, but the band put all their energy into recording and it shows. The opening track might just do them an injustice, as it is probably my all time favourite Stones song. 'Gimme Shelter' features a stunning guest appearance by soul vocalist Merry Clayton, and is one of the most passionate and stirring songs ever committed to tape. From its innocuous sounding intro, it gathers momentum like the raging storm Jagger so atmospherically describes. Its jarring piano chords and brooding style have been described by Jagger as being directly influenced by the turmoil of the Vietnam War, and I don't think that's a pretentious statement. There's an apocalyptic air married with the hopeful siren wail of Clayton; why they never released it as a single is a mystery.
Continuing their flirtation with early 20th century American music that was in evidence on 'Beggar's Banquet', things are toned down for a slick interpretation of Robert Johnson's 'Love in Vain'. It burns slowly and is as enjoyable as the original, especially as it doesn't sound like it was recorded in a vat of treacle like Johnson's, but then I guess that was part of the original's atmosphere. 'Country Honk' is familiar as a re-working of the classic single 'Honky Tonk Women', albeit in the vein of their then country obsession. I don't quite get why they did this, but they sound like they're having fun. The Beatles had done a similar thing with two treatments of 'Revolution'; think it says more about me that I prefer the electric versions of both songs.
'Live With Me' features Bill Wyman at the fore with a very cool bass line, which is great because I always thought he was a bit underused. The rest of the band do sound a bit ona uto-pilot though as they romp through a standard blues-rock style. The title track is more acoustic-driven country blues, with Mick doing his best impression of Hank Williams. Lyrically though it's probably the epitomy of Stones sleaziness, leading to some strong objections from the choir employed to provide the intro to the closing track 'You Can't Always Get What You Want'. I won't reprint any of the lyrics here; I'd probably get my review locked.
Side two rocks a bit more with 'Midnight Rambler' and 'Monkey Man', the latter being used to great effect on the soundtrack to classic gangster film 'Goodfellas', with its macho posturing and sultry sound emoting the sleaze and danger of the film. 'You Can't Always Get What You Want' closes affairs with a big, grand song that builds like 'Salt of the Earth', showing a bit more experimentation with choirs to create a vast sound. Clocking in at seven and a half minutes, it's one of the few forays into epic songwriting that the Stones tried, incorporating gospel and funk. Lighters at the ready when they play this one live...
That the Stones could regroup and create this is a staggering achievement. It's also the first appearance of the vastly underrated Mick Taylor on guitar, who had recently left John Mayal's Bluesbreakers. Although his contribution is only to two songs, he is instantly recognisable and made a massive impact on the band and their sound. Shame he was treated so disgracefully by them after he left, but then I guess that's what decades of having one's ego pandered will do. And when they turn out records like this, praise is inevitable.
A truly great album from the Rolling Stones, released as they were really getting into their stride.
Almost forty years to the day since its release, the Rolling Stones' eighth album, Let It Bleed, is still a work that routinely surfaces when music obsessives (mostly of a journalistic persuasion) gather to compile their arbitrary and utterly meaningless lists of 'best evers' (number 30 in the 'Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums of All Time' list, in case you're interested). The question is whether this forty-year-old album deserves its 'classic' tag or should instead be left as a brief footnote in the annals of popular music.
Who are we kidding here? Let It Bleed is undoubtedly a classic album, much deserving of the accolades that have been heaped upon it over the years. But it's a classic album in the truest sense: it is timeless and can still bear and reward repeated listens by modern ears, unlike some other 'classics' that owe their status more to lazy convention rather than exceptional content. Tags aside, Let It Bleed, in my view at least, is more than anything else the album that best captured the pure undiluted essence of its iconic and complex creators, the Rolling Stones.
All the more surprising then that the album was put together at a time when one band member, Brian Jones, after flying too close to the sun, had crashed and burned, and his successor, Mick Taylor, had yet to take up the mantle. No, Let It Bleed was first and foremost the baby of Keith Richards - guitarist, songwriter, opiate aficionado, legend, and gentleman - whose prints are all over every track. Let It Bleed was arguably Richards' finest hour - though he was naturally aided and abetted by his alter-ego and co-writer, Mick Jagger. Richards contributed virtually every significant musical ingredient that formed this album, with a host of talented secondaries - Ry Cooder, Leon Russell, Al Kooper, Bobby Keys, Nicky Hopkins, Doris Troy, Merry Clayton (memorably), Byron Berline (equally memorably), and several others - providing musical snippets here and there to create a rich and distinctive flavour.
There are nine tracks on the album, with four distinct musical styles displayed, two tracks roughly representative of each. The ninth track, a seminal Stones song, acts as the big fat cherry on top of the layered cake. Throughout we get highs and lows, loud and soft, electric and acoustic, that clash and jar in an odd fashion but which gel nevertheless. Couple this with the inspired production of Jimmy Miller, who resisted the temptation to tidy up the ragged edges, and the result is a musical feast of rough country and blues, dark imaginings, full-on tongue-in-cheek misogyny, and moving laments, that encapsulates all that was great and unique about the band in question; its very essence, in other words. This was never again so perfectly achieved.
The big fat cherry in question actually kicks-off proceedings and takes the form of the mildly apocalyptic 'Gimmie Shelter', a powerful and hypnotic song that not only shows off the versatility of guitarist Richards but is chiefly memorable for the contribution of backing-vocalist Merry Clayton, a gospel singer who mirrors Jagger's lines all the way through and who, frankly, makes the song. The way she belts out "rape, murder, it's just a shot away, it's just a shot away" repeatedly in the middle section sends shivers up the spine. Yet once that song fades, the style immediately mellows and we find ourselves sitting idly on ye olde American sidewalk watching the world go by.
'Love In Vain' is a fleshed-out reworking of Robert Johnson's austere and anguished 1930s Blues standard, and it typifies the 'less is more' approach of Richard's musicianship. A simple and crisp acoustic signature is augmented by a dreamy slide guitar that cuts in unexpectedly in order to mimic the mournful night-time horn of the departing train that takes the singer's love away. Ry Cooder's mandolin adds depth to the middle section. It's a sublime song that contrasts strongly with its irreverent twin, that brazenly follows on.
That twin is 'Country Honk', a rough bluegrass tune that effortlessly conjures-up pictures of cornbread, dungarees, and nervous sisters. In fact the song was dreamed up as an ode to the spectacular Appalachian excesses of the likes of Hank Williams and is a perfect marriage of gutsy acoustic rhythm and raucous Tennessee fiddle - the latter provided by virtuoso Byron Berline - with the whole being complemented by Jagger's drawlin' vocal: "The lady she all dressed me up in roses. She blew my nose and then she blew my mind." This song was slowed down and given a conventional electric makeover in the summer of 69, subsequently being released as the single, 'Honky Tonk Woman'.
'Live With Me' and 'Monkey Man' are the two tracks on this album that might be described as conventional rock tunes. The first is ballsy and enjoyable but the second is absolutely definitive. 'Monkey Man', after a subtle opening, is a song that consists of a memorable Richards guitar-riff that sustains throughout, backed as it goes along by secondary layers of lead and slide, with the whole being held together by a thumping and imaginative beat. This is a brute of a track that is as close to Stones perfection as ever was. Jagger's howling lyric contains some inspired lines - "I've been bit and I've been tossed around by every she-rat in this town", "Well, I hope we're not too messianic or a trifle too satanic" - and the song has a loose, live feel to it that sounds just right for the boozy in-your-face attitude displayed.
But as this album was Keith Richards' baby it was fitting that one track should have been all his own, which was the case with 'You Got The Silver'. It's a short, wistful song, sung by the man himself, that is reminiscent of the languid and plodding Bakersfield country sound. Acoustic and electric slide guitars again dominate, gently this time, with a subtle organ occasionally drifting in to add colour. The light sentiment of this track, however, is predictably turned on its head by a polar opposite, in this instance by the title track, 'Let It Bleed'. A dark song concerned with the rotten underbelly of the hippie dream, 'Let It Bleed' is yet another track heavily influenced by country music, that slowly builds in intensity and musicality as it goes along, but at the same time never losing its slightly-deranged sing-along feel: "But you knifed me in my dirty filthy basement, with that jaded, faded, junky nurse. Oh what pleasant company."
The line-up is completed by the two longest songs on the album, each running in at around the seven minute mark. 'Midnight Rambler', lyrically, sits firmly in the mire, where the band liked to be, and is a loose, jammy tribute to murderous night-stalkers everywhere (a "blues opera", according to Richards). The chugging vague rhythm is augmented by some excellent lewd harmonica provided by Jagger, who also delivers his lines with leery relish: "I'm called the hit-and-run raper in anger, the knife-sharpened tippie-toe... or just the shoot 'em dead, brainbell jangler, you know, the one you've never seen before." This mood is starkly contrasted by the twinsetted ladies of the London Bach Choir, whose pitch-perfect trilling begins and ends the final track, 'You Can't Always Get What You Want', augmented by gutsy vocal contributions from Madeline Bell, Nanette Workman, and Doris Troy. A much-covered song that builds to a suitable crescendo, this ties the album up nicely and is a pleasant listen.
It's generally accepted that Let It Bleed is the second in a series of four consecutive albums - Beggars Banquet (1968), Sticky Fingers (1971), and Exile On Main Street (1972) being the others - that shows the Rolling Stones at their very best. I wouldn't disagree with that, though I'd probably add Aftermath (1966) and Some Girls (1978) to the list in order to mark the beginning and end of the band's significant period. Whether Let It Bleed is the best of the lot is open to question. It's certainly the most spare and, in my view, the album that most represents what the Stones were all about, though it is similar, stylistically, to its predecessor, Beggars Banquet, albeit musically richer and more adventurous.
But comparisons aside, the real strength and beauty of Let It Bleed is in how the band nails every musical style it tries without sacrificing its unique identity. For sure we get blues, country, rock, and whimsy but at no time does this sound like anything other than a Rolling Stones album. Keith Richards was a master of rhythm and nuance and he was as comfortably at home with country and blues (his love) as he was with in-your-face rock and roll. Such comfort meant that Let It Bleed was more than just an album that gave a cursory nod to cherished influences. It was a full-on country album, blues album, rock album, delivered by experts confident with those styles, and it shows. When Mick Jagger's oddball and sinister lyrics, delivered in his oddball style, are added to the mix and backed by an immaculate rhythm section, we get the perfect article. Let It Bleed was and still is, quite simply, sublime.
In this era of multimedia, those interested in the above album might like to check out a couple of other products that tie into it. Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out! is a live album from 1970 that includes ten songs (three from Let It Bleed - Love In Vain, Midnight Rambler, and Live With Me) recorded over two nights at Madison Square Garden in November 1969 (a deluxe box-set including the whole fifteen-song live set as well as support acts has recently been released). There is also a visual accompaniment in the form of the DVD of the seminal Maysles brothers' rock doc, Gimme Shelter, re-released in September of this year, that shows the band performing five of the above songs as well as much more.
*Incidentally, the cake that features on the album artwork was baked by a young(ish) London-based cook by the name of Delia Smith. Whatever happened to her?
There are good albums which sell well in their time and their bad albums which the singles from always seem to get played on Top of the Pops.Then there are the timeless classics,the ones that stand the test of time,the ones you can be sure will still be listened to decades from now.True,a lot of them seem to come from the sixties and seventies but regardless of release date they're the sort of work that must be classed as pieces of true art in a world where a used condom seems to be art if you paint it green. The follow-up album to Beggars Banquet was a masterpiece first released at,aptly enough for the Stones,the midnight hour of the 1960's - November '69.Let it Bleed,possibly a swipe at the soon to be released Let it Be by those ever cheeky chappy scousers the Beatles (yawn!!) and a perfect antidote to their flower power hippy smiley brand of pop,this was the Rolling Stones finest hour packed full of tough,moody,dark and real rock songs everyone a hit by itself. While making the film Performance Mick Jagger worked on the soundtrack with the brilliant slide guitarist Ry Cooder who jamming with the band showed Kieth arrangements in open G tuning and on the electric Kieth found the sound he would go on to use to launch a thousand songs.Soon inspired he wrote the two classics Honky Tonk Woman and the portentious Gimme Shelter.Noticeable for the abscence of Brian Jones,resigned or sacked? but soon to be dead,and the fleeting input of Mick Jones the guitar on this album is practically all Kieth Richards work though Jones played on Honky Tonk Woman with the now famous double-stop lead over Kieth's gutsy ryhthm guitar.This song is not on the album though. It is Gimme Shelter that opens side A,the gathering storm ever present and waiting to hit this song with its thinly vieled references to Vietnam trancends all that the Stones have written before or since with additional vocals by Mary Clayton which lend to the apocalypti
c quality of this song. Love in Vain yet another reworking of a Robert Johnson number but faithfully done and sounds great with the accoustic slide and Mick's mournful,sorrowful voice.Ry Cooder features on Mandolin. Country Honk a country,blue-grass version of Honky Tonk Woman is probably my least favourite of the album mainly due to the originals overall impact but it's a fine song all the same.Mick Taylor playd slide. Live With Me with Mick's brilliantly sleazy lyrics is a true Stones classic from the bass intro and Kieths bluesy double stopping and ryhthm and the rock piano. The title track Let it Bleed another country blues accoustic track in which Mick suggest 'We all need some-one to lean on.'and that 'We all need a little coke and sympathy.' 'Did you here about the Midnight Rambler?' a rocking bluesy number about a serial killer,nearly seven minutes long with that harmonica against the pumping bass and slide giutar building all the time till the end where he screams 'and I'll stick my knife right down your throat and it'll hurt' You Got the Silver is a charming little folky song with Kieth on vocal this time. Monkey Man is a funk,Jazz,blues rocker with a churning main riff dripping in drug-fuelled lyrics 'I'm a flea-bit peanut monkey.All my friend are junkies!' this is my favourite song the guitar is inspired and the lyrics somewhat tongue-in-cheek while giving a possible warning to the listening media 'I hope we're not too Messianic or a trifle too satanic.' You Can't Always Get What You Want so true an anthemic close to the album and the 'Jimi' he refers to in the lyrics,or so I once read is Jimi Hendrix another icon of the era. Much has been said and written about this album and The Stones hammering a death-nail into the coffin of the whole flower power movement and the love and peace generation with the il
l concieved Altamont Speedway festival given by not only The Stones but The Greatful Dead and Jefferson Aeroplane and where a member of the audience,Meredith Hunter was stabbed right in front of Mick Jagger as he sung 'Sympathy for the Devil'.The security was supplied by Hell's Angels who used fists and pool cues to keep order and in the case of the unfortunate fan Let him Bleed to death.Apparently,believing American Hell's Angels to be rather theactrical bike fanatics like their more civilised British counterparts who did a very competant job of security at the free festival in Hyde Park,they expected the same service in San Fransisco. Whatever else this is a brilliant album full of the best music that the Stones produced and if you have never heard it try buying a copy and put it on in the car or somewhere you can appreciate the Stones at their very best. Release date - Nov 28,1969 Brian Jones plays percussion on Midnight Rambler and autoharp on You've Got the Silver. London Bach Choir and Al Kooper playing piano,organ and french horn all feature on You Can't Always Get What You Want. Fiddle by Byron Berline on Country Honk. 'Tea and Sympathy' provided by Jock
Remind me to thank my parents for having decent taste in music. If it wasn’t for them I might be stuck listening to endless clones of popular bands or the new ‘cutting edge, marketed to the masses, extreme nu-metal/’punk’. Lucky for me, eh? And without going in to all the stories about the band, and all that stuff – let me get straight to the nitty gritty – the music. When the first track – ‘Gimmie Shelter’ - gets going it sends a real shiver up your spine: ‘Oh a storm is threat'ning my very life today If I don't get some shelter Oh yeah, I'm gonna fade away War, children, it's just a shot away, it's just a shot away War, children, it's just a shot away, it's just a shot away’ While definitely rocking- it’s also sad: in a somewhat disturbing, even chilling sense. Merry Clayton’s vocal definitely adds to the mood of the track in the best possible way. On any other album this would definitely be a stand out track – but this album seems mostly comprised of stand out tracks. When the blistering first track fades out, you’re given the chance to regain your composure on the bluesy ‘Love in Vain’. A slow, lingering track – perfectly fitting for the subject matter. A real ‘late night love lost sorrow drowning’ masterpiece. A slight change of tempo when ‘Country Honk’ gets going, a different version of ‘Honky Tonk Woman’ (so I hear) – though I can’t compare the two because I haven’t heard the original. I really should sort that out. ‘Live with Me’ shifts the tone, and we have the ragged, bad boy, stones rollicking about in a crazy bass/sax fuelled tale of ragged company. ‘I got nasty habits, I take tea at three Yes, and the meat I eat for dinner must be hung up for a week My best friend he s
hoots water rats, and feeds them to his geese Doncha think there's a place for you, in between the sheets?’ A swaggering great. Slowing it down again with the title track ‘Let it Bleed’. Country tinged blues, leading to the harmonica driven ’Midnight Rambler’. ‘Did you hear about the Midnight Rambler? He'll leave his footprints up and down your hall Did you hear about the Midnight Rambler? Did you see me make my midnight call’ Classy. We then get ‘You got the Silver’, a folky track with a keith Richards vocal – and finally – two absolute classics tail off the album. If you haven’t heard them (or the rest of this album) it’s highly likely that you may not know what music is, so you should do so. Starting with ‘Monkey Man’, a brilliant drug tinged, jazz inspired, rock masterpiece – and then the elegant choir backed ‘You can’t always get what you want’, a sad song, but almost epic in it’s telling, grand rock and no mistake! ‘And you can't always get what you want, Honey, you can't always get what you want You can't always get what you want But if you try sometime, yeah, You just might find you get what you need’ You can't always get what you want, but you might, if you get this. ‘Nuff said I believe.
This is my fav rolling stones record ever and is worth every penny.Mick Taylor makes his album debut and shines throughout with his blues rock guitar licks.The album serves as a fitting tribute to Brian Jones who died in the Summer of 1969.Gimme Shelter is my favourite track on the album from a guitarists point of view and Jagger also gives one of his best vocal performances in this song.Ry Cooder comes into the studio to record on Suster Morphine adding some emotive slide guitar playing to this acoustic ballad.Dead Flowers is a nice up tempo country ballad and continues to appear in the rolling stones live sets.This album is unsurpassed as a musical statement.
The last month of the 60s was a significant time for the Rolling Stones. They released this, their last album for Decca Records before forming their own label, and they played that notorious gig at Altamont, the most frightening experience of their career. Ironically, they had recorded it mainly as a quartet, plus an army of session musicians and singers. The increasingly erratic and incapable Brian Jones had left (or been fired) and died five months before the album hit the shops, to be replaced by Mick Taylor, and both only appeared on it fleetingly, leaving Keith Richards to handle most of the guitar duties. Nevertheless it deservedly restored their chart fortunes, even toppling the Beatles' 'Abbey Road' as the No. 1 UK album list in its first week of release. The chilling 'Gimmie Shelter', with Mick's harmonica, Keith's classy guitar riff, and Merrie Clayton's gospel-like chorus vocal, made what was probably the best opening to a Stones album ever, and the bad-boy lyrics of 'Live With Me', showed that they were back on top form. There were also a couple of nods to outlaw country rock on the title track, and an amazing Cajun revamp of 'Honky Tonk Women', renamed 'Country Honk', with acoustic guitars, fiddle, and a couple of passing car horns. The ersatz jazz-funk 'Monkey Man' was another first for them, the sinister 'Midnight Rambler' switched tempo dramatically when you least expected it to, they paid tribute to their roots with Robert Johnson's 'Love in Vain' with the soon-to-be-famous Ry Cooder guesting on mandolin, and the last track, the 7-minute epic 'You Can't Always Get What You Want', with Al Kooper (at the time best known for playing organ on Dylan's 'Like a Rolling Stone') on keyboards and French horn, was an astonishing production - the 'Stairway to Heaven' of its day. The London Bach Choir are much in evidence on thi
s track, though it seemed they didn't care to be associated too publicly with rock's bad boys; I originally bought this album on vinyl, and on my copy there's a large black bar obliterating their name on the inner sleeve credits. Draw your own conclusions. Almost every other Stones album had its share of fillers, but with the possible exception of the rather nondescript folksy/bluesy 'You Got The Silver', with Keith on vocal and Mick nowhere in sight, this album hits the spot every time.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Gimme Shelter
2 Love In Vain
3 Country Honk
4 Live With Me
5 Let It Bleed
6 Midnight Rambler
7 You Got The Silver
8 Monkey Man
9 You Can't Always Get What You Want