Friday, April 27, 2018

The Albums of 1968: The Rolling Stones: Beggar's Banquet


Release Date: December 6, 1968
Active Members: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones, Bill Wyman, and Charlie Watts
Guests: Nicky Hopkins on Piano
Produced by Jimmy Miller

Side One: Sympathy for the Devil; No Expectations; Dear Doctor; Parachute Woman; Jigsaw Puzzle

Side Two: Street Fighting Man; Prodigal Son; Stray Cat Blues; Factory Girl; Salt of the Earth


Beggar's Banquet brought a charge to the turbulent rock scene of 1968. Like their contemporaries The Beatles, The Rolling Stones were moving on after a brief dalliance with psychedelia, going back to a more traditional rock and roll sound, albeit, with a darker edge. The ten songs on the album deal with evil, death, desire, revolutionary politics, working class malaise, and an ongoing exploration of the blues.

Side one begins with "Sympathy for the Devil."  The Stones tell the story of Lucifer as he joyfully reflects on the chaos he's wrought throughout history. The Dionysian beats and pagan chanting add to the ominous, yet attractive, mood of the song. Like Charles Manson, who would become known to the world the next year, the song ends with an entreaty to conciliation and then shifts to violent threat promising death to all who cross his path. A historical marker flower power's demise.

"No Expectations" is a beautiful track, a highlight of the album. A reflective meditation on the end of a relationship/era featuring Brian Jones on slide guitar and Nicky Hopkins on organ, one of the best collaborations in the Jagger/Richards catalog. 

"Dear Doctor" is a country-western ramble on drinking, broken hearts, and exhaustion. "Parachute Woman" is a thumping R&B tune with some Anthony Burgess Nasdat speak from A Clockwork Orange (Stones wanted to adapt their own version of the novel).

The aptly titled "Jigsaw Puzzle" is an observational song featuring pastiche blues and surreal imagery. Some have compared it to Dylan's "Stuck Inside of Mobile (with the Memphis Blues Again).

Side two opens with "Street Fighting Man," often considered the most "political" single the Stones ever released. "Street Fighting Man" definitely hit the zeitgeist of 1968, released as Chicago blew up during the Democratic convention. The Nihilist spirit of the song suggests youth have nothing better to do but storm the barricades, foreshadowing the punk ethos of a decade later. A sitar from Brian Jones echoes the psychedelia of 1967. 

"Prodigal Son" was a delta blues song written by Robert Wilkins, an appropriate parallel to "Street Fighting Man." "Stray Cat Blues" features a return to the vintage Stones style, heavy blues riffs with some taboo content. 

"Factory Girl" is a bluegrass ode of industrial romanticism. A similar sentiment prevails on the closing track "Salt of the Earth." A well produced track, even though the lyrics admit the working class are:

A swirling mass of grey
Black and White
They don't look real to me
In fact, they look so strange

In a year packed with legendary albums, Beggar's Banquet is a solid LP from start to finish. A marked contrast to the chaos of the Beatles White Album, capturing the Stones as they were about to enter the zenith of their creativity. Just as Dylan's early records reflect the changing culture of the mid 1960s, the Stones were defining the latter stage of the decade. 

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