SIXTIES INDIGESTION

Is it simply a hangover from yesterday’s indulgence? For some reason, Beggar’s Banquet by the Rolling Stones found its way onto the turntable while I found my way to the Boxing Day couch. Here is the piece I penned for Discrepancy Records.

After the kaleidoscope swirls of Their Satanic Majesties Request, the Rolling Stones entered 1968 with a much more grounded approach to their music. The first manifestation of this was the single “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”, released in April. The album that followed on 6th December took the strutting, rocking spirit of the single and cooked up a record that laid down a blueprint for the band’s next decade. Ladies and Gentlemen, you are invited to the Rolling Stones seventh album, Beggars Banquet.

Beggars Banquet boasts two killer singles, each leading off a side of the record.

“Sympathy For The Devil” was arresting both musically and lyrically. Never averse to stirring the pot, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards cooked up a lyric with something to offend everyone. Yet from the pattering percussion through to the gospel-parody “Woo-Hoo” backing, “Sympathy” is a commanding single that pulls you into its dark, menacing world with unerring magnetism. It is unique and a stone classic.

“Street Fighting Man” opens side two with simmering discontent licking at the edges of violence and chaos. Both thrilling and intimidating, “Street” has the timeless bravura of the best rock songs.

There is an uncomfortable and tragic irony that these two songs—one pointing a sneering finger at religion by having Lucifer sing in the first person, the other baying for anger-driven anarchy—are the key tracks on an album whose UK release coincided with the infamous Altamont Speedway Free Festival in California. This was the concert where security was provided by the Hell’s Angels, who intervened fatally when drug-affected fan Meredith Hunter appeared to be drawing a revolver near the stage. Many see the death (and indeed, the general mayhem of the event) as the end of the Woodstock dream. But social history is not our focus here; we came for the music, right?

So, the rest of the album.

There’s rock, blues, even a little country—Beggars Banquet is a record deeply influenced by American music. On the “Sympathy” side we have “No Expectations”, an acoustic folk-blues ballad; Jagger/Richards nailed this style a couple of years later with “Wild Horses”. “Dear Doctor” drops in some dress-up country while “Jigsaw Puzzle” has the rhythm section of Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts laying down a tight blues-rock base under a rambling lyric.

The “Street” side is consistently strong. “Stray Cat Blues” is a standout, showcasing the blues-rock swagger the Stones pump out to this day.

Visually, Beggars Banquet looks strikingly different from the prevailing aesthetic of 1968. The original cover (now re-instated) was a photograph of an unsavoury public toilet. The record company was horrified, and the ensuing battle of wills delayed the LP’s release for months. Eventually the company won and a plain white ‘Invitation’ cover was substituted. As The Mamas and Papas had discovered two years previously, US record companies don’t like lavatories.

Despite the delays and the controversies, Beggars Banquet was well received. No lesser authority than TIME magazine (11 October, 1968) observed:

“The album bristles with the brand of hard, raunchy rock that has helped to establish the Stones as England’s most subversive roisterers since Fagin’s gang in Oliver Twist.”

Fifty-plus years on, Beggars Banquet is still a feast.

First published at Discrepancy Records, 2019. Re-blogged with kind permission.

28 comments

  1. Dare I ask where you found the unsavory toilet on which to perch the LP depicting another unsavory toilet?! I love Time’s comparison of the Stones to Fagin’s gang: very apt, I’d say. Street Fighting Man is in my top three favorite Stones songs…I love the jangle and strut of it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Unsavoury? That’s the newly renovated bathroom, I’ll have you know!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Say it isn’t so! 🤦🏼‍♀️

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Yep, “Beggars Banquet” is a masterpiece. After their psychedelic, somewhat wacky “Their Satanic Majesties Request” found the Stones way back to their roots, rock and blues. That the cover was originally a different one and that the record company had decided against the cover was already known at the time. But when I look at the smeared wall with the dirty toilet on your pic, then I still prefer the cream-colored, minimalist cover with the curved calligraphy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cheers Hotfox. I know I’m in a fairly small category of folk who like TSMR a lot. For most, B’s B is more ‘Stones’. The two covers could not be more contrasting, really. They are, of course, also an example of the band raising a finger to the company. ‘If you won’t let us use OUR cover, we’ll give you this plain-wrapper alternative’!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I don’t really care about the cover, Bruce. We had this on tape, when we went down to Morocco in winter 1971/72. I remember sitting stoned on a roof in Chefchaouen looking over the town and the hills of the Rif mountains and listen to “Beggars Banquet”. That was definitely one of the good Stones moments.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Stones and stoned in Morocco, eh? Great that you remember, Herr HF! 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  3. That Rolling Stone line is amazing – feel like rock crit doesn’t do that anymore.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. True! It’s very creative isn’t it? ‘Time’ journalism applied to rock ‘n’ roll.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. If lyrics are going to cause offense, I appreciate when as you said, Bruce, they generously included something for everyone!
    Interesting juxtaposition too between the invite & toilet covers – in any event, the start of a 4-year run for the ages

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s for sure, Geoff. An extraordinary run begins right here.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. One my four all-timer Stones albums, I love it completely. Excellent piece, sir!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Aaron. Just agreeing with Geoff1001 that this begins a run of amazing albums, as I know you are well aware!

      Like

      1. Yeah I may have heard them a time or two… hey did I ever tell you I have an original copy of Exile on vinyl and the postcards are still intact (not separated)? True story.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Hey, that’s cool. The original version postcards were bigger, too! Though I still have no idea what the “story” is meant to signify. 🤔

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          1. Me neither. And hey, that LP is the one I’m ‘hiding’ behind in my Gravatar (if that appears anywhere when I post something).

            Liked by 1 person

  6. Great review, Bruce. Loved that you slipped in that Mamas and Papas anecdote in the middle somehow. Beggars Banquet for me is when the Stones definitely escaped the label of copying the Beatles. This really was a truly original album, and I’ve always felt they came into their own with it. Its two big hits exemplify that perfectly. – Marty

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cheers Marty. And I reckon you are right on the money. The two hits are pretty amazing (and timeless) and the variety of other styles signals their growing confidence to be who they were/are.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. “Sympathy For the Devil” and “Street Fighting Man” already make this album a gem in my book.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. They make a helluva pair of lead singles, don’t they?

      Liked by 1 person

  8. If Red Knot is part of the banquet, count me in. What the heck, count me in anyway – it’s a terrific album that I’ve neglected for too long.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lovely. Your place is set.

      Like

  9. The less known cuts need a revisit after your take.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That was my experience too, CB. Those two hits are so iconic, you have to almost reset your ears for the rest.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. ‘Stray Cat Blues’ reminded me of the rest of the record. I’m in a different zone with Neuronium right now.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Variety is the spice of our musical lives, CB. Cheers to you and a very positive ’21!

          Liked by 2 people

          1. You too Bruce. I enjoy our back and forths and sharing of our musical adventures.

            Liked by 2 people

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