4 ROLLING STONES — Sticky Fingers
Sticky Fingers is the most consistent collection of quality songs and most satisfying overall album by the Rolling Stones.
Well, it was certainly no tossed off blues-rock pastiche. The songs on the Stones ninth (UK) studio album were laboured over across a two year period and show clear evidence of thoughtful craft. And their drug obsessions.
That it was the first album by the band to reach the #1 spot in both the UK and the US says volumes.
The LP bursts out of the gate with “Brown Sugar” whose raucous rock energy tended to overshadow some extremely dodgy lyrics (rape, slavery, drug addiction). Even the writers tacitly acknowledged this when they excised the song from the set list of their 2021 US tour having already toned down some of the song’s lines.
“Bitch” is all raunchy exuberance while “Can you hear me knocking” has a strung-out insistence that sounds both desperate and post-coital; Mick Taylor stretches out.
Yet there is something about the downbeat songs that stays with the listener; “Sway”; the hopeless surrender of “Sister Morphine”; the deep sadness at the core of “Wild Horses”.
It’s the Rolling Stones in their grimy, hip-grinding pomp, while also showing either their oft-hidden emotional intelligence or a swamp of whimpering self-pity, depending on your Stones love quotient.
It’s got a Warhol-directed penis cover and a zipper to wound any record that tries to get close.
It has the unsexiest underwear ever.
It drips drugs.
It has Mick Taylor on guitar.
It has an inviolate place in the pantheon of Seventies rock.
It’s Sticky fucking Fingers.
[Released April 1971]
3 YES — Fragile
If The Yes Album showed the way, Fragile delivered on the promise of Yes. The stable line-up that became known as the ‘classic’ Yes grouping comprised Jon Anderson (unique tenor voice, gloriously bonkers lyrics*), Chris Squire (virtuoso bassist), drummer extraordinaire Bill Bruford, versatile and inventive guitarist Steve Howe and, the final piece, a wizard (draped in a sparkly cape)… ah… Mr Rick Wakeman on keyboards**.
Personally, this is the album that, perhaps more than any other, changed my ear-brain interface. The fusion of electrifying playing animating complex compositions where you could hear some art music structures within the rock fireworks was mesmerising. From the opening of “Roundabout”, where the musicians are jumping out of their skins with ideas through to the hard-riffing “Heart of the Sunrise”, this LP won the band worldwide acclaim and set a benchmark for progressive rock to come. It came out in November, two days before my sixteenth birthday (though I didn’t hear it until a couple of years later) and has been a companion, a joyful comrade through many decades. Talk about “Mood for a day”, this was mood for a lifetime.
* Hot colour melting the anger to stone (“Long distance runaround”). I mean, really. What substance is it if it becomes stone when it melts under prismatic attack?
** That’s a little Yessongs joke for fellow Yesnerds.
[Released 26 November 1971]