Please allow me to introduce myself....
Released December 1968
Recorded in London and Los Angeles
Running time 39.44
After the ill-advised and uncharacteristic venture into psychedelia that was 1967's Their Satanic Majesties Request, The Rolling Stones were in dire need of a re-discovery or reassertion, whatever the case may be, of both their image and their musical roots. They needed to get away from the counterfeit feelings of "community" and hippy love for all that they seemed to have drifted into, almost unwittingly. Musically, they needed to forget about matching The Beatles, forget psychedelia and get back to their blues rock roots.
They did exactly that with this, one of the "big four" albums that straddled the end of the sixties and the beginning of the seventies - Let It Bleed; Sticky Fingers and Exile On Main Street. Blending blues rock with nods to early delta blues and Americana-style country music they adopted their "bad boys of rock" personae once more and became the band parents didn't want the children liking, the band that was indeed the spawn of the devil.
1. Sympathy For The Devil
2. No Expectations
3. Dear Doctor
4. Parachute Woman
5. Jigsaw Puzzle
6. Street Fighting Man
7. Prodigal Son
8. Stray Cat Blues
9. Factory Girl
10. Salt Of The Earth
The old devil thing was never given greater significance than in the album's dramatic, iconic opener, Sympathy For The Devil - a menacing, intoxicating devilish brew of mesmeric voodoo-influenced percussion, searing Keith Richards guitar, insistent "woo- ooh" backing vocals and one of Mick Jagger's best ever sneering vocals. An absolute Stones classic.
From then on it was blues to the fore in the stark, bass and slide guitar-driven No Expectations, with its plaintive, bluesy vocal and laid-back, dusty blues sound. Dear Doctor was a bit more upbeat, but it was still very much "blues" in its ambience - acoustic guitar again and a wailing harmonica in the background and Jagger leering away in his best cod-US accent. The Stones were cementing themselves solidly now as blues rockers, no messing around with songs about space travel, Eastern mysticism or British music hall pastiches. This "new Stones" would see them through another five decades and counting.
Parachute Woman was a chugging, solid blues rocker with some superb guitar and another great, slightly slurred vocal. The bluesy Stones really were back - and how. Jisgaw Puzzle began with some excellent slide guitar and piano and the lyrics are decidedly influenced by Bob Dylan's Desolation Row - "here comes the Bishop's daughter..". The Dylan influence is also there in Jagger's vocal delivery. It is more rocky than the previous three definately blues numbers. The same applies to the next track and even more so. It is Street Fighting Man, an ideal anthem for the turbulent summer of 1968, which saw students rioting in the streets and fighting running battles with police, particularly in Paris. The song takes Martha Reeves & The Vandellas' Dancing In The Street and paraphrases its title and meaning into something darker. Musically, it gives us the first truly great guitar "riff intro" since possibly Get Off My Cloud or Under My Thumb and Jagger's affected vocal - "my name is called disturBOWANCE". Great stuff. As a ten year old boy who had always preferred The Stones to those milksop Beatles, this was music to my young ears. This was how I wanted my Stones to sound, even then.
The Delta blues was well and truly back with the acoustic blues of Prodigal Son, a rambling, thumping blues about feeding swine and killing the fatted calf. After three years of treading lightweight sixties water, The Stones were made for this sort of material as the sixties came to an uncertain end. The menace and parental disapproval returned for Stray Cat Blues about it being "no hanging matter, no capital crime" to have sex with a fifteen year old. Different times indeed. The Stones were re-revealing themselves as rude, haughty, arrogant and rough-edged and one feels the music scene needed them to be like that. Musically, the song ends with a great piece of Richards guitar similar to hat used in Sympathy For The Devil.
Factory Girl is a lively, acoustic guitar and percussion piece of country-style rock. Rather than aping The Beatles as they had foolishly tried to do on some of "Satanic Majesties", The Stones were very much in The Band of "The Basement Tapes" territory now, although the music still had their own unique stamp on it.
Salt Of The Earth is an anthem to the honest working class which is a little bit incongruous, to be honest, but it is a pretty good slow rocker with a lazy singalong gospel-style chorus.
1968 would prove to be the beginning of The Rolling Stones' best four years. This album heralded it perfectly.
The sound on the stereo remaster is superb, incidentally. I have it in mono too, but it just doesn't quite compare. Having said that, the bluesy tracks like No Expectations, Jigsaw Puzzle and Prodigal Son sound thumpingly, speaker-shakingly wonderful in mono, so there are benefits to listening to both.