Wednesday, 2 June 2021

Bite-sized Rolling Stones

I have detailed The Rolling Stones' studio albums chronologically here including small snippets from my more detailed reviews, which can be found by clicking the link below :-

The Rolling Stones (1964)

This is a hugely significant album. It is the debut album from The Rolling Stones. Before this there was no Rolling Stones. Just imagine that. Granted, it is almost all blues/r 'n' b cover versions, save the two Jagger and Richards in disguise "Nanker-Phelge" compositions, Now I've Got A Witness and Little By Little and the first properly accredited Mick Jagger and Keith Richards composition, Tell Me (You're Coming Back), but it is played with a huge effervescence and energy that made people really sit up and take notice. Obviously this album's wide-reaching effect was far greater than the sum of its parts, but it is still a most uplifting, invigorating listen, all these years later.

12 x 5 (1964)

This album was actually only released in the USA, but it has long been available everywhere. It featured more Jagger/Richards compositions than the debut album from five months earlier. There were still several impressive, excitingly-played cover versions, though, notably Chuck Berry's rocking Around And Around, The Drifters' Under The Boardwalk and Bobby Womack's It's All Over Now. Grown Up Wrong is an excellent early Stones composition. It is, once again, a vibrant, energetic album that cemented The Stones' reputation in the USA, as well as in the UK as the tracks eventually got released on the next two albums "No.2" and "Now".

The Rolling Stones #2 (1964)

They are strange things, these early Rolling Stones albums, in that there are UK and US versions (similar to The Beatles) and tracks from one album crop up on another or don't appear at all on an album and so on. This is basically the group's second UK album and includes some tracks that appeared on the US-only 12 x 5 and some that would appear on the forthcoming US-only release, The Rolling Stones, Now!. Like the group's debut album it contained a fair few r 'n' b cover versions, notably Chuck Berry's You Can't Catch Me, Solomon Burke's Everybody Needs Somebody To Love and Muddy Waters' I Can't Be Satisfied. The Stones covered this sort of material so well. Mick Jagger gives Somebody To Love an almost ad hoc, almost "live" feel. Jagger/Richards compositions were now also beginning to make themselves known - What A Shame, Grown Up Wrong and Off The Hook are on this one. It is the next step in their development. Of course, individual non-album singles were also being released at the same time.

The Rolling Stones Now! (1965)

This is another of those US-only early Rolling Stones releases, coming just after the UK release of Rolling Stones No. 2. It was released on CD by ABKCO in 2002 with three of the tracks in stereo - Heart Of Stone, What A Shame and Down The Road Apiece. They all sound incredibly good it has to be said. Sixties stereo at its very best. The others were in mono, but also of seriously good quality, particularly the crystal clear blues of Little Red Rooster, the cod-Southern States drawling Down Home Girl and Chuck Berry's rocking soul/blues of You Can't Catch Me. Indeed, Rooster in mono is a thing of aural beauty. This was a fine album, actually, a nice mix of solid blues covers and Jagger/Richards originals. The sound quality is the best of the four UK and US albums released thus far. It is my favourite collection of songs on these early Stones albums. You simply can't beat Little Red Rooster, Down The Road Apiece, Off The Hook, the blues of Pain In My Heart and You Can't Catch Me are all personal high points. The bluesy early Stones at their very best. I will never tire of giving this album a listen.

Out Of Our Heads (1965)

Out Of Our Heads, along with December's Children, was one of those confusing UK/US released albums which varied considerably between each release. Out Of Our Heads was released in both countries, and December's Children was a US-only release. All of the albums contained some of the same songs, but also significant changes. These were the albums, and the year, 1965, which saw The Rolling Stones really start to stand on their on two feet as a credible rock band singing their own credible rock songs. Yes, each album contained contemporary soul covers as well (as opposed to the r 'n' b covers of their 1964 albums), but they also had some seriously good Jagger-Richards original compositions, such as Satisfaction and Get Off My Cloud. Even the covers now showed The Stones to be masters of their art, a band in total control. These albums would, however, be the last of their albums to include covers. Aftermath in 1966, would be completely made up of Jagger-Richards songs. The inclusion of a few live tracks dotted around in these albums was pretty superfluous and detracts from the quality.

Aftermath (1966)

Aftermath, released in early 1966, and recorded, for the first time, in the USA, was something of a turning point in The Rolling Stones’ career. After several albums that featured quite a few r’n’b the and blues covers, this was the first album to feature only Jagger and Richards songs. Granted, there were a few throwaway songs, a little bit of “filler”, included among the album’s fourteen songs. But, make no mistake, this was seen as a “serious” album. It also included an eleven minute blues jam in Goin' Home, a highly unusual thing among popular music albums of the day. The album is clocked in at fifty minutes in length, another notable thing. Most contemporary albums were around thirty minutes in length. The album also saw Brian Jones’ skill as a multi-instrumentalist feature heavily. He played, among other things, marimba, sitar and organ. The song writing of Jagger and Richards was also developing at quite a pace, however, some puerility still existed in their schoolboyishly sexist lyrics at times, notably in Stupid Girl and Under My Thumb, with its pompous put-downs. 

Between The Buttons (1967)

This was The Stones last "60s pop/rock" album, before the psychedelic experiment of Satanic Majesties and then the blues rock of Beggars' Banquet. In that respect it marks the end of an era, although on the other hand it marks the start of proper, fully constructed albums, with a vastly-improved sound quality from the tinniness and monaural airs of the earlier albums. It is an often-forgotten album though, the band rarely, if ever, resurrect any of its tracks to play live (apart from Connection) and the tracks just sort of come and go when one listens to it. They all seem a bit throwaway, often dominated by an unaccompanied bit of Charlie Watts drumming, such as on the two lively openers, Yesterday's Papers and My Obsession. The Stones seem almost polite and shy-ish on much of the album's material - certainly no Get Off My Cloud defiance, Stupid Girl misogyny or Let's Spend The Night Together lust. Jagger's beautiful vocal over Brian Jones piano-accordion is typical of this. Like Lady Jane, it is almost Elizabethan in its instrumentation and ambience.

Their Satanic Majesties' Request (1967)

So, here we have The Rolling Stones most non-Rolling Stones album - a leap on to the "psychedelic" bandwagon with blatant echoes of The Beatles' recently-released Sgt Pepper (in June of the same year), musically, conceptually and artistically (the cover, in blue instead of red, was embarrassingly Pepper - influenced). Quite what possessed The Stones to come up with something like this is unclear, maybe they just thought "everybody's doing it, man" and went ahead, not wondering how it may appear. After all, groups like Pink Floyd, Traffic, The Kinks and Cream were all going weird. Why, even The Beach Boys were messing around with animal noises and multi-tracked, multi-instrumented "experimental" music. This was just The Stones' contribution to the contemporary vibe. Fair enough, I suppose, it was 1967, but it still stands alone as one big mistake in so many ways. The Rolling Stones are just not suited to this sort of thing are they, in any way, and to be fair to this album, there had been hints on Between The Buttons that led to some of the material we were subjected to here. All that hippy philosophy and communal generosity of spirit did not sit easily with a band who preferred to be affectedly rude, perverse and very much out on a limb as opposed to being part of some perceived "movement". The album provides the most obvious bridging point in The Stones' career. Gone was the 60s pop, the frantic blues covers and blues-influenced pop that so characterised the mid-60s. In was experimentation and ideas allowed to run away with themselves, particuarly as producer Andrew Loog Oldham had left, and The Stones reacted like kids chucking paper around when the teacher has had to leave the room. Yes, it is intriguing and, at times, there are some genuine inspirational moments in there, hidden away. However, maybe we should just take Keith Richards' word for it, that "basically, Satanic Majesties was a load of crap". 

Beggars' Banquet (1968)

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.

Let It Bleed (1969)

The Rolling Stones said goodbye to the decade that spawned them, the sixties, with another of their "big four" albums that straddled the turn of the decade that had begun so successfully with the previous year's blues rock masterpiece that was the magnificent Beggars' Banquet. With the emphasis a bit more towards "rock" than "blues" on this album, it is pretty much the equal of BB in many ways. Overall, however, this album was The Rolling Stones at their absolute best. For me, it probably beats all the others - just. Bookended by two copper-bottomed Stones classics in Gimme Shelter and You Can't Always Get What You want, there is not a bad track on it.

Sticky Fingers (1971)

The Stones began the seventies as they would carry on through the decade - drug-addled, indulgently decadent, slightly bitter and cocksure. This album magnificently sums all that up - they met the Devil at the crossroads and in return for staying true to their blues roots they had to promise to take lots of drugs. They do that to the max on this largely bluesy but also blatantly narcotic corker of an offering. You simply cannot beat the riffy, sleazy glory of Brown Sugar, can you? Dodgy lyrics and all. It is up there as a candidate for the best Stones song of all time - the iconic opening riff, Jagger’s leery vocal, Bobby Keys’ blistering sax - I’m no schoolboy but I know what I like...and I have done since 1971 when I was one. Some have criticised the song for its more obvious commercial sound compared to the rest of the album. Sometimes some critics astound me - so it’s catchy, lively and gets you off your feet - so it should, it’s The Rolling Stones. Along with Let It Bleed, its predecessor, this has a strong case for being The Stones’ best album. I might just plump for the former, but only just, for this one kicked off the seventies in superb rocking, chunky blues fashion.

Exile On Main Street (1972)

The final album in the quadruple set of superb Rolling Stones albums that included Beggars' Banquet (1968); Let It Bleed (1969) and Sticky Fingers (1971). While Sticky Fingers had been a dynamic thump of what was to become typical Stones blues rock, Exile On Main St was an absolute tour de force. Without doubt The Stones' finest album of the seventies, there is a compelling case for its claim to being the finest Stones album of all time. Recorded at the moment in time when The Stones were their most "debauched", the group were by now gnarled old veterans of the rock music scene, having outlived The Beatles already by two years. Along with Led Zeppelin, they were the "big" rock group of the early seventies. They lived it too, the drugs, the drinking, the private jets, the women. Recorded largely in a sweltering hot basement in Southern France, the album has often been labelled a work of lazy, rough and ready, don't give a whatever genius. In many ways this is true, the sound has always been a bit muffled and it plays like one long drinking and rocking session.

Goats Head Soup (1973)

This somewhat enigmatic, beguiling album has always suffered as the follow-up to the towering Exile On Main Street. Goat’s Head Soup has never been given too much credit. It has been criticised for being lazy and for having a muffled, muddy sound (even more so than Exile). The latter is undoubtedly true, and no amount of remastering will make any difference to that. However, it is not really a ”lazy” product. “Louche” (definition: disreputable or sordid in a rakish and appealing way) is maybe a far better description - looking at that definition it would seem perfectly apt. Time, however, has seen many attitudes softening towards the goat, amongst fans and music writers alike, which is pleasing, because I have always liked it. Decadence and excess, drug abuse and jet-setting rock star celebrity glamour was what The Stones were all about now. This album was a huge bridging point in the public’s perception of them, and indeed of the dynamics between themselves - particularly Jagger and Richards, as they now moved in clearly defined different directions. Richards despised Jagger’s swanning around and Jagger had no time for Richards’ voluminous drug consumption. That said, the dirtiest, most decadent songs on the album are obviously Jagger’s and the tenderest ones surprisingly Richards’. This dichotomy is no better exemplified than on Jagger's malevolent Dancing With Mr. D and Richards' beautiful Angie. Recorded initially in Jamaica, largely because it was one of the only places that would take the group (particularly Richards) and their drug-fuelled potential for narcotic criminality. After several busts, he felt he couldn't return to the UK at the time and the USA was out of the question for a while. The sessions were fraught with tensions - the general dangerous nature of the area, continued drug use from many of the musicians involved, too many hangers-on and intra-band rows and discontent. With all that was going on it was amazing that an album was created at all.

It's Only Rock And Roll (1974)

An often underrated album from The Stones. After the critically-lauded Sticky Fingers and Exile On Main Street, 1973's Goat's Head Soup began the supposed descent from which The Stones were never to recover, according to many. Another popularly held opinion is that it was something of a "treading water" album with the band at a period of transition. To a certain extent that was true, and this was, unfortunately, the last album to feature the wonderfully talented Mick Taylor on guitar. However, in terms of looking for positives about it - the very fact that it includes Taylor is one huge positive. Secondly, while both this and its predecessor suffer from poor sound quality, the sound on here is markedly improved from the muddiness of Goat's Head Soup. Listening to this album every now and again is always a pleasurable experience. There was some good material there.

Black And Blue (1976)

Another somewhat maligned Stones album - it seems as if everything post - Exile On Main Street is viewed disparagingly, which is something of a shame. Just as with the solo work from the members of The Beatles, Bob Dylan’s post 70’s work, or The Beach Boys' post Pet Sounds work, everything is measured against those classic periods in the group/artists’ career. It means, unfortunately, that sometimes, perfectly acceptable albums get the brush off from critics and fans alike. Black And Blue is by no means a bad album at all. Yes, maybe the band had become a bit lazy and were enjoying the “rock star” life a bit too much, but that was not surprising. I should imagine some of the fire does go out. It would appear to be the case as it has happened to pretty much every major artist over many years. In December 1974, just as recording was due to begin for this album, underrated guitarist Mick Taylor abruptly left the group, leaving them in a bit of limbo. Despite that, though, as they always seemed to do, the arch pragmatists got by and produced an album that is a favourite of mine, at least.

some Girls (1978)

In 1978, the disco boom had taken over the charts, thanks to the previous year’s Saturday Night Fever and everyone, it seemed, from Abba to Roxy Music were encouraged to put out a disco influenced single. Why, even The Stones got in on the act. The result was the extremely impressive bassy disco/funk groove of Miss You, which showed people that they were able to diversify. The track has a totally sumptuous bass line and a superbly catchy chorus backing vocal. It was a huge hit. Overall, Some Girls is considered to be the band’s best offering for six years, since 1972’s Exile On Main Street, although personally I prefer its three predecessors. It taps into the contemporary disco vibe, but also features keyboards prominently and also exploits a bit of punk's attitude and energy. It is probably the least "riffy" of the band's albums, with guitar work giving way to grooves, to an extent. Despite that, as any Stones trivia-nut will tell you, this was also the first album to feature Ronnie Wood as an official full band member. Despite the album coming out at the height of punk, the music cognoscenti respected it, so too did the punks. So much for “No Elvis, Beatles or The Rolling Stones..” - it seemed some of the contemporary trend for criticising The Stones was waning, giving way to an "elder statesmen"-style respect and a kindred spirit love for Keith. The album also attracted some mainstream and disco fans along the way too. It seemed to go down well with everyone. 

Emotional Rescue (1980)

Assessed by many to be one of The Stones' worst albums, Emotional Rescue is generally seen to be a poor relation of Some Girls. Indeed it utilised many cast off tracks from that album's sessions. However, despite some lazy low points such as Summer Romance and Where The Boys Go, there are some redeeming features in Down In The Hole, Send It To Me, Let Me Go and the album's two dance numbers, Dance (Pt 1) and the hit single title track, Emotional Rescue. As with 1983's Undercover, I don't mind listening to this every now again. It just has to be taken in context. It would be a fair conclusion to see this as more a Jagger album than a Richards one. The reggae of Send It To Me and, of course, All About You is pure Keith, but the rest of it is very Mick.

Tattoo You (1981)

This was a not a "new" album from The Rolling Stones in that it was a collection of rejected songs that had been recorded for possible use on earlier albums, dating as far back as 1972. Having said that, they are all tracks of a high quality. In my view, there is not a duff track on there and all of them would have considerably enhanced the albums they were initially recorded for. Although not a "new" album, it certainly plays like one, to be fair, and doesn't seem like a collection of cast offs. It is by far the superior to Emotional Rescue and Undercover. It is a good album, no doubt about that.

Undercover (1983)

This is so much an album of its era. The 1980s saw albums awash with synthesisers, synth drums and keyboard riffs. How this affected a band so intrinsically linked to guitar riffs is obvious here, not particularly well. However, the fact that the band tried to move with the times has to be respected, even though, at times, the trademark Stones sound is buried beneath synthesisers and automatic drums. If you have Charlie Watts, why use programmed drums? Nevertheless, some interesting rhythmic experiments can be found on the barnstorming title track, Too Much Blood, Tie You Up and Feel On Baby. The album's last four tracks also see a partial restoration of something of the Stones sound fans had come to expect. In many ways it is a very similar album to Emotional Rescue, but slightly better due to the lack of any "embarrassing" tracks where The Stones forget their age. Not really anything truly wonderful on here, but no true duffers either. As with 1980's Emotional Rescue, this album has to be viewed in the context of when it was recorded. The cracks between Jagger and Richards that were beginning to show three years earlier are even more apparent here. It is pretty obvious whose tracks are whose.

Dirty Work (1986)

Widely considered by most to be the worst Rolling Stones album, by far. It genuinely had a lot going against it - a fractured band with its main protagonists pretty much functioning completely independent to each other, with even comparatively mild-tempered Charlie Watts falling out with Jagger, a musical trend of the time in synthesisers dominating everything and, yes, a bloody awful cover. Yes, it probably is their worst album, but, as a Stones fan, I will try to derive something from it and the occasional forty minutes listening to it every few years is enjoyable enough.

Steel Wheels (1989)

Along with 1986's Dirty Work, it is easy to dismiss this album as "execrable", as many, many journalists and fans have done over the subsequent years. Yes, it is has a synthesiser presence, as did work from many artists in the mid/late eighties, but, in my opinion, it is nowhere near as bad an album as so many have considered it to be. It is actually far superior to Dirty Work. The late eighties were, admittedly a dreadful, barren period for music, and this album suffers some of the drawbacks of coming from that era, but there is still some solid Stones rock on here. 

Voodoo Lounge (1994)

It is an unfortunately popular cliché to condemn this album, comparing it to Let It Bleed or Exile On Main Street and saying that it is one of the worst Rolling Stones albums. I have to say I disagree. I think it is a more than reasonable album. Comparisons with their outstanding past work are actually pretty pointless. Just listen to this album and decide whether it rocks or to. In my view, it does. It had been five years since Steel Wheels, their previous album, and the first two lead off tracks are seriously powerful. A great return from The Stones, whatever anyone says.

Bridges To Babylon (1987)

On this album, in contrast to Voodoo Lounge, which had seen The Stones revisit sounds from their previous two decades, they decided to utilise a few contemporary musicians and production assistants. They used tape loops, samples, drum enhancement and the like. Quite why you need drum enhancement when you have Charlie Watts is unclear. It is still a rock-ish album but these differences make it a slightly different album to listen to, as opposed to more of the same. For some, though, it seemed The Stones couldn't win - the same style would have brought accusations of "the same old formula", whereas dabbling in contemporary sounds had people saying "why don't they just stick to what they know best?". Either way, it is a pleasurable listen, although like Voodoo Lounge and A Bigger Bang it is probably one or two tracks too long. There is a big, thumping, full bass sound to the album which is good to hear, although at times the cymbal sound is a bit tinny, notably on Low Down. It is overridden by the full bass though.   

A Bigger Bang (2005)

While 1994's Voodoo Lounge and 1997's Bridges To Babylon were, somewhat unfairly, (particularly in the case of the former) panned by critics, this one, nearly ten years later, was given the cliche-ridden "return to form" praise. Why was this? Maybe it was the considerably stripped down, back to basics backing, no horns or saxophones, just organ and piano plus the core of The Stones. Also, the fact it included a blues track for the first time in years caused many people to go a bit over the top in their "back to their roots" panegyrics. Just as the previous two album had been, this was, in the age of the CD, an album that was several tracks too long. Fifteen or sixteen tracks now seemed to be the average for an album, using up the full 78 minutes available. To be honest, it was too much for me and all these three albums are difficult to listen to all the way through. Twelve tracks would be much more preferable. 

Blue And Lonesome (2016)

Apparently recorded very quickly, in an "almost live" studio setting, in order to give the album a raw feel, this was the long-waited Rolling Stones album of Chicago blues covers. In conclusion, you would have thought this album has Keith Richards' stamp all over it. Funnily enough, it is Jagger who dominates the whole thing. He seems to be revelling in it. Despite the admittedly less than perfect sound (to my taste) this is still a highly enjoyable, pure album  from a band who burst on to the scene, and into our lives, playing the blues. If this is to be their last studio album, then they went out playing the blues. As it should be.

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