The Rolling Stones - Beggars Banquet (50th Anniversary Edition) - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

The Rolling Stones - Beggars Banquet (50th Anniversary Edition)

by Mark Moody Rating:10 Release Date:2018-11-16
The Rolling Stones - Beggars Banquet (50th Anniversary Edition)
The Rolling Stones - Beggars Banquet (50th Anniversary Edition)

I’m not a big fan of questions along the lines of “Who is your favorite band?” and similar pick your favorite sort of thing when it comes to music.  There is just too much to choose from.  But in spite of an endless palette, I do have a favorite color (green) and I’ve never really had an issue with the proverbial “Beatles vs Stones” question.  It’s not that I don’t like the Beatles, I do, but given a choice between grit vs. glamour in about all aspects of life I’ll pick the former hands down (excluding staying in a nice hotel when I can - Jason Isbell doesn’t want to die in a Super 8 motel and neither do I).  So setting aside any other part of their pantheon of recorded work, the stretch of four albums from Beggars Banquet to the pinnacle of Exile On Main Street, to borrow from their obsessiveness with American music, is the musical equivalent of hitting for the cycle if all were allowed to be home runs.  Certainly, the Beatles were stringing together such runs and, speaking of America, Creedence Clearwater Revival was doing the same with a speed record to top it off.  

But the Stones did it with the grimiest of blues stamps imaginable.  And the right blues I might add.  For some London based blokes in their 20s to land on not their contemporary electric blues musicians, but the country blues of Memphis and the Mississippi Delta circa 1928 is a marvel.  Even if they tried to rip off the still living Rev. Robert Wilkins, and succeeded to cover Robert Johnson and Mississippi Fred McDowell on subsequent releases they at least had their influences in the right place.  They likely also had a hand in bringing forty-year-old music to everyone’s musical consciousness, which only seems mildly ironic as Beggars Banquet hits its own fifty year anniversary.  Their cover of Wilkins’ ‘Prodigal Son’, itself a reworking of Wilkins’ own 1920s era ‘That’s No Way To Get Along’, is revelatory for Keith Richards’ dedication to his craft or selling of his soul at the crossroads whichever it may be.  And Mick Jagger stays right there with him with a mix of energy and insouciance that was and is the epitome of cool.  If Let It Bleed’s ‘Love In Vain’ may be the best of these covers, ‘Prodigal Son’ was the most authentic.  It also paved the way for the also all acoustic brutality of ‘Street Fighting Man’, that given its epic sweep you would swear goes on for longer than its brief three minutes.  A quick punch to the gut, one-upped only by the following year’s masterful ‘Gimme Shelter’.

If the blues are at its roots, Beggars Banquet’s highlights come in its less derivative moments.  For both structure and content, you would be hard pressed to say the band has had a finer moment than ‘Sympathy For The Devil’. Richards’ solo that bursts forth three minutes in and rides more or less the remainder of the song in some form is ‘Exhibit A’ in favor of whether skills were transferred from the subject of the song.  The lyrics and Jagger’s delivery are about as ballsy as you can get.  Coming a scant few years from Bobby Kennedy’s assassination and drawing a parallel to Pontius Pilate’s washing of hands as Beelzebub stands by as some kind of omnipresent Forrest Gump/Zelig figure is not taken lightly.  It’s as fierce as ever today and no doubt a few more impactful verses could be added.  One of my all-time live music highlights was seeing David Byrne play this song during his Brazilian phase with all manner of percussion and backing vocals in a slow to simmer production that proves its sturdiness over the decades.  

Of course, a Stones album from this era and beyond without a healthy dose of sexual innuendo or bragged about prowess, wouldn’t be a Stones album I suppose.  Here it runs from the harmless, if not laughable, (“parachute woman blow me out”?) on ‘Parachute Woman’ to the wholly unacceptable on ‘Stray Cat Blues’.  Certainly, there’s a reason they haven’t played that one in well over a decade.  But in other spots, in spite of some grubby descriptors, Jagger and Richards are all heart.  Jagger’s story of sitting in the rain waiting for his ‘Factory Girl’ sounds tossed off in its looseness but is all the stronger for its narrative drive.  The feel of the band sitting around reeling off a folk ballad as credible as its forebears sticks.  It’s also impossible for me to take ‘Salt of the Earth’ out of the context of hearing Jagger and Richards play it at the post 9/11 concert for New York City.  As many of us look to music in times of crisis, their performance of this song resonated more than any other played that night.  Held up as a tribute to first responders hardly a month on from the tragedy it still brings a lump to the throat, and today stands as the flip side to the nefarious vibe of ‘Sympathy’.  Whether intended bookends or not, they serve as that today.  

Elsewhere, on tracks like ‘No Expectations’ (a highlight for Bill Wyman’s supple bass work), ‘Dear Doctor’, and ‘Jigsaw Puzzle’, it may be more about the vibe and sound produced than the content, but a brilliant sound it is.  If your exposure to the Stones is primarily via their greatest hits, and there are undoubtedly many of them, you are doing yourself a grave disservice by not diving in deep from Beggars Banquet to Exile.  I’ll even throw in Some Girls from a few years further on if you insist.  Hits or not, these are their greatest moments and deserve to be heard as the perfect tributes to the true heart of American music.  For a proper explanation and to have it served up like it’s supposed to you have to get a little bit down in the dirt.  Scrape the shit right off your shoes and move along.  No band has done it better before or since.                

Overall Rating (2)

5 out of 5 stars
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