As Virgins and Philistines is an ambitious blog which does not fear to climb the highest cliff, please be welcome to this new post, part of our “record by record” series. The great UK magazine Mojo recently published a long and fascinating article about the Rolling Stones in the 70’s and it made me want to listen to the records again. What the band faced in these ten years was incredible : change of guitar player, no more Beatles to ease the competition and the will to go forward, weddings, drugs, jail…name it and you will find it. And the actual records? Well, six studio albums and each of them with a different story to tell…
Sticky Fingers (1971) : With the famous “zipp” Andy Warhol cover! And what an incredible album this one is… Third in the series of pure Stones classics after “Beggars Banquet” and “Let It Bleed”, “Sticky Fingers” is the perfect 60’s to 70’s record with one foot firmly in their blues and rock past but with the first sounds of what could be called groovy tracks. Very important role played by the American sax player Bobby Keyes, described by Keith Richards in his autobiography as his soul mate. Not a record collection should exist without this LP (10/10). Key tracks : “Brown Sugar“, “Wild Horses” & “Sister Morphine“.
Exile on Main St. (1972) : probably the most atypical Stones LP…and maybe the greatest? Keith Richards had been living in France at that time mainly for tax reasons and had found the house of his dreams in Bellecôte on the French Riviera. By “dreams”, I mean a place to play music and get high 24 hours a day while enjoying the sun and making sure to take care of this son Marlon. All the other Stones members were living in France as well but quite far, so sessions were held directly in the house, cables being installed between the kitchen and the basement with the help of a portable studio located in the gardens. The Stones had so much material that they finally kept 18 tracks, making “Exile” their first and only double-LP. Still strong presence of Bobby Keyes on saxophone but as well of the late Gram Parsons (ex-Byrds and “creator” of the country rock formula). And probably the record on which Mick Taylor guitar playing was the most accomplished. If you like laid-back relaxed and soulful music, this record is for you. Same comment as for “Sticky Fingers” : owning is compulsory (10/10). Key tracks : “Tumbling Dice”, “Loving Cup” & “Shine a Light”…+ the other 15 tracks! 2010 Reissue is highly recommended with 10 great new tracks plus its DVD companion documentary “Exiled” about the genesis of the album.
Goats Head Soup (1973) : or how a band at their peak starts showing signs of weakness. It is very rare to get over a cycle of four/five years when one reach the nirvana and “Goats Head Soup” is typically the moment when the Stones stopped being super musical creatures and started making “normal” records. It does not mean that this album does not have its moments and this is indeed a rather good and solid record that I will listen to anytime at breakfast… but one can leave without it (7.5/10). Key tracks : “Coming Down Again”, Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)” & “Angie“.
It’s Only Rock’n Roll (1974) : how one can measure a “bad” Rolling Stones? Tough question as we are stuck between two choices : either compare with the records done by the band at their peak (cf. “…Finger” or “Exile…” above) or enjoy a relatively quite nice rock record which may be better than other albums done by majority of bands. This LP really falls in this category but worse there are really no great tracks to hum or remember. On a sidenote, this is the last album on which Mick Taylor played as a full Rolling Stones as he left on his own despite Richards’ comments that “you don’t leave the Rolling Stones ; either you’re fired or you’re dead.” (6.5/10). Key tracks : “It’s Only Rock’n Roll (But I Like It)”, “Time Waits For No One” & “Dance Little Sister”.
Black and Blue (1976) : not the most famous Stones LP, nor the most critically lauded one but a really good and fun record to listen to as far as I am concerned. Enter Ron Wood, from the Faces fame and old acquaintance of the band for a very long time, and his sense of fun on one side and obedience to Keith Richards on the other one. An LP full of soulful or reggae-sounding tracks but never close to pastiche to my mind. A great party record to play loud and ideal to enjoy the summer. (8/10). Key tracks : “Hot Stuff”, “Melody” & “Fool to Cry”.
Some Girls (1978) : and back to absolute greatness. I (re)discovered this album recently with the excellent 2011 2-CD reissue and I must admit I had forgotten what a masterpiece that was. Recorded in the Paris suburbs (Boulogne-Billancourt) but mainly written by Mick about his life in New York, this album is clearly led by Jagger who was then driving the band due to Richards’ junkie situation. The single “Miss You” was obviously influenced by disco and Jagger’s nightlife in NY (Club 54 amongst others) but all styles can be found in this amazing groovy LP from pure rock to country-sounding ballads (9.5/10). Key tracks : “Miss You”, “Some Girls” & “Beast of Burden“. For more, please read the dedicated book on “Some Girls” in the great 33 1/3 series.
Stay tuned for the three other parts (60’s, 80’s and 90’s to now) which will be published throughout this year 2012 when the band gets his 50th anniversary!