Let me please introduce myself
I’m a man of wealth and taste
And I lay traps for troubadours
Who get killed before they reach
Pleased to meet you
Hope you guess my name
But what’s puzzling you
Is the nature of my game
In February 1967, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and some of their other infamous friends were busted by police for drug possession at Richard’s West Sussex home. Mick’s girlfriend Marianne Faithfull was famously wrapped in nothing but a bear rug, adding to the wanton orgy rumors.
When questioned about Faithfull’s near-nudity in a roomful of men, Keith said – to a magistrate – “We are not old men. We are not worried about petty morals.” (For the record, people drawn to the flame of the Rolling Stones in that era didn’t necessarily thrive. Like Lord Byron, they were mad, bad, and dangerous to know. After Faithfull broke up with Jagger in 1970, her life went into a pretty nasty tailspin for years, including long stints of drug abuse and homelessness.)
As the Stones would later discover, the bust was set up by the notorious London rag, The News of the World. The police, too were eager to make an example of the Stones. Jagger was sentenced to several months in jail but was released, due in part to a sympathetic article (“Who Breaks a Butterfly On A Wheel“) in The London Times. (The press giveth and the press taketh away).
I will overlook the so-so Sgt. Pepper clone, Their Satanic Majesties Request so I can quickly get to the Stones great run of albums from 1968 to 1972. In short order they released Beggars Banquet, Let it Bleed, Sticky Fingers, and Exile on Main Street, arguably one of the greatest runs in recorded rock history. They also released the classic single, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” around this time. (I’ve already blogged about Exile so I’ll just choose a few selections from some of the others, overall an impossible task.)
“Sympathy for the Devil” is a song Mick Jagger came up with after reading a book called The Master and Margarita, a novel about the devil visiting the Soviet Union. The song started life as a pretty standard rock number but gradually evolved into a samba. (If you’re curious, you can witness this evolution on YouTube in Jean-Luc Godard’s movie One Plus One. Be forewarned that it’s an experimental Sixties thing so you’ll have to slog through a lot of turgid scenes to get to the good stuff. Or just fast-forward).
Keith’s guitar solo is mean, nasty and snarling on this like he’s using a fucking razor blade for a pick:
Inspired by the 1968 Paris and Grosvenor Square student demonstrations, Jagger and Richards came up with “Street Fighting Man.” That urgent electric guitar on the original version is in reality the sound of acoustic guitars overdriven into a small cassette deck. Keef was always screwing around with stuff like that, strange tunings, etc. that drove guitarists who were trying to copy him crazy. (Keith is the original rock n’roll outlaw gunslinger, as attested to by the many guitarists who have tried to be him and cannot because there is only one).
(Fresh off working with Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart totally reworks this song on his first album. I urge you to check it out here. That bottleneck guitar? Ronnie Wood, who was several years away from joining the Stones).
“Midnight Rambler” may well be the Stones most evil song. Keith says that if they call you evil – which they did – then you explore evil. (“I’ll stick my knife right down your throat baby and it hurts.”) Everybody says it’s based on the Boston Strangler. But then the lyrics say, “Well you heard about the Boston – WHOMP! Honey…it’s not one of those.” Hmmm. Well, whatever.
This is quite simply one of my favorite bluesy rock (Keith calls it a blues opera) songs of all time. It is for me almost the essence of the Stones’ sound. Here’s a great early live version from Get Your Ya-Yas Out.
I have absolutely no idea how the Stones came up with the fantastic “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” Nor do I know how it occurred to them to use the London Bach Choir. (Who later, shocked (shocked!) with its “relentless drug ambience,” publicly disassociated themselves from the album.)
Can Jagger/Richards even write a song like this any more? Does anybody?
Ladies and gentlemen, from Let it Bleed, the greatest rock and roll band in the world, The Rolling Stones:
I saw her today at the reception
In her glass was a bleeding man
She was practiced at the art of deception
Well I could tell by her blood-stained hands
You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you just might find
You get what you need
At this point in time – 1969 – The Beatles were pretty close to packing it in as a band. The Stones? They were just catching their second wind.
Next – The Sixties officially end at Altamont. And the Stones – and a generation – stagger into the Seventies.