Almanac Music: The Sinner of ’69 – The Rolling Stones’ Let It Bleed

It was a hot day in Tanunda and lunch was done. A Sunday, there was energetic engagement with some Carlsberg lagers, and sitting in the garden, Nick and Holmesy1 agreed that these were excellent session beers.2

Of course, there was music. In its desolate, dirty beauty Let It Bleed burst from the outdoor speakers, and I now confess to you, dear reader, that I’d not heard it before. What had gone so wrong for me? My diet had been confined to Get Your Ya-Ya’s Out, Tattoo You 3, and various compilations.

Nick and I saw The Rolling Stones at Football Park in 1995, partly driven by fear of Keith’s mortality. Why did we worry? But I hadn’t investigated them as an albums band, and was denying myself history’s ultimate run of releases.

Beggars Banquet. Let It Bleed. Sticky Fingers. Exile on Main St.

For me their 1969 record is among their best, and while its bookends of “Gimme Shelter” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” are correctly celebrated, there are other songs worthy of our attention.

Let It Bleed

This song is so languid; it could be summer in Tallahassee. Each component: guitars, piano, drums and vocals is lazy and loose. The slide guitar and autoharp evoke places remote from the band’s London home while Charlie’s drumming, especially on the outro, is spectacular.

Twenty-year-old Mick Taylor debuted on the album which would be the last for Brian Jones, so incapacitated by drugs and drink that his contributions were minor, and indeed he was soon lost to music, lost to himself. Drowned.

On blossoming display is the genius of Jagger’s singing as his vocals assume an American country twang that could’ve fallen into parody, but here is homage. Over the ensuing decade he’d continue these reverent performances on tracks such as “Dead Flowers” 4 and “Sweet Virginia.”

Damningly, I’ve never heard the song on Australian radio, but its sexual decadence and portraiture would henceforth define the band.

I was dreaming of a steel guitar engagement

When you drunk my health in scented jasmine tea

But you knifed me in my dirty filthy basement

With that jaded, faded, junky nurse oh what pleasant company

 

 You Got the Silver

For me “Jumping Jack Flash” is caricature. As hard rockers they’re competent, but this is uncomfortable territory; they’re in the wrong church. Nashville and the Mississippi Delta appeal to the band more than Chelsea.5 Blues and country rock are their spiritual habitat.

I’d never appreciated Keith as a singer. But on this song, the first on which he’d take lead vocals, he adopts a character so plausible, in such robust sympathy with his public persona, that it creates a compelling world. Its antagonism was likely inspired by Richards’ then girlfriend Anita Pallenburg, which gives it bemused venom, a telling context.

Hey babe, you got my soul,

you got the silver, you got the gold

A flash of love has made me blind,

I don’t care, no, that’s no big surprise

Both songs reveal The Rolling Stones’ song writing and performing powers, but within a genre not commonly acknowledged. These show imagination, a hunger to grow musically, and remarkable poise- especially as they were not yet thirty.

Our age of downloads and streaming services has made a curio of the album concept, but Let It Bleed is a record of a time and a place that denotes the stratospheric talents of Mick and Keith and their coterie.6

Play it this summer in its ragged, murky entirety. Over a couple Carlsbergs.

Footnotes

  1. Their real names.
  2. Session beers do not include either Coopers Sparkling Ale or Carlsberg’s Elephant beer. Failure to realise this can be catastrophic for all involved.
  3. Tattoo You came out in 1981 and was played on cassette in many HQ Holdens in Kapunda, the town of my youth. “Slave” was an audio calling card for many as we could hear our mates coming around the corner before we saw them, especially for some reason, late on Sundays before we’d go to the Railway Hotel.
  4. A wonderful version of this song by Townes Van Zandt features during the end credits of The Big Lebowski. It captures the laconic nature of the film magnificently and links thematically to The Dude, “possibly the laziest man in Los Angeles County.”
  5. Chelsea, the west London suburb mentioned in “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” the album’s closing song about disillusionment.
  6. Ian Stewart and Nicky Hopkins contribute brilliant piano throughout the album. Merry Clayton’s background vocals on “Gimme Shelter” are rightly recognised as iconic, and in the view of this author are the best of all time.

About Mickey Randall

Late afternoon beer, Exile on Main St playing. Sport like cricket, most types of football, golf, squash, horse racing. Travel, with Vancouver my favourite city, but there’s nowhere I’ve not happily been. Except Luton.

Reading. Writing about family, sport, music, the stuff that amuses me. Conversation. Wit. Irony.

McLaren Vale cabernet sauvignon, Barossa shiraz, Coopers Sparkling Ale. Jazz and especially Miles Davis. Lots and lots of music.

I live in Adelaide with my wife Kerry-ann and our boys Alex and Max.

Comments

  1. Wonderful album. So evocative. This and ‘Beggars Banquet’ before it, certainly were a welcome change from ‘Satanic….’ before them. Just love the acoustic numbers especially.

  2. Malby Dangles says:

    You Got the Silver is one of Keith’s finest moments. I think he’s a really interesting singer. He’s got incredible pitch and his vocal style is idiosyncratic for rock and roll.
    And Let it Bleed is a top album, as is Tattoo You!

  3. Hey Mickey.

    Let it bleed (the song) hangs loose to the cusp of sloppiness. It’s music capturing what it is to be a wonky wheel on an old jalopy. I also love how it organically picks up intensity and just a twee more urgency as it grows. A great fave of mine on the finest Stones album by far for me.

    Greatly enjoyed your evocative take on these wonderful songs.

  4. Mickey,
    You rightly celebrate that famous run of four brilliant albums.
    For me, it is “Exile on Main St”, that sprawling, magnificent double-album crammed full of excellent tracks.
    And I also like Tattoo You.

  5. JD- Beggars Banquet is also great, although not as powerful. “Dear Doctor” and “Factory Girl” two personal highlights. Their album tracks on here are more interesting than the big hits.

    Malby- Although I’m late to it, I’ve just started reading Keith’s “Life” and it’s fantastic. Love the story of how he sang at Westminster Abbey in the school choir. Tattoo You the album that really grabbed me and got me moving from just listening to their singles.

    Peter Z- Great description of the song Let It Bleed. The piano on it is such rollicking fun and showcases what Ian Stewart brought to the music. Ry Cooder’s slide is iconic too.

    Smokie- For about two months I listened only to Exile while in Singapore. It seemed to sit well in the muggy heat. Not really a roaring fire in the depths of winter album!

    Thanks to everyone.

  6. Mickey, nice work. Keith sang some rippers: Happy (Never kept a dollar past sunset, Always burned a hole in my pants) and Coming Down Again from the underrated Goats Head Soup. (Where’s the apostrophe, Keith?)
    They say the Stones killed the 60s with the song Gimme Shelter (and Altamont) but I think Mao Tse Tung was doing worse shit at the time.
    Another of my faves on Let It Bleed is Monkey Man. Based on an unputdownable musical phrase. Remember Ray Liotta in Goodfellas in his cocaine paranoia skittering around town with that song playing?
    The Stones were always best with Mick Taylor in the band. He reckons he had to get out before it killed him like it killed Brian, but he played a cameo with them at Footy Park in 2015 (there was also a black woman there who I don’t think was Merry Clayton, but did her proud. I’m with you, her voice on Gimme is the making of the song.)
    Cheers ajc

  7. ps Just finished reading Bruce’s autobiog. Long-winded, but sweet as Tupelo honey when it needs to be. The thing that struck me about it was that it was written by a wise man. A word I don’t use often. He had bugger all education and few decent mentors. How did he become wise? I guess some are born that way.

  8. Thanks ajc.

    Monkey Man features an irresistible guitar hook too. Goodfellas is sensational and has a great soundtrack as well. Layla is put to great use in it and offers a beautiful counterpoint to some of the gritty onscreen action. I’m sure Tarantino learnt much from this.

    I’ve not been much of a biography reader, but just finished Dave Graney’s excellent memoir, 1001 Australian Nights which is written with the wit and sharp observations we’d expect from the King of Pop.

  9. Quite amazing, really, that those four albums came on the heels of Their Satanic Majestic’s Request.
    “She’s a Rainbow” is a killer, but I have always regarded this album as a far inferior Sgt Peppers.

  10. Given that it was 1967, Their Satanic Majestic’s Request is the band’s obligatory and barely successful attempt at psychedelia. That nonsense dispatched, their form exploded. Prodigal Son is also a great, largely acoustic guitar track too from Beggars Banquet (another album title that’s possibly lacking an apostrophe of possession).

    Thanks Smokie.

  11. John Butler says:

    Onya Mickey,

    The Stones’ worst moments usually involve indulgence of Mick’s Peter Pan syndrome. Satanic Majesties was Sgt Pepper me-too ism. But even that had 2000 Light Years From Home.

    And I reckon Majesties embarrassed them enough to inspire what followed – Beggars Banquet. Let It Bleed. Sticky Fingers. Exile on Main St. No band ever strung together 4 better albums (5, if you throw in Ya Ya’s).

    People’s thoughts on Blue and Lonesome?

  12. Blue and Lonesome is twenty years overdue, JB.

  13. Mickey,
    In relation to the missing apostrophes: My brother, in 1972, his senior year at school (An impoverished little place in Corio called Geelong Grammar) hung another kid off the clocktower at midnight, 100 feet in the air on a derelict rope. That kid painted BEGGARS BANQUET in four foot high letters, one word above and one below the clock. They did it to advertise a party they were having. Next morning my old English teacher, crossing the oval to the dining hall, was horrified at the graffiti, but relieved to see it didn’t have an apostrophe, thus it couldn’t have been one of his students. He was wrong. It was. The sign was a direct quote from the Stones album.
    Big photos in all the papers in Melb. Who were the culprits? The housemaster said he’d lay five-to-one on that it was my brother. He was expelled. Three of my sisters were subsequently expelled (For different offences). Leaving me the only high school graduate in the family. (I was chucked out of Uni) Dad was quite often paying boarding school fees in Geelong for kids who were upstairs in Shepparton listening to records.
    Anyway, there was no fire unit in Geelong with a ladder long enough to clean the sign painted on the clock tower. The headmaster rang the father of the kid (Peter) who my brother dangled over the edge. He said, “Hasn’t Peter offered to go over and clean it off?”
    If you do a review of Beggars I’ll post a photo of the clocktower with the sign on it.

  14. Peter Warrington says:

    I really like Citadel off Majesties. But it stinks, generally. I don’t like Pepper, neither. Rubber Soul-Revolver-Blanc-Abbey Road – wouldn’t that be a quartet to rival the Fab 4 from the Stones?

    Keith did sing a quavering intro to Salt of the Earth. I really love his voice. As you have said, he was a proper choir singer as a kid. (“Life” is a great read.)

    As much as I love the Ya-Ya’s versions (and Bobby Johnson), I find Live with Me and Love in Vain, and Country Honk too, really kill the momentum. I’d like to see it as a 7-song heavyweight – Shelter, Let it Bleed, Honky Tonk Woman (single version), Monkey Man, Rambler, Silver and You Can’t Always Get. 35 minutes of pure genius.

    If you haven’t seen tim Rogers and Vika Bull doing Shelter, you should – rockwiz. it might be heresy but I reckon she is as good, if not better…!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0KJ8jRTnsFk

    We will have to disagree re Jack Flash. Love it. Lots.

    In terms of Sticky Fingers, gotta love Sway. Even I can play it on guitar. sorta. And the intro to “Knockin” is probably as good as it gets.

  15. Pete, Sway is ragged rock at its finest. The intro to Knocking is my phone ring… one of the top five rock songs of all time. And, yes, that is heresy. PS The Sun the Moon and the Rolling Stones is a great book on the band. Came out last year.

  16. JB- Love Ya-Ya’s too, and Mick’s throwaway lines- “Charlie’s good tonight” and “You don’t want my trousers to fall down…”

    I reckon Blue & Lonesome is great. Having begun as a covers band, they’ve gone full circle, fifty-odd years later. Mick’s harmonica is excellent- where has this been all these decades? It’s the first album in a long time on which Keith doesn’t provide a lead vocal. Recorded in three days it sounds like fun.

    ajc- that’s a brilliant story. There’s a certain Monty Python element to the disbelieving master. I reckon there’s a larger story on spelling errors, missing apostrophes and various grammatical errors in rock music, such as Oasis’ Standing on the Shoulder of Giants.

    Peter- thanks for this. Interesting ideas on a truncated version of Let It Bleed. Streaming services make this easy, but I guess most of us have much loved albums on which we’d hit fast-forward or the technical equivalent. Lots of great covers on Rockwiz.

    “Sway” is the band at their grimy, sweaty best. Mick Taylor’s slide exemplary here…

    Thanks to all.

  17. Peter Warrington says:

    AJC I got it for Fathers Day. beside the bed. mostly unopened. I’ll get there… (just re-read the Keating book by O’Brien. My god what a verbal magician that PJK was. The Dylan of Economics…)

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