The ongoing competition between the Beatles and the Rolling Stones continued on, and the Stones followed the Beatles with their release of “Beggars Banquet”. Moving beyond the hot mess that was “Their Satanic Majesties Request”, this album cover swapped out the overtly colorful band portrait for a simple, white cover. Sound familiar? Anyway, this change was much needed for the Stones, as they returned to their roots, recording what has been rated as album #185 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
Not unlike the Beatles, the Stones also released a non-album single during this time frame, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”, which will live on as one of the greatest riffs and rock and roll songs ever released. On to “Beggars Banquet”. Both side one and side two open with dramatic and highly politically charged songs of the time. Starting with “Sympathy for the Devil”, I consider this to be possibly the most complete and powerful song the Stones ever released. Effectively capturing the darkest of our own instincts, the combination of lyric and music is remarkable. Keith Richards lays down a timeless bass line, and Nicky Hopkins, who also plays frequently with the Who and Jeff Beck, rocks in unison on the piano. Backing vocals come from Anita Pallenberg and Marianne Faithfull, who were respectively with Keith and Mick at the time. This song even overwhelmed the Stones at times, and after a fan was violently killed following the performance of this song at the Altamont Raceway Music Festival, they removed this song from their live set for several years. Dark indeed, as intended, but just an incredible song.
Side two opens with “Street Fighting Man”, another powerful anthem that captures the anger and frustration of our world in late 1968, following the violent year of world events. Fueling the fire, the Stones were eager to champion the anger fight back against societal oppression.
The rest of the album is not quite as well recognized, but still a great album. The rest of side one has a very country flavor, and the remainder of side two returns to their highly successful blues-rock formula, ending with Keith Richards on lead vocal to begin “Salt of the Earth”. This is the last album to comprehensively feature Brian Jones, as continued drug use separated him from the rest of the group. As I listen to “Beggars Banquet”, I hear the template for what would shape the their next several albums. This is the Rolling Stones doing what they do best, and it stands the test of time very well.