Here we are at the end of the 1960s, the last album I have listened to from this remarkable decade of musical transformation and evolution. Every decade has its moments of greatness, but I don’t know if anything will ever match the cultural and musical revolution of the 1960s. We wrap up with a good one today… no, in fact, a great one, the album “Let It Bleed” by the Rolling Stones. This album is the 41st rated album on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
1969 was a time of triumph and tragedy for the Stones. Original member and founder Brian Jones was removed from the band and died shortly thereafter at the age of 27, setting in motion a disturbing trend for the coming years. As this album was released in late 1969, with Mick Taylor replacing Jones, the Stones played at the Altamont Music Festival, after not appearing at Woodstock. This festival in California, following on the heels of the positive after-effects of Woodstock, proved to be the very opposite. Overbearing security that was self-imposed by the Hell’s Angels led to a fatal stabbing, and three other accidental deaths all cast a dark shadow on the festival.
Through all of this darkness, the Stones delivered a blockbuster album. It opens with the super-intense “Gimme Shelter”, featuring Merry Clayton’s powerful duet with Mick Jagger. I said in an earlier blog that I felt “Sympathy for the Devil” was their most impactful song ever, but this song just might change my view on that. Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman also stand out as a powerful rhythm section on this track. Following “Love In Vain”, we have “Country Honk”, which is a over-the-top country version of their classic hit “Honky Tonk Women”, which was released prior to the album as a single. In either form, this song’s combination of music and lyric are perfect, and Mick and Keith crush their dirty harmony vocal. The more familiar single version is also another amazing performance from Watts, the funky Stones delivering a performance no other band could consider. Side one ends with the title track “Let It Bleed”, which has always been another personal favorite of mine. I always thought this song and album title were a parody of “Let It Be” by the Beatles, but it actually came out several months prior so that theory has effectively been rendered false.
Side two opens with another great riff, the bluesy “Midnight Rambler”, which is one of the best 3 minute rock songs ever. Unfortunately, it goes for 6:52, and along with “Monkey Man”, another great song on this album, I think they could have done more with less. Minor nitpicking on great songs from a great album, and to top all of this off, another legendary Stones song closes out the album, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”.
With all of that content on one album, it truly is a period of triumph and greatness for the Stones, and along with the three other British superpowers, an incredible year of music. Think about it, in one year, we were given the first two Led Zeppelin albums, “Tommy” by the Who, “Abbey Road” from the Beatles, and this masterpiece. Although “Exile on Main Street” and even “Sticky Fingers” garner a lot of hype, someone has a lot of work to do to convince me this isn’t the best Stones album ever.
“You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might find, you get what you need.”