Friday, December 5, 2008

Rolling Stones - Beggar's Banquet

Not only is Beggar’s Banquet the Rolling Stones’ best album, it’s one of the greatest rock ‘n roll albums of all time. There are many opportunities for debate here, but the reality is that the band’s other classic albums came after Beggar’s Banquet. The sequence of release is important to consider when placing this album above Let It Bleed, Exile On Main Street, and Sticky Fingers. Beggar’s Banquet was the first albums where the band discovered that the way to a great album was to merely focus on the basics (read: their interpretation of Chicago and Delta blues) and write songs from their own perspective while incorporating their love of that American genre.
Look at it a different way. The band’s beginnings featured many covers of their favorite records. It progressed somewhat by ’66 and beyond when they started to fill their records with originals and began to slightly alter their sound. The result was a slew of great singles and some good albums, but nothing that matched the start-to-finish consistency of The Beatles or Bob Dylan. They tried to make albums with that goal in mind, but they frequently fell short. The best example of this may be their worst album of this period: Their Satanic Majesties Request, a week attempt at matching The Beatles’ in terms of high art.
Beggar’s Banquet changed this. The band went so far to remove themselves from the onslaught of pretentious (real or perceived) ideals of what kind of record a rock band should make that they put a fucking toilet on the cover of it. But inside, the songs were far from shit. They ranged from musings on their own celebrity (“Jigsaw Puzzle”), the idea of generational revolution (“Street Fighting Man”), recognition of the everyman (“Salt Of The Earth”) and the idea that the entire concept of peace and love would have a tough time when faced with the reality that the human race has a long history of evil (“Sympathy For The Devil”). And the band didn’t just talk about it in that last song, they came right out and cited recent examples (“I shouted out: ‘Who killed the Kennedys?’/When after all it was you and me”).
The album sounds like it was recorded in the same building that housed that awful looking toilet on the cover, which itself made it just as valid of a piece of art as, say, Sgt. Pepper’s, Forever Changes, or Odessey and Oracle. While everyone was pairing up during this period, the Stones were pairing down and, in the process, gaining just as much ground with their own cultural revolution and those planning Woodstock.
It is with great pride that I say that Beggar’s Banquet was the first album I ever bought. I use the word “bought” lightly as I had no money to actually buy it and I couldn’t read the cover to even figure out it was an album by the Rolling Stones. Hell, I couldn’t even read; I was four years old.
My parents and I were at the Woolworth’s in Shenandoah, Iowa one day and my mom was entertaining me while Dad was looking at some bigger ticket item. They had given me virtually all of their singles and a few albums, namely several Beatles albums and a few others. It was already well know that I was attracted to music at this point.
My Mother takes me over to the record session and we begin flipping through the albums they had in the corner of the store. She points out the new Rolling Stones album…it’s the American version without the offensive cover…and since I had a few singles from the band and quite enjoyed them, I must have made a plea to buy it.
My Dad rejoined us and approved the idea as he was a fan of the Stones too and, viola, I managed to successfully lobby for my first long player, purchased for me and allowed to stay in my room.
I immediately ruined the bland white album jacket by haphazardly writing “Todd” on the front cover. For good measure, I also wrote my name on the actual record label inside.
I played it incessantly, not really knowing about the subject matter that much. I knew that the Kennedy brothers had been shot and that my parents thought it was bad. I knew that one song (“Dear Doctor”) told the story about a guy who wanted the doctor to take out his heart. I knew another song was about getting into a fight in the streets.
It wasn’t until much later when I realized exactly how remarkable this album was both in terms of Rolling Stones output and, when I placed it next to other recognized classic rock albums, to the whole of rock music. Throughout the years, it had remained near the top of that impressive list, systematically knocking back other impressive records by artists with impressive lineage.
No wonder even the Stones themselves weren’t able to pass it.

Beggar's Banquet was released on this day 40 years ago.

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