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 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.
- Their real names.
- Session beers do not include either Coopers Sparkling Ale or Carlsberg’s Elephant beer. Failure to realise this can be catastrophic for all involved.
- 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.
- 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.”
- Chelsea, the west London suburb mentioned in “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” the album’s closing song about disillusionment.
- 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.