Home' Rhythms Magazine : January-February 2019 Contents 78
After indifferent reactions from fans and critics to 1967’s Their
Satanic Majesties Request, the Stones psychedelic answer to
The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper, Mick and Keith hired Jimmy Miller
to produce their seventh and first really professional studio
With former producer/manager Andrew Loog Oldham out
of the picture, Brooklyn-born Miller, a ‘proper’ producer
and musician fresh from his work with the Spencer Davis
Group and Traffic brought a special skill and proficiency to
proceedings resulting in a long running relationship with the
Stones over the next seven years during which some of their
most highly regarded albums, Let it Bleed, Sticky Fingers, Exile
on Main Street and Goats Head Soup were recorded.
Tracks for Beggars Banquet were obviously conceived as a
return to the band’s R&B roots resulting in some of their most
Released in December 1968 the new album produced at least
two of the band’s most memorable tracks. Originally titled
‘The Devil Is My Name’,’Sympathy For The Devil’ began life as
a Dylan-type ballad sung by Jagger as a first person narrative
from the point of view of Lucifer.
The lyrics, focusing on worldwide atrocities that included
European wars of religion, the violence of the Russian
revolution of 1917-1918 and the massacre of the Romanov
family, World War 2 and the assassinations of John and
Robert Kennedy were inspired by a novel, Mikhail Bulgakov’s
The Master and the Margarita given to Jagger by Marianne
In production, the song morphed from a ballad into a
percussive samba beat, its hypnotic groove enhanced by
Nicky Hopkins’ piano, Bill Wyman’s maracas and Rocky Dijon’s
congas. Keith plays bass, his less-is-more electric guitar stabs
adding to the intensifying rock arrangement.
While Jean-Luc Godard’s film Sympathy For The Devil showed
Anita Pallenberg, Faithfull and various band members
contributing backing vocals, in reality the infectious ‘whoo-
whoo’ vocals were overdubbed by Mick, Keith and Miller.
A close listen to ‘Street Fighting Man’ the Stones most
overtly political statement reveals the unusual backing of
Keith’s acoustic guitars as well as his bass, the only electric
instrument on the track, Brian Jones’ sitar and tambourine,
Hopkins’ piano with Charlie Watts playing on a toy drum kit.
Varied interpretations of Mick’s lyrics were debated. They
actually sprang from his attendance at an anti-war rally at
London’s US Embassy in March of 1968, violence among
student protestors on Paris’ Left Bank in May that same year
and anti-Vietnam war rallies across the US.
Mick may have felt detached from such things when he wrote
“now what can a poor boy do ‘cept to sing for a rock and roll
band ‘cause in sleepy London town there’s just no place for a
street fighting man.”
Other songs confirmed the Stones blues/folk/country
influences. ‘No Expectations,’ is highlighted by Jones’
haunting, authentic, slide guitar, one of his final telling
contributions to the Stones’ music. ‘Dear Doctor’ is a
forerunner to country songs such as ‘Dead Flowers’, ‘Far Away
Eyes’ and ‘Sweet Virginia’.
‘Prodigal Son’ (original pressings of the album listed Jagger/
Richards as composers) was written by Rev. Robert Wilkins
whose performance at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival was
included on the Vanguard album Blues at Newport Vol 2. The
Stones’ cover with Keith on acoustic guitar and Charlie using
brushes is similar to that version.
Keith’s acoustic prevails again on ‘Factory Girl,’ with atypical
man/woman lyrics from Mick, “waiting for a girl who’s got
curlers in her hair, waiting for a girl who’s got no money
anywhere, we get buses everywhere” - the antithesis of songs
like ‘Lady Jane’. Ric Grech adds fiddle and mandolin.
On ‘Salt Of The Earth’ Keith sings the opening verse, the first
time his voice is heard singing solo on a Stones recording. A
salute to the everyday man, (“Let’s drink to the hard-working
people, let’s drink to the salt of the earth”), the arrangement
is enhanced by backing vocals from the Watts Street Gospel
‘Jigsaw Puzzle’, like the previous track is full of Dylan-esque
references and is one of a very few Stones songs that doesn’t
require a memorable riff to make it work. ‘Parachute Woman,’
full of Keith’s staccato guitar stabs finds Mick inviting a
woman to “land on me tonight’ and “join me for a ride.”
The lecherous lyrics for ‘Stray Cat Blues’ - “I can see that
you’re fifteen years old, no I don’t want your ID” - took on a
sleazier disturbing tone when on the Stones 1969 US tour
the girl’s age in the lyric changed from fifteen to thirteen.
The song’s opening one note guitar drone bears a strong
resemblance to the Velvet Underground’s ‘Heroin’.
Beggars Banquet was the final Rolling Stones album in which
Brian Jones played a significant role. On June 9, 1969, the
Rolling Stones founder and most musically adventurous
member left the band. On July 3rd 1969 he was found dead in
his swimming pool.
A 50th anniversary release of Beggars Banquet is available
in multiple formats including vinyl and CD.
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