The Best Rolling Stones Album?

This is a companion piece to “The Best Beatles Album” (LINKED). Friends thought my low rating of The Beatles (The White Album) was “controversial,” so I thought, right, let’s get on and do the same with Exile on Main Street and piss even more people off. I’m not going to go into the sort of detail that is on the Reviled! section of this site. The notes here are random thoughts. I have a row of books and magazine specials on The Rolling Stones and you could write a long article on any song, let alone album. I’m assuming you’re reading this because you already have an opinion and know enough of the material.

The Beatles article just lists the studio albums, so is restricted to just 12 (or 13 with Yellow Submarine). I’m following the same rules with the Stones, though in the UK, their EPs were really significant. Pretty obviously to me, The Singles Collection set or Forty Licks is the best Rolling Stones album.

No hit compilations, no live albums simplifies the task. Also while I’ll consider all the studio albums, I’ll parallel The Beatles by rating just twelve.

The major Stones issue is the difference between the UK and US versions of the early albums. That’s true with The Beatles too, but the CD era, then the vinyl reissue era made the UK releases the default version. With The Stones catalogue, ABKCO went largely for the US versions when CD came along, with a couple released in UK and US versions.

This will consider the original UK Decca releases for the early albums.

Another complication for the CD v vinyl argument is the release of Rolling Stones Decca back catalogue in CD / SACD hybrids. SACD really does have a lot going for it.

As with The Beatles, I’ll list ten tracks for a Desert Island, fast without thinking hard. The point is to place my opinion on a spectrum. In brackets is the Mojo 40th Anniversary rating of their best 50 songs, as ever ‘in order’. As I always say about these lists, persuade me why #27 is better than #28 but inferior to #26. They put Jumping Jack Flash at #1. If Memo From Turner was eliminated, that would have replaced it.

  • Satisfaction (4)
  • Under My Thumb (14)
  • Gimmie Shelter (7)
  • Brown Sugar (5)
  • Sympathy For The Devil (3)
  • Ruby Tuesday (-)
  • Play With Fire (-)
  • Country Honk (Honky Tonk Women #2)
  • Beast of Burden (28)
  • Memo From Turner  (50)

Yes, I know Memo From Turner was ‘Mick Jagger’ but then it found its way onto Rolling Stones singles compilations. I want the Mick Jagger version from Performance, which features Ry Cooder, Randy Newman, Russ Titleman, Jerry Scheff and Gene Parsons. Not The Rolling Stones, which can be found on Metamorphisis. It’s not in the same league. Too fast, thrown away.

Ruby Tuesday was a double A-side with Let’s Spend The Night Together, but the latter was the one listed in several charts.
Play With Fire was a B-side to The Last Time.
Country Honk, the album version, is preferred to the single, Honky Tonk Women.

B-sides were significant in the UK, where in terms of time worked, singles cost more than twice as much as in the USA. So other great B-sides include Lady Jane, Stupid Girl, Good Times Bad Times, As Tears Go By, Far Away Eyes, Sway. If it had been a Jagger-Richards original, their first record, Come On would have been in the ten listed above. The same is true of It’s All Over Now.

A further point about Rolling Stones releases are that the super de-luxe box set reissues of early Decca material are poor value compared to The Beatles, with too few extras of interest, and no significant changes to material. As the Rolling Stones had signed away all the rights up to Let It Bleed, they have no vested interest in adding to them. That’s why the box sets from Sticky Fingers onward (which are from Rolling Stones Records) are of greater interest.

EPs

The EP was important in the UK where albums (in minutes worked to buy one) were also relatively much more expensive than in the USA. Both The Beatles and The Stones issued EPs with material that was not on singles or albums. The Stones were the specialists. Their first EP topped the EP chart (there was one) for 14 weeks and stayed on the chart a year.

These three EPs on one album would definitely be in my Top Ten Rolling Stones albuma.

Now to all those polls and lists. The Stones having been active for sixty years makes the lists complicated compared to The Beatles.

 Uncut’s 500 Greatest Albums of the 60s cuts out five-sixths of the Stones career. This is the list with extreme partiality that rates The Velvet Underground & Nico as #1 album of the 60s. It wasn’t. Revolver is #2, Forever Changes by Love is #3, The Stooges is #10. Sgt Pepper is #15, just below Dusty in Memphis. So with a skip full of salt …

album500 of
the 60s
1 Let It Bleed 5
2 Beggars Banquet 18
3 Aftermath 68
4 Between The Buttons 96
5 Their Satanic Majesties Request 139
6 The Rolling Stones 298

Paul Gambaccini’s 100 Best Albums was published in 1987.  In the 1987 edition he also listed the 1977 selections for the Top 30. 

1987 list1977 list
1 Exile On Main Street 11Exile On Main Street 7
2 Let It Bleed 12 Let It Bleed 8
3 Beggar’s Banquet 33
4 Aftermath 68

So, Rolling Stones “The 100 Best Albums of The Last Twenty Years” was published in 1987 and only covers 1967 -1987. Sgt Pepper is #1. Jimi Hendrix, Elvis Costello, Bruce Springsteen and Talking Heads do particularly well. Richard & Linda Thompson and Randy Newman do better than in other lists. As ever, I note the position out of 100, but I’m really only interested in the sequence of Stones albums.

album100
1967-1987
1Exile on Main Street 3
2Beggars Banquet 15
3 Let It Bleed 18
4 Sticky Fingers 31
5 Between The Buttons (US) 70

Colin Larkin “The Top 1000 Albums of All Time” (Guinness, 1994). Colin Larkin edited the Guinness Encylopedia of Popular Music and compiled this list with expert consultants. It was in categories with just 250 “Rock / Pop”

Colin Larkin knew when he was on to a good thing, and when Virgin took over Guinness’s chart books, repeated the exercise in 1998, but this time compiled 100,000 votes from “the fans, experts and critics”. That placed FOUR Beatles albums in the Top 5. The same seven Rolling Stones albums fill their Top 7 list, remarkably consistent. No one imagines for a moment that there is a ranking of quality from 1 to 1000 (where Straight Outta Compton by NWA is one place higher than the My Fair Lady soundtrack), but it’s based on people choosing a selection of ten or so, then compiling.

album1994
Guinness
250 rock
album 1998
Virgin
1000
1 Let It Bleed 8Exile On Main Street 27
2 Sticky Fingers 10 Let It Bleed44
3 Beggars Banquet 21 Beggars Banquet 106
4 Exile On Main Street 71 Sticky Fingers 107
5 Aftermath 162 Aftermath 295
6 Some Girls 197 Some Girls 327
7 The Rolling Stones 231 The Rolling Stones 427
8Big Hits: High Tide & Green Grass 514
9 Steel Wheels851

Then there’s star ratings. I’ll go up to Some Girls. They all list and like Get Yer Ya Yas Out, which I loathed. Anyway, it’s live so doesn’t count.

Mojo classed albums as “Essential” … E or 5, with an essay, then listed and graded the rest at the end.

Note that the later gradings are higher.

Rolling Stone
Record Guide
1979
Christgau’s
Guide
70s, 80s
Rolling Stone
Album Guide
2004
Mojo
40th
Essential
The Rolling Stones 4****4**** E / 5
The Rolling Stones Now (US)
#2 (UK)
5 ***** 5 *****3 ***
Out of Our Heads4****4**** 1/2(US ***)
Aftermath5 *****5 *****E/5
Between The Buttons4 ****5 *****2 **
Flowers3 ***5 *****4 ****
Their Satanic Majesties3 ***4 ****E/5
Beggars Banquet5 *****5 *****E/5
Let It Bleed4****5 *****E/5
Sticky Fingers4**** A5 *****E/5
Exile on Main Street4**** A+5 *****E/5
Goats Head Soup1 * B3 ***E/5
Some Girls3 *** A5 *****E/5

Their Satanic Majesties Request has a long detailed article on this site (FOLLOW THIS LINK), in the Reviled! Albums Critics Love to Hate! section. You will understand that it didn’t make my list.

My list:

1 Let It Bleed

UK #1 album
US Billboard #3 album, double platinum
Netherlands #1, Australia #2

SACD track list.

Christmas 1969. The window display of HMV in Oxford Street had just three albums sharing the space: Abbey Road, The Band, Let It Bleed. Three of my all-time favourites. Three of the very best albums ever made by anyone. Three probably in my Top Ten of all time. My memory is enhanced, perhaps falsely, by viewing the window through large soft snowflakes which were falling gently. My then girlfriend hugged my arm and said, ‘Which one do you want for Christmas?’ Lush violins play in my mind … It took the film Sophie’s Choice to remind me of that decision.

Let it Bleed is the best Stones album, period. Not that an American punctuation term sits well with the title.

Trivia: Delia Smith of cookery book and Norwich City FC fame made the cake on the cover.

The musician’s list shows how far they’ve come from the set five piece with Ian Stewart hidden behind the curtain on piano, not that it ever was that simple, even on the first album. Brian Jones is a ghostly presence on percussion on Midnight Rambler and autoharp You Got The Silver. Mick Taylor is being tested on just two tracks, slide guitar on Country Honk and guitar on Live With Me. Keith Richards also plays bass guitar on Live With Me, an event that was to happen more and more often. Listen to the start. The bass guitar is immediately more percussive, more threatening, has more punch.

Nicky Hopkins plays piano on four tracks. Ian Stewart, Leon Russell and Al Kooper also play piano. Jimmy Miller replaces Charlie Watts on drums on You Can’t Always Get What You Want and adds percussion and tambourine elsewhere. Ry Cooder is on mandolin on Love in Vain.

More later on Ry Cooder, but note:

Ry Cooder: A lot of what I did showed up on Let it Bleed, but they only gave me credit for playing mandolin on one cut. ‘Honky Tonk Women” is taken from one of my licks. They even admitted this to John Phillips. What bothers me most is the theft of songs. The Rolling Stones are a reptilian bunch of people.

Maybe Bill and Charlie only miss one track each, but the sense (wisdom after the event) is that the Jagger-Richard duopoly + a fantastic drummer really is the group. Keith sings lead on You Got The Silver.

The album has some of Jagger’s best lyrics. Love in Vain is a convincing take on Robert Johnson. Let It Bleed is awash with bodily fluids, then the verse:

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

Backing singing by Merry Clayton (Jimmy Miller’s idea) virtually makes Gimmie Shelter, and her own solo version is also astonishing. The song has a terrifying edge ,most of all the tale of a rock manager who shall be nameless who was wont to put it on extremely loud, strip naked and run around screaming Kill! Kill! The real lyrics don’t help:

Rape! Murder!
It’s just a shot away.

Keith Richard:
I had been sitting by the window of my friend Robert Fraser’s apartment on Mount Street in London with an acoustic guitar when suddenly the sky went completely black and an incredible monsoon came down. It was just people running about looking for shelter — that was the germ of the idea. We went further into it until it became, you know, rape and murder are ‘just a shot away’.

Country Honk and Honky Tonk Women are both fantastic, but I love the country feel. The Mojo special describes Country Honk as ‘charmless.’ No, it’s not.

You Can’t Always Get What You Want is their most ambitious track so far, maybe ever. Al Kooper’s French horn and organ is a significant part, but so was the Bach choir, then Madeleine Bell, Doris Troy and Nanette Newman on backing vocals.

Ronnie Wood: Before I joined the band I couldn’t believe that Charlie didn’t play drums on You Can’t Always Get What You Want.
Charlie Watts: Jimmy Miller played drums … which I subsequently copied. That’s how good Jimmy was at hearing songs. He wasn’t a great drummer, but he was great at playing drums on records, which is a completely different thing. You Can’t Always Get What You Want is a great drum track. Jimmy actually made me stop and think about how I played drums in the studio, and I became a much better drummer in the studio, thanks to him.
According to The Rolling Stones 2003

Even my least favourite track, Monkey Man has its virtues, one of them Bill Wyman on vibes.

(From the Their Satanic Majesties Request page):The Rolling Stones de-luxe box sets have never appealed – there’s nothing new on them, just alternative formats for the same stuff. I love Let It Bleed, one of my all time greats. The Let It Bleed box set was £149.99 (now £119.99). It contains:

2LP Boxset: Limited edition hand-numbered box set 2 x 180-gram LPs in stereo and mono with restored original album art.
2 x SACDs in stereo and mono housed in custom 12” sleeve 
7” single of Honky Tonk Women/ You Can’t Always Get What You Want in mono with original picture sleeve 
80-page hardcover book with essay by David Fricke and never-before seen photos by Ethan Russell 
Three 12”x12” hand-numbered, replica-signed lithographs printed on embossed archival paper, housed in foil-stamped envelope Full-colour (23 x 23) poster with restored art from original 1969 Decca package.

Not a bonus track or live extra on there. So I didn’t bite. I already have the hybrid SACD / CD and I have an SACD player. That’ll do. SACD sounds better than CD too.

2 Sticky Fingers

ALBUM: 
UK #1 for 5 weeks
US #1, triple platinum
Also #1 in Australia, Canada, Germany, Netherlands, Spain, Norway, Sweden

That Andy Warhol zip damages any album sleeve next to it. Store at the end of the shelf. I saw a remaster recently- the zip is now just a photo. Shame. Health and safety, I expect and I speak as one who has caught himself painfully in his own zip more than once in life. There’s a real zip on the book inside the super de-luxe box set.

They’re still obsessed with bodily fluids.

This is the first album on Rolling Stones Records, which was then distributed by Atlantic, so the reissues and box sets have decent additions. While ABCKO went for SACD / CD Hybrids, the Bob Ludwig remastered Sticky Fingers CD had a working zip, a plastic slip case (not a jewel case, a little larger) and a protective perspex sheet twixt zip and case. It had ‘Apogee Super CD encoding’ rather than SACD:

Apogee UV22 Encoding adds an inaudible, high frequency ‘bias’ to the digital bitstream, placing an algorithmically-gen- erated ‘clump’ of energy around 22 kHz. Much as the bias on an analog tape recorder smooths out magnetic tape record- ing non-linearities, UV22 silently captures resolution up to and even beyond 20 bits on a standard, 16-bit CD.

No, I don’t understand it either.

Box set track list

From the Brown Sugar article:

I remember exactly where I heard Sticky Fingers for the first time. A new record shop, the back corner of the Criterion Arcade in Bournemouth. The first place I’d ever seen with listening posts and headphones instead of listening booths. It blew me away. I bought it immediately. To me, it’s the second best Rolling Stones album … Let It Bleed is the best.

Yes, it’s the next album in time, and any amateur psychologist will point out that just possibly they might stand out as the best because of my age at the time. There is something to that. Released 21 June 1971. Karen and I had just started going out. After years of counting the pennies, I could buy an album immediately on hearing it. It was a special time and we played it a lot. Wild Horses was our favourite track, and we also had The Flying Burrito Brothers version.

Keith Richards:
If there is a classic way of Mick and me working together this is it. I had the riff and chorus line, Mick got stuck into the verses.

Wild Horses is famed because Ian Stewart refused to play piano because there were too many minor chords, so Jim Dickenson played it instead. There’s a beautiful acoustic version on the box set from 2015.

SEE ALSO the article BROWN SUGAR (linked) on this site which has more on recording the album.

They’re back to a firm five piece, with Mick Taylor on guitar throughout. Ry Cooder appears on Sister Morphine.It will later become apparent why I note Ry Cooder contributions. Bobby Keys contributes saxophone and Paul Buckmaster added strings. Piano is variously Jack Nitschze, Ian Stewart and Jim Dickenson.

Dead Flowers is part of their C&W pastiche style, down to Mick Jagger’s exaggerated shit-kicker accent, as on Kentucky ‘Durby’ day (for US readers, it’s ‘Darby’ in the UK). Then you have the striking contrast between the C&W feel and:

Well when you’re sitting back in your rose pink Cadillac
Making bets on Kentucky Derby Day
I’ll be in my basement room with a needle and a spoon
And another girl can take my pain away

That’s rolled straight on from Sister Morphine, which nowadays is rightfully co-credited to Marianne Faithful. So in spite of hospital beds following accidents (as both Marianne and Mick have claimed as the meanig) it’s part of the druggy haze of the album. No M & M, bollocks, I don’t think it’s literally about a hospital, note I’m trying to score and cousin cocaine. Then on the subsequent song, Moonlight Mile Mick’s singing about a head full of snow.

3 The Rolling Stones

April 1964 release
UK #1
US #11
Australia #1
West Germany #2

It was a the key record for young British bands. It did more to introduce genuine blues and R&B than anyone else before or after. I spent a happy hour with an atlas puzzling out the words of Route 66 and sharing them around. Yes, they got them wrong, I now know. I could have gone to the Nat King Cole recording but I’d never heard of it. Then you get Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Slim Harpo, Marvin Gaye, Rufus Thomas. As a spotty youth, I ploughed through playing at least eight of the twelve, as did everyone else.

Keith Richards recently said Tell Me, their first composition, was a throwaway and that he probably played bass. As he so often did later.

Gene Pitney plays piano. A tit-bit here is Marianne Faithfull says she had the choice of leaving a party with Gene Pitney or Bob Dylan and chose Gene. You see clean teeth is an advantage.

Now I’ve Got A Witness is pure Phil Spector. Take a song, jam loosely round an instrumental version and bang your name on the writing credits. Nanker Phelge was the name used for The Rolling Stones collectively on credits.

Keith Richards: A first album can be incredible. All that energy, unbelievable! It’s almost sad in a way, because you know it can only be a once-ever experience. I still listen to it.

So do I.

See the EPs above too. The first two EPs sit together with the album. Part of the appeal to young bands is that this material was easier to learn than The Beatles and a few rough edges added apparent blues authenticity. You only needed one singer and didn’t have to worry about harmonies. Once you had one Chuck Berry and one Bo Diddley learned, you were well onto having a whole set list. I say this in retrospect. Many, many a teen band introduced with ‘This is a song by Muddy Waters’ without ever adding ‘which we copped off the first Stones LP.’

4 Aftermath

April 1966
UK #1
US #1
Canada, West Germany #1

Pat Gilbert: Virtually every song contained a vivid flash of anger, homesickness, spite, frustration, boredom, paranoia, or any of the other magnificently dark emotions that would consume the band as the 60s progressed. Aftermath was the first LP to unveil The Stones we know and love; a bunch of exciting, sensuous, charismatic bastards who made great music together but didn’t give a flying fuck about you, me, or for that matter each other.

It’s also laden with misogyny.

Mick Jagger: Obviously, I was having a bit of trouble. I wasn’t in a good relationship. Or I was in too many bad relationships. I had so many girlfriends at that point. None of them seemed to care they weren’t pleasing me very much. 
Rolling Stone, December 1995
Keith Richards:(Stupid Girl) was all a spin-off from our environment… hotels, and too many dumb chicks. Not all dumb, not by any means, but that’s how one got.
Rolling Stone, August 1971

In Keith’s defence, I still laugh at the interview where it was mentioned that Bill Wyman had carefully recorded notes on the 1350 (?) women he’d slept with, though Keith’s count in the same era appeared to be two or three. ‘Yeah, well, no one ever slept with Bill twice,’ he replied.

No wonder at teenage parties that year, the boys wanted the Rolling Stones on the turntable, the girls wanted The Beatles. My girlfriend in early 1966 hated it, and by extension Jagger. OK, she had a point.

Under my thumb
Is a squirming dog who’s just had her day

It’s down to me, yes it is
The way she does just what she’s told

The way she talks about someone else; That she don’t even know herself; She’s the sickest thing in this world; Well look at that stupid girl

Well, it’s lucky that I didn’t have any love towards her
Next time I’ll make sure that the girl will be much poorer

The thing is, the songs are so strong: melodies, playing, variety, lyrics. Side one is a killer, with considerably more wear on most copies. Their fourth album. The first album of all originals. It’s considered by critics to be the best ‘pre-Beggars Banquet’ Stones album.

Mono is how it should be, like early Beatles albums.

5 Beggar’s Banquet

UK #3
US #5
Canada #3, Australia #3
German #8

Some writers talk about their greatest trilogy, chronologically Beggar’s Banguet – Let It Bleed – Sticky Fingers. Others talk about their greatest quartet, adding Exile On A Main Street. I’m in the trilogy camp.

I never bought it new. I remember it being in a corner sweet shop in Cottingham Road, Hull, next to The White Album. The owner used to put new LPs in the window (it was nearly opposite the university and he stocked ten or twenty albums) and was moaning that these two white sleeve records were a waste of display space. They were impecunious days and none of my friends had it either. It was years later before I had a copy so it doesn’t have the deep ingraining of the other two in the trilogy.

It was Decca (London in the USA) so ABKCO releases the reissues. The 2002 CD / SACD hybrid restores the original sleeve idea:

The first songs on each side, Sympathy For The Devil and Street Fighting Man, were the ones I knew best back in the day.
Dear Doctor is the early C&W send up, and one wonders if the mock female voice was such a great idea at the time though the charm survives.

Stray Cat Blues was a live staple. It all holds up really well though. NOT as well as the four above it for me.

There is a consensus on the departure of Brian Jones from the band:

Mick Jagger: Brian wasn’t really involved in Beggars Banquet … He wasn’t turning up for sessions and he wasn’t very well. In fact we didn’t want him to turn up.
Keith Richards: We were quite happy when Brian wasn’t around on Beggars Banquet, because when he wasn’t there, then we could really get on with our work.
Charlie Watts: Brian wanted to be the centre of attention, but he wasn’t. One of Brian’s agonies and downfalls was that he wanted to be the leader of the band, but unfortunately he wasn’t talented enough to be the leader.
According to The Rolling Stones 2003

6 Some Girls

June 1978
UK #2
US #1
Canada #1
France #2
West Germany #6

This is one in the eye for those who say the classic Stones era ended with Exile On Main Street. Here we are in 1978. I’m not alone in placing this one high on the list. It was also one of the best-selling albums. Look at that date. 1978. A year into punk rock domination. Keith Richards seriously facing a potential jail sentence. Again.

Sylvia Simmons: Popular history would have it that Some Girls was ‘Mick’s album’ in the same way that Exile On Main Street had been Keith’s. The idea being that with his sidekick under pressure, under-functioning, and soon, very possibly, under lock and key, Jagger stepped in, took the reins and brought the album home. “Quite the opposite,” claims Chris Kimsey, “It was the most shared album I’ve ever worked with them on. Mick took over the business side, but not the creative side. Keith, no matter what state he’s in, would never let anyone take over completely.”
Mojo, Rolling Stones 40th Anniversary Special, 2003

Fine. I think it’s Mick’s album. Ronnie Wood was now a full member. The album has a definite disco influence, which is Mick.

Mick added a third guitar part too. The sessions yielded fifty songs, so were part of Emotional Rescue and Tattoo You.

Charlie Watts: A lot of those songs were heavily influenced by going to the discos. You can hear a lot of those ‘four on the floor’ and Philadelphia style drumming. Mick and I used to go to discos a lot. A great way to hear a dance record is by listening to it in a dance hall or disco. I never danced by the way. I used to sit there and Mick used to dance.

Mick Jagger: There were a lot of people that were very narrow-minded about it. To me, I wasn’t brought up on rock music so much as blues and soul music, and lot of that music was dance music. It was specifically made to dance to…You don’t really play the grooves of yesteryear when you make records, you play the grooves of now. And that sort of beat was the thing that was going around at the time. For some people it was a very big hit, but not everyone liked it.

Beast of Burden is one of my best ever ten Stones tracks – see above. Miss You, Respectable, Shattered, When The Whip Comes Down – it sounds like Mick’s album to me.

Far Away Eyes is the other favourite from the album. It’s good comedy. It’s part of a tradition of sending up country gently too – Long Black Veil, Wolverton Mountain, and I think, Old Shep. It raises the question. Mick Jagger likes playing the part of the hokey country singer. It’s a send up. So what about singing old blues songs? Is that equally a send up? It has been said that MIck Jagger is the only British person who can get away with saying y’all convincingly.

7 The Rolling Stones No 2

UK #1

The album features in a short story, THE RECORD COLLECTOR (linked) which is reproduced on this site.

It wasn’t issued on CD in its original form until 2010, due to preference for the American equivalent. There is a German made bootleg which recreates it from tracks on other CDs then finally came in the mono ressues. It was one of three LPs I lost in 1966 when a girlfriend failed to return them when she became an ex-girlfriend. I looked for years, made up my own CD, then saw it. Joy! At a Record Fair. £45. I slipped it out of the sleeve and carefully examined the vinyl. Lovely. Shiny, no marks. I paid, got home (75 miles away), and discovered it was Out Of our Heads. I examined the vinyl, but failed to examine the centre label. Some other poor collector has a Rolling Stones #2 LP in an Out of Our Heads sleeve. I later found a good one. At the time of its release (just after Christmas 1965), it was up there with the first album, though I only ever learned three … Down The Road Apiece, Everybody Needs Somebody To Love and You Can’t Catch Me.

Playing it now, the outstanding tracks are Down Home Girl and Off The Hook. Or maybe Time On My Side and Under The Boardwalk. The covers are getting more ambitious. Down Home Girl is an Artie Butler-Jerry Leiber song, recorded by Alvin Robinson on the Red Bird label. Red Bird was a New York label, but Alvin Robinson’s sound is pure New Orleans. It was the B-side of Fever, and points to the later Stones sound as they move away from covering the Chess / Checker Chicago material, and get that dirtier funkier New Orleans sound.

Off The Hook wasn’t the first Jagger-Richards song, but perhaps the first great Jagger-Richards song.

8 Goat’s Head Soup

August 1973
UK #1
US #1
Australia, Canada, Netherlands, France, Norway, Spain #1
West Germany #2, Sweden #2

2020 reissue
UK #1
US #19

1973. I can visualize it now. Going to work in a yellow Triumph Spitfire. We had a car radio- not a given in those days. Our morning DJ (Tony Blackburn?) was obsessive about playing Angie daily. The song immediately conjures up bright mornings.

The nasty habits of Keith were not as well-known at the time, but it was classed in the 1970s run with It’s Only Rock & Roll and Black and Blue as a weak trilogy. Ian Stewart described it as ‘bloody insipid.’

The Mojo special describes it as ‘a long lost gem’ and that was the consensus when the new stereo mix CD, and box set came out in 2020. I found the box set secondhand. It looked untouched and it was half the new price. The shop said a guy bought the box for the rarities and 1973 live album, put them on his streaming device and sold the box to them. The box has a Blu-Ray mix. It’s a candidate for the Reviled! series here, in that I like albums that got iffy reviews on release but good reviews later.

Much was done in Jamaica. The pianists are prominent throughout and Billy Preston contributes organ.

Keith Richards says Angie brought them an audience ‘that normally wouldn’t touch us with a barge pole.’ Coming Down Again described where he was at emotionally in the lyric, physically in the title and he sings it.

Dancing With Mr D has a great riff, but the lyrics bounce from Sympathy With The Devil. It was the alternate choice for first single. I always liked 100 Years Ago, not a track much discussed. After Angie it’s the one that stuck in my head most.

Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker) has Mick exercising his American accents at the extreme end: The Po – leece in New York Ciddy …

Winter has no Keith presence at all. Hide Your Love is a good early blues style track.

We all knew that Star Star was called Starfucker until Atlantic persuaded them to change it. It’s their biggest Chuck Berry music style in a decade.

The Rarities disc now on the 2 album version, and box set has Scarlet with Jimmy Page on guitar. 100 Years Ago is really good in its piano plus voice demo form.

9 Tattoo You

Japanese CD, 1982. Withdrawn.

It was still the era of default LP versions

August 1981
UK #2
US #1
Australia, Canada, Netherlands, New Zealand #1
Spain #2
Germany #3

Tattoo You dates back to the time before High Streets were a mix of charity shops, barbers and tattoo parlours. Its position may be boosted. I bought one of the first CD players, the Sony CDP-101. Shortly afterwards I was in Japan, and the two top albums were Abbey Road and Tattoo You, both Toshiba-EMI. I bought them. Trouble was, Toshiba hadn’t cleared the release with EMI in the UK and both were withdrawn. It was a long wait for The Beatles and The Rolling Stones on CD, so for a good while this was my rare Stones CD. It may have got played more than it otherwise would have done. Read about CD decay? This is one of the very first discs, and plays perfectly.

High pitched voices and backing vocals are the trademark of the album. Try Worried About You and Heaven. The backing sounds like The Stones. The vocals don’t. Mainly the songs are outtakes with new vocals added. It was thrown together:

Keith Richards: The thing with Tattoo You wasn’t that we’d stopped writing new stuff, it was a question of time. We’d agreed we were going to go out on the road and we wanted to tour behind a record. There was no time to make a whole new album and make the start of the tour.

Robert Palmer: Tattoo You is something special…None of [the tracks] are Chuck Berry retreads, none of them are disco, and none of them are reggae – they are all rock-and-roll, with more than a hint of the soul and blues influences that were so important in the band’s early work…The new album’s lyrics are also a surprise. The Stones seem to have dropped the studied decadence that was their most characteristic pose throughout the 70’s. The songs on Tattoo You seem to be by and about real people rather than larger-than-life caricatures.
New York Times review, 1981

Ronnie Wood: I don’t know why Start Me Up was missed off the selection for Emotional Rescue, or Some Girls, because that’s when it was recorded. It’s strange, I think maybe we were saving it for a single.

I suspect I’m stirring it by placing it above Exile here. Though Start Me Up is an even better single than Tumblin’ Dice (which is after all, a great single). The album was their last US #1.

Waiting On A Friend would be the second best-known track. Slave has great percussion. The Sonny Rollins sax part was an overdub.

Jan Wenner of Rolling Stone magazine said it was their most under-rated album. The magazine rated it at #34 in their list of ‘Best Albums of the 80s.’

I don’t have the 2021 De-luxe edition with outtakes.

10 Flowers

US #3

Should a compilation be in there at all? If this, why not Big Hits and Green Grass, Metamorphosis, 40 Licks, Grrr and the rest. This was a compilation put together for the USA against their will, but it’s also an extremely good selection of songs with some then new to album with a focus on stuff Mick Jagger had done with Andrew Loog Oldham’s Immediate label.

It has Ruby Tuesday and Lady Jane. It has Back Street Girl and Mother’s Little Helper. It also has Have You Seen Your Mother Baby, Standing In The Shadows, which for me was their worst 60s single, though I enjoyed the photo session.

See the IMMEDIATE label article on this site.

It nods to the Jagger association with Oldham’s Immediate label, with Ride On Baby, which Chris Farlowe recorded, and Sitting On The Fence which they did with Twice As Much. They didn’t add a version of (We’re) Wasting Time, a Jagger-Richards song on the B-side of the Immediate single by comedian Jimmy Tarbuck. It has Mick covering My Girl with elaborate orchestral backing, that sounds way more ‘Immediate’ label than Decca Rolling Stones. Perhaps Andrew Loog Oldham’s Aranbee Orchestra. It’s alleged to be from the Satisfaction sessions, but I think that’s a guess because Otis Redding covered Satisfaction and My Girl, both on Otis Blue.

I nearly added one version of Out of Time to my Top Ten, but NOT this one, which is The Rolling Stones. I wanted the one which has Mick Jagger plus the same backing track as the Chris Farlowe version, but then that has Jimmy Page on guitar, Alan White on drums and (I think) John Paul Jones on bass guitar (Eric Ford has been credited, but John Paul Jones did many of those Immediate Records tracks). The Immediate backing band is better.

It holds together as one of the Stones’ best records, a concept album about the social scene that gathers around five rich young men with an appetite for sex, drugs, and gossip. *****
Tom Moon, New Rolling Stone Album Guide 2004

11 Exile on Main Street

UK #1
US #1
Canada, Netherlands, Spain, Norway #1
West Germany #2, Australia #2, Sweden #2

Like Revolver in the Beatles article, this is my reason for being here. I don’t think it’s their best album, or even among the ten best. There’s a Comments section (do try to stay reasonably polite) and I know a majority will disagree with me.

Mick Jagger: Exiles is not one of my favourite albums, although I think the record does have a particular feeling. I’m not too sure how great the songs are, but put together it’s a nice piece. However, when I listen to Exile it has some of the worst mixes I’ve ever heard. I’d love to remix the record, not just because of the vocals, but because generally I think it sounds lousy. At the time Jimmy Miller was not functioning properly. I had to finish the whole record myself, because otherwise there were just these drunks and junkies. Of course I’m ultimately responsible for it, but it’s really not good and there’s no concerted effort or intention. I don’t like going into the studio without knowing what’s going on. I’m a singer. It’s all right for bands, they can stand their and jam their butts off, but a lot of it is just a waste of time. It’s boringAs long as people like the album, that’s fine. I just that I don’t particularly think it’s a great album. The thing about Exile is everyone loves it and I don’t know why. There aren’t any real hits apart from Tumblin’ Dice. And although it’s great to listen to, it’s not that great when you try and play songs from it. There are a lot of tracks on that double album, and only a handful of tracks you can perform: Tumblin’ Dice, Happy, All Down The Line, Sweet Virginia, which is a nice country tune. So there’s a good four songs off it, but when you start to play the other nineteen, you can’t, or they don’t work or nobody likes them.
Keith Richards: It didn’t sell particularly well at the beginning, and it was also pretty much universally panned. But within a few years the people who had written the reviews saying it was a piece of crap were extolling it as the best frigging album in the world
According to The Rolling Stones, 2003

I didn’t buy it when it came out. I heard a friend’s copy a few times. I thought it repetitive.

Mick Jagger: It’s a very mixed bag of musical styles; it doesn’t include any pop music – there’s almost no pop in it. There are no pretty tunes as such. There’s no great ballad on it – in fact, there are almost no ballads. There’s Shine A Light, but that’s a gospel song really. But there’s everything else: there’s a bit of country, there’s a bit of blues, straight covers, kind of hard rock. But it’s a kind of exhibition of styles. It’s also sprawling and quite long. You could almost go into it and find something you don’t know, which is always interesting in a piece. Also, it doesn’t have any unity of time and place. In other words, it’s not a concentrated two-month period. If you make a record over a concentrated two-month period, you’ll somehow encapsulate what you felt. Whereas if you record something over a three-year period, you’re not – but you’re going to get something else.
MICK JAGGER, GQ INTERVIEW, 26 JULY 2017

I said Ry Cooder is relevant. He was interviewed by Rolling Stone magazine on The Stones:

Ry Cooder: The Rolling Stones brought me to England under totally false pretences. 
They weren’t playing well and were just messing around the studio.  When there’d be a lull in the so-called rehearsals, I’d start to play my guitar. Keith Richard would leave the room immediately and never return.“ I thought he didn’t like me! But as I found out later the tapes would keep rolling……in the four or five weeks I was there I must have played everything I know. They got it all down on these tapes. Everything.


In another radio interview, which I heard in the car, Ry Cooder said that if you want to know what riffs he played, it’s now called Exile in Main Street. He has called them ‘vampires.’ Cooder also alleged that the riff of Honky Tonk Women was based on one of his progressions. He has since back-pedalled on the explicit charges of plagiarism. Maybe an agreement was reached.

Paul Trynka: Is it true that you thought about asking Ry Cooder to join the band?
Keith Richards: Ry? Musically, yes. I would have. Personality wise? No way. Ry was always his own man.
Mojo, Rolling Stones 40th Anniversary Special, 2003

Ry might have stuck a couple of years, but no more. Mick & Keith really didn’t want or need a third songwriter who was also a singer. Ry would have found it restricting compared to his career of solo albums, film soundtracks and discovering and producing the Buena Vista Social Club.

Paul Trynka: So finally, what’s your favourite Stones album?
Keith Richards: If I gotta pick one, I’ll say Exile. But take that with a pinch of salt.
Mojo, Rolling Stones 40th Anniversary Special, 2003

To me, it’s Keith’s album. Jagger has been dismissive saying it lacked melodies, and I think it does. They’re at their best when they’re co-operating and co-writing. Mick’s voice sounds tired … torn and frayed … too.

Best songs for me? Tumblin’ Dice, Sweet Virginia, Sweet Black Angel.
Torn and Frayed and Loving Cup also worthy in a ramshackle way though Mick Jagger’s lost in the mix, too far back on the last two. So Record One, Side Two for me.

Then Shine A Light has been revived on Record Store Day etc.
(OK, I admit it … after listening again while doing this article, I am placing it much too low – BUT it’s not their best album,.)

12 Blue and Lonesome

December 2016
UK #1
US #1
Australia, Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Czech, Netherlands, France, Germany, Japan, Norway, Poland, Sweden #1

Mick Jagger: We could have done this album in 1963, or ’64 but of course it would not have sounded like this.

Back to basics. Recorded in three days straight. All cover versions. Four Little Walter songs. Two Willie Dixon. One lesser known Howlin’ Wolf, Commit A Crime. It did astonishingly well for a straight blues album. It was only 43 minutes long and a single CD, but the LP version was a double LP, presumably for enhanced quality, though even at full length it’s within the 22 minutes a side considered to be where quality drops off, The Stones have milked a few Record Store Day expensive vinyl versions.

It came eleven years after A Bigger Bang. So it’s back to their first album in style. I played it more than anything in the quarter of a century before it. Darryl Jones adds bass, Chuck Leavell adds piano. Eric Clapton is on slide guitar on Everybody Knows About My Good Thing and lead guitar on I Can’t Quit You Baby. He was recording at the same studios.

Advertisement

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s