FEATURE: The Feast After the Banquet: The Rolling Stones’ Let It Bleed at Fifty



The Feast After the Banquet

The Rolling Stones’ Let It Bleed at Fifty


A few big albums are turning (or have turned) fifty this year…

 IN THIS PHOTO: The Rolling Stones in Hyde Park in 1969/PHOTO CREDIT: Barrie Wentzell

and one of the best of them all, Let It Bleed, is fifty on 5th December. A special, super-duper-deluxe edition of the album has been released - and it worth snapping up if you are a fan of the album. Maybe the price is a little steep, but such an important album is worth the investment. Reviews are already coming in for the Let It Bleed fiftieth. Here is what Louder Sound said about the set:

If the Rolling Stones inadvertently slammed the coffin lid shut on the 60s with the disaster that was Altamont, then Let It Bleed, the band’s eighth UK album and released the day before, was a focused summation of the turbulent times both within and beyond the band.

Founder Brian Jones was out, his replacement Mick Taylor was coming in, and the scenes of televised violence from Vietnam and more suffused the Stones’ music.

Elsewhere, the outré mores of Live With Me – the first song recorded with Taylor and saxophonist Bobby Keys – are tempered by targeting the hips, although You Got The Silver’s concerns seems quaint in comparison.

But it all adds up to a filler-free classic. Containing mono and stereo vinyl versions as well as SACD counterparts, this anniversary edition is bolstered with a mono seven-inch of Honky Tonk Women and an 80-page book illustrated with previously unseen photos.

When you think about Let It Bleed, you have to realise that this was The Rolling Stones at their very best. 1968’s Beggars Banquet was still fresh in the mind and, with songs such as Sympathy for the Devil and Street Fighting Man among the best cuts, how could a band possibly expand on that?!

The Rolling Stones ended a fantastic-yet-turbulent decade with what must be considered one of their best albums. They were not daunted by the success and brilliance of Let It Bleed: 1971’s Sticky Fingers and 1972’s Exile on Main St. are all genius albums. I wonder whether a band has ever put together such a run of flawless albums?! Maybe The Beatles match them in terms of their output from 1965’s Rubber Soul to 1969’s Abbey Road. It is amazing that The Rolling Stones put out such a remarkable album, considering the loss the group suffered whilst recording. The band’s founder, Brian Jones, was dependent on drugs during the album’s recording and unable to contribute. He was fired and replaced by Mick Taylor. The blow of having to lose a brother rocked the band and meant that they had to quickly contribute with a new member and dynamic. Sadly, Brian Jones died shortly after (in July 1969) he was fired and never got to see Let It Bleed succeed and inspire. Alongside Mick Jagger, Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts, Keith Richards had the job of handling the rhythm and lead guitar parts. I think Let It Bleed is one of the moist eclectic albums the band ever released and sort of saw them embrace a Blues sound that was more prevalent earlier in their career. The range of sounds and genres revealed through Let It Bleed is amazing. The Gospel tones of You Can’t Always Get What You Want and the Country-Blues Love in Vain sit beside one another comfortably. Maybe slightly more lascivious and grittier than Beggars Banquet, there is a lot of passion to be found.     

Some criticised the cover of the album and the fact that it was not as eye-opening as Beggars Banquet. Sticky Fingers would see them return to the iconic, whereas Let It Bleed did not have the same impact. I really like the cover of Let It Bleed and the fact that it is a little funny and weird. Let It Bleed is a wide-ranging album, but it is tighter than Exile on Main St. and more nuanced than Beggars Banquet. The track listing and emotional balance of the album is perfect. The album opens with one of the strongest tracks, Gimme Shelter; it instantly grips the listener and does not let them go. Ending the first side with Let It Bleed, the second side is not exactly a slouch! Midnight Rambler opens the side and we end with You Can’t Always Get What You WantLet It Bleed opens and closes with epic tracks! Let It Bleed received hugely positive reviews and continues to amaze and fascinate critics. In their review, AllMusic had this to say:    

Mostly recorded without Brian Jones -- who died several months before its release (although he does play on two tracks) and was replaced by Mick Taylor (who also plays on just two songs) -- this extends the rock and blues feel of Beggars Banquet into slightly harder-rocking, more demonically sexual territory. The Stones were never as consistent on album as their main rivals, the Beatles, and Let It Bleed suffers from some rather perfunctory tracks, like "Monkey Man" and a countrified remake of the classic "Honky Tonk Woman" (here titled "Country Honk").


 Yet some of the songs are among their very best, especially "Gimme Shelter," with its shimmering guitar lines and apocalyptic lyrics; the harmonica-driven "Midnight Rambler"; the druggy party ambience of the title track; and the stunning "You Can't Always Get What You Want," which was the Stones' "Hey Jude" of sorts, with its epic structure, horns, philosophical lyrics, and swelling choral vocals. "You Got the Silver" (Keith Richards' first lead vocal) and Robert Johnson's "Love in Vain," by contrast, were as close to the roots of acoustic down-home blues as the Stones ever got”.

Ahead of its fiftieth anniversary, I am listening to Let It Bleed and discovering new sides. Some of the songs I missed before – such as Country Honk and You Got the Silver – are starting to come into their own. Gimme Shelter, somehow, sounds even more biblical whilst Love in Vain seems to improve with age. I want to bring in a feature from Ultimate Classic Rock that highlights what I was saying earlier: Let It Bleed is the sound of The Rolling Stones at their daring and untouchable best:

There was no telling, but from the sound of things on the album's best songs – "Gimme Shelter," "Monkey Man," "You Can't Always Get What You Want" – it wasn't going to be easy. The murder fantasy "Midnight Rambler," the "Honky Tonk Women" rewrite "Country Honk," "You Got the Silver," the first full song to feature Keith Richards on lead vocals – all are immersed in layers of anguish and unease. It's sexy, dirty, scary and on the verge of collapsing under the weight of impending doom.

And it's a brilliant work by a band at its absolute peak. The Rolling Stones followed Let It Bleed with Sticky Fingers and then Exile on Main St., two of rock's all-time greatest albums. The progression from Beggars Banquet up through 1972's Exile charts a band growing into and out of itself. Elements of each record find their way into the others, from the bluesy sway that dominates Beggars and appears elsewhere (including on Let It Bleed) to the druggy aftermath of the '60s that seeps into Bleed and completely takes over Exile. Let It Bleed is the middle link holding it all together”.

As we end the 2010s, we get to look back at an album that still sounds remarkably fresh today. When Let It Bleed came out, there was corruption, political turmoil and tension – race riots in the U.S. and the war in Vietnam. It is clear that numerous artists have been inspired by The Rolling Stones’ masterpiece, but I wonder whether any band since them has reached such an artistic peak. The Rolling Stones, of course, are touring still and we get to hear classic tracks from Let It Bleed. On 5th December, this remarkable album turns fifty, and I hope it gets the celebration and fresh exposure it deserves. There is debate among Rolling Stones fans as to which album is their very best. There is this divide between those purple patch albums: Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed and Exile on Main St. often fight it out for that top spot. To me, The Rolling Stones were at their most thrilling, broad and accomplished in 1969. Even as their leader, Brian Jones, was spiralling and about to depart the band, the guys produced this incredible cohesive and remarkable album. Play Let It Bleed now and it is clear that this masterpiece sounds so incredible…   

AFTER all these years.