Music

The Rolling Stones, 1968 - Beggar's Banquet

Some artists are more than merely great. There are some artists that for a period of years, a period that is finite, consistently produced music that, it can be argued, far exceeded the work of their peers. For that brief period of time they were definitely Masters of the Form.

It's pretty ballsy to call yourself the world’s greatest rock and roll band, but the Rolling Stones have got the talent, and the back catalog, to back such a boast up. They began their careers as eager teenagers with a love for American blues music and found themselves, upon tasting their first success, being compared to the Beatles because the Beatles had tasted success first. However, the Rolling Stones were more than just another British band to crash through in the Beatles' wake. From 1968-1972, they were the world’s greatest rock and roll band. They were masters of the form who recorded what could quite possibly be the four best successive rock albums released by any band in the history of rock and roll, four discs that became blueprints for generations of aspiring rock bands to follow: Exile on Main St., Sticky Fingers, Let It Bleed and the album that started the impressive run, Beggar's Banquet

In 1967 the band had not perfected "the Stones" sound. Like many of their contemporaries, they found themselves being compared to the Beatles in the year of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. If the band was trying to avoid such criticism they certainly didn't do themselves any favors with the release of that year's Their Satanic Majesties Request. However, in 1968 the Stones started to become "The Stones". In the midst of everybody still trying to reproduce Sgt. Pepper's, they released Beggar's Banquet an album of simple, straightforward songs. It was an album of grit. It was an album with dirt under its nails. At a time when bands were producing the cleanest, most polished music they could as a means to appeal to a pop audience, the Stones decided it was time for them to get dirty. The Stones decided it was time for a "return to form".

The Rolling Stones experienced their first "return to form" (a phrase that was basically invented to describe their work and was used by writers whenever the group released a decent album. Some Girls was a return to form, then Tattoo You was and later Voodoo Lounge) with the release of "Jumpin' Jack Flash" in 1968. However, this wasn't a return to form at all. It was the work of a band that was establishing its form, mastering its form. It was a step towards the perfecting of an unmistakable sound. They took an even bigger step, by far their biggest step, when Beggar's Banquet dropped at the end of the year.

Beggar's Banquet was the first real Stones album. This isn't to lessen the impact of the great singles they released previous to it; some of the best in rock and roll history. I mean it may be a cliché to say that "(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction" is great, but it certainly doesn't make the song any less seminal. The group had released two great albums of original material prior to Their Satanic Majesties Request, Aftermath and Between Buttons, both of which, for all their great music, suffered from a lack of focus and tended to be a bit all over the place stylistically. The albums also found the band leaning away from the blues music they had favored in their earlier releases (quite honestly, the only thing blue about Their Satanic Majesties Request was the color of its cover). They lacked power. They weren't "Stonesy"; Beggar's Banquet was.

Why is Beggar's Banquet so powerful? Simplicity. It was an album stripped of the trappings of most pop recordings. "Street Fighting Man" was not aimed at a pop audience and the opening riff, as classic as any Keith Richards has ever written, sounds muffled by a bit of audible static and the vocals sound as though Mick Jagger is shouting between two hands that he’s cupped in front of his mouth because there simply wasn’t a microphone available. "Stray Cat Blues" is as dirty as the Stones had ever sounded. The song crawls like a cat from the gutter, padding along with sly sexiness before finally attacking in a fit of ferocious guitars and a story about a girl who, "can bite like that!" Even the beauty of "Salt of the Earth" is a ragged beauty that's perfectly summed up in the vocals of the first chorus which sound like a bunch of buddies singing together over a pint. The choir that ends the song only brings the song further down to earth giving it a "real music by real people" feel.

That's really what is at the root of the entire Beggar's Banquet album. The theme that ties the whole work together is American roots music. This is the album that found the Rolling Stones embracing their love of American blues ("Parachute Woman" and the cover of Robert Wilkins' "Prodigal Son" are more authentic than they have any right to be) and country music ("No Expectations" was far and away the best country song the band had written to date and was a preview of greater songs to come). Again, the album didn't sound as though it was recorded by rich rock stars. It sounded like it was recorded by real people with real fatigue, real anger and real lust. It sounded haggard and out of breath. It sounded "Stonesy" and that's why Beggar's Banquet is the band's first concise statement of who they actually were, the first example of them being masters of the form. Then they recorded Let It Bleed...

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image