Journey Through the Rolling Stones Discography: Part Two, Becoming Legends
The Rolling Stones are unquestionably one of the greatest rock bands of all time. They have released over twenty albums since the early 60s. Reading through Keith Richards’ autobiography Life (my review here) made me realize how few of these I have actually given a chance. I have since dedicated myself to listening, through the wonder of Spotify, to every Stones album* released to date. This is part two of that trip. (Part One) (Part three)
*Until 1967 albums released in the UK were often reconfigured for U.S. release. I’m only listening to the US versions. Also, these are studio albums, not live or greatest hits compilations.
Need to know: This is the first full length studio album that consists of only originals by Richards/Jagger (finally!). Aftermath was ranked 108 on Rolling Stone’s “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time” list in 2002.
Reason(s) to listen: Being the first album of all originals, this may be the best jumping on point for someone new to the Stones. It’s the first album that really feels like one of the great Stones albums, although it doesn’t quite approach the quality of some of their beset. As far as tracks go, it doesn’t get much better than “Under My Thumb,” which is better than just about anything that’s been played on the radio over the past ten years. “Paint It Black” is also wonderful. “Doncha Bother Me” is the type of blues song that the Stones were always the best at. “Going Home” is an enjoyable eleven plus minute jam session which would inspire The Doors to have their own ridiculously long version of “The End.”
Reason(s) to ignore: If there is one song that could turn away potential Stones fans, it would be “Lady Jane.” It has one of those melodies that will enter your head and refuse to leave until you either kill yourself or vow to never listen to it again. It’s really terrible On “It’s Not Easy” Jagger really REALLY wants you to know how hard it is to live alone, while you just wish he would stop repeating himself.
Essential track(s): “Under My Thumb” and “Paint It Black” are the famous tracks here, but “Doncha Bother Me,” “Flight 505,” and “Going Home” are also worth a listen.
Need to know: Reached #2 on the American charts and #3 in the UK. Was ranked 355 on Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time” list.
Reason(s) to listen: It’s hard to advocate strongly for this one. There are definitely not a lot of standouts be had. “Ruby Tuesday” was the only hit here and some folks loathe that song. “Let’s Spend the Night Together” is a great song, but wasn’t even included on the UK version. “Who’s Been Sleeping Here?” and “Miss Amanda Jones” are solid tracks, but certainly not good enough to make someone purchase the full album. You can probably skip this one.
Reason(s) to ignore: Mick Jagger himself called the album “more or less rubbish.” This is perhaps a tad too harsh, but isn’t so far off. “Yesterday’s Papers” sounds like one of McCartney’s more annoying songs (think “Paperback Writer”). There really isn’t much here.
Essential track(s): “Let’s Spend the Night Together” and “Ruby Tuesday”….I guess.
Need to know: Recording for Satanic began shortly after the release of Between the Buttons but was strong out for several months due to arrests and subsequent jail terms for both Jagger and Richards. Rarely were all of the band members together in the studio. This is the only Stones album to have been self-produced. It’s also the only Stones album that will make you want to jump out of a window.
Reason(s) to listen: Ever wanted to know what it sounds like when a great band makes a shitty album? Then have a listen to this one.
Reason(s) to ignore: If there weren’t many reasons to recommend Between the Buttons, there aren’t any reasons to recommend Satanic. This album is often dismissed as a Sgt. Pepper pretender, as it should be. It’s terrible. John Lennon:
“Satanic Majesties is Pepper. ‘She’s a Rainbow’-It’s the most fuckin’ bullshit-That’s “All You Need is Love.”
There’s a lot of rubbish on Satanic Majesties. Just too much time on our hands, too many drugs, no producer to tell us, “Enough already, thank you very much, now can we get just get on with this song?” Anyone let loose in the studio will produce stuff like that. There was simply too much hanging around. It’s like believing everything you do is great and not having any editing.
Essential track(s): None. This is the album that Pet Sounds and Sgt. Pepper make fun of at parties.
Need to know: This was the last full effort of Brian Jones and the first Stones album produced by Jimmy Miller, who would be with the band until 1973. Beggars Banquet was ranked 57 on Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time” list.
Reason(s) to listen: The Rolling Stones are considered rock and roll legends largely because of the four album run that would begin here and end with Exile on Main Street. The greatness of this album stands out even more against the atrocity that was Satanic Majesties. Gone are the sound effects and Beatles rip offs. In are the slide guitar, piano, and blues sound that had made the Stones famous and would allow them to become one of the three greatest rock bands of all time.
Reason(s) to ignore: There isn’t one. This album is sometimes overlooked for Let it Bleed, Sticky Fingers, and Exile, but this album deserves the same level of attention. Beggars is pure rock and roll from beginning to end.
Essential Track(s): “Sympathy for the Devil” and “Street Fighting Man” are the most famous songs, and they are fantastic, but every track on this album deserves a listen. Richards’ acoustic playing has never been better than it is on “Prodigal Son” or “Factory Girl.” “Salt of the Earth” is also fantastic. Every music fan should have this album.
Need to know: Let It Bleed would knock Abbey Road out of the #1 spot in the UK. Rolling Stone ranked it 32 on its “500 Greatest Albums of All Time” list. That might be too low. Brian Jones performed only on “Love in Vain” and “Midnight Rambler.” Keith Richards had his first solo lead vocal on “You Got the Silver.” One day after the release of Let It Bleed a fan would be fatally stabbed during the Stones’ performance at the Altamont Free Concert.
Reason(s) to listen: Many consider Let It Bleed to be the Stones second best album behind Exile. I would also put it behind both Beggars and Sticky Fingers, but that takes nothing away from how great this album is. It features “Gimme Shelter” which is the greatest song the Stones ever recorded and one of the ten greatest rock songs ever written. “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” isn’t far behind, and even Richards solo performance on “You Got the Silver” stands out.
Reason(s) to ignore: I’m not a huge fan of “Monkey Man,” but if you were to ignore this album for that song, then you would be an idiot.
Essential Track(s): “Gimme Shelter”;”Midnight Rambler”;”You Can’t Always Get What You Want”; “You Got the Silver”
Released April 23, 1971
Need to know: The first full length album by the Stones to not feature Brian Jones and to feature Mick Taylor on each track. Ranked #63 on Rolling Stone’s list.
Reason(s) to listen: The greatest Rolling Stones album ever recorded. “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” may be the raunchiest rock and roll song ever recorded. I dare you to resist getting into that song. “Sway” and “Bitch” have a similar effect. Richards definitely had his guitar tone figured out on this album. To contrast against the dirty electric sound, this album also features three of the Stones best acoustic tracks: “Wild Horses” and “Dead Flowers.” It also features an ode to morphine (“Sister Morphine”) that wouldn’t be touched until Gillian Welch’s “My Morphine” 38 years later.
Reason(s) to ignore: Are you kidding??!!
Essential Tracks: All of them. I’m serious. All of them. Well, ok, “You Gotta Move” isn’t great, but we’ll let it slide.
Previous: Part One, The Covers Era
Next: Part Three, Exile and Slow Decline