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 three of that trip. (Part one; Part two)
*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.
Exile on Main Street
Released May 12, 1972
Need to know: Considered by most to be the Stones greatest album, including Rolling Stone which listed it as the 7th best album of all time in 2003. These people are wrong, but barely.
Reason(s) to listen: This is the grandaddy of all Stones albums in most people’s minds. Any conversation discussing the greatest albums of all time will no doubt reference this one. I once wrote a long post revisiting the greatness of this album. While I don’t think it’s their best, I do think it’s close, and wouldn’t argue too strongly with anyone who claims it is. The main reason to listen to this one is because it is as good as everyone says it is, but also so you don’t feel out of the loop the next time a greatest albums conversation starts. If you’re overly familiar with any Stones album, it should probably be this one.
Reason(s) to ignore: The only reason someone would ignore this album is if they flatly hated the Stones and every note of music they had ever produced. So, you would basically have to be an idiot. The album is a tad bloated though.
Essential track(s): “Tumbling Dice,” “Sweet Virginia,” “Loving Cup,” “Torn and Frayed,” and, well, any song not titled “Turd on the Run.” That song sucks.
Goats Head Soup
Released August 31, 1973
Need to know: Most consider this the beginning of the downside of the Stones career. The legendary Lester Bangs wrote the following upon the album’s release, “There is a sadness about the Stones now, because they amount to such an enormous ‘So what?’ The sadness comes when you measure not just one album, but the whole sense they’re putting across now against what they once meant…” Exile to this isn’t quite the equivalent of jumping off of a cliff, but there is a marked drop-off in quality.
Reason(s) to listen: Look, this is still a solid album. It’s definitely better than 90% of everything that has been released in the past five years. The Stones were coming off of one of the greatest stretches in rock and roll history. They couldn’t sustain it forever. I have this album. I listen to it often. It includes “Angie.” Listen to it.
Reason(s) to ignore: The album cover is pretty freaky. That might scare you. I have a hard time looking at it for long periods, but the album is still worth listening to.
Essential track(s): “Angie,” and that’s really about it. “100 Years Ago” is good and there are quite a few solid songs, but you won’t be using this album for too many Stones’ mix tapes.
It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll
Released October 16, 1974
Need to know: This was the last Stones album for guitarist Mick Taylor, and the first album Jagger and Richards produced under the pseudonym “The Glimmer Twins.” Every Stones album from this point forward would be produced by them or in collaboration with another producer. This was not a great development.
Reason(s) to listen: Honestly, it’s hard to come up with one. While Goats Head Soup still shows some of the Stones greatness, this album does not. This album is actually quite awful. They even return to covers with The Temptations’ “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.” It’s not a great cover. I guess some people like the cover song, but I am not one of them. It strikes me as something AC/DC would come out with. You know, one of those rock and roll songs that does nothing but talk about how awesome rock and roll is. I am not a fan of those. I already know how awesome rock and roll is. That’s why I’m listening to the Rolling Stones.
Reason(s) to ignore: Because it deserves to be ignored. After listening to the previous four to five albums (depending on how you feel about Goats Head), this album is enough to make me physically angry. It’s the beginning of the Stones going through the motions of being rock and roll stars, rather than making great rock and roll. This would continue for the majority of their remaining career.
Essential track(s): “Time Waits for No One” is one of those countryish acoustic songs that the Stones have always pulled off better than anyone. This is no “Sweet Virginia” but it’s a solid effort. Sadly, it’s the only track worth recommending here. If you want to listen to the opposite of an “essential track,” listen to “Fingerprint File.” Herman’s Hermits would be embarrassed to have released that song.
Black and Blue
Released April 23, 1976
Need to know: This was the first Stones album with Ronnie Wood as a replacement for Mick Taylor. Keith Richards said of this album, “”Rehearsing guitar players, that’s what that one was about.” It’s garbage.
Reason(s) to listen: Some tracks on this album sound like a lot of other terrible rock music in the ’80s, except this album came out in 1976. Maybe the Stones were ahead of their time?
Reason(s) to ignore: There is a song on this album entitled “Cherry Oh Baby,” which is the worst attempt at reggae maybe ever. That song alone is enough to toss this album into the garbage buried under 5 million copies of Their Satanic Majesties Request.
Essential Track(s): There was a time when I didn’t hate the song “Fool to Cry”; then I realized it was on this album. Now I hate it out of principle.
Released June 9, 1978
Need to know: I’m not entirely sure where this came from, but this album is legitimately good. Rolling Stone listed it as the 269th greatest album of all time in 2003. It has sold over 6 million copies.
Reason(s) to listen: It’s a throwback Stones album. This is the album that should have followed Exile. “Miss You” and “Beast of Burden” are as good as the Stones greatest songs. I really can’t exaggerate how great this album sounds after finishing Black and Blue. It’s wonderful.
Reason(s) to ignore: I sincerely believe that “Shattered” is one of the ten worst songs ever made by a “legendary” band. It’s just pure garbage. I’m cringing just thinking about it.
Essential Track(s): “Miss You” and “Beast of Burden” are amazing. “Some Girls” gives you the sexism that you expect and want from Jagger. Really anything not called “Shattered” is worth a listen. “Shattered” is an argument for censorship.
Released June 20, 1980
Need to know: Well, Some Girls was fun while it lasted. Now we’re into the ’80s, and the Stones sadly embraced the ’80s, and all of the shit that came with it, including disco.
Reason(s) to listen: Do you want to hear the Rolling Stones make disco music? Really? If you do, then this is the album for you. The first song is called “Dance (pt 1)” and it is pure disco bullshit terribleness. Things don’t get much better.
Reason(s) to ignore: It’s the Rolling Stones doing disco music. Of course it should be ignored.
Essential Tracks: Their amazing cover of Alice in Chains’ “Down in the Hole.” What? That’s not a Chains cover, but just another mediocre Stones song on an album that starts with a disco track? Shit. Nevermind.
Previous: Part One, The Covers Era; Part Two, Becoming Legends
Next: Part Four, Those Guys are Still Around?