Top 9 Rock Festivals of All Time

This week Classic Rock Review joins the celebration of the 45th Anniversary of the historic 1969 Woodstock Music Festival. In conjunction with Top 9 Lists, we present a list of the Top 9 Rock Festivals of all time, along with a bonus list of Top 9 Single Day, Single Location Concerts.

Woodstock from behind the stage

1. Woodstock

August 15-18, 1969
Bethel, New York

This remains the mother of all music festivals, held at a 600-acre dairy farm owned by Max Yasgur. A series of coincidental events unfolded which effected the location and operation of this festival, which grew to become a “free” event for over 400,000 attendees. Regarded as a pivotal moment in popular music history, 32 acts performed during the rainy weekend, starting with Richie Havens, and concluding with a memorable performance by Jimi Hendrix as the crowd dispersed mid-morning on Monday, August 18th. Woodstock was immortalized in a later documentary movie as well as a song by Joni Mitchell, who was one of many major acts that did not attend by later regretted it.

Woodstock Performers: Richie Havens, Sweetwater, Bert Sommer, Tim Hardin, Ravi Shankar, Melanie, Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez, Quill, Country Joe McDonald, Santana, John Sebastian, Keef Hartley Band, The Incredible String Band, Canned Heat, Mountain, Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin with The Kozmic Blues Band, Sly and the Family Stone, The Who, Jefferson Airplane, Joe Cocker and The Grease Band, Ten Years After, The Band, Johnny Winter, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Crosby, Stills, & Nash, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Sha Na Na, Jimi Hendrix and Gypsy Sun Rainbows

Buy Woodstock soundtrack
Buy Woodstock: Three Days of Peace & Music DVD

2. Monterey Pop Festival

June 16-18, 1967
Monterey, California

Jimi Hendrix at MontereyCredited as the event which sparked the “The Summer of Love”, The three-day Monterey International Pop Music Festival had a rather modest attendance but was soon recognized for its importance to the performers and significance to the sixties pop scene. The lineup consisted of a blend of rock and pop acts with memorable performances by The Who and Jimi Hendrix Experience.

Monterey Pop Performers: Jefferson Airplane, The Who, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, Booker T. & the MG’s, Ravi Shankar, The Mamas and the Papas

Buy Monterey Pop Festival Live album

3. Live Aid

July 13, 1985
London and Philadelphia

Live Aid, PhiladelphiaStill the largest benefit concert 30 years on, Live Aid was a also the first live multi-venue event, with over 70,000 at London’s Wembley Stadium and close to 100,000 at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia. Organized by musician Bob Geldof of the Boomtown Rats as relief for the Ethiopian famine, the concert evolved from Band Aid, a multi-artist group who recorded “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” in 1984. Live Aid was also one of the largest worldwide television broadcasts, with an estimated audience of 1.9 billion in about 150 nations. Memorable performances and moments included those by Queen, U2, Dire Straits, a reunited Black Sabbath, and a loose reunion by members Led Zeppelin, the first since their breakup in 1980.

Live Aid Performers: Status Quo, The Style Council, The Boomtown Rats, Adam Ant, Spandau Ballet, Elvis Costello, Nik Kershaw, Sade, Sting, Phil Collins, Branford Marsalis, Howard Jones, Bryan Ferry, David Gilmour, Paul Young, U2, Dire Straits, Queen, David Bowie, Thomas Dolby, The Who, Elton John, Paul McCartney, Band Aid, Joan Baez, The Hooters, Four Tops, Billy Ocean, Black Sabbath, Run–D.M.C., Rick Springfield, REO Speedwagon, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Judas Priest, Bryan Adams, The Beach Boys, George Thorogood and the Destroyers, Simple Minds, The Pretenders, Santana, Ashford & Simpson, Madonna, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Kenny Loggins, The Cars, Neil Young, The Power Station, Thompson Twins, Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin (announced as “Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, Tony Thompson, Paul Martinez, Phil Collins”), Duran Duran, Patti LaBelle, Hall & Oates, Mick Jagger, Eddie Kendricks, David Ruffin, Tina Turner, Bob Dylan, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood, USA for Africa

Buy Live Aid DVD

4. Isle of Wight Festival

August 26-30, 1970
Isle of Wight, UK

Isle Of Wight Festival, 1970In sheer numbers, the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival may be the largest ever, with estimates of over 600,000, which is an increase of about 50% over Woodstock. Promoted by local brothers Ronnie, Ray and Bill Foulk, the 5-day event caused such logistical problems (all attendees had to be ferried to the small island) that Parliament passed the “Isle of Wight Act” in 1971, preventing gatherings of more than 5,000 people on the island without a special license. Memorable performances included late career appearances by Jimi Hendrix and The Doors, and The Who, who released their entire set on the 1996 album Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970.

Isle of Wight 1970 Performers: Judas Jump, Kathy Smith, Rosalie Sorrels, David Bromberg, Redbone, Kris Kristofferson, Mighty Baby, Gary Farr, Supertramp, Howl, Black Widow, The Groundhogs, Terry Reid, Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso, Fairfield Parlour, Arrival, Lighthouse, Taste, Rory Gallagher, Chicago, Procol Harum, Voices of East Harlem, Cactus, John Sebastian, Shawn Phillips, Joni Mitchell, Tiny Tim, Miles Davis, Ten Years After, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, The Doors, The Who, Sly & the Family Stone, Melanie, Good News, Ralph McTell, Heaven, Free, Donovan, Pentangle, The Moody Blues, Jethro Tull, Jimi Hendrix, Joan Baez, Leonard Cohen, Richie Havens

Buy Message to Love, The Isle of Wight Festival DVD

5. Ozark Music Festival

July 19-21, 1974
Sedalia, Missouri

Ozark Music Festival stage“No Hassles Guaranteed” was the motto of the Ozark Music Festival, held at the Missouri State Fairgrounds in 1974. While this festival offered an impressive lineup of artists as well as a crowd upwards of 350,000 people, the Missouri Senate later described the festival as a disaster, due to the behaviors and destructive tendencies of the crowd.

Ozark Music Festival Performers: Bachman–Turner Overdrive, Aerosmith, Premiata Forneria Marconi, Blue Öyster Cult, The Eagles, America, Marshall Tucker Band, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Boz Scaggs, Ted Nugent, David Bromberg, Leo Kottke, Cactus, The Earl Scruggs Revue, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Electric Flag, Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band, Joe Walsh and Barnstorm, The Souther Hillman Furay Band, The Ozark Mountain Daredevils, Charlie Daniels Band, REO Speedwagon, Spirit

6. US Festival

May 28-30, 1983
Devore, California

Steve Wozniak’s US Festivals were staged on two occasions in September 1982 and May 1983. The second of these was packed with a lineup of top-notch eighties acts who performed in an enormous state-of-the-art temporary amphitheatre at Glen Helen Regional Park.

1983 US Festival Performers: Divinyls, INXS, Wall of Voodoo, Oingo Boingo, The English Beat, A Flock of Seagulls, Stray Cats, Men at Work, The Clash, Quiet Riot, Mötley Crüe, Ozzy Osbourne, Judas Priest, Triumph, Scorpions, Van Halen, Los Lobos, Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul, Berlin, Quarterflash, U2, Missing Persons, The Pretenders, Joe Walsh, Stevie Nicks, David Bowie

7. The Crossroads Guitar Festival

June 4-6, 2004
Dallas, Texas

Crossroads Festival 2004 adStarting in 2004, the Crossroads Guitar Festivals have been held every three years to benefit the Crossroads Centre for drug treatment in Antigua, founded by Eric Clapton. These concerts showcase a variety of guitarists, with the first lineup at the Cotton Bowl stadium in 2004 featuring some legends along with up-and-comers hand-picked by Clapton himself.

2004 Crossroads Guitar Festival Performers: Eric Clapton, Johnny A, Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, Ron Block, Booker T. & the M.G.’s, Doyle Bramhall II, JJ Cale, Larry Carlton, Robert Cray, Sheryl Crow, Bo Diddley, Jerry Douglas, David Honeyboy Edwards, Vince Gill, Buddy Guy, David Hidalgo, Zakir Hussain, Eric Johnson, B.B. King, Sonny Landreth, Jonny Lang, Robert Lockwood, Jr., John Mayer, John McLaughlin, Robert Randolph, Duke Robillard, Carlos Santana, Hubert Sumlin, James Taylor, Dan Tyminski, Steve Vai, Jimmie Vaughan, Joe Walsh, ZZ Top, David Johansen

Buy Eric Clapton: Crossroads Guitar Festival 2004 DVD

8. Live 8

July 2, 2005
Locations world wide

Pink Floyd at Live 8Held 20 years after he organized Live Aid, Bob Geldof’s Live 8 was even more ambitious, being held in nine different locations around the world on the same day. Timed to coincide with the G8 conference in Scotland that year, the goal was to raise money to fight poverty in Africa. The most memorable moment from the concerts was at Hyde Park in London where the classic lineup of Pink Floyd reunited for the first time in over two decades.

Live 8 Performers: U2, Paul McCartney, Annie Lennox, Mariah Carey, R.E.M. The Killers, The Who, UB40, Pink Floyd, Elton John, Bob Geldof, Velvet Revolver, Madonna, Coldplay, Robbie Williams, Will Smith, Alicia Keys, The Black Eyed Peas, Kanye West, Linkin Park, Jay-Z, Rob Thomas, Sarah McLachlan, Stevie Wonder, Maroon 5, Deep Purple, Neil Young, Buck Cherry, Bryan Adams, Mötley Crüe, Brian Wilson, Green Day, a-Ha, Roxy Music, Dido, Peter Gabriel, Snow Patrol, The Corrs, Zola, Lucky Dube, Jungo, Pet Shop Boys, Muse, The Cure

Buy Live 8 DVD

9. Woodstock ’94

August 12-14, 1994
Saugerties, New York

Organized to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the original Woodstock festival, Woodstock ’94 was promoted as “3 More Days of Peace and Music”. in fact, this concert took place near the originally intended location of that first show and other similarities such as common performers, similar crowd size, rain, and mud.

Woodstock ’94 Performers: Blues Traveler, Candlebox, Collective Soul, Jackyl, King’s X, Live, Orleans, Sheryl Crow, Violent Femmes, Joe Cocker, Blind Melon, Cypress Hill, Rollins Band, Melissa Etheridge, Crosby, Stills, & Nash, John Sebastian, Nine Inch Nails, Metallica, Aerosmith, Country Joe McDonald, Sisters of Glory, Arrested Development, Allman Brothers Band, Traffic, Santana, Green Day, Paul Rodgers Rock and Blues Revue, Spin Doctors, Porno For Pyros, Bob Dylan, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Peter Gabriel

Read more on Woodstock ’94 from our recent Comebacks and Reunions special feature


Bonus Top 9 List: Best Single Day, Single Location Shows

The Who at Concert for New York City

1. The Concert for New York City October 20, 2001. New York, NY
2. The Band’s Last Waltz November 25, 1976. San Francisco, CA
3. Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary Celebration May 14, 1988. New York, NY
4. Concert for Bangladesh August 1, 1971. New York, NY
5. Knebworh Festival June 30, 1990. Knebworth, UK
6. Texxas Jam July 1, 1978. Dallas, TX
7. Farm Aid September 22, 1985. Champaign, IL
8. Canada Jam August 26, 1990. Bowmanville, Ontario
9. Altamont Free Concert December 6, 1969. Tracy, CA

~

Ric Albano

Let It Bleed by The Rolling Stones

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Let It Bleed by The Rolling StonesThe middle release of the three greatest Rolling Stones albums, Let It Bleed finished the decade of the 1960s with a mostly solid blues/rock effort which contains a pop/rock gem. That song has been said to symbolize the demise of the “swinging sixties”, but can also lend meaning to many other situations, large and small. Closer to home, the Rolling Stones had lost their original leader and musical visionary Brian Jones to a drowning accident earlier in 1969, making this a true transitional album dividing the early and later periods of the band’s most productive years. Let It Bleed did reach the top position on the UK charts as well as #3 on the Billboard Top Pop Albums chart in the US.

Jones performed minor roles on two of the album’s nine tracks, while his replacement, Mick Taylor, plays guitar on only two tracks. This left a lot of space for Keith Richards to fill with various electric, acoustic, and steel guitars making this his finest output of his long career with the Stones. The dichotomy of order turning to disarray is portrayed in the carefully orchestrated cover image of several diverse items being supported by a record spindle, following into a chaotic state on the back cover of the LP.

A song recorded during the sessions for Let It Bleed but not included on the album was the popular hit, “Honky Tonk Woman”. Here Richard’s electric riff drove the song to number one on the singles chart during the summer of 1969, shortly after the death of Jones. A fiddle-laced earlier version of the song called “Country Honk” (on which Jones played) did appear on the album, complete with weird ambiance at the very beginning and very end. This version doesn’t have quite the spark of the single version, especially when it comes to the rhythm section, but it does show the group in a legitimate country stomp.


Let It Bleed by The Rolling Stones
Released: December 5, 1969 (Decca)
Produced by: Jimmy Miller
Recorded: Olympic Studios, London, November 1968-November 1969
Side One Side Two
Gimme Shelter
Love in Vein
Country Honk
Live With Me
Let it Bleed
Midnight Rambler
You Got the Silver
Monkey Man
You Can’t Always Get What You Want
Band Musicians
Mick Jagger – Lead Vocals, Harmonica
Keith Richards – Guitars, Vocals
Mick Taylor – Guitars
Brian Jones – Congas, Autoharp
Bill Wyman – Bass, Vibes
Charlie Watts – Drums, Percussion

 

The true gem on Let It Bleed (and perhaps the best Stones song ever) is the closer, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”. While a most adequate way for the Stones to conclude their sixties work, the song was actually recorded a year earlier in November 1968, before their previous album, Beggars Banquet, was even released. A mature song with fantastic content and sound, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, starts with a choral arrangement which morphs into a straight-forward acoustic folk ballad with French horn solo played by Al Kooper, who also played piano and organ during the later funk/rock sections. Lyrically, the song contains poetic lyrics most especially the classic extended verse;

I went down to the Chelsea drugstore, to get your prescription filled, I was standing in line with Mr. Jitters and man, did he look pretty ill
We decided that we would have a soda, my favorite flavor’s cherry red / I sang my song to Mr. Jitters and he said one word to me and that was death

This lyric gives a rather pedestrian story to the otherwise rock star lifestyle and you can see this song’s influence on future hybrid songs such as “American Pie”. During the fade, the London Bach Choir reenters for an extended outro which finishes the song and album nicely.

The album begins with “Gimme Shelter”, starting with a lot of sonic style with a sound that is distant and slightly doomy. Richard’s hammer-on guitar notes bed the ethereal singing of Mary Clayton, who trades vocal jabs with lead vocalist Mick Jagger through the apocalyptic lyrics of impending doom. Jagger and Richards wrote the original material on Let It Bleed, with Robert Johnson’s “Love in Vain” being the only cover. With nice overall acoustic and slide guitar effects, this was indicative of the group’s turn towards acoustic country blues, complete with mandolin by Ry Cooder.

“Live With Me” is a forgotten classic – funk influenced throughout and a forward-looking towards the Stones’ seventies sound. Beginning with cool bass riff by Bill Wyman, this definitive group number displays the group hitting on all cylinders during their prime. The title track “Let It Bleed” is a unidirectional song where a simple acoustic diddy builds throughout with new instruments gradually added. Jagger provides good vocal melodies and drummer Charlie Watts builds some good rhythm on this great tune to wrap up the first side, even if the song does linger a bit too long.

Side two begins with “Midnight Rambler”, a pure blues track which harkens back to the group’s earliest work musically with consistent, overdubbed harmonica by Jagger throughout its nearly seven minutes. With Brian Jones on congas, the song works into a frenzy before coming to a complete stop and builds up once again for the second half. “You Got the Silver” is more acoustic blues with cool electric riffs treated with reverse echo near the beginning of each verse and a subtle Hammond organ section before the song breaks into a full band arrangement during the final minute. It is also the only song on the album on which Richards sings lead vocals. Another song laced great sound effects, “Monkey Man” begins with cool piano, jazzy bass, and bluesy guitar expertly mixed. Richards’ guitar may be intentionally too loud in the mix for further effect, as the song’s style sets the stage for the material on their next album, Sticky Fingers.

By the end of the sixties, the Rolling Stones music had tones that were both textually dark and musically clear. This was further symbolized just one day after the release of Let It Bleed, the group played the infamous Altamont concert where a man lost his life during a riot as the band performed.

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1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1969 albums.

 

Beggars Banquet by The Rolling Stones

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Beggars Banquet by Rolling StonesReturning to their blues-based roots rock following the psychedelic pop of their 1967 album, Their Satanic Majesties Request, Rolling Stones hit their true artistic stride with Beggars Banquet. While most critics heralded this album as a “return to form” due to the predominance of blues-based roots rock, it was also a significant leap forward. This album began the group’s highest quality musical era, followed by Let It Bleed in 1969 and Sticky Fingers in 1971, which expanded the musical formula established on this album. Still, with a solid slate of compositions and top-notch production by Jimmy Miller, Beggars Banquet may be the group’s finest album ever.

The album’s production saw a major shift in responsibilities. Miller described guitarist Keith Richards as “a real workhorse”, co-writing most of the material and often recording multiple parts on each track. This was mostly due to the infrequent presence of group founder Brian Jones, who had been a major influence on the sound of past albums but had begun to behave erratically due to his drug use and emotional problems. Jones could never really be relied on and would show up when he was in the mood to play, often being more of a distraction than an asset.

Although the album was not released until December 1968, much of it was recorded in the early part of the year. These sessions also resulted in the non-album single “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”, one of the group’s most popular and recognizable songs. Written by Richards and lead vocalist, Mick Jagger, the song employs an infectious riff and opaque lyrics which may have been inspired by William Blake’s poem The Mental Traveller. Released in May 1968, the song previewed the sound of the upcoming Beggars Banquet album.


In Search of the Lost Chord by The Moody Blues
Released: December 6, 1968 (Decca)
Produced by: Jimmy Miller
Recorded: Olympic Studios, London, March–July 1968
Side One Side Two
Sympathy For the Devil
No Expectations
Dear Doctor
Parachute Woman
Jigsaw Puzzle
Street Fighting Man
Prodigal Son
Stray Cat Blues
Factory Girl
Salt of the Earth
Band Musicians
Mick Jagger – Lead Vocals, Acoustic Guitar
Keith Richards – Guitars, Vocals
Brian Jones – Guitars, Mellotron, Sitar, Tamboura, Vocals
Bill Wyman – Bass, Percussion, Vocals
Charlie Watts – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

 

The tribal rhythms signify from the start that this is album is a unique listen. Largely a Jagger composition, the lyrics are a first-person narrative from the point of view of Lucifer, traversing infamous historical moments right up to the (then) present day with the line “I shouted out ‘Who Killed the Kennedys?'” put in just days after Robert Kennedy’s assassination in June 1968. This is all backed by an intense rock arrangement, which builds on the percussive rhythms with piano by Nicky Hopkins and a repeated chorus yelps of “woo woo” by group members and several studio guests.

“No Expectations” is a simple and beautiful acoustic blues song, which sets the table for future Stones ballads such as “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, “Wild Horses” and “Angie”, Jones plays an acoustic slide guitar above the strumming by Richards in this melodic quasi-tribute to Robert Johnson. This is followed by “Dear Doctor”, an almost farcical attempt at blue grass which, despite its use of authentic instrumentation, feels really forced and out of place.

“Parachute Woman” is pure blues with simple rhythm topped by distant electric guitar and a raw and murky atmosphere led by Jagger’s mumbled sexual lyric and intense harmonica playing. “Jigsaw Puzzle” bookends the first side of Beggars Banquet with another extended rock highlight. The music is led by the very strong rhythm of drummer Charlie Watts and bassist Bill Wyman, who are joined in turn by Richards’ slide guitar, Jaggar’s strummed acoustic, and Hopkins’ honky-tonk piano. It constantly builds in intensity though its six minute duration with Dylan-esque lyrics and vocal patterns.

The second side begins with “Street Fighting Man”, the point on the album where Jagger shines brightest, with this great melodic journey throughout interpreting some politically controversial lyrics. The tune is a basic rock song built on a cassette recording of Richards on acoustic guitar and Watts on a 1930s toy drum set. However, it does morph a bit towards a more psychedelic feel near the end, with Jones performing a distinctive sitar and tamboura. Robert Wilkins’ “Prodigal Son” is the only cover on the album and it never relents from its acoustic drive and has a great sound right down to Jagger’s hickish vocals.

Compared to the other fine material on side two, “Stray Cat Blues” is a rather ho-hum rocker, aside from the interesting and intense outro with Watts’ fine drumming. “Factory Girl” works well as an ethnic jam with a three chord, piano-driven pattern. It is similar to an Appalachian folk tune in its minimal approach and features guest Ric Grech on fiddle. “Salt of the Earth” provides a melodramatic conclusion to the album as another acoustic ballad. The highlight of the song comes at the bridge, which is followed by the first full rock arrangement. Although this track contains some production flaws, it is still a great ending to the album.

Beggars Banquet reached the Top 5 on charts on both sides of the Atlantic. Within days of its release, the band filmed the full television production of Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus where they performed several songs from the album. The show also featured several contemporary guests such as The Who, Jethro Tull, John Lennon, and Eric Clapton, and was originally meant to be aired on the BBC. However, the Rolling Stones withheld it because they felt their own performance was substandard and it wasn’t released in any form until 1996.

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1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1968 albums.

 

Some Girls by The Rolling Stones

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Some Girls by The Rolling StonesSome Girls was a major commercial and critical success for the Rolling Stones in 1978. Here, the classic British rock group incorporated the new genres of disco, punk, along with New York style new wave while maintaining their core rock sound. The marathon sessions for this album consumed the entire winter of 1977-78 and ended up yielding about 50 new songs, many of which were used on future studio albums as well as countless bootleg recordings over the years. The engineering approach to recording differed from the sounds of mid seventies Stones albums, with the use of classic techniques along with state-of-the-art amplifiers.

The band added guitarist Ronnie Wood to the line-up, replacing Mick Taylor who left the band three years later. Wood had toured with the band as early as 1975 when he was still a member of the band Faces and his permanent addition added some much needed support for primary guitarist Keith Richards. Heroin dependency and a pending possession charge were a serious concern for the group during production of Some Girls. The Toronto drug bust held a real possibility that Richards might be sent to prison for years, but the ultimate judgment was an order to perform a charity show for The Canadian National Institute for the Blind.

During this era, vocalist Mick Jagger stepped up with a greater than usual role in songwriting and producing. Although Richards was present as co-producer and co-composer, Jagger gained control of the band’s musical direction for the next several albums through 1981’s Tattoo You. The result is a blend of glitzy and decadent rock which still makes it a definitive Stones album. However, not everyone was thrilled with this new musical direction, band manager and studio pianist Ian Stewert sat out the Some Girls sessions in protest of the approach.


Some Girls by The Rolling Stones
Released: June 9, 1978 (Rolling Stones)
Produced by: Mick Jagger & Keith Richards
Recorded: Pathé Marconi Studios, Paris, October 1977 – March 1978
Side One Side Two
Miss You
When the Whip Comes Down
Imagination
Some Girls
Lies
Far Away Eyes
Respectable
Before They Make Me Run
Beast of Burden
Shattered
Band Musicians
Mick Jagger – Lead Vocals, Guitar, Piano  |  Keith Richards – Guitars, Vocals
Ronnie Wood – Guitars, Vocals  |  Bill Wyman – Bass  |  Charlie Watts – Drums

 

The groovy bass of Bill Wyman leads the repetitive riff of “Miss You”. This was the lead single from Some Girls, released in May 1978 ahead of the album. It reached the top of the charts, becoming the Rolling Stones’ last U.S. #1 hit and rode the tail end of the disco wave. A highlight later in the song is the short saxophone solo by Mel Collins. “When the Whip Comes Down” features a fairly standard, Richards-based riff with a verse-chorus repeat pattern. Lyrically, the song is about a gay street hustler in an attempt by Jagger to show he has an ear for the American urban scene.

The cover of Norman Whitfield‘s and Barrett Strong’s “Imagination” is a pleasant enough update of the Temptations classic but not really a wise choice as album track (should have been reserved for a B-side or compilation). Wood’s Faces band mate Ian McLagan provides organ for the track. The title song “Some Girls” sounds a bit like a Scottish folk song on acid, with flanged out guitars and several stand-alone verses with guitar interludes before a break with harmonies and picked acoustic. The later verse is like a perverse updated version of “California Girls”, albeit using race and ethnicity instead of location, and the song ends with a fine blues harp lead by Sugar Blue, which is unfortunately cut short in the fade. “Lies” is a frantic song in a genre style developed by the Stones in the late seventies, on later songs such “Neighbors”. Held together by the steady beat by drummer Charlie Watts, the Stones end side one with a smoke-filled and ambiguous musical piece with lyrics equal parts irony and ecstasy.
 

 
Aside for the throwaway parody “Far Away Eyes”, side two provides the strongest moments on Some Girls. “Respectable” is fun and upbeat faux punk with Jagger supplying his relatively new guitar skills to complete a three-axe attack. The Rolling Stones do some self-examination of their admitted mid-seventies complacency and heed the wake-up call of their younger contemporaries. “Before They Make Me Run” is Richard’s outlaw anthem where he takes the mic for lead vocals and alludes to his own drug and legal problems.

“Beast of Burden” is the best song on the album. It contains well-crafted guitar interplay between Richards and Wood with a weaving attack. Vocally and lyrically, Jagger is superb as he delivers a classic blues anthem complete with the mid-section vocal testament, all with an entertaining and contemporary flair. The album concludes with “Shattered”, which bookends nicely with the opener “Miss You” as another somewhat improvised “disco” piece. Some have suggested this last track was a tribute to the New York Dolls, delighting in the degradation of New York City during its dark days of the seventies.

Some Girls reached #1 in the U.S. and eventually became the Rolling Stones biggest selling album in America, with over six million copies sold. The band embarked on summer tour of the states in 1978, where they played a few small venue shows under a pseudonym just for fun. They followed up with the similar sounding Emotional Rescue in 1980, which found more commercial success as well as inner turmoil which nearly broke up the band.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1978 albums.


1978 Images

 

Exile On Main Street by The Rolling Stones

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Exile On Main Street by The Rolling StonesMany esteemed and big-name rock publications have rated Exile On Main Street by The Rolling Stones as one of the greatest albums of all time (especially the publication which bears the same name as the band). Honestly, this fact may expose the single most egregious display of “group think” in the rock world or at the very least, a floating declaration that has gone unexamined for about 40 years. While the music is legitimate rock throughout, this 1972 double album pales in comparison to its predecessor, 1971’s single LP Sticky Fingers, while maintaining much of the same musical direction. In fact, there is very little new ground broken on Exile On Main Street, which fails to provide much stylistic variation among its four sides and seriously lacks top notch production quality. The album also presents a lack of band integrity, as many sessions featured outside players taking on prominent roles in the recordings.

The album featured material which was written and recorded between 1968 and 1972, with the bulk being done in the basement of a rented a villa called Nellcôte in France, while the band was on “tax exile” from their native England in late 1971. The loose plan was to sleep all day and record all night, but this loose setting and arrangement bred a rash of no-shows throughout the recording process, in which case band members and other players would fill in on instruments they may have not naturally played. Producer Jimmy Miller filled in on drums for a few tracks, while several players filled in on bass for Bill Wyman, who only played on about half of the tracks.

The resulting album is murky and raw, with the vocals of lead singer Mick Jagger often buried in the mix. While this is not terrible in of itself, it grows old over the course of 18 album tracks. Jagger has been critical of the album through the years, stating at the time of its release;

It’s very rock & roll, you know. I didn’t want it to be like that. I’m the more experimental person in the group, you see I like to experiment. Not go over the same thing over and over…everyone knows what their roots are, but you’ve got to explore everywhere…”

Apparently, much of the rock press expressed similar apprehension about the album at the time of release, but these mainstream critics have largely done an about-face and morphed in with the “all time greatest this” or “all time greatest that” party line.


Exile On Main Street by The Rolling Stones
Released: May 12, 1972 (Rolling Stones)
Produced by: Jimmy Miller
Recorded: Various Locations, June 1969–March 1972
Side One Side Two
Rocks Off
Rip This Joint
Shake Your Hips
Casino Boogie
Tumbling Dice
Sweet Virginia
Torn and Frayed
Sweet Black Angel
Loving Cup
Side Three Side Four
Happy
Turd On the Run
Ventilator Blues
I Just Want to See His Face
Let It Loose
All Down the Line
Stop Breaking Down
Shine a Light
Soul Survivor
Group Musicians
Mick Jagger – Lead Vocals
Keith Richards – Guitars, Vocals
Mick Taylor – Guitars
Bill Wyman – Bass
Charlie Watts – Drums

Jagger and guitarist Keith Richards wrote the bulk of the material. The first of the four sides may actually be the weakest on the album. It starts with the decent loose jam “Rocks Off”, a sound later echoed by Aerosmith on their album Draw the Line, but then devolves into the very average rockabilly of “Rip This Joint”. Both feature the rock piano of Nicky Hopkins, who had worked with the stones on past projects. The Slim Harpo cover “Shake Your Hips”, brings back a sound reminiscent of the band’s earliest blues material, but by the time we get to “Casino Boogie”, Jagger’s strained vocals start to wear thin on the listener and the album’s flow seems to be nonexistent.

“Tumbling Dice” is probably the most popular song from Exile, with lyrics that tell a story about a gambler. The song was originally slated for Sticky Fingers, and features band manager Ian Stewart on piano and second guitarist Mick Taylor filling in on bass for Wyman.

The second side is probably the best of the four, starting with the country-inspired “Sweet Virginia” where drummer Charlie Watts plays a nice shuffle and a saxophone solo is provided by Bobby Keys. Lyrically, this song is both folksy and frank;

But come on come on down sweet Virginia / come on honey child I beg of you
Come on come on down you got it in you / got to scrape that shit right off your shoes…”

“Torn and Frayed” sounds like it landed just short of being great, just a tad too unorganized and under-cooked to be taken very seriously. Still, it contains a great slide guitar by Richards and organ by Jim Price above the three-chord honky tonk. “Sweet Black Angel” hearkens back to the sound on 1967’s Between The Buttons and is one of the few tracks on this album to feature all five Rolling Stones playing their appropriate instruments. Unfortunately momentum is lost with “Loving Cup”, which slides back to the predictable and mundane sound of the first side.

“Happy” features Richards vocals and is a refreshing change-up in ways, with crisp brass accenting this second single from the album which reached the top 40 in the charts. Keys prides saxophone and percussion, while Jim Price adds trumpet. “Ventilator Blues” was co-written by Taylor, the only song on the album which a member of the Stones besides Jagger and Richards gets a songwriting credit. “I Just Want to See His Face” commences with a bad fade in from “Ventilator Blues” and is yet another exhibit of a very average piece being lauded. It is a repetitive and (slightly) improvised piece with some gospel influence, but not much more. “Let It Loose” starts with a different sound of effect-heavy guitar riff but this is the only really interesting part of the song, which once again seems undercooked and weakly composed.

The final side of the album begins with “All Down the Line”, again the same exact song over again save for Taylor’s interesting slide. The Robert Johnson cover “Stop Breaking Down” reveals an embarrassing gap in composition quality between much of the original material and this (then) 35-year-old song. “Shine a Light” is the last good song on the album, perhaps best song on the album. This piano ballad that is focused yet soulful and features the fantastic organ and piano work by Billy Preston and great backing vocals by Clydie King and Vanetta Fields. It was written mainly by Jagger back in 1968 about then-band member Brian Jones’ addiction to drugs and detachment from the rest of the band, but was left off the Beggars Banquet from that year. “Soul Survivor”, another really uninspired song, finishes off the side and the album.

Beatles producer George Martin has opined that their double “White” album may have worked better as a really good single album. That sentiment is multiplied and on steroids with Exile on Main Street, which would have worked best is saved for some future “basement tapes” collection. As a proper album of this great era, it is extremely average and definitely not the desert island record that so many had deemed it to be.

~

1972 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1972 albums.

 

Between the Buttons by The Rolling Stones

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Between the Buttons by The Rolling StonesBetween the Buttons was an album released in January 1967 by The Rolling Stones. Sonically, the album works well with the strong mid-sixties British rock that the Beatles produced with the Rubber Soul and Revolver albums while it also previews some of the more artful productions of 1967. Following the ambitious 1966 album Aftermath, this album is a further morphing of the band away from their R&B roots. The album is also the last in which founding member Brian Jones played a major role in song arrangements, although he would remain an official band member for another two-and-a-half years. Jones played a huge array of instruments above the steady rock and blues rhythms, giving the album a definitive musical edge. It was published simultaneously with the double-A single “Let’s Spend the Night Together”/”Ruby Tuesday”, both of which were included on the U.S. version of the album. Between the Buttons was the last Stones album to have different versions as the record company practice was all but eliminated after 1967.

“Let’s Spend the Night Together” is a pure rocker with guitarist and songwriter Keith Richards taking on much of the musical details, playing guitar, bass, and piano on the track. The song reached #3 on the UK charts. Although this was the intended “A side” of the single, the 45 was often flipped over by DJs to play “Ruby Tuesday”, due to the then-controversial nature of the lyrics (with its suggestion of casual sex) most radio stations opted to play the flip side “Ruby Tuesday” instead, which went on to become a #1 hit in America. Possibly the best psychedelic song by the stones, “Ruby Tuesday” was recorded nearly simultaneous with the Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever” and explores similar musical territory. Jones led the way on this track, playing piano and recorder, with double bass recorded by bassist Bill Wyman (who pressed the strings) and Richards (who bowed the strings). The song also has a really nice melody sung by Jagger.

Between the Buttons was the last of five early Rolling Stones produced by the band’s manager Andrew Loog Oldham and was recorded on a four track machine, with much “track bouncing” to accommodate the rich arrangements. Lead vocalist and songwriter Mick Jagger has expressed dissatisfaction with the end result due to the excess tape noise generated by track bouncing and excessive overdubbing.


Between the Buttons by The Rolling Stones
Released: January 20, 1967 (Decca)
Produced by: Andrew Loog Oldham
Recorded: Los Angeles & London, August-December 1966
Side One Side Two
Yesterday’s Papers
My Obsession
Back Street Girl
Connection
She Smiled Sweetly
Cool, Calm & Collected
All Sold Out
Please Go Home
Who’s Been Sleeping Here?
Complicated
Miss Amanda Jones
Something Happened to Me Yesterday
Tracks On Alternate Album Version
Let’s Spend the Night Together
Ruby Tuesday
Band Musicians
Mick Jagger – Lead Vocals, Harmonica
Keith Richards – Guitars, Piano, Vocals
Brian Jones – Guitars, Piano, Dulcimer, Vibraphone, Saxophone, Percussion
Bill Wyman – Bass, Vocals
Charlie Watts – Drums, Percussion

 

The subtle bass-driven “Yesterday’s Papers” starts the album with a heavy dose of marimba by Jones. The song was written solely by Jagger about a recent relationship which went sour. Road manager Ian Stewart, a former player in the band, lent is boogie-piano skills to a couple of tracks. “My Obsession” is segmented into sections which each start over with a drum beat and contain some cool traditional rock sounds and Jagger swagger throughout. Stewart also plays on “Connection”, written mostly Richards (who shares lead vocals), a popular live rock song for years to come.

The Rolling Stones in 1967“Back Street Girl” takes a completely different approach. A pleasant and melancholy ballad with a well-crafted acoustic by Richards, a great melody by Jagger, and Brian Jones on accordion, giving the song some great depth and feel. Although this was excluded from the US version, this is one of the finest tracks on the album. “She Smiled Sweetly” continues the foray into different sub-genres, as a flute-laced organ introduces a moderate waltz with some nice rock elements, especially by Wyman and drummer Charlie Watts. The first side concludes with “Cool, Calm & Collected”, which alternates between the upbeat verses driven by the boogie piano of Jack Nitzche and the calm psychedelic choruses, which feature a sitar by Jones. Later in the song Jagger adds a harmonica and the song speeds up before reaching a crashing end.

The second side begins with the few songs on the album which feature a prominent amount of electric guitar, “All Sold Out” and “Please Go Home”, the second of which features a Bo Diddley-style “Hand Jive” riff. “Who’s Been Sleeping Here?” starts with an acoustic intro before breaking into good musical motif with piano, harmonica, and some exceptional bass by Wyman. “Complicated” is another song featuring a potpourri of sound while maintaining a very pop-oriented sound.

<em>Between the Buttons</em>

The album concludes with a perfect closer, “Something Happened to Me Yesterday”. Here Richards adds some dry and pleasant vocals to this upbeat and happy-go-lucky duet, which sounds like it borrowed some of its sound from the Kinks. The song is allegedly about Richards’ first LSD trip, but it stays away from the deeper, surreal sound scape (which the band would explore on their next album), for a more upbeat sound with Jones playing a complex brass arrangement by Nitzsche.

In spite of the lack of defining electric guitar representation, Between the Buttons proved to be the most solid rock album of their early catalog. It also contains strong signs of the direction they would take on their late ’67 release Their Satanic Majesties Request, the most controversial album of their career.

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1967 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1967 albums.

 

Aftermath by The Rolling Stones

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Aftermath by Rolling StonesAlthough it was their fourth album released in Britain and their sixth album released in America, Aftermath was really the second “true” album by The Rolling Stones, following 1965’s Out Of Our Heads. This one, like that previous one, was released in two distinct versions in the UK and in the USA, a common practice for the day (this review will look at the “greater” album, considering all the tracks included on either version of Aftermath). The UK hit single “Paint It Black” was added to the American version, replacing four songs that were included on the UK version.

With Out Of Our Heads, the band reached the peak of their mid-sixties (then cutting-edge) mixture of Chicago-style blues and pop-rock. Aftermath builds on this while it progresses the band more towards their distinct sound and image as “rock and roll’s bad boys”. It is also the first Stones album to include all original material, written by the tandem of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Although not himself a songwriter, multi-instrumentalist Brian Jones was the driving force behind some of the unique and distinct sonic quality of the album. Jones incorporated wider musical influences, such as psychedelia and folk, and widely expanded the use of instrumentation, with songs on Aftermath including touches of dulcimer, sitar, marimba, and various keyboards.

Aftermath was also the first Rolling Stones album to be recorded entirely in the United States at the legendary RCA Studios in Hollywood and it was the first album the band released in true stereo.
 


Aftermath by Rolling Stones
Released: April 15, 1966 (Decca)
Produced by: Andrew Loog Oldham
Recorded: RCA Studios, Hollywood, December 1965-March 1966
Side One Side Two
Mother’s Little Helper
Stupid Girl
Lady Jane
Under My Thumb
Doncha Bother Me
Goin’ Home
Flight 505
High And Dry
Out Of Time
It’s Not Easy
I Am Waiting
Take It or Leave It
Think
What To Do
Song Included On U.S. Version
Paint It, Black
Band Musicians
Mick Jagger – Lead Vocals, Harmonica
Keith Richards – Guitars, Vocals
Brian Jones – Guitars, Dulcimer, Sitar, Keyboards, Percussion, Vocals
Bill Wyman – Bass, Organ
Charlie Watts – Drums. Percussion, Marimba

 
Much of the music’s backbone is still rooted in Chicago electric blues, with Jones’ instrumental tangents adding strategic flavoring to several songs. The opener “Mother’s Little Helper” contains a signature riff of heavily compressed 12-string electric guitar played with a slide. The song itself is a Beatle-esque, upbeat ode with a much darker message about drug dependency that made it one of the more thought provoking songs of the era.

“Stupid Girl” features a Fafsa organ by band manager and studio keyboardist Ian Stewart. It has the musical vibe of mid-sixties surf music and contains some juvenile lyrics that degrade the band’s groupies, one of several songs on the album that portray the fairer sex in a less-than-stellar light. Feminists have long lamented the message in “Under My Thumb”, which speaks of gaining the “upper hand” in a sexual relationship. No matter the message, the music to this song is absolutely brilliant, led by Jones’ marimba riff throughout with Richards’ acoustic and electric guitars and Bill Wyman‘s driving “fuzz” bass. Jones later brings back the marimba for the Phil Spector-esque “Out of Time”. This song was soon covered by English solo artist Chris Farlowe, whose recording was actually produced by Mick Jagger and reached number one on the UK singles in July, 1966.

Paint It Black by Rolling Stones“Paint It, Black” is, in reality, constructed very similar to the band’s 1965 smash hit “Satisfaction”, in the sense that a catchy and heavy rock song is wrapped around a signature riff. However, the riff on “Paint It, Black” uses the much more exotic sitar which Jones recently learned from Beatles guitarist and Indian music enthusiast George Harrison. During the verse, drummer Charlie Watts adds to the atmosphere by playing a Middle Eastern-flavored drum pattern while Jagger contributed the dark lyrics, about depression, mourning, and cynicism. Keith Richard plays both electric and acoustic guitars as well as contributes background vocals to this hit song.

“Lady Jane” showcases Brian Jones on dulcimer and has a middle-age feel throughout due to its distinct instrumentation and precise vocals. Fans have long considered this song a hidden gem from Aftermath and critics have long argued that Jones deserved a song writing credit. The dulcimer is brought back by Jones on “I Am Waiting”, another good, meditative song.

Unfortunately, Aftermath does include a lot of filler as not all the songs hit the mark. “Goin’ Home” is an 11-minute blues jam, remarkable for its length in the era, but really Mundane in its delivery. “It’s Not Easy” is uninspired, basic filler while “Think” is a feeble attempt to rip-off “Satisfaction” with its buzz and precisely picked strings falling short of anything really interesting. Other songs are more interesting but don’t seem quite done, such as the bluesy “Doncha Bother Me”, the piano rocking “Flight 505”, and the upbeat, acoustic folk/bluegrass “High and Dry”, which has a nice edge due to Jagger’s vocals and Jones’ blues harp, but also contains an annoying, up-front and distracting hi-hat beat.

Rolling Stones in 1966

Aftermath would ultimately be the high-water mark for Brian Jones’ influence on the band. Over the next few years and albums, his contributions were eventually diminished in lieu of the Jagger/Richards influence until he was ultimately nudged out of the band in 1969. He died shortly thereafter under mysterious circumstances.

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1966 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of 1966 albums.

Tattoo You by The Rolling Stones


Tattoo You by Rolling Stones
Part of the fun of reviewing all these great albums is discovering that some of your own long held preconceptions are, in fact, false. Approaching this album, Tattoo You by The Rolling Stones, I was “sure” on a couple of things that I had always “known”. I was “sure” it was a bit of a comeback album for the band, a return to Sticky Fingers-like rock n’ roll after the various glam, disco, and funk tangents that the band undertook in the 1970s. I was also “sure” that it was a fun and cohesive album for the band to make (I mean, just listen to the first two songs and tell me they’re not having fun).

But with some initial research for this article, I found that I was wrong on both counts. The album is not directed or cohesive. It is a mishmash of unreleased material recorded over that same time period when the Stones were exploring different tangents. It was also recorded at a time of great stress within the band, so it was hardly “fun” to make, despite the resulting vibe.

In fact, album’s creation is the direct result of a practical business decision. The band was about to embark on a huge worldwide tour in late 1981/early 1982, and it was decided that having a new album to promote would boost the band’s ticket sales. With no time to write, rehearse, and record new material, long time associate and producer Chris Kimsey stepped in. He told the band that he could make an album from what he knew already existed as outtakes over the past decade or so and began sifting through old recordings to find suitable material.
 


Tattoo by Rolling Stones
Released: August 24, 1981 (Rolling Stones)
Produced by: Chris Kimsey, Mick Jaggar, & Keith Richards
Recorded: Various Locations, November, 1972 – June, 1981
Side One Side Two
Start Me Up
Hang Fire
Slave
Little T&A
Black Limousine
Neighbours
Worried About You
Tops
Heaven
No Use in Crying
Waiting on a Friend
Band Musicians
Mick Jagger – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Harmonica
Keith Richards – Guitars, Vocals | Ronnie Wood – Guitars, Vocals
Bill Wyman – Bass, Synthesizer | Charlie Watts – Drums

 
Kimsey spent a few months going through the material from several previous Stones albums, discovering many incomplete or under-developed songs that had been either forgotten or rejected in the past. The earliest of these would become the songs “Tops” and “Waiting For a Friend”, the latter being Tattoo You‘s critically acclaimed signature number that closes the album’s laid back second-side.

These songs were originally written and recorded in late 1972 during the sessions for the album Goat’s Head Soup and feature ex-guitarist Mick Taylor. “Waiting For a Friend” also features a solo by jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins.

In 1975, during the sessions for the album Black and Blue, the band recording the backing tracks for a reggae-influenced song, but after twenty or so takes they got frustrated and shelved it. This same song would be re-born three more times during sessions for subsequent albums, as “Never Stop” during the sessions for Some Girls in 1977, then as “Start It Up” during the Emotional Rescue sessions in 1979. At that time, most of the band were convinced they had a hit, but guitarist Keith Richards was sure that he heard something very similar on the radio somewhere and insisted it be scrapped. Finally, with the production of Tattoo You, the song would be released as “Start Me Up” to tremendous success, reaching #2 on the Billboard pop charts, a position that the band would not reach or eclipse again in their lengthy career.
 

 
The remainder of the album comes from the sessions of those two most recent albums, Some Girls and Emotional Rescue. Most of these “songs” already had the instrument tracks recorded and just lacked vocals from Mick Jaggar. In fact, the bulk of the actual recording sessions for Tattoo You Jaggar was the only band member in attendance. The exceptions were “Neighbours” and “Heaven” which were the only brand new songs on the album.

Physical Graffiti Cover Building

However, even though the album was not constructed in a traditional fashion nor did it contain much up-to-date material, it certainly used cutting promotion. On August 1, 1981, MTV went on the air, a mere three weeks before the album’s release. The band would produce four videos to appear on the new network, including a rather creative one for “Neighbours” that plays off of Alfred Hitchcock’s film Rear Window and a memorable one for “Waiting For a Friend” that takes place in front of the same New York building featured on the cover of Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti.

The use of this new cable medium, would bring this (then) twenty-year-old band front and center to a new generation of music fans, including myself. At thirteen, I believed this was all new material by the Rolling Stones, and I continued to believe so right up until earlier this week.

~
Ric Albano

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1981 albums.

Sticky Fingers
by The Rolling Stones

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Sticky Fingers is the third of the trilogy of Rolling Stones albums that, in our opinion, comprise the heart of the band’s prime. The first two were Beggars Banquet in 1968 and Let It Bleed in 1969, which collectively provided the sessions from which three of the songs on this album originated. However, Sticky Fingers stands out from the rest by being a distinctly transitional album. It is the band’s first “independent” album on their own Rolling Stones label and it bridges the gap between their hit-making, English-sound of the 1960s and the more urban-American sounding Stones that would develop through the 1970s.

Further, this album is also one of the first that is a bit reflective of the sixties culture and attitudes, something that would be repeated by many others throughout the seventies. The large number of (mostly) negative references to drugs shows an awakening in response to the recent deaths of Hendrix, Joplin, and Morrison and morbid wondering if there may be some among this band that will be next to go to the grave. This is also the first studio release since the 1969 debacle at Altamont, a festival which was supposed to be a west coast counterpart to Woodstock but ended up in a riot which resulted in the death of an audience member.

But the main reason for this transition is due to a major shift in personal, away from the band’s original leader Brian Jones, who was dismissed from the band in 1969 and then died mysteriously a few months later. Jones’ replacement was 20-year-old guitarist Mick Taylor, who makes his mark on Sticky Fingers as a suitable counterpart to Keith Richards.
 


Sticky Fingers by Rolling Stones
Released: April 23, 1971 (Rolling Stones)
Produced by: Jimmy Miller
Recorded: Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, Alabama; Olympic Studios, London
March, 1969 – January, 1971
Side One Side Two
Brown Sugar
Sway
Wild Horses
Can’t You Hear Me Knocking
You Gotta Move
Bitch
I Got the Blues
Sister Morphine
Dead Flowers
Moonlight Mile
Band Musicians
Mick Jagger – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Keith Richards – Guitars, Vocals
Mick Taylor – Guitars
Bill Wyman – Bass, Piano
Charlie Watts – Drums

 
The song that elevates Sticky Fingers from a good album to a great album is “Wild Horses”. Recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Alabama in December 1969, this ode to heartbreak contains sweet excellent interplay between the electric and acoustics of Richards and Taylor, along with some of Mick Jaggar‘s finest lyrics ever;

“I’ve watched you suffer a dull aching pain / now you’ve decided to show me the same…”

The song was allegedly written about Marianne Faithfull, who played another large role on this album, as co-writer of the dark “Sister Morphine”, the oldest song on the album, dating back to March 1969, when Jaggar and Richards backed up Faithfull on what was originally a song of her own.

“Sister Morphine” is the first of the three songs that close the album with similar drugs n doom lyrical themes. The next is “Dead Flowers” which, although just as dark lyrically, is a nice upbeat and light departure from its melodramatic predecessor, even though Jaggar’s country voice is less than convincing. His voice is much more suited for the album’s fine closer, “Moonlight Mile”, a moody, melancholy, and slightly dark ballad that eases the listener out of the album. Like much of the album, it was recorded in March 1970 at Jaggar’s home at Stargroves and is the product of an all-night session between the singer and guitarist Mick Taylor after Keith Richards mysteriously disappeared from the sessions.

Aside from the country feel of “Dead Flowers”, the band experimented with a few other genres on Sticky Fingers. “You Gotta Move” is an attempt at 1930s Delta Blues, obviously in response to some of early work by Led Zeppelin. Another song, “I Got the Blues” is a better effort that tilts towards sixties soul and contains some excellent organ by guest Billy Preston.
 
Rolling Stones in 1971
 
The glue that holds the album together is three solid rockers built around Richards’ signature riffs. “Brown Sugar” and “Bitch” are quasi-twin songs that open each side to the upbeat, catchy vibe that made this band so popular in the first place. In fact, this was played out in real time as the opener actually hit #1 on the pop charts. And then there is the classic “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking”, a hybrid that goes from a rocker hitting on all cylinders that suddenly relents into a wild, five-minute instrumental section with guests Rocky Dijon on congas and Bobby Keys on saxophone, and a spacey, droning guitar section by Taylor.

Models of longevity, the Rolling Stones surely did some fine and interesting work over the years and decades that followed 1971. But they would never quite reach the level of Sticky Fingers again.

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1971 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1971 albums.