The Rolling Stones – Let It Bleed

Let It Bleed (1969)


1. Gimme Shelter 2. Love In Vain 3. Country Honk 4. Live With Me 5. Let It Bleed 6. Midnight Rambler 7. You Got The Silver 8. Monkey Man 9. You Can’t Always Get What You Want


So, Herman Cain is out of the race. I sure will miss him and his video game-based tax plan. Not to mention his fabulous taste in poetry. I was really looking forward to his presidency and subsequent declaration of war against Ubeki-beki-beki-stan-stan. But all those damn bitches who he was just trying to be friendly with got a stick called political correctness lodged up their ass and just wouldn’t let him be. All kidding aside, I find it astounding that his poll numbers held steady during the accusations of sexual assault, because every Republican knows that sexual assault in the workplace is just a myth invented by bimbos with no sense of humor. But once it came out that he’d had a consensual, albeit extramarital, affair, only then did his numbers tank. Because Bill Clinton did that and therefore it must be wrong. Which brings me to Newt Gingrich. Actually, no, it doesn’t bring me there. I’d rather avoid going there at all costs. Yuck.

I couldn’t think of a segue, so I’ll just get right down to business here. The sessions for Let It Bleed began when Brian Jones was still in the band, and weren’t completed until he turned up dead in his swimming pool. If you’re interested in the Brian Jones Story, I implore you not to watch the godawful movie Stoned, which dangerously treads the surprisingly thin line between “bad biopic” and “softcore porno,” and instead allow me to summarize the ending for you. In early 1969, Brian “reached a mutual agreement with the rest of the Stones about leaving the band” (got fired for being perpetually stoned and generally completely useless musically and personally) and, in July, “had a misadventure in his swimming pool and drowned” (was possibly murdered by his landscaper). Sad, but life in Stonesworld goes on. Keith had been playing most of the guitar parts since 1966 anyway, and, after Beggars Banqet, the band wasn’t exactly playing sitar-friendly music anymore, which didn’t leave much of a role in the band for Brian anyway. So to appease Keith’s desire for a long-overdue new sparring partner, the Stones recruited shy little 20-year old virtuoso Mick Taylor from John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. They put out a new hit single featuring their new guitar player (“Honky Tonk Women,” the last of those blasted non-album singles), played their first show since early 1967 in Hyde Park in London as a memorial for Brian, and carried on recording their new album.

As such, Let It Bleed can and has been described as the first Stones album of the Mick Taylor era, which is technically correct. But, for now, I don’t give a rat’s ass about Little Mick, because Bleed is Keith’s baby all the way. Taylor only plays on two tracks, which is actually the same amount of tracks is Brian allegedly plays on (he’s credited for autoharp on “You Got The Silver” and “tribal drums” on “Midnight Rambler,” but I’m assuming Keith just deleted his tracks cause I don’t hear any of that). MT mans the lap steel on “Country Honk,” a back porch hick country version of “Honky Tonk Women” that’s fun but sort of makes me wish they’d just included “Honky Tonk Women” instead, and plays guitar on “Live With Me.” But that’s the extent of his services here.  Every other guitar part on the album is played by Keith. That may not seem like a big deal to, say, Jimmy Page fans, but the Stones are not Led Zeppelin. They are, and always have been, designed to be a two-guitar band. And, furthermore, Keith is not a natural lead guitarist; the magic of his playing lies in his impeccable timing and feel than virtuosic ability. Stones songs are about the riffs, not the solos (though, to be fair, just wait and see what the new guy can do). But, having no other choice, he carries the band almost completely on his back on Let It Bleed, and does such a remarkable job, one begins to wonder if he shouldn’t have forced to do it more often.

Mr. Riffhard simply does it all here – that’s him playing the super phat bassline on the propulsive rocker “Live With Me,” which is notable not only for introducing the guitar of Mick Taylor to the fold, but also the saxophone of jovial Texan/Keith party buddy Bobby Keys, who served as the foundation of the soulful horn section that would become an ingrained part of the Stones’ sound for the next several years. That’s him playing that fearsome, chirping riff on the soaring “Monkey Man,” providing the perfect foil for Mick’s awesomely sneering dissection of his and the band’s own public persona at the time (“Hope we’re not too messianic, or a trifle too Satanic/And we love to play the blues!”). That’s him thrillingly twisting around the riff of the serial killer-centric “blues opera” “Midnight Rambler” so many times that he almost begins to seem inhuman for coming up with so many impeccable rhythmic permutations in one song. If you’ve listened to as many live Stones bootlegs as I have, the studio version of “Rambler” might come across as inferior to the rocked up, jammed out versions they play on tour, which speaks volumes – when you’re able to call a song this brilliant “inferior,” you know the band that made it is pretty fucking good. Keith even makes his lead vocal debut on the touchingly tender, heart-on-sleeve country ballad “You Got The Silver,” which is guaranteed to melt your heart – even if your heart is only G(ing)rinch-sized. If held up at gunpoint and forced under penalty of death to name one critique of Keef’s performance on this album, I’d say that he is far from the best slide guitarist in the world. I’m quite sure he’d agree with me, seeing as he always makes it a point to have the guitarist in the band be a great slide guitar player (Brian, Mick Taylor, Ronnie Wood). However, without that luxury on Bleed, he plays all the slide parts himself, and his nasally tone and sloppy execution can be a bit grating at times. Mick Taylor’s angelic slide chops would’ve been a nice tool to put to use in certain places, like on the slow Robert Johnson cover “Love In Vain.” Don’t get me wrong, it’s sublime, and Ry Cooder’s mandolin solo is great, but, like with “Rambler,” it’s hard for me to get the subsequent live versions, complete with MT going off on multiple mind-blowing solos, out of my head. Ah, fuck it… just give me both versions. That would be quite all right with me.

Ah, you wanna know about the bookends, don’t you? Begin at the end with “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” the first Stones song I ever knew since my dad used to sing it to me as a lullaby when I was but a wee lad. Brilliant choice, no? What better message to give to a whiny, crying, needy baby than “you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you just might find you get what you need?” Everyone always complains about the London Boys’ Choir’s appearance on the track, and though I’ll concede that their intro is corny, admit it, when they come in at the end, it’s chill-inducing! It’s probably the only chance you’ll ever get to hear pasty young British boys convincingly sing gospel, in any case. It’s a wonderfully uplifting conclusion, and thus just about the tonal opposite of the opener “Gimme Shelter,” which ain’t nothing, unless you think being the soundtrack to the apocalypse is a big deal. Two great anecdotes about its recording: first, immediately after the band finished the final take, the neck of the guitar Keith was using snapped clean off as if provoked by a magic spell. The music gods must have been trying to tell them that they’d nailed it. Second, Merry Clayton, the chick who sings the roof-shaking “rape, murder” part suffered a miscarriage as direct result of the intensity of her performance. Because that’s what “Gimme Shelter” does. It breaks guitars and fucking kills unborn babies. If I had that kind of power with music, I like to think I’d use it only for good. But let’s be honest – the fact that the Stones used it for evil is what makes them so fucking great.

One Comment

  1. victoid wrote:

    Running out of gas? Reviews are starting to mirror tectonic drift. But hey…it is the Stones. They can do that to a person.

    Anyway how can Brian be “generally completely useless musically “and “…the guitarist in the band be a great slide guitar player (Brian…) simultaneously? And where oh where is Jimmy Miller’s name here?

    Otherwise, I can never get enough Stones blahblah. Keep it up and bless your evil mind!