What? Yet another Rolling Stones' "best of" album? Wait, I know! Maybe the Stones signed a pact with their sympathetic friend that requires them to put out an album every year even if Mick and Keith don't have any songs. That might explain why The Stones have about six greatest hits albums and four live albums in their 20 years. But for a hardcore Stones fan like myself, none of these records are really essential, and the latest album, Rewind, continues in that tradition.
So what I am going to do here is give you a retrospective of the Rolling Stones' history, mentioning the 11 or so albums that are essential.
1964 - England's Newest Hitmakers
From the title of their debut, you can tell that the record company was trying to package them as the next Beatles. But from the first acoustic strums of "Not Fade Away" to the final howls of "Walking The Dog," it was obvious that this was something different from the Merseybeat sound. It was, well, nastier and more ominous. It was also rock hard white '60s English R&B like nothing ever heard before.
1964 - The Rolling Stones, Now
On their third album in a single year, the Stones are still exploring hard-rock R&B. Their version of Bo Diddley's "Mona" is definitive. But the original Jagger/Richards' songs are starting to be more than just white R&B as Mick's keen eye for detail begins to inform his story-like lyrics. A major breakthrough is just around the corner.
1965 - Out of Our Heads
"Satisfaction" is that breakthrough. In a year that gave us "Like a Rolling Stone" and "My Generation," it was still a landmark song. And the songs that surrounded it on this record -- "One More Try," "The Last Time," and "Mercy Mercy," in particular -- were extremely potent.
1966 - Aftermath
This is considered by many critics to be the best Rolling Stones album with Brian Jones. While it is true that Brian contributes extensively, the sound is very muddy, and 11:35 of "Going Home" is too much. Aftermath is noted primarily as the first album with all Jagger/Richards compositions. On "Stupid Girl," "Under My Thumb," "It's Not Easy," Mick's apparent misogynist lyrical tendencies come to their peak. For all of that, I still find Aftermath overrated.
1967 - Between The Buttons
My favorite Stones album of the 1960s. Made under the influence of Dylan's Blonde on BlondeBetween The Buttons is the most consistently weird album they ever made. "My Obession" is based on a repeating Charlie Watts drum pattern, "Cool, Calm and Collected" and "Something Happened to Me Yesterday" have strange horn/orchestral settings, and "Miss Amanda Jones," "All Sold Out," and "Connection" are rockers in a style that confused long-time fans. Between The Buttons was probably their most subdued album up to that time, and yet it was their most powerful because it used their status as a powerful hard rock band as a foundation to base their musical experimentation on. Plus, it has the extra added bonus of only two songs -- "Let's Spend the Night Together," and "Ruby Tuesday," -- anybody's ever heard. An undiscovered gem.
1968 -- Beggars Banquet
Contains "Street Fighting Man," a pretty potent anti-politics manifesto with the immortal couplet: "What can a poor boy do/'cept for sing in a rock 'n' roll band," and "Stray Cat Blues," their best groupie song ever (and influence by the Velvet Underground, according to Mick). Balanced against these explosions are a series of quiet acoustic blues pieces -- and the explosion of Keith's guitar solo on "Sympathy For The Devil"
1969 -- Let It Bleed
Brian Jones was well on his way of being a victim of stardom, and Mick Taylor hadn't joined the band yet, but the Hard Knox And Durty Sox of most of Let It Bleed is amazing. Only "Midnight Rambler," where Mick tries to extend his bad-guy persona too far, rambles too much. Meanwhile, "Live With Me" and "Monkey Man," show previews of the '70s Stones as decadent slobs, and "Let It Bleed," "Love in Vain," and "You Can't Always Get What You Want" show the '60s Stones as nice guys. "Gimme Shelter" just shows them as the (self-proclaimed) "World's Greatest Rock and Roll Band."
1971 -- Sticky Fingers
All votes for this as the best Rolling Stones album will be considered by the judges. "Brown Sugar" and "Bitch" continue in their tradition of great, controversial singles; "Sister Morphine" is a horrifying drug song (or is it a beautiful love ballad?); and "Moonlight Mile" is a beautiful love ballad (or is it a horrifying drug song?). "Can't You Hear Me Knocking" blazes through 90 seconds of their best music ever then meanders through five minues of pointless Latin jam. And "Sway" is one of the single most powerful tracks -- lyrically and musically -- they've ever done.
1972 -- Exile on Main St.
On the surface, this is an undirected, muddy mess. Dig under that surface and you find four sides of the rock and roll made by people who understand it more than anybody before or since. The decipherable lyrics are great, the horn parts fit, and Mick and Keith reach a peak of wild intensity in their singing. "Rocks Off," "Tumbling Dice." "Torn and Frayed," "Loving Cup," "Happy," "All Down The Line," and "Soul Survivor" are all cosmic Stones classics, and I would consider this one of the two or three greatest albums in rock's history. The climax of their career.
Those paying attention might notice that this ends in 1972, and only encompasses 8 albums, not 11, like I promised. Believe you me, this caused me great consternation at the time. The last three albums (I don't remember, but I assume that they were Black and Blue, Some Girls, and Tattoo You ) were summarily cut by the Collegian's editorial staff. There were also a lot of typos and terrible edits. Even worse, they saddled it with a headline that went "Stones: 20 years of minimal merit," which made it seem like I hated them. This all pissed me off at the time, but now that I think of it, I was also partly to blame for being (imagine this!) too long-winded, and forcing them to cut it somewhere.
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This document HTMLized 15 August 2001
I was listening to Magnetic Fields -- 69 Love Songs