So it’s 2012 and it’s time for another jubilee.
This time it’s the turn of The Rolling Stones, who are celebrating 50 years since their first ever gig at the Marquee Club in London on July 12th, 1962. They’ve begun the festivities with a photographic exhibition whilst making coy noises about a possible forthcoming anniversary tour and maybe even a new album.
To show our appreciation, Live4ever counts down five of our essential Stones albums of all time – one for each decade.
This is a surprisingly dark album from 1966, with the Stones casting themselves as the anti-Beatles. Hear the way Jagger sneers his way through ‘Stupid Girl’ and ‘Under My Thumb’ – often misinterpreted as anti-feminist – whilst the band experiment in the studio with exotic instrumentation. To that end, Brian Jones is all over this album, contributing, deep breath, Marimbas (providing the lead hook on the aforementioned Under My Thumb and Out Of Time), as well as bells, dulcimer, sitar, koto, keyboards, harmonica and of course, guitars.
Top track: ‘Under My Thumb’
Five years on from ‘Aftermath’, and the Stones were a different beast all together. The English-ness that had crept into their sound during the 60s had been replaced with a return to blues based riffing and Americanised overdriven guitars. And ‘Sticky Fingers’ should be a case study in opening an album with a killer riff: step forward ‘Brown Sugar’. There are many underrated delights to be found here, such as ‘Sway’, ‘I Got The Blues’ and the gorgeous, swooning ‘Moonlight Mile’. However, friend-of-Keith Gram Parsons inspired the pick of the bunch on this long player – or as is rumoured, he may have even co-written it!
Top track: ‘Wild Horses’
It’s the late 60s and the Stones have quickly gotten wise to the core of the peace and love hippie ideal that quite frankly, is a load of bloody nonsense.
On this classic from ’68, we’re treated to the Stones emerging from their ill-advised psychedelic period – no one could out-Beatles The Beatles – with a melting pot of voodoo rhythms (‘Sympathy For The Devil’), front-porch blues (‘Dear Doctor’), sweet and tender balladry (‘No Expectations’), uplifting gospel (‘Salt Of The Earth’) and the most menacing acoustic guitar of all time (‘Street Fighting Man’). There is variation on this album, but the Stones seem to be settling into what the Stones really are; rather than trying to keep pace with the Fab Four.
Top track: ‘Sympathy For The Devil’
Every single song on this album is a classic. From the cooler than liquid nitrogen intro of opener ‘Gimme Shelter’ through to the carousing gospel fade of ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’, this is the sound of the Stones working their way upwards through the gears. ‘Midnight Rambler’ is drawn out in a hazy, druggy fug of distorted harmonica and blues jamming whilst ‘Honky Tonk Women’ is reworked in the Deep South cotton fields as ‘Country Honk’. However, it’s ‘Monkey Man’, an under-appreciated gem that steals the show here. The Stones aurally refine the menacing image they’d adopt in the 70s to an almost self-parodying extent. It’s quite simply the Stones personified in song.
Top track: ‘Monkey Man’
The band’s finest hour (and seven minutes), this is Keith’s baby. During the making of this album, the Stones genuinely were in self-exile from Britain (from the taxman in particular), at a grand but decrepit house in France called Nellcote. With the lifestyles led by various band members in 1971, it’s amazing that an album got made at all, let alone the strongest in the band’s canon. But by working endlessly, day and night, in Nellcote’s basement a wealth of material began to take shape and mould into a double-album. The guitars are louder, the vocals buried – possibly why it’s not one of Mick’s favourites, and will likely be to his chagrin that it’s generally considered their best. Somehow, they’ve managed to entwine Nellcote’s overall atmosphere in every nook and cranny of the album. The rip-roaring ‘Rocks Off’ opens the album with a bang, ‘Tumbling Dice’ is the classic whilst ‘Shine a Light’ is one of the best songs they committed to tape. If on ‘Let It Bleed’ the band were moving up the gears, on ‘Exile…’ the Stones hit top speed.
Top track: ‘Shine a Light’