Plans for a 50th Anniversary Tour haven't been clearly expressed, but there is a rumor circulating that The Stones will kick off a worldwide tour by playing two shows at the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn this November. It appears that there aren't any plans for a new studio album. In fact, the band hasn't released any new material since 2005's A Bigger Bang, which did not make our Top 5 list. Surprise!
Throughout their fifty-year career and twenty four studio albums, The Rolling Stones have had numerous peaks and valleys, and like most music critics and journalists we favor their prolific four-year period (1968-1972), which includes some of their greatest artistic achievements.
So here it is...Riffraf's Top 5 Rolling Stones' albums.
Album: Beggar's Banquet
Highlights: Sympathy for the Devil, Street Fighting Man, Stray Cat Blues, Salt of the Earth
Beggar's Banquet is an album of new beginnings and farewells. When the band's long time producer and manager Andrew Loog Oldham departed, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards hired producer Jimmy Miller who had worked with Traffic and the Spencer Davis Group. The collaboration proved to be invaluable as Miller worked with The Stones during their most fruitful period (1968-1972), producing four albums on our list (Jagger and Richards produced the other, Some Girls).
On Beggar's Banquet, The Stones returned to their blues roots - "No Expectations," "Dear Doctor," "Parachute Woman" and "Prodigal Son." Brian Jones' slide guitar playing on "No Expectations" is one of the record's highlights.
However, the blues-based rockers, "Street Fighting Man" and "Stray Cat Blues" and the epic "Sympathy for the Devil" are the album's real gems. "Street Fighting Man" is a reflection of the political and social turmoil in 1968; "Stray Cat Blues" is their first foray into a sexually depraved world; and "Sympathy for the Devil," with its satanic lyrics and African rhythms is one of the band's defining moments.
Album: Some Girls
Highlights: Miss You, When the Whip Comes Down, Beast of Burden, Shattered, Respectable
By the late 70s, The Stones had lost some of their Mojo. While Jagger had become a parody of himself, Richards' drug habit had reached legendary heights. But the Glimmer Twins were determined to prove their critics and naysayers that they were still the world's greatest rock and roll band.
Some Girls is an irreverent, high energy record that's more rock and roll than punk, but it's edginess and nastiness reflects that of the punk ethos. On "Miss You," The Stones appropriate disco and make it their own.
Punk and disco were certainly an influence on Mick Jagger, but the singer also cites New York City as highly influential: "The inspiration for the record was really based in New York and the ways of the town. I think that gave it an extra spur and hardness. And then, of course, there was the punk thing that had started in 1976. Punk and disco were going on at the same time, so it was quite an interesting period."
The group's rejuvenation was also due to Ronnie Wood's arrival. Like Brian Jones and Mick Taylor, Ron Wood's guitar playing meshed with Keith Richards' style. For the first time since Beggar's Banquet, only the core band played on the record.
Album: Let it Bleed
Highlights: Midnight Rambler, Gimme Shelter, You Can't Always Get What You Want, Live With Me
In many ways, Let it Bleed is an extension of Beggar's Banquet. There are plenty of blues tunes - "You Got the Silver," "Midnight Rambler" and "Love in Vain." There are plenty of blues-based rockers - "Gimme Shelter," "Monkey Man," and "Live With Me." There is even a haphazard experiment with country music, "Country Honk."
Founding member Brian Jones appears on only two tracks, "You Got the Silver" and "Midnight Rambler." Tragically, Jones died several months before the record's release. Jones' replacement, Mick Taylor, plays guitar on only two tracks, "Country Honk" and "Live With Me." Keith Richards sings his first lead vocal on a Stones' record, "You Got the Silver."
Album: Sticky Fingers
Highlights: Brown Sugar, Wild Horses, Can't You Hear Me Knocking, Bitch, Dead Flowers
Sticky Fingers, the band's first release on its newly formed label, Rolling Stones Records, is the quintessential drug album. The Stones kicked off the Seventies with a dark, and dreary record. Every song is draped in a rather delirious haze that upon listening to the entire record one is likely to become anesthetized.
Mick Taylor plays a more prominent role on Sticky Fingers. His influence on Mick and Keith as well as his presence as the group's lead guitarist can be heard on the classics "Can't You Hear Me Knocking" and "Wild Horses."
In a 1979 interview Mick Taylor said, "Can't You Hear Me Knocking...is one of my favourites....(The jam at the end) just happened by accident; that was never planned. Towards the end of the song I just felt like carrying on playing. Everybody was putting their instruments down, but the tape was still rolling and it sounded good, so everybody quickly picked up their instruments again and carried on playing. It just happened, and it was a one-take thing. A lot of people seem to really like that part."
"Wild Horses" is the band's first genuine attempt at a country song that could not have happened without Mick Taylor's influence and incredible slide guitar playing.
In the early Sixties, Keith Richards and Brian Jones developed a technique they called "guitar weaving," where both guitarists play rhythm and lead without distinct boundaries between both roles. With Taylor in the band, he picked up where Jones had left off.
Album: Exile on Main St.
Highlights: Rocks Off, Tumbling Dice, Torn and Frayed, Happy, All Down the Line, Shine a Light
Although the double album received mixed reviews when it was first released, since then it is often regarded as their finest record. Perhaps it's Exile's sprawling nature, consisting of blues, rock, country, soul and gospel, that caused some of the critics to hiccup.
Keith Richards said, "When [Exile] came out it didn't sell particularly well at the beginning, and it was also pretty much universally panned. But within a few years the people who had written the reviews saying it was a piece of crap were extolling it as the best frigging album in the world."
In 1972, The Stones couldn't afford to pay their taxes in merry ol' England, so they uprooted themselves and moved to France. Like Let it Bleed and Sticky Fingers, there is a genuine bleakness that shrouds the record. Perhaps being in "exile" contributed to the album's weariness. Certainly Keith Richard's drug addiction contributed to the weariness of the record. Even though Exile was recorded in the basement of Keith's villa, there were several occasions where he didn't show up to the recording sessions.
In Bill Wyman's memoir Stone Alone, the bassist pointed out that some band members wildly indulged in drugs (Richards, Jimmy Miller, Bobby Keys, Mick Taylor, engineer Andy Johns), whereas other band members were prepared to work (Bill Wyman, Charlie Watts and Mick Jagger).
In 2003, Mick Jagger said, "Exile is not one of my favourite albums, although I think the record does have a particular feeling. I'm not too sure how great the songs are, but put together it's a nice piece. However, when I listen to Exile it has some of the worst mixes I've ever heard. I'd love to remix the record, not just because of the vocals, but because generally I think it sounds lousy. At the time Jimmy Miller was not functioning properly. I had to finish the whole record myself, because otherwise there were just these drunks and junkies. Of course I'm ultimately responsible for it, but it's really not good and there's no concerted effort or intention."
Even if Mick doesn't regard Exile on Main St. as a major achievement, there is no denying that the album includes several masterpieces: "Rocks Off," "Tumbling Dice," "Torn and Frayed," "Happy," "Let It Loose," and "Shine a Light."
The sign of a great album is that you can listen to it over and over and with each listen you'll find something new and exciting. Go ahead, give Exile a listen.