The Rolling Stones have, to date, released twenty three albums. Arguably, the nine albums between “Aftermath” (1966) and “It’s Only Rock’n’Roll” (1974) represent the highpoint of their career. For many people, “Let It Bleed” is their best album although everyone has their favourite. Mine is “Their Satanic Majesties Requests” but I realise that I am in a minority of one. There is no doubting that this album is a phenomenal achievement. What can I possibly say about this album other than to dig a little deeper for detail about each of the songs?
“Gimme Shelter” precisely reflected the anti-war feeling of the time. Mick Jagger has said “It was a very rough, very violent era. The Vietnam War. Violence on the screens, pillage and burning. Vietnam was a real nasty war, and people didn’t like it. People objected, and people didn’t want to fight it. That’s a kind of end-of-the-world song, really. It’s apocalypse; the whole record’s like that.” Merry Clayton sings a duet with Mick Jagger on this track. She often sang with Clydie King who was a frequent backing singer for Bob Dylan, particularly during his Christian period. Merry Clayton and Clydie King sing backing vocals on “Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynryd Skynyrd. Her brother, Sam Clayton, was the percussionist with Little Feat.
“Love In Vain” was written by Robert Johnson who uses a departing train as a metaphor for his unrequited love. Ry Cooder plays mandolin on this song. Keith Richards famously met Mick Jagger when he saw him carrying an album called “King Of The Delta Blues” by Robert Johnson. The two of them believed for a long time that the songs on this album were the only songs that he had recorded but in 1969 Keith Richards heard a bootleg with “Love In Vain” on it. At the time he was hanging out with Gram Parsons who was in the process of converting The Byrds into a country group. Between them, Keith Richards and Gram Parsons worked out a country arrangement of this song.
“Country Honk” is a country version of “Honky Tonk Women”. Gram Parsons suggested to Keith Richards that he get Byron Berline to play fiddle. He has been a well regarded session player for over fifty years and he joined The Flying Burrito brothers when Gram Parsons left them in 1971. The song credits on the album state that Nanette Newman sings vocals. She is an English actress who was married to the actor/writer/director Bryan Forbes for over fifty years. However, she never sung on a Rolling Stones album. The credit should be for Nanette Workman who is an American singer/actress who appeared regularly on Peter Cook and Dudley Moore’s TV show “Not Only…But Also”. This mistaken credit is repeated on “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” at the end of this album.
When Brian Jones left/was kicked out of The Rolling Stones, his replacement was the equally wonderful Mick Taylor who joined John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers when Peter Green left to form Fleetwaood Mac. “Live With Me” was the first song that Mick Taylor performed with The Rolling Stones. Bobby Keys also plays on this song. He has played on albums by John Lennon, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Donovan, Eric Clapton, Keith Moon and many others.
“Let It Bleed”, the title track, closes Side One. It is the only song on the album to feature Ian Stewart on piano. He co-founded The Rolling Stones with Brian Jones. Other piano parts on the album are played by Al Kooper, Nicky Hopkins and Leon Russell. The song has been described as addressing the issue of emotional dependency but with specific references to “coke and sympathy”, ” a junkie nurse” and the idea that we all need someone to “bleed on,” “cream on” and “cum on”, that interpretation is a matter of opinion.
“Midnight Rambler” is one of only two songs on the album (the other being “You Got The Silver”) that features Brian Jones – on this song he is playing bongos. In his book The Better Angels of Our Nature, Steven Pinker argues that it was becoming increasingly common in 1969 for the counterculture to glorify violence “as if it were just another form of antiestablishment protest.”
“You Got The Silver” is the first Rolling Stones song to feature Keith Richards on lead vocals throughout the song and the last song ever released featuring Brain Jones. There is some dispute about why Mick Jagger’s original vocals for the track were not used. Was it sabotage, an accidental erasure or simply a matter of choice?
“Monkey Man” is said to have been written in tribute to Mario Schifano, an Italian pop artist who had a relationship with Marianne Faithfull in 1969. With lyrics like “I’ve been tossed around by every she-rat in this town“, I’m a bit confused as to what a “tribute” is. Thank goodness they didn’t try to slag him off.
In 2004, “Rolling Stone” placed “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” as the 100th best song of all time. It was released as a five minute single but lasts for over seven minutes on the album. In March 1969, Mick Jagger said “I liked the way the Beatles did ‘Hey Jude’. The orchestra was not just to cover everything up—it was something extra. We may do something like that on the next album.” In 2016 he said that he was surprised that Donald Trump was using this song at election rallies considering that the song is “a sort of doomy ballad about drugs in Chelsea.” A gospel choir, formed in 1866, called “The Bach Choir” perform on this song using a choral arrangement by Jack Nitzsche, a long time collaborator of Neil Young. Lyrically the song describes the creeping disillusionment with the idealistic Sixties culture with verses given over to love, politics and drugs. Arguably, the song is providing a positive spin on the disappointment although I would argue that it is all very well for The Rich Stones to state that they get what they need when not everyone is in such a fortunate position. There’s no way that many people can get what they need, let alone what they want. On the other hand, anyone reading my post from yesterday may say that I am in no position to sound so understanding.
In 2015, Mick Jagger said that Let It Bleed “had a lot of really good songs on it. It’s one of my favourite albums”. Finally, I may be coming around to seeing that this might be a better album than “Their Satanic Majesties Requests” although I currently have a yearning to listen to “Gomper”.