MUSiC: Beggar’s Banquet, Rolling Stones, 1968

After the perhaps rather aberrant Satanic Majesties, The Stones return to rather safer waters. Kicking off with the terrific percussion-driven Sympathy For The Devil, and with Street Fighting Man starting side two, as was, this disc has ‘classic’ ‘70s Stones stamped all over it.

From what many, myself included, regard as their ‘purple patch’, Beggar’s Banquet benefits from the non-hits, or ‘album tracks’, being, for the most part, rather better than on some of their other albums.

Indeed, some of the lesser known tracks on BB are amongst my favourites of what one might call their ‘second division’ songbook. No Expectations, for example, is a delightfully simple and wistfully mellow number.

The following two much more bluesy tracks, Dear Doctor and Parachute Woman, are just a whisker more interesting than much standard stodgy blues clichés… just! Jigsaw Puzzle, on the other hand, is a wispy jam on an undistinguished cycle of chords, with Jagger singing a less than classic lyric that harks back to the more psychedelic vibes of their previous two albums.

From the Beggar’s Banquet photo-shoot.

Although Brian Jones was still alive, and technically speaking ‘in the band’, at this point, his drug usage mean he’s pretty much out of the picture, musically (altho’, this said, apparently that’s him playing the lovely slide guitar on No Expectations). So the band is really a quartet on these recordings, plus Nicky Hopkins on piano/keys, taking up Jones’ slack.

Street Fighting Man ups the ante again, and shows how much The Stones could get out of a pretty minimal musical idea. The late lamented Charlie Watts and the boy’s in the band drive an energetic groove along with an almost elastic-band type propulsion.

Prodigal Son, the album’s only cover (written by Robert Wilkins) is great; a nicely rootsy slightly haunting early acoustic southern folk-blues. Stray Cat Blues, which follows is, by contrast (for me at least), more pedestrian Stones-by-numbers type fare.

The album wraps up with Factory Girl, a pleasantly country tinged after-hours folksy ditty, replete with fiddle, before ending, with more of a whimper than a bang, with Keith Richards singing Salt Of The Earth. Jaggers’ joins in, as do a chorus of dusky soulful backing singers, lifting things a little, the song eventually morphing into a ‘sanctified’ double-time gospel feel, Hopkins piano coming to the fore.

But it’s a weak ending, alas, to a stronger than average entry into The Stones run of late ‘60s early ‘70s classic albums. So, whilst rather patchy, Beggar’s Banquet just about manages to attain a place in the company of the ‘best of The Stones records’.

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