From the vault: 1968

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 September, 2007, 12:00am

Beggars Banquet

The Rolling Stones


In a 1974 interview on American TV, John Lennon asserted that the Rolling Stones had generally copied everything that the Beatles had ever done, specifically citing 1967's Their Satanic Majesties Request, which truly was a half-baked Sgt Pepper's-style effort. It also, he noted, came packaged with a similarly colourful and arty album cover.

The following year, after the Beatles came out with The White Album in an all-white minimalist cover, the Stones cranked out Beggars Banquet in a plain beige cover. (The 'original' toilet-wall graffiti artwork now graces the CD). But there the similarities end.

The Fab Four went in four different musical directions on The White Album, but the Stones came together with a unified sound and clarity of purpose. Enough psychedelic tripping; they wanted to rock again. And revisit the blues - the font of their earliest work's inspiration.

They accomplished both on an album that also is home to two of the Stones' most famous singles.

Sympathy for the Devil has Jagger narrating a 20th-century history lesson with the kind of satanic majesty and astounding charisma he couldn't tap into on the previous album, while Street Fighting Man caught the zeitgeist of stormy, riotous year of Beggars Banquet's release - 1968. And Street Fighting Man's message was unmistakable: If 1967 had belonged to the Beatles and to euphoric hippies in London and San Francisco, 1968 belonged to feral beasts like the Stones and the rioters in Chicago, Paris and Prague. No rock single of any consequence has been so strongly identified with a single year since.

To say this was a return to form would be an understatement. Beggars Banquet opens with the arresting conga-beats intro to Sympathy for the Devil, followed by nine tracks of prime Stones staying close to their roots.

Other highlights are the salty 12-bar blues of Parachute Woman and the gospel-infused Salt of the Earth, which the Stones performed live with Guns N' Roses in 2001 - well worth YouTube-ing.

For most other bands, it would be all downhill in the studio from here. But being the Stones, they effortlessly topped this decadent opus with 1969's Let it Bleed, with only a couple of drug busts and one fatal overdose (or drowning or murder, depending on which version of guitarist Brain Jones', below, death you believe) to temporarily disrupt the proceedings. Lennon may have claimed that the Beatles were 'bigger than Jesus' two years earlier, but on Beggars Banquet, Jagger proved that the devil has at least some of the best tunes.