Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

The Rolling Stones Let It Bleed (1969)


All right – if bleed we must, then let it bleed, guys! This album is bleeding so strong that it gets my vote for the best Stones album ever and one of the greatest rock albums ever made by mortal man. Brian Jones was already gone by that moment (he’s credited for harp playing on ‘Midnight Rambler’, but that’s an embarrassment), and Mick Taylor still hadn’t quite arrived, so Mick and Keith get the praises for this album. Nine songs on here, each one a small independent world, and even if the album is structured as close to a rip-off of Beggar’s Banquet as possible, it’s no big problem.

What I like about it especially is that everything is taken in the right proportion, every single idea is developed up to complete perfection and never overdone. The long songs are not boring, the short songs are not over lengthened, the sexy show-off and obscenity is still limited to a fairly sufficient amount (at this point they were still using metaphors to conceal the Rude and the Raunchy), and the melodies are even more well-crafted than those on Banquet!

First of all, it features two of the darkest and dreariest songs ever. ‘Gimme Shelter’ is a song about storms and floods (very convenient at the time, too, since everybody took it as an anti-Vietnam War protest song), set to a spooky Keith guitar line and backed up with scary vocals, plus Mick is aided by Mary Clayton whose angry, gospelish vocals on the chorus really give this song an epic feel. Indeed, the Stones aren’t really known for their ‘epic’ renditions, but if there is one definite epic to the Stones’ catalog, that would be ‘Gimmie Shelter’, the most ominous, dreary and shiver-sending piece of music they ever did – in fact, it might as well be the spookiest, the most dread-inducing piece of music I’ve ever heard. Black Sabbath can kiss my ***; compared to this, all their Satanism and darkness sports a blatantly goofy and fake character. Unfortunately, in my opinion, the Stones never mastered a truly impressive live rendition of it – because it is hardly possible to imagine the song without its storm-imitating production.

‘Midnight Rambler’, on the other hand, is a much more ‘intimate’ song: it features almost seven minutes of pure thrill, during which Mick sings some mean lyrics about a maniac killer, plays some terrifying harp lines, and leads us through a slow mid-section punctuated by acute drum bursts before speeding up again and ending up with the lines: ‘…I’ll stick my knife in your throat baby and it hurts!’ Cute, isn’t it? Just don’t play this song around midnight if you’re one weak-hearted person! This one, on the contrary, got several quite superior live renditions, primarily the one captured on Ya-Ya’s. Here, however, it again sounds different, with a spooky ‘midnight’ atmosphere: the harp lines often end up sounding like a wolf howling, and the dreamy, subtle guitars are frightening! How atmospheric!

Ballads-wise this is one super album, too. ‘Love In Vain’ is a great old blues cover, with Ry Cooder (wasn’t it?) on mandolin, and it’s oh so oh so oh so beautiful. Keith unearthed it from the Robert Johnson archives, and somehow perceived the beauty of it – but, while I haven’t heard the original, I may have to suppose that the true potential of the song was only unearthed by these Brit boys. The mandolin is tear-inducing, and its interaction with the gentle, soft slide guitars creates one of the most hard-hitting emotional masterpieces the Twentieth Century has seen. And if that’s not enough, there’s also the very first song featuring Keith on lead vocals for all its entirety: ‘You Got The Silver’ is a touching and nice ballad, tons better than all the weird wailing stuff he’s been throwing at us since Goats’ Head Soup. This one is really catchy and memorable, and not any less heartfelt or moving.

Then, just to remind you that this was still 1969, and not 1998 or anything, there is still that old psychedelic line hanging around. ‘Live With Me’, for instance, is a terrific rocker with simply crazy lyrics. Some say that the lines ‘my best friend he shoots water rats/And feeds ’em to his geese’ refers to some of Keith’s habits at his Redlands residence; regardless of this, the song features a ferocious bass line and the first ever saxophone solo by Bobby Keyes whom you still can see walking around these RS fellows even now. And ‘Monkey Man’ lyrics wise belongs to Satanic, not here; however, Keith’s riffing is so mature here compared to those earlier days! Ronnie Wood is said to have admitted the riff on ‘Monkey Man’ is his favourite Keith riff of all time; I may not agree with him, but I sure can understand him, as it was somewhere around this time that Mr Richards really turned into that aggressive riffage machine that we all know and love him for.

Any social comments? Sure! There’s the title track, which says anybody can bleed on Mick if he’s not feeling right, and the closing ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ is probably a bit overlong because of the lengthy chorus section in the introduction, but it really don’t matter much to me: yet another great song, ’tis all. And to top it off – we have a re-mastered ‘Honky Tonk Women’ presented as a country ditty (which, by the way, was the original design; as far as I know, the ‘hard rockin” version owns its existence to Mick Taylor)! And it works, even with the silly fiddle replacing the guitar: it’s a pity they never tried this version onstage. Due to the lack of fiddle, perhaps?

Any further proof that this is the Stones’ finest moment? Well, see, this album is so great there is no obvious classic on it, no outstanding piece overshadowing all the others. Beggar’s Banquet? ‘Sympathy For The Devil’! Sticky Fingers? ‘Brown Sugar’! Exile? ‘Tumbling Dice’! All of these tracks symbolize the entire record. While no track from Let It Bleed ever entered the Stones’ ‘golden stage dozen’: occasionally, ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ entered their encore set, but I wouldn’t call it a ‘crowd-pleasing’ number all the same. But that’s not because they’re inferior: it’s just impossible to choose. Still, most of these tracks (except ‘Country Honk’, naturally, and, for some strange reason, ‘You Got The Silver’) got enough onstage play – even ‘Monkey Man’ was unearthed for the 1994-5 tour, and it was great!

So go ahead – if you don’t own this record, rush out to buy it and you’ll be glad you did. This album closes off the Sixties, and still stands as one of rock music’s greatest accomplishments.


May 6, 2013 - Posted by | The Rolling Stones Let It Bleed |

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