Covers Of The Rolling Stones (Beggars Banquet)

In December 1968 the Rolling Stones released “Beggars Banquet”, their 7th LP. A new record from the group was always a big deal but this was an important time for them. Exactly a year earlier their preceding LP, “Their Satanic Majesties Request”,  met with less critical acclaim & commercial success than was customary. Now tracks such as the baroque “She’s A Rainbow”& the cosmic “2000 Light Years From Home” are essential to your Best of the Stones playlist but in 1967 all new music was judged against the seismic “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”. The Stones, dealing with drug busts, drug use, a lack of focus & productivity in the studio which saw Andrew Loog Oldham check out on his producer/manager duties, undoubtedly reacted to this Beatle blast with an increase of experimentation & added psychedelia. The group had always been leaders in rock & roll innovation, there were plenty of followers of the Fab Four already & the Stones had always been tougher than the rest.

 

We were still processing the 30 tracks on the Beatles new “White Album”, released 2 weeks before, when “Beggars…” came around. The signs were good. In the summer “Jumping Jack Flash” had enough gas, gas, gas to propel it to the top of the world’s charts. The classic 45 was the first with new producer Jimmy Miller whose work with Stevie Winwood in the Spencer Davis Group & Traffic had caught the ear. The outer wrapping of the LP was almost as plain as the other lot’s after cover art showing a graffiti covered toilet was rejected. The important stuff, the music, hit the spot from the very first track.

 

 

“Sympathy For the Devil” Woo-Woo ! Everybody knows it. Mick Jagger’s lyrics, a collision of Baudelaire, Bulgakov & Dylan on the enduring, alluring nature of evil set to an hypnotic samba groove. Film maker Jean Luc Godard was at Olympic Studios to capture the creative process, the construction of an intense, instantly iconic piece of Art. The final version convinced many that the group had fallen in with a bad lot. In the early 1970s we met an American girl (raised on promises ?) who believed that Jagger was the Devil. It would have disappointed her if we had passed on our opinion that he was just a bloke from Dartford with a very acute way with words.

 

The Attack were around from 1966 to 68 just as the Mods turned psychedelic. They released 4 singles on Decca which pinged about from Freakbeat to camp whimsy. A combination of bad timing (Mickie Most nicked “Hi Ho Silver Lining” from them for Jeff Beck), a revolving door line up & the lack of a consistent style on record conspired to deny them success. Guitarist David O’List had left to join the Nice before this cover, replaced by John Du Cann, later of Atomic Rooster. It’s a no-frills version, the vocal lacking Jagger’s menace & malice, the muscular backing giving it plenty. This track was remained unreleased until 2006, the Attack had had their shot. A pity because it’s a fine example of the British Beat in 1968.

 

“Sympathy…” has been much covered since then. Laibach released a whole LP of versions. In 1969 shoeless songstress Sandie Shaw, her credibility severely battered by winning the lame Eurovision Song Contest with a lamer song, gave it a good go in 1969. In the same year Arif Mardin, Vice President of Atlantic Records, included the song on a solo album. It would take finer tuned ears than mine to explain the attraction of Bryan Ferry’s  1973 version (I’m sure I will get that explanation).

 

“Street Fighting Man” had been a US single, though not in the UK, in the Autumn. It was not a big hit because in 1968 rock & roll was still considered to be subversive & radio stations were reluctant to air what seemed to be an exhortation, an invitation across the nation, to rioting in the street. The incendiary, ambiguous lyrics are matched by a marching, charging Keith Richards riff, thunderous drums from Charlie Watts & Brian Jones’ tamboura drone. Events in Paris, Prague & Chicago, even “sleepy London town”, had widened the generation gap & shaken governments. The Rolling Stones captured this energy & confusion in a pop song just over  3 minutes long. It was expected that a commentary on a changing world would be provided by musicians. It seemed a more reliable way of getting information than most. A great song from different times.

 

When Rod Stewart & Ronnie Wood left the Jeff Beck Group to link with the 3 remaining Small Faces their rambunctious, uplifting take on rock & roll had an instant appeal. The Stones, the Who & Led Zeppelin were conquering the world leaving Faces to claim the title of best live band in the UK. Rod’s solo LP “An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down” was already in the shops before the band’s debut. This arrangement worked fine until his 3rd album “Every Picture Tells a Story” went stratospheric & his colleagues were not inclined to be his backing band. “Street Fighting Man” seemed a risky choice to open that 1st record but one of the most appealing facets of those early releases was Rod’s astute selection of songs to cover. Another was that despite Rod having made his reputation in both the Rhythm & the Blues there was always a place for Folk music in his heart.This version is less portentous than the original though drummer Micky Waller drives it along. There’s sterling contributions from Facemates Ronnie Wood, on guitar & bass & Ian McLagan on keyboards. Rod Stewart’s early LPs are to be ranked with the best British music of the time.

 

 

“Beggars Banquet” is a return to what the Rolling Stones knew, Blues-based music. It wasn’t a retreat from psychedelia, nor giving the people what they wanted, it was what they did better than anyone else. The record is a springboard & a template for their run of LPs that established them as “the greatest Rock & Roll band in the world”, music that fans still want to hear when they show out to see the Stones almost 50 years along. “Salt of the Earth”, the closing track, is a proletarian anthem to the “uncounted heads”. It’s a simple song filled out with a gospel choir, Nicky Hopkins’ piano & the sure hand of producer Jimmy Miller who was to stick around for the next 5 LPs.

 

Johnny Adams was from New Orleans. He had worked with Dr John & Eddie Bo before having a peripatetic career throughout the 1960s. By 1971 he was with staff producers Dave Crawford & Brad Shapiro at Atlantic Records. There was no LP, just 4 singles one of which was “Salt of the Earth”. What a terrific version it is too, great Blues-Soul vocals, classic horns & who can resist that sitar-guitar ? I’m sure that Keith Richards approves of such a sympathetic take on one of his songs.

 

The Rolling Stones were not entirely back on track with the release of “Beggars…”. In the same week they filmed “The Rolling Stones Rock & Roll Circus”, a TV special where a tired performance (particularly on a self-conscious “Salt of the Earth”) was eclipsed by supporting acts including the Who & Taj Mahal. It would be 1996 before ringmaster Jagger invited us to see the show. There were increasing concerns about Brian Jones.The founder of the Stones had first become isolated by the developing songwriting partnership of Mick & Keith. His musical imagination & multi-instrumental talent added texture to many of their songs but his contributions were becoming sporadic, his behaviour made more erratic by drug use & emotional problems. The estrangement was complete when a projected tour was complicated by his legal problems & his health. In June 1969 Brian was fired from his group & just a month later was unfortunately found dead in the swimming pool at his home in Sussex. The Stones rolled on.

 

 

 

 

I Like It, Like It, Yes, I Do (Rolling Stones)

I have been lucky enough to see many of my musical favourites in concert. I say lucky, I had to buy the tickets, turn up at the right place at the right time on the right day, so I’ve been coordinated enough really. OK it’s a list…the Who,Captain Beefheart, Neil Young, Van Morrison & a bunch of others. I’ve seen & heard great artists deliver  little slices of transcendency but there has only been the one time when a singer of a band walked on to the stage & I thought “Bloody Hell. I’m in the same room as Mick Jagger !”

In May 1976 the Rolling Stones paid some attention to that terrible North-South divide we have in the UK…the Midlands. Birmingham has always had pretensions to being our “Second City” but could provide no adequate venue for the “greatest rock & roll band in the world”. The last time around, 1973, the band played 2 nights at the Odeon, admittedly a big cinema but a cinema. Stadium Rock was not here yet but  was inevitably coming. To see the band Brummie fans would have to travel  the 20 miles to the Bingley Hall, Stafford. Our little gang gathered at the train station to board the special train. I say special, there was no John Pasche “tongue & lip” logo on a Silver Train to take us all down the line (oh, oh). The ready-to-be-condemned rolling stock was rammed. We took our beer & our smokes into a gap between carriages & had our own party. At Stafford station we were transferred to buses for the final leg of our trek. We were too high to be this close to these people.

The new LP was “Black & Blue”. Nowadays the 3 records after  “Exile”, “Goat’s Head Soup”, “It’s Only Rock & Roll” & this one are excluded from the pantheon of great Stones records. To lose one guitarist, Brian Jones, may be regarded as a misfortune but to lose another, Mick Taylor, looked like carelessness.  “Rehearsing guitar players, that’s what that one was about” said Keith about “Black & Blue”. A parade of contenders passed through the studio, 3 of them made the LP but Ron Wood, surely born to be a Stone, got the job. In 1976 a new Stones LP was still a big deal. Critic Lester Bangs thought it was all over for the band in their “old age”, Robert Christgau wrote “not dead by a long shot”. 4 weeks at #1 in the USA meant that everybody was earning. “Hand of Fate”, “Memory Motel”, “Fool To Cry” & some other good ones, that’s “Black & Blue”.

On arrival at the Staffordshire County Showground our eyes told us we were in a big basic building. Our noses contributed the info that it had recently been in use as some sort of cowshed ! With the grubby train & now this we were rolling strictly second class tonight. No matter, we found our own piece of concrete floor & listened to the support act, the Meters. You heard mate, Art, Leo, George & Zigaboo, Allen Toussaint’s houseband. “Cissy Strut”, “Look-A Py Py”, “Just Kissed My Baby”, all that good stuff & more. They were great.There was a long wait before the Stones arrived. I think that Keith & Ron were into a game of Scrabble or Bill had some knitting to finish. People were getting impatient, the lack of any comfort or distraction was not helping. We were used to standing on football terraces on a Saturday afternoon & we knew why we were here. What was wrong with these people ?

Then it was the “Bloody Hell” moment. From right here, right now in 2013 I could tell you that Keith stroked out the opening riff to “Honky Tonk Woman” & the crowd went wild. He did & we did. It was when the singer walked to the microphone & acknowledged the herd that we knew that everything was going to be just fine.  “I met a gin soaked, bar-room queen in Memphis”, slurred Mr Charisma & away we went. I’m not sure for how long but it could not be long enough. This version of the Stones lacked the satanic majesty of “Get Yer Ya Yas Out”. I think the debacle at Altamont, while hardly the end of the 60s, finished the “Devil’s Ringmaster” palaver. Neither were they the drug-fuelled murky magnificents of “Exile”. That much ennui, it’s gonna be the death of you. What we got was a toughened, professional unit, one that was built to last. A Stones that could roll & has rolled forever.

There were a few contenders for that “greatest band” title & the Stones made a strong case for, at least, a podium finish. Keith & Ronnie were a natural fit, they knew just how that dual guitar went. Keith could confidently flow into just pure riffage (perhaps the greatest sight in rock), even investigate whatever had been chopped out onto his amp, knowing that the notes were in capable hands. It was a vigorous sound, the new songs were well built if not intense. “Starfucker”…hell yeah! “You Can’t Always Get…” leading into two from “Exile”, “Happy” & “Tumblin’ Dice” was an irresistible crescendo orchestrated by Jagger. Billy Preston (that’s the Billy P…) got two solo tunes while we & the band caught a breath. The enormous finish of “Midnight Rambler”, “Brown Sugar”, “Jumping Jack Flash” & “Street Fighting Man”, Jagger astride a giant inflatable penis, confetti cannons showering the crowd was as exciting as any concert I have ever attended. Not because of the big prick onstage but because of the music.

The Stones were giving their audience what they thought we wanted. The set list for the 41 gigs was fairly static. They were right about the live shows, we did want the hits. We also wanted another Stones LP that we had to play when we got in the house, In 1978, with a scoop of the new energy in British music, “Some Girls” was just that. It was the last great Stones record & the much publicized tours of the world’s stadiums became a parade of past proficiency with elements of persistence, even pantomime. In 1976 we could not give a flying one about the future.

We were on the cruddy train back home, picking coloured paper out of each others hair like a troop of grooming chimps. Only now were we playing the “Oh, they didn’t play…” game. Seriously, the transport was poor, we had no beer, we were tired & we really did not care. We had been to more than a gig. It had been an event, one of a kind, we had seen the Rolling Stones. Some years later we were walking down the Charing Cross Rd in London’s glittering West End. It was around midnight & as we passed the entrance to the Marquee Club a very bedraggled figure was dragged /carried by 2 burly minders right in front of us into a waiting limo. “Bloody Hell !”, we said, “that was Keith Richards”. Those Stones had still got it !