Today the Rolling Stones’ 7th British studio album was released. Beggars Banquet (there is no apostrophe in the title, though there probably should be), hit the shops simultaneously with a single from it:

Apparently Decca Records, unlike EMI, had no qualms about double-dipping. I wonder how many fans felt compelled to buy both?

The first single from the album, “Street Fighting Man,” had been released back in August (around the same time as The Beatles’ “Hey Jude/Revolution” single). In the interim many on the radical left had unfavorably compared Lennon’s ambivalent song — which was viewed as a Betrayal of the Cause — to the Stones’, which said:

Summer’s here and the time is right
For fighting in the street, boy

Not to mention:

Hey think the time is right
For a palace revolution

Conveniently ignoring the fact that those last lines are followed by:

Where I live the game
To play is compromise solution

Which brings us right back to “Revolution” territory. The Stones, who were viewed as more authentic and real, often got the benefit of the doubt when The Beatles didn’t. On the other hand, The Beatles were The Beatles, which kind of makes up for it.

“Sympathy for the Devil,” meanwhile, seems to zoom out a bit on the scene portrayed in “Street Fighting Man,” putting it in a broader historical context. The rest of the album is less political, more personal, with standout tracks including the weepy, twangy “No Expectations” and the lowdown, nasty “Stray Cat Blues.”

Beggars Banquet ends with “Salt of the Earth,” Mick and Keith’s paean to the working classes. There is something inherently ridiculous about this; listening to it, one can’t help but picture them looking out the studio window, cigarettes in hand, at some guys digging a ditch. “Smashing job they’re doing,” drawls Keith. Mick nods solemnly; “Yeah, we should write a song about them.”

Even so, the words still have a certain resonance:

Raise your glass to the hard working people
Let’s drink to the uncounted head
Let’s think of the wavering millions
Who want leaders but get gamblers instead

Musically, Beggars Banquet — like the White Album — is much more stripped-down and direct than its predecessor (in this case Their Satanic Majesties’ Request, which at this point seems like it was recorded a long, long time ago), in conscious reaction to the excesses of Peak Psychedelia. Beggars is a great deal bluesier than Satanic, though it does contain some exotic instrumentation, such as congas, sitar, and tambura — mostly the doing of Brian Jones, making his last significant contributions to a Stones album. (Badly strung out and increasingly marginalized within the band, Jones would become a virtual ghost — and then a real one — by the time of 1969’s Let It Bleed.)

Also like the White Album, Beggars Banquet was recently rereleased in a 50th anniversary edition. But whereas the White Album is gussied up with 77 outtakes and alternate versions, in addition to the 30 tracks of the original album, the Beggars reissue consists of exactly 10 songs — the same 10 you would have gotten if you’d bought the album in 1968. Though this is squarely on-brand for the Stones, it feels a bit chintzy. Are you telling me there are no alternate versions of “Sympathy for the Devil” out there? Godard’s movie says otherwise.

So as chance would have it, the last two posts on this blog have been about the Rolling Stones and the Hells Angels (which also should have an apostrophe but doesn’t). One year from today — December 6, 1969 — the two would come together in the event that truly marked the end of the Sixties. Enjoy them while they last.

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