The end of the sixties were a tumultuous time for the Rolling Stones. From drug busts to ill-conceived albums (Their Satanic Majesties Request), the future looked dire for rock and roll’s premier bad boys. 1968 saw them prove their musical strengths with the illuminating Beggars Banquet, but all was not well in the Stones camp. Founder Brian Jones was kicked out of the group and replaced by baby-faced Bluesbreaker Mick Taylor. Soon after, Jones drowned in the pool of his idyllic Cotchford Farm in Sussex. The remarkable Let It Bleed is the sound of the Stones truly getting back on their feet and kicking into high gear.
Before the album’s December 1969 release, the Stones embarked on their first American tour since 1966. Tour manager Sam Cutler took the liberties of declaring the band “the greatest rock and roll band in the world” and nobody disagreed. The benchmark tour became legend, immortalized in the film Gimme Shelter. The release of Let It Bleed at the end of the year further cemented their mythic status. On the same day of the album’s release was the disastrous Altamont Free Concert, during which an eighteen-year-old boy was stabbed, caught on camera for Gimme Shelter.
While Beggars Banquet was the first Stones LP I discovered, Let It Bleed brought on a tidal wave of encompassing Stones obsession. I engulfed myself in the many tales of their wanton lifestyle, as I gleefully boogied to what I now view as their most vibrant, buoyant album.
Let It Bleed is an album that perfectly exposes the raw talent of the Rolling Stones, in the midst of their most creative period. Its also perhaps the first album to capitalize on the raunchy aura that surrounded the band, captured on the sensuous Live With Me, driven by Keith Richards on bass, as well as the title track (“There will always be a space in my parking lot, when you need a little coke and sympathy”).
The cool seduction of Midnight Rambler acts as the album’s centerpiece, though it’s a composition best displayed on the live album that followed Let It Bleed, Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! The number was taken to tantalizing heights onstage by Mick Taylor, proving that he was certainly the most musically endowed Stone.
Still, it’s the cryptic air of Monkey Man that stands as the album’s gem. The gradual layering of instruments adds excitement and Keith Richards proves himself to be a devil on the guitar, providing jumpy riffs and sensational slide.
The band close the curtain on the sixties with the hymn-like You Can’t Always Get What You Want, their take on love, politics and drugs. Simultaneously conveying optimism and disillusion, the song is the perfect closer to an album that defined an era.