The Rolling Stones – Let It Bleed

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1. Whoever decided to put “Love in Vain” after “Gimm(i)e Shelter” needs to be shot for crimes against art humanity. With this and similar track sequencing issues on Beggars Banquet, it’s almost as if they don’t want us to hear the rest of these albums.

2. I’d reserve calling any Rolling Stones album not named Exile on Main St their best, but Let It Be— oops – Let It Bleed is probably their most emblematic. I mean, it essentially is a greatest hits compilation: “Gimme Shelter” was, essentially, the entirety of the soundtrack ofThe Departed, “Midnight Rambler” amusingly found its way into The Office (US), and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” was actually the reason I started watching House, M.D. after its mention in the pilot. (Also, ironically, it was the reason why I stopped watching Gleeafter its deconstruction in the pilot.) Also, Tom Stoppard wanted to have all his characters waltzing to “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” as the conclusion to his play Arcadia, (“[Until] it was pointed out to me that “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” isn’t a waltz and that, therefore, my couple would have to waltz to something else, I was astonished, uncomprehending, and resentful.”)

Even the lesser known songs have nudged their ways into live sets, ie. “Love in Vain” and “Live With Me” on Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! The Rolling Stones in Concert.

3. If you want a better listening experience, I might suggest switching “Love in Vain”’s place with either of the two tracks that follow. And while we’re at editing the album, whose idea was it not to put “Honky Tonk Woman” on the album, and instead put the slightly worse and cowbell-less (but still great) “Country Honk” in its stead? I mean, I get that it’s a country song, but Mick Jagger sings like he’s got a bale of wheat – yeah, the whole damn bale, not just a single grain – in his mouth, to the point that you can’t understand a single thing he’s saying. Could you imagine if there were cowbells, an articulate Jagger, some honking cars and that extremely melodic fiddle? Like a “Country Honky Tonk Woman?”

4. Now compare the vocals of “Country Honk” to those on “Let It Bleed.” There’s something absolutely endearing in the lazy way he delivers some of these lines, see especially the tuneless way he blurts out the last word, “There will always be a space in my parking lot / When you need a little—coke and—sympathy!

Let It Bleed is the first time they really stepped into the sex and drugs-fueled persona that would forever be associated with. I mean, stuff like “Under my Thumb” and Jagger-isms like “Parachute woman, will you blow me out? / My heavy throbber’s itching” have been appearing beforehand, but here, in keeping with everyone else, the Stones just let it all hang out (pun … fully intended and not at all apologized for). I mean, those slides that open “Let It Bleed” is pretty indicative of this – completely unnecessary, but they sound so fucking dirty, don’t they? And the lyrics read like Jagger’s about to get it on with a girl who’s having her monthlies are pretty disgustingly wonderful (or is it wonderfully disgusting?), “We all need someone we can cream on / And if you want to, well you can cream on me”; “Well we all need someone we can bleed on / And if you want it, baby, well you can bleed on me.” The Godlike supporter Nicky Hopkins plays less of a role on Let It Bleed than he did Beggars Banquet, but surprisingly, the band manage wonderfully without him.

Case in point, Ian Stewart does wonders with the piano on “Let It Bleed,” melodic at times, ornamental at others, and sometimes blundering drunkenly just as Jagger is.

5. ”Live With Me” has got its own bawdy innuendo going on, but that’s barely the point. Well, I suppose it is in some ways; Bill Janowitz (of allmusic) sums it up, “[Jagger] plays up the more cartoonish characterizations regarding the band’s image, thus feeding the perception of rich, decadent rock stars with enough free time to “shoot water rats and feed them to his geese.” Jagger realized his image with the public — both fans and detractors — and stretches it further satirically. He starts off this whirlwind litany of bad behavior with the high crime of “I take tea at three.” Much of the lyric is poking fun at the band’s situation as a surrogate extended family of the musicians, their “harebrained children/Locked in the nursery” friends and hangers-on. The narrator seems to have met a woman and sarcastically asks, “Don’t you think there’s a place for you in between the sheets?/Come on now, honey, we can build a home for three/Don’t you want to live with me?” Jagger knows the line is absurd and exaggerates it for effect, realizing it would scare off anyone with sense. The last verse is so bawdy, with descriptions of oversexed servants, that it got the band some friction from the London Bach Choir, who wanted to revoke their participation on Let it Bleed‘s ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want.’

But even if Jagger’s vocals were missing, I’d say this is a strong contender still for one of the best cuts on the LP; listen particularly to the instrumental stretch from 1:40 – 2:24 for proof. This is just one of those songs with a bass-line (courtesy of Keith Richards, who gave up guitar duties to newly inducted Mick Taylor) that shakes and bakes you. Add Charlie Watts’ insistent drums to this factor and we have the loudest song on the album.

6. Similarly, “Midnight Rambler” works, even if you don’t know the lyrics. The lyrics get focused on a little too much by critics, well, because, it’s one of those songs about a murderer and us humans find murderers irresistible; song ends with the memorable “I’ll stick my knife right down your throat, baby, and it hurts!”, but it’s really the music that counts. I had originally called Sly and the Family Stone’s “I Want To Take You Higher” the greatest use of a harmonica, but I’m sure “Midnight Rambler” comes a close second. Listen closely to the mostly instrumental stretch starting at the 2:15 mark, where it just builds and builds before coming to an abrupt halt. Here, Jagger’s lyrics stick out, and the huge guitar stomp after each line stabs your ears (in the best way possible), especially since there isn’t anything else to focus your attention away from, before the song goes accelerating towards the end again.

7. The opening few measures of “Monkey Man,” with that twinkling piano goes a long way.

8. The opening forty seconds of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” on the other hand, does not. I forgive it, of course, because the following near-7 minutes are glorious. Seems odd that it was only released as a b-side as a single; I think it’s popularity has far eclipsed “Honky Tonk Women” (the a-side) by now.

9. “Gimme Shelter” is one of the best songs of one of the best years of musical history; maybe their best song ever. Ominous guitar and apocalyptic backing vocals paint a sonic picture far more evocative than more ominous and apocalyptic-minded backs. I think it’s rather fitting for an album that contains lines like “War, children! It’s just a shot away,” “Rape, Murder! It’s just a shot away,” to the entirety of “Midnight Rambler,” to have a backstory surrounded by death; Brian Jones was too inebriated to be a part of the band (though he did contribute on two tracks, “You Got the Silver,” and “Midnight Rambler”) and his tenure of the band ended there. Less than a month later he was found drowned in a swimming pool. Elsewhere, apparently the strain of hitting some extremely high notes on “Gimme Shelter” caused Merry Clapton to suffer a miscarriage. Neither here nor there, but I thought it was interesting anyway.

10. “Love, sister, it’s just a kiss away.”

A+

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