Let It Bleed
Abkco Records, 1969
REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 08/17/1999
With all the talk about "Generation X" and "Generation Y," it's a wonder why I don't have some sort of gender identity crisis going on.
People were all ready to place the blame card on the "Generation Y" crowd for the debacle known as "Woodstock '99." And true to a 25-year-old, I muttered, "All we ever did was throw some mud at Green Day at OUR Woodstock." But some baby boomers are pointing the blame like a pre-retirement Grampa Simpson saying "For shaaaaame, for shaaame."
Before any baby boomer can bitch about Woodstock '99, they should first get that one nugget from their memory banks, filed under: Altamont. For those unfamiliar (please say there isn't that many) with Altamont, it was a free concert thrown by The Rolling Stones. Proof that ignorance is not bliss, the Stones hired the Hell's Angels as security for the concerts. In that heated environment, four people lost their lives.
Altamont transpired on the cusp of the release of Let It Bleed, which was considered by Mick Jagger in an interview with Rolling Stone to be a superior album to Exile On Main St. By listening to the opening chords of "Gimmie Shelter," you can almost smell the smoke and see the napalm like clouds rolling in. It remains one of the darkest songs recorded by the Stones, particularly enhanced by Keith Richards' distorted guitar.
Aside from the usual tension between Richards and Jagger, much of Let It Bleed was plauged by the departure of Brian Jones, one of the original members of the Stones. Though his role in Let It Bleed was reduced to playing percussion on a couple of tracks, he was formally kicked out during its recording. Jones died on July 3, 1969.
"Gimmie Shelter" and "You Can't Always Get What You Want" were by far the most ambitious songs on the album. It's probably not a coincidence that they provide the bookends of Let It Bleed. "You Can't Always Get What You Want," boasts a beautiful, soaring choir, provided by the London Bach. To fully appreciate the epic nature of both songs, there's even an instruction printed at the bottom of the liner notes: This Record Should Be Played Loud. You damn right.
The rest of the album dabbles between sinister rockers and a humbled effort to get more in touch with blues. When I first heard the Let It Bleed version of "Country Honk," I was totally taken aback. I was expecting the glossy version I heard on the radio, with the bar crowd chant of "She's a hoooonky tonk woman." Instead I got a Memphis delta like sound, complete with fiddle and slide guitar. It took some time to get used to, but it's my favorite of the two now.
You could tell that the irons in the Stones' fire were about ready to melt down throughout much of Let It Bleed. While the entire album is one of their most passionate efforts to date, you could tell by the weary sound of Jagger's voice that all was not well. Tracks like the lonesome "You Got The Silver" gave Richards some of his best moments on vocals and the abrasive "Monkey Man" made the listener feel like they were as strung out as Ray Liotta's character was at the end of Goodfellas.
Perhaps the most sinister track on Let It Bleed was the Charles Manson era track, "Midnight Rambler." The track, almost seven minutes long, follows the trail of a killer as they prowl into their victim's household - once again proving Let It Bleed is an album etched in black.
For all the talk about how violent the music is in today's world, it's a wonder that an album like Let It Bleed could top the charts some thirty odd years ago. It was a perfect album to end the sixties as youthful ideology and activism gradually eroded into cynicism and in cases like Altamont, violence. It may have been a snapshot of the fringe elements of society at that time, but it was an unforgettable shot.