The Rolling Stones – Exile On Main Street (1972)

Allmusic Review: Greeted with decidedly mixed reviews upon its original release, Exile on Main St. has become generally regarded as the Rolling Stones’ finest album. Part of the reason why the record was initially greeted with hesitant reviews is that it takes a while to assimilate. A sprawling, weary double album encompassing rock & roll, blues, soul, and country, Exile doesn’t try anything new on the surface, but the substance is new. Taking the bleakness that underpinned Let It Bleed and Sticky Fingers to an extreme, Exile is a weary record, and not just lyrically. Jagger’s vocals are buried in the mix, and the music is a series of dark, dense jams, with Keith Richards and Mick Taylor spinning off incredible riffs and solos. And the songs continue the breakthroughs of their three previous albums. No longer does their country sound forced or kitschy — it’s lived-in and complex, just like the group’s forays into soul and gospel. While the songs, including the masterpieces “Rocks Off,” “Tumbling Dice,” “Torn and Frayed,” “Happy,” “Let It Loose,” and “Shine a Light,” are all terrific, they blend together, with only certain lyrics and guitar lines emerging from the murk. It’s the kind of record that’s gripping on the very first listen, but each subsequent listen reveals something new. Few other albums, let alone double albums, have been so rich and masterful as Exile on Main St., and it stands not only as one of the Stones’ best records, but sets a remarkably high standard for all of hard rock. — Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Track Listing

All tracks are written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, except where noted.

Side one
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. “Rocks Off” 4:31
2. “Rip This Joint” 2:22
3. “Shake Your Hips” Slim Harpo 2:59
4. “Casino Boogie” 3:33
5. “Tumbling Dice” 3:45
Side two
No. Title Length
1. “Sweet Virginia” 4:27
2. “Torn and Frayed” 4:17
3. “Sweet Black Angel” 2:54
4. “Loving Cup” 4:25
Side three
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. “Happy” 3:04
2. “Turd on the Run” 2:36
3. “Ventilator Blues” Jagger, Richards, Mick Taylor 3:24
4. “I Just Want to See His Face” 2:52
5. “Let It Loose” 5:16
Side four
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. “All Down the Line” 3:49
2. “Stop Breaking Down” Robert Johnson 4:34
3. “Shine a Light” 4:14
4. “Soul Survivor” 3:49

 

 

Schill Score: 9/10

 

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The Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers (1971)

AllMusic Review: Pieced together from outtakes and much-labored-over songs, Sticky Fingers manages to have a loose, ramshackle ambience that belies both its origins and the dark undercurrents of the songs. It’s a weary, drug-laden album — well over half the songs explicitly mention drug use, while the others merely allude to it — that never fades away, but it barely keeps afloat. Apart from the classic opener, “Brown Sugar” (a gleeful tune about slavery, interracial sex, and lost virginity, not necessarily in that order), the long workout “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” and the mean-spirited “Bitch,” Sticky Fingers is a slow, bluesy affair, with a few country touches thrown in for good measure. The laid-back tone of the album gives ample room for new lead guitarist Mick Taylor to stretch out, particularly on the extended coda of “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking.” But the key to the album isn’t the instrumental interplay — although that is terrific — it’s the utter weariness of the songs. “Wild Horses” is their first non-ironic stab at a country song, and it is a beautiful, heart-tugging masterpiece. Similarly, “I Got the Blues” is a ravished, late-night classic that ranks among their very best blues. “Sister Morphine” is a horrifying overdose tale, and “Moonlight Mile,” with Paul Buckmaster’s grandiose strings, is a perfect closure: sad, yearning, drug-addled, and beautiful. With its offhand mixture of decadence, roots music, and outright malevolence, Sticky Fingers set the tone for the rest of the decade for the Stones. — Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Track Listing:

All tracks are written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, except where noted.

Side one
No. Title Length
1. “Brown Sugar” 3:48
2. “Sway” 3:50
3. “Wild Horses” 5:42
4. “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” 7:14
5. “You Gotta Move” (writers: Fred McDowell, Gary Davis) 2:32
Side two
No. Title Length
1. “Bitch” 3:38
2. “I Got the Blues” 3:54
3. “Sister Morphine” (writers: Jagger, Richards, Marianne Faithfull) 5:31
4. “Dead Flowers” 4:03
5. “Moonlight Mile” 5:56

 

 

Schill Score:  8/10

 

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The Rolling Stones – Let It Bleed (1969)

AllMusic Review: Mostly recorded without Brian Jones — who died several months before its release (although he does play on two tracks) and was replaced by Mick Taylor (who also plays on just two songs) — this extends the rock and blues feel of Beggars Banquet into slightly harder-rocking, more demonically sexual territory. The Stones were never as consistent on album as their main rivals, the Beatles, and Let It Bleed suffers from some rather perfunctory tracks, like “Monkey Man” and a countrified remake of the classic “Honky Tonk Woman” (here titled “Country Honk”). Yet some of the songs are among their very best, especially “Gimme Shelter,” with its shimmering guitar lines and apocalyptic lyrics; the harmonica-driven “Midnight Rambler”; the druggy party ambience of the title track; and the stunning “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” which was the Stones’ “Hey Jude” of sorts, with its epic structure, horns, philosophical lyrics, and swelling choral vocals. “You Got the Silver” (Keith Richards’ first lead vocal) and Robert Johnson’s “Love in Vain,” by contrast, were as close to the roots of acoustic down-home blues as the Stones ever got. — Richie Unterberger

Track Listing

Side one
No. Title Length
1. “Gimme Shelter” 4:31
2. “Love in Vain” 4:19
3. “Country Honk” 3:09
4. “Live with Me” 3:33
5. “Let It Bleed” 5:26
Total length: 20:58
Side two
No. Title Length
1. “Midnight Rambler” 6:52
2. “You Got the Silver” 2:51
3. “Monkey Man” 4:12
4. “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” 7:28
Total length: 21:23

 

Schill Score:  9.5/10

 

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The Rolling Stones – Beggars Banquet (1968)

AllMusic Review: The Stones forsook psychedelic experimentation to return to their blues roots on this celebrated album, which was immediately acclaimed as one of their landmark achievements. A strong acoustic Delta blues flavor colors much of the material, particularly “Salt of the Earth” and “No Expectations,” which features some beautiful slide guitar work. Basic rock & roll was not forgotten, however: “Street Fighting Man,” a reflection of the political turbulence of 1968, was one of their most innovative singles, and “Sympathy for the Devil,” with its fire-dancing guitar licks, leering Jagger vocals, African rhythms, and explicitly satanic lyrics, was an image-defining epic. On “Stray Cat Blues,” Jagger and crew began to explore the kind of decadent sexual sleaze that they would take to the point of self-parody by the mid-’70s. At the time, though, the approach was still fresh, and the lyrical bite of most of the material ensured Beggars Banquet’s place as one of the top blues-based rock records of all time. — Richie Unterberger

Track Listing:

Side one
No. Title Length
1. “Sympathy for the Devil” 6:18
2. “No Expectations” 3:56
3. “Dear Doctor” 3:28
4. “Parachute Woman” 2:20
5. “Jigsaw Puzzle” 6:06
Total length: 22:08
Side two
No. Title Length
1. “Street Fighting Man” 3:16
2. “Prodigal Son” 2:51
3. “Stray Cat Blues” 4:38
4. “Factory Girl” 2:09
5. “Salt of the Earth” 4:48
Total length: 17:42

 

Schill Score: 7.5/10

 

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The Rolling Stones – Aftermath (1966)

Aftermath is a studio album by the English rock band the Rolling Stones. The group recorded the album at RCA Studios in California in December 1965 and March 1966, during breaks between their international tours. It was released in the United Kingdom on 15 April 1966 by Decca Records and in the United States on 2 July by London Records. It is the band’s fourth British and sixth American studio album, and closely follows a series of international hit singles that helped bring the Stones newfound wealth and popularity that rivalled their contemporaries, the Beatles.

The album is considered by music scholars to be an artistic breakthrough for the Rolling Stones. It is their first to consist entirely of original compositions, all of which were credited to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Brian Jones emerged as a key contributor and experimented with instruments not usually associated with popular music, including the sitar, Appalachian dulcimer, Japanese koto and marimbas, as well as guitar and harmonica. Along with Jones’ instrumental textures, the Stones incorporated a wider range of chords and stylistic elements beyond their Chicago blues and R&B influences, such as pop, folk, country, psychedelia, Baroque and Middle Eastern music. Influenced in part by intense love affairs outside the band and their demanding touring itinerary, Jagger and Richards wrote the album around psychodramatic themes of love, sex, desire, power and dominance, hate, obsession, modern society and rock stardom. Women feature as prominent characters in their often dark, sarcastic, casually offensive lyrics.

The album’s release was briefly delayed by controversy over the proposed packaging and title – Could You Walk on the Water? – by the Stones’ manager/producer Andrew Loog Oldham. Decca and London rejected his idea, fearing the allusion to Jesus walking on water would provoke a negative reaction from Christians in the US. In response to the lack of creative control, and without another idea for the title, the Stones bitterly settled on Aftermath, and two different photos of the band were used for the cover to each edition of the album. The UK release featured a run-time of more than 52 minutes, the longest for a popular music LP up to that point. The American edition was issued with a shorter track listing, substituting the single “Paint It, Black” in place of four of the British version’s songs, in keeping with the industry preference for shorter LPs in the US market at the time.

Aftermath was an immediate commercial success in both the UK and the US, topping the British albums chart for eight consecutive weeks and eventually achieving platinum certification from the Recording Industry Association of America. Rivalling the contemporaneous impact of the Beatles’ Rubber Soul (1965), the album reflected the youth culture and values of 1960s Swinging London and the burgeoning counterculture while attracting thousands of new fans to the Rolling Stones. An inaugural release of the album era, it marked the beginnings of the LP replacing the single as popular music’s dominant product and artistic medium. The album was also highly successful with critics, although some listeners were offended by the derisive attitudes towards female characters in certain songs. Its subversive music solidified the band’s rebellious rock image while pioneering the darker psychological and social content that glam rock and British punk rock would explore in the 1970s. Aftermath has since been considered the most important of the Stones’ early, formative music and their first classic album, frequently ranking on professional lists of the greatest albums.

Track Listing:

Side one
No. Title Length
1. “Mother’s Little Helper” 2:40
2. “Stupid Girl” 2:52
3. “Lady Jane” 3:06
4. “Under My Thumb” 3:20
5. “Doncha Bother Me” 2:35
6. “Goin’ Home” 11:35
Total length: 26:08

Side two
No. Title Length
1. “Flight 505” 3:25
2. “High and Dry” 3:06
3. “Out of Time” 5:15
4. “It’s Not Easy” 2:52
5. “I Am Waiting” 3:10
6. “Take It or Leave It” 2:47
7. “Think” 3:10
8. “What to Do” 2:30
Total length: 26:15

AllMusic Review: The Rolling Stones finally delivered a set of all-original material with this LP, which also did much to define the group as the bad boys of rock & roll with their sneering attitude toward the world in general and the female sex in particular. The borderline misogyny could get a bit juvenile in tunes like “Stupid Girl.” But on the other hand the group began incorporating the influences of psychedelia and Dylan into their material with classics like “Paint It Black,” an eerily insistent number one hit graced by some of the best use of sitar (played by Brian Jones) on a rock record. Other classics included the jazzy “Under My Thumb,” where Jones added exotic accents with his vibes, and the delicate Elizabethan ballad “Lady Jane,” where dulcimer can be heard. Some of the material is fairly ho-hum, to be honest, as Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were still prone to inconsistent songwriting; “Goin’ Home,” an 11-minute blues jam, was remarkable more for its barrier-crashing length than its content. Look out for an obscure gem, however, in the brooding, meditative “I Am Waiting.” — Richie Unterberger

Schill Score: 9.25/10

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The Rolling Stones – The Rolling Stones (1964)

The Rolling Stones is the debut studio album by the English rock band the Rolling Stones, released by Decca Records in the UK on 16 April 1964. The American edition of the LP, with a slightly different track list, came out on London Records on 30 May 1964, subtitled England’s Newest Hit Makers, which later became its official title.

Recorded at Regent Sound Studios in London over the course of five days in January and February 1964, The Rolling Stones was produced by then-managers Andrew Loog Oldham and Eric Easton. The album was originally released by Decca Records in the UK, while the US version appeared on the London Records label.

The majority of the tracks reflect the band’s love for R&B. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards (whose professional name until 1978 omitted the “s” in his surname) were fledgling songwriters during early 1964, contributing only one original composition to the album: “Tell Me (You’re Coming Back)”. Two songs are credited to “Nanker Phelge” – a pseudonym the band used for group compositions from 1963 to 1965. Phil Spector and Gene Pitney both contributed to the recording sessions, and are referred to as “Uncle Phil and Uncle Gene” in the subtitle of the Phelge instrumental “Now I’ve Got a Witness.”

Track Listing:

Side one
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. “Route 66” Bobby Troup 2:20
2. “I Just Want to Make Love to You” Willie Dixon 2:17
3. “Honest I Do” Jimmy Reed 2:09
4. “Mona (I Need You Baby)” Ellas McDaniel 3:33
5. “Now I’ve Got a Witness” Nanker Phelge 2:29
6. “Little by Little” Nanker Phelge, Phil Spector 2:39
Total length: 15:27

Side two
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. “I’m a King Bee” James Moore 2:35
2. “Carol” Chuck Berry 2:33
3. “Tell Me (You’re Coming Back)” Mick Jagger, Keith Richards 4:05
4. “Can I Get a Witness” Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, Eddie Holland 2:55
5. “You Can Make It If You Try” Ted Jarrett 2:01
6. “Walking the Dog” Rufus Thomas 3:10
Total length: 17:19

Review: At the close of 1963, the Rolling Stones were, for want of a better word, on a — roll. They’d done okay if not great the previous summer with their debut single, a cover of a Chuck Berry obscurity called “Come On,” which was more energetic than 99 percent of its competition, and then roared into the Top 20 in November with a follow up single, a savage rendition of the Lennon-McCartney song “I Wanna Be Your Man,” complete with slide guitar and a bass that sounded like its amplifier was cranked up to 12.

And then they were ready to take the next step. No; not an LP, which in those days was reserved for relative elites in the music business, but an EP, an extended-play single, containing four songs and priced accordingly higher. It would presumably generate twice the revenue and show some more of what the band could do. At the time, this didn’t include songwriting, which they’d only just started trying to do in earnest (especially after seeing how Paul McCartney and John Lennon had delivered “I Wanna Be Your Man” to them on the spot, as a favor). So the question was, what songs would be on the EP (rather unimaginatively titled The Rolling Stones)? They’d previously struggled to find a second single — before Lennon and McCartney stepped in — trying and failing — with results that were closer to a limp version of “The Little Drummer Boy” than to anything by the Coasters — to cut one of their favorite American songs, Leiber & Stoller’s “Poison Ivy.”

This time, with the single still riding the charts and — as a cover of a new Beatles song at a time when the Beatles were the hottest music act in England — getting the group lots of television and radio exposure, the solution came a little easier. They didn’t have to look beyond their own favorites — it was back to Chuck Berry and a slashing rendition of his four-year-old “Bye Bye Johnny,” a favorite of Keith Richards’, rebuilt from the ground up with a tempo that started out in fourth and jumped to overdrive and then threw in the super-charger on the guitar break, Richards and Brian Jones’ interlocking guitars propelling the song into space around Mick Jagger’s raspy lead vocals; then it was time to cross swords with the Beatles on a Motown number, “Money,” which they carried into punkier territory, with more sneer and attitude than John Lennon and company had mustered earlier that year. (And maybe it was here that the seed was planted for that notion that the Stones always seemed to try what the Beatles had done three months earlier, except that this time it worked on the basis of sheer wattage and Mick Jagger’s intensity). The real centerpiece was Arthur Alexander’s “You Better Move On,” another American-spawned favorite that the band had been doing in concert — this was their chance to show a softer, more lyrical and soulful sound that was every bit as intense as the blues and hard R&B they’d already done on record; and they did it with some exquisite harmony singing by Bill Wyman and Brian Jones (before the latter surrendered the microphone to Keith Richards), showing off yet another new attribute on record — it was also no accident that the Alexander song was the only one of these four to get a second life in an American release, picked up by London Records in 1965 when the latter was assembling the December’s Children LP. And, finally, there was “Poison Ivy,” which the band salvaged with a ballsier rendition, sporting a harder guitar sound and a great showcase for Charlie Watts’ playing as well. It all worked, as the resulting extended-play release, despite its higher price, reached the singles charts and also became the group’s first number one hit, reaching that coveted slot on the EP sales listings for England in early 1964 and riding that chart for 11 weeks. Within five weeks of its release, the group — still working at songwriting — would record and release a follow up single, “Not Fade Away” b/w “Little by Little,” that took all of the elements in evidence on this EP several steps further. — Bruce Eder

Schill Score: 9.25/10

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