The Beatles and the Stones, The Beatles and the Stones... They may be inseparable as the names of the two best British bands of the '60s, but we all know who is perceived by most as being superior, and not without reason. Watch the June '67 footage of the former's performance of 'All You Need Is Love' becoming part of the first ever live global television link, and in the audience you'll see Mick Jagger, grinning, clapping along, a mere disciple. Months later, with the bungling mysticism of the 'Their Satanic Majesties Request' album, his awe has mutated into imitation: in '67 The Rolling Stones tried to make their own 'Sgt Pepper's...' and sounded lost.
See, The Rolling Stones couldn't be The Beatles, who with their artistic bent and a producer - George Martin - able to dress up their songs in arrangements as colourful as their clothes, could pull off such manoeuvres. Neither could they now rely on the management-concocted ‘Would you let your daughter marry a Rolling Stone?' teenage rebel image.
This was a band at a crossroads with artistic oblivion bearing down on them. Whatever they did, psychedelia and the current fashion mores had to go.
That 'Beggars...' opens with 'Sympathy For The Devil' (one of the greatest ever Stones songs) is a defiant statement of intent. Awash lyrically with Jagger's self-mythologising, it's as inventive as anything that other bands were doing at the time, yet without the pomposity and propelled by a party-starting rhythm: the sound of the best white blues group ever taking the music closest to their hearts to new places. The entire process of its creation was captured by left-field director Jean-Luc Godard and used as the thread that (barely) holds together his film essay of the same name on the revolutionary ideas of the time that would culminate in the 1968 Paris riots.
'Street Fighting Man' shared Godard's obsessions and is driven, like much of 'Beggars Banquet' by acoustic guitars, but the Stones inject both this and the likes of ‘Parachute Woman' with more violence and menace than a thousand distortion pedals could muster. The sheer musical mastery on display is staggering. Keith Richards' slide guitar (notably on 'No Expectations') eclipses that of his heroes. Brian Jones (busy falling apart on his last full Stones record) adds subtle touches of strangeness and as a unit they're locked in, sounding like the ultimate bar-room band. On the outro of oft-forgotten classic ‘Jigsaw Puzzle' you can tell The Rolling Stones are having the time of their lives. Lyrically, too, 'Beggars Banquet' represents the point where the Stones stopped giving a fuck what people thought. Whether it's the perverted ‘Stray Cat Blues' (“Well I can see Chat you're 15 years old/But l don't want your ID") or ‘Salt Of The Earth"s plea for you to “raise a glass to the hardworkin’people", this is a realism far removed from psychedelic fantasy. By rejecting what was de rigueur and being true to what they loved, the Stones established themselves as the ultimate rock’n'roll band.
And this was just the start: ‘Let It Bleed’, ‘Sticky Fingers' and ‘Exile On Main Street’... from here on in they were - ahem - on a roll. ’Beggars Banquet' was the album on which The Rolling Stones had to start just being The Rolling Stones, and that, brilliantly, is exactly what they did.
01. Sympathy For The Devil
02. No Expectations
03. Dear Doctor
04. Parachute Woman
05. Jigsaw Puzzle
06. Street Fighting Man
07. Prodigal Son
08. Stray Cat Blues
09. Factory Girl
10. Salt Of The Earth