A Banquet After The Trip: Revisiting the 1968 Rolling Stones “Beggars Banquet”

One of the best Stones albums turns 50

A Banquet After The Trip: Revisiting the 1968 Rolling Stones “Beggars Banquet”

After their Psychedelic adventures with the 1967 “Their Satanic Majesties Request”, the Rolling Stones returned to their original bluesier sound with a different twist on “Beggars Banquet”. Released on December 6th 1968, this is one of the Stones masterpieces, a flawless album that includes a non stop selection of outstanding music. Recorded with the original core members of the band including Brian Jones, the album opens with “Sympathy For The Devil” that was destined to became a classic, the song still sounds today as fresh as when it was released, not showing the minimum signs of age. Including several different types of instruments that usually were not featured on Rock music, such as they did on their previous album, “Sympathy For The Devil” starts with the famous tribal beat that evolves into a piano melody and then into electric guitar, and making justice to the name of the album, Mick Jagger welcomes you to this sonic adventure by introducing himself in the first line “Please allow me to introduce myself” always backed up by the famous “who who”. Although it features Brian Jones still as an active member of the band, by then the relations between the band and him were starting to decline due to Jones increasing use of drugs and alcohol and his lack of interest on the Stones new musical direction that included more crafted and commercial directed songs instead of their original Blues songs featured on the first albums. But still, Jones played most of the “exotic” instruments on the album, as he was the only Stone who could master any instrument no matter how strange it could be or sound. One of his highlights in “Beggars Banquet” it’s the slide guitar present on the “No Expectations” songs, the second track. Jones guitar work is magnificent and lends to the song a magnitude that couldn’t be achieved without his slide technique, it’s no surprise that after Jones demise, the Stones pretty much cut off that song from their live sets. “Dear Doctor”, an acoustic West Coast style Blues track it’s simple but yet, a great song, effective and pleasant to listen to. “Parachute Woman” it’s another Blues track with a slight Psychedelic Rock twist that fits perfectly into the vibe of the song and closing the Side 1 it’s one of the Stones best songs ever that has been unfairly forgotten over the years, “Jigsaw Puzzle”. This song features a Keith Richards on the slide guitar and it’s reminiscent of Bob Dylan’s mid 1960’s work both lyrically and musically, Jones it’s not featured on this song. Why this song never became a hit puzzles me. Pun intended. The Side 2 of “Beggars Banquet” starts with the political “Street Fighting Man”, one of the album’s biggest hits and the only single being released from it; the song lyrics reflects the times and attitude of the late 1960’s, the political tensions and the people protests, the Stones were never really a political band and this is one of the few examples where you can caught them being political. “Prodigal Son” it’s a blues cover from Robert Witkins, it’s the first time in a long time the Stones put back a cover on one of their studio albums which their first ones was a rule. “Stray Cat Blues” it’s a sample of what the Stones musical direction would go during the early 1970’s, a track that could have been featured on the 1972 “Exile On Main St.”. “Factory Girl” it’s a folksy song very similar to an Appalachian folk tune, especially due to its minimal arrangement. Another unfairly forgotten over the time Stones song closes this fine record, “Salt Of The Earth”, like “Jigsaw Puzzle” it’s lyrically rich and musically crafted, the song, that has been very rarely included on their live sets, features a rare moment of Richards and Mick Jagger sharing the lead vocals.  “Beggars Banquet” it’s part of what people usually call “The Rolling Stones Golden Period”, that saw the releases of sequential stunning and influential albums, “After-Math”, “Between The Buttons”, “Their Satanic Majesties Request”, “Beggars Banquet”, “Let It Bleed”, “Sticky Fingers”, “Exile On Main St.” and “Goats Head Soup”. The Stones inspiration didn’t drained during this time, even recently they’ve put out their latest album which proves the greatest Rock N’ Roll band in the world still knows how to do a classic, but, this was without a doubt a period that was rich in discovery and experimentation, despite all, Jones certainly did helped keeping the Stones curiosity sharp by suggesting the use of so many unconventional instruments to Rock music. “Beggars Banquet” in a way shuts down that period, with the 1969 “Let It Bleed” serving as a bridge to the new Stones of the early 1970’s, just like a cycle.

Jean-Luc Godard, The Rolling Stones Rock N’ Roll Circus and Album Art

Part of the recording sessions of the album were documented on film by French director Jean-Luc Godard when after May 1968, Godard moved to London to film the Rolling Stones recording “Sympathy for the Devil.” He later made the film “Sympathy for the Devil”, where he juxtaposed the Rolling Stones rehearsing with seemingly unrelated scenes with a soundtrack featuring, among others, the Black Panthers. The film showed the Stones at work, deconstructing the myth of the genius creator at the London’s Olympic Sound Studios. The dissolution of Stone Brian Jones is vividly portrayed on this film-documentary by Godard which is mainly a political film.  On 11–12 December 1968 the band filmed a television extravaganza titled “The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus” featuring John Lennon, Eric Clapton, The Who, Jethro Tull and Marianne Faithfull among the musical guests, that had the purpose to promote “Beggars Banquet”, however, the film end up being shelved for almost 30 years, and it was only released in 1996. Several songs from “Beggars Banquet” are performed live on the show, including “No Expectations” featuring Brian Jones on the slide guitar and other rarely played live ones like “Parachute Woman”. The album’s original cover art, depicting a bathroom wall covered with graffiti, was rejected by the band’s record company, and their unsuccessful dispute delayed the album’s release for months and end up being released with a plain white cover only featuring the title of the album as in an invitation with the “R.S.V.P” commonly use on invitation cards (In French “Repondez S’il Vous Plait” which translates in English to “Please Reply”), as it was a common deed back then, the final album art gets reminiscent of the latest Beatles album art, in this case, the famous “White Album” that was released just roughly two weeks before, a similar thing happened the previous year with “Their Satanic Majesties Request” that was very similar aesthetically to “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band”, shot by the same photographer Michael Cooper and featuring the heads of the four “Sgt. Peppers” Beatles hiding among the Stones. A healthy rivalry between both bands known to be great friends and collaborators of each other. In later pressings the original dirty toilet “Beggars Banquet” cover was finally issued.

Side 1
1 “Sympathy for the Devil”
2 “No Expectations”
3 “Dear Doctor”
4 “Parachute Woman”
5 “Jigsaw Puzzle”

Side 2
6 “Street Fighting Man”
7 “Prodigal Son”
8 “Stray Cat Blues”
9 “Factory Girl”
10 “Salt of the Earth”

All songs written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, except “Prodigal Son” by Robert Wilkins

Personnel:
Mick Jagger: lead vocals (all tracks), backing vocals (1, 3), maracas (6,8), harmonica (4)
Keith Richards: acoustic guitars (2-7, 9, 10), electric guitars (1, 4, 5, 8, 9), bass guitar (1, 6), backing vocals (1, 3), co-lead vocals (10)
Brian Jones: harmonica (3, 4, 7), slide guitar (2), backing vocals (1), sitar (6), tambura (6), Mellotron (5, 8)
Bill Wyman: bass guitar (2-5, 8-10), backing vocals (1), maracas (1), double bass (3), synthesizer (5)
Charlie Watts: drums (1, 3-8, 10), backing vocals (1), claves (2), tambourine (3), tabla (9)

Aditional Peronnel:
Nicky Hopkins: piano (1-3, 5, 6, 8, 10)
Rocky Dijon: congas (1, 8, 9)
Ric Grech: fiddle (9)
Dave Mason: shehnai on (6), Mellotron (mandolin setting) (9)
Jimmy Miller: backing vocals (1)
Watts Street Gospel Choir: backing vocals (10)

Produced by: Jimmy Miller
Recorded during: 17 March – 25 July 1968 at Olympic Sound Studios, London and Sunset Sound, Los Angeles
Released: December 6th, 1968
Label: Decca/London

Singles:
“Street Fighting Man”/”No Expectations” Released: 31 August 1968 (US)

Strongest tracks:
All

Go inside the  “Beggars Banquet” recording sessions though the intimate look of Jean-Luc Godard who captured the band on the “Sympathy For The Devil” documentary in 1968

Watch The Rolling Stones 1968 promo film for “Street Fighting Man” featuring footage from the infamous launch party of the album

Watch The Rolling Stones performing “Sympathy For The Devil” live at The Rock N’ Roll Circus in 1968

Listen to “Beggars Banquet” on Spotify

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