Hey….welcome to my first article. Let me say from the outset that I intend to review albums from today and yesterday that whilst not totally unknown or unheard of, perhaps follow the ‘B’ roads rather than the freeways!
Having said all of that and with a large dose of irony, my first review is to cover what I believe to be the greatest rock album of all time….certainly my favourite, The Rolling Stones ‘Sticky Fingers’.
Whilst I am a Rolling Stones fan, I’m certainly not a card carrying member. I have only seen them once live and believe that they have produced equal amount of greatness with the mundane. But for a while there from the late 60’s until 1973, they were as good as it gets. And when the big book of rock history is handed down from above, the mythology and legend of the Rolling Stones was made flesh in 1971 with the recording of the album Sticky Fingers. 1971, The Beatles were already a memory and Led Zeppelin were still on the ascent. The Rolling Stones were now the greatest rock and roll band in the world. Everything that comes with that mantle….booze, drugs, groupies, marriages, breakdowns, debauchery and the loneliness of the road that only rock stars seem to know, was channelled into ‘Sticky Fingers’
Drugs! The use of cocaine by band and hangers on paralleled the use of the air that they breathed, And Keith’s journey into the world of smack was well on track. The album is a mirror to all of this, with both subtle and immediate drug references throughout. It was also the first time that new boy Mick Taylor had played on a full Rolling Stones album, having only contributed on a couple of songs on previous album ‘Let It Bleed’. And a glaring travesty is the fact that Mick Taylor’s massive contribution on this album is not given any song writing credits whatsoever, even though it his signature lead guitar work that actually defines a lot of the great songs on the album (Sway; Can’t You Hear Me Knocking).
Sticky Fingers is a magnificent achievement from a band who were at the zenith of their song writing powers yet on the verge of falling apart.
The album opens with the now Stones standard Brown Sugar but in my opinion, could easily survive without it….that’s how good this album is! The other massive track was the brilliant, Wild Horses. The Stones first proper dalliance into country (Americana anyone?) sans tongue planted firmly in cheek. But put these two radio staples aside, and you will find a whole fortune in gold to glean from these hills. As previously mentioned, Sway is the definition of the Stones at their best, swaggering, tight but loose. Ready to fall over at any time but never does. And the lead guitar from Mick Taylor is truly seminal….it probably grooved on forever, only the fadeout brings the mastery to an end.
Can’t You Hear Me Knocking is a seven minute plus tour de force driven once again by Taylor who leads the band into a Latin Samba Pa Ti jam session at the halfway point with saxophonist Bobby Keys and conga man Rocky Dijon tearing things up. Keith’s opening riff still brings up the hairs on my neck. Watch the opening scene of the Johnny Depp movie ‘Blow’ at full volume and you will get my drift.
But the strength of a great album is the lesser tracks. The tradesmen like tracks that lift and support the heavy weights. Songs like Bitch, another great Keith riff married to a high octane horn section; Dead Flowers, a mock country ode to an overzealous fan, I Got The Blues, their best attempt at Stax- like soul ballad and Sister Morphine, a song originally released two years prior by Marianne Faithfull.
The ‘coup de grace’ however, comes with the final song of the album, Moonlight Mile. Full of heartache, anguish, loneliness and a pining to be home with the despair of knowing that he can’t be, this is perhaps Mick Jagger’s greatest vocal performance. His impassioned vocals are raw and visceral. The beautiful string arrangement by Paul Buckmaster sweeps the song towards its final crescendo. Mick Taylor fashioned this out of a left over scrap of song and turned it in to a thing of beauty. Mr Taylor is still awaiting his name to be added to the Jagger/Richards credit.
Sticky Fingers is a magnificent achievement from a band who were at the zenith of their song writing powers yet on the verge of falling apart. Jimmy Miller’s production is exemplary. The bit players are first class….Bobby Keys, Nicky Hopkins, Billy Preston, Ry Cooder et al. The album artwork conceived by Warhol is iconic. It truly cannot be faulted. It regularly comes in second or third behind the overhyped ‘Exile On Main Street’ in Stones best of polls….but this is the one. The Stones best album.
Rock music’s best album.