One of the greatest rock and roll albums by arguably one of the greatest rock and roll bands ever. Whether that statement is true or not I guess depends on who you talk to. Because let’s face it, contender for “world’s greatest this, or world’s greatest that” is an unwinnable debate for all sides. What is true is that Let It Bleed would mark the beginning of a new phase for the group, with the departure of Brian Jones, and the introduction of Mick Taylor. That Jones only played on two songs meant that the majority of guitar playing fell in the lap of Keith Richards, who worked like a monster to not only record his parts but invent the arrangements.
This is the album where I like to think that Richards established the true sound and style for which he is famous for today, and in that respect opener “Gimmie Shelter” is a classic. From the first chords you know that something ominous is on the horizon, like a storm brewing in the distance, yet coming closer, and growing stronger. Let’s face it, the Stones weren’t exactly hippies. They were a band made up of mostly working class poms that’d seen enough and done enough to understand that a bunch of flowers and a slab of acid weren’t going to change the world any time soon. And this song is a testament to that reality.
Their cover of Robert Johnson’s “Love In Vain” is nothing like the original (in case you’re wondering), but it still captures the sentiment and pathos of its author. Mick Jagger comes across as a cockney of the Mississippi Delta; however it’s the slide guitar which really grabs your heart and makes you reach for the odd tissue or two.
And speaking of cockneys, “Country Honk” is a sort of English/hillbilly hybrid of the sort the band would explore on later albums. “Live With Me” starts off with a funky bass line, and is the first song they recorded with Mick Taylor. It’s a killer track, and one that would serve as a template for their next few LPs.
The title track, “Let It Bleed” is a slice of sleazy, druggy country-rock, and a proto-type for the kind of writing they would explore a bit later on Exile on Main Street.
Change sides and we have “Midnight Rambler”, a poignant drawn out blues jam which probably put a hex on the whole hippie movement in one fell swoop. This is dark stuff, with haunting harmonica by Jagger, as well as a shadowy rhythm section; this will take you someplace else, away from the light, and into a world of fog and darkness.
“You Got the Silver” is Richards’ first sole vocal performance, and is a plaintive cry of a man on the brink, standing on the edge for love, and needing some response as a consequence. However our minds are quickly turned elsewhere with “Monkey Man”, where Nicky Hopkins plays some ghostly piano before the rest of the band jump in like a bunch of drugged out paratroopers hell bent on liberating occupied France.
And now we end with a song that will forever remain synonymous with the film “The Big Chill”, and countless baby boomers spoilt by free education and cheap housing (not to mention going down to your local pub and seeing Jimi Hendrix. No wonder I’m jealous). “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” is one of the greatest closing moments on any rock album ever, and if you don’t agree, then you either don’t like The Stones, or you’re an idiot. Or maybe both, like me. But all jest to one side, once you get through the pretentious choir, as soon as those country chords kicks in, with the French horn, you have a down to earth anthem for just about every living being on the planet. And no matter how shit you feel about life, this song has that magical quality to make you feel good about who you are and who you’re with. That even if you haven’t always made the right decisions in life, what you do have is the best in comparison to unrealistic dreams.
For me, personally, this is where my love affair with The Rolling Stones began, from gazing at the weird album cover to analysing each and every note that floated off the turntable and around my bedroom. Forget about Salt-N-Pepa or Run DMC, for me this was where was the real shit was at, as a young teenager, and I couldn’t get enough of it. Let It Bleed was an education, and a glorious one at that. And as I smoke my last cigarette for the night, I wonder if there is somebody else out there discovering this album for the first time, feeling that sense of infinite wonder at every riff, and every sound that was created so long ago.