02 April, 2009

Obsession with The Rolling Stones

For the past however many months, I have been totally in the land of the Stones. And there's really no way out, except for complete indulgence, overplay, and eventually musical fatigue. You'd think it would be hard to say "The Rolling Stones are one of the most underrated bands of all time". You'd really think that it would be a silly thing to say. But it goes beyond all the hype. It's irrelevant that they've had an insane number of hit songs. They've made countless albums. They've gone through stylistic changes, without ever becoming completely un-Stones.

People always talk about the Beatles as the greatest band of all time. The ones who influenced everything. And they certainly have influenced everything that we hear in pop and rock, including The Rolling Stones. But The Beatles lasted only 8 years. And they had only 12 studio albums, depending on how you decide to count (Please Please Me, With The Beatles, Beatles for Sale, Hard Day's Night, Rubber Soul. Help, Revolver, Magical Mystery Tour, Sgt. Pepper, Yellow Submarine, White Album, Abbey Road, Let It Be; okay that was 13 albums, but I would exclude YS, since it was mostly a piece of shit). The Beatles could not keep it going because their personal pursuits tore them apart. The concept of "band" did not outweigh the ambition and individuality of the members.

The Stones, for a large portion of their career, certainly well into the early 1990's (a span of 30 years!) were the same set of members, minus one personnel change: Brian Jones, who killed himself, and then was replaced only twice. First, by Mick Taylor, and eventually Ron Wood, who is with them to this day.

The thing about The Stones that is so amazing to me is that they started around the same time as The Beatles, but they started doing their best work around the time The Beatles broke up. Not to say they didn't do comparable, and excellent work throughout the 1960's. But from 1968 to 1978 (or more accurately, from 1968 to 1974, and then once again in 1978) The Stones were on fire.

Lately, I have been listening obsessively to the album Beggar's Banquet. It is not possible to say enough good things about this one. It is undoubtedly (in my mind) the best album that they ever recorded (with Some Girls and Exile on Main Street in 2nd and 3rd place). And I would put it up against anything that The Beatles ever did, if what you're looking for is "An Album". A collection of songs that holds together and is unpretentious, takes you somewhere, and never breaks stride. The Beatles had great collections of songs, but only in little spurts did they ever manage to successfully get you into a theme and hold you there. Sgt. Pepper was obviously aimed at doing that, but it was such a quirky and nutty theme, that you had to practically step outside your world to step into it. Beggar's Banquet is a place that you can get to by doing nothing more than letting your mood and your mind slide a little bit. The songs all hold together, and never give you a jolt that says "Whoa! Where'd that come from?"

It probably has something to do with musical control. The Beatles were always a fight between several musicians, writing songs, and putting their own stamp on things. And there was probably not that much enthusiasm, especially as the years passed, in putting 100% into someone else's song. The Stones were a different story. From my read of things, large chunks of their repertoire was written entirely by Keith Richards, especially in the case of Beggar's Banquet and Exile. And most of the guitar work on these records was also done by one person (in both cases, they were essentially without a second guitar player because of Brian Jones having become less and less involved, and eventually, dead).

Okay, I don't want to talk about this anymore.

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