Saturday, June 14, 2008

BB King - You're Losin' Me (nonstones)

BB King
Completely Well
"You're Losin' Me"

Download here.

1969 saw the release of BB King's last great collection of songs, Completely Well. The idea behind the album was to combine BB King's straight blues singing and guitar playing with contemporary soul and funk arrangements. Unlike many of these types of experiments, it worked out great. The most well known track on the album, "The Thrill Is Gone", mixed King's slashing single-string work and his impassioned vocals with a low-key soul backing, including some Motown-like strings.

My favourite track however was "You're Losin' Me", which re-imagines a typical BB King cheatin' blues as a funk song. The standout is some nimble bass work by session player Jerry Jemmott, who has played with virtually every important soul and R&B artist in the 60s and 70s, but is in my Bassist Hall of Fame simply for playing on "Memphis Soul Stew".

Beggars Banquet Roundup

Beggars Banquet Roundup

1. "Sympathy for the Devil" – 6:27
2. "No Expectations" – 4:02
3. "Dear Doctor" – 3:26
4. "Parachute Woman" – 2:23
5. "Jigsaw Puzzle" – 6:17
6. "Street Fighting Man" – 3:18
7. "Prodigal Son" (Rev. Robert Wilkins) – 2:55
8. "Stray Cat Blues" – 4:40
9. "Factory Girl" – 2:12
10. "Salt of the Earth" – 4:51

See also the related single "Jumpin' Jack Flash".

A seminal album in many ways: It established a fruitful musical direction for the band, which they would explore for the next ten years, producing the bulk of their greatest output, perhaps best heard on Exile on Main Streeet. With it's country-ish songs and instrumentation, Beggars Banquet provided a blueprint that numerous other bands over the years would use – most memorably Rod Stewart's first few solo albums. Finally, the album gave the band's "dark side" image real definition, an image that gave credibility to later songs like "Torn and Frayed" and "Dead Flowers" and "You Can't Always Get What You Want".

Background from Wikipedia:

Following the long sessions for the previous album in 1967, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards decided that the band needed more direction in the studio and in early 1968 hired Jimmy Miller, who had produced the Spencer Davis Group and Traffic. The partnership would prove to be a success and Miller would work with the band until 1973.

In March, the band began recording their new album, aiming for a July release. One of the first tracks cut, "Jumpin' Jack Flash", was released as a single-only that May, becoming a major hit.

Beggars Banquet was Brian Jones' last full effort with The Rolling Stones. In addition to his slide work on "No Expectations", he played harmonica on "Dear Doctor", "Parachute Woman" and "Prodigal Son", sitar and tambura on "Street Fighting Man", mellotron on "Jigsaw Puzzle" and "Stray Cat Blues". On "Stray Cat Blues", Richards for the first time used the "open G" chord style that became a staple of numerous Stones classics for the rest of their tenure, including "Monkey Man", "Brown Sugar", "Start Me Up", and "I Go Wild".

By June, the sessions were nearly completed in England, with some final overdubbing and mixing to be done in Los Angeles during July. However, both Decca Records in England and London Records rejected the planned cover design - a graffiti-covered lavatory, and the band held back the album. By November, however, The Rolling Stones gave in, allowing the album to be released in December with a simple imitation invitation card cover. The idea for a plain album cover was also implemented by The Beatles for their eponymous white-sleeved double-album, which was released one month prior to Beggars Banquet. This similarity, coupled with Beggars Banquet's later release, garnered the Rolling Stones accusations of imitating the Beatles. In 1984, the original cover art was released with the initial CD remastering of Beggars Banquet.

Critics considered the LP as a return to form.[1] It was also a clear commercial success, reaching #3 in the UK and #5 in the US (on the way to eventual platinum status).

The original LP pressing did not credit Rev. Wilkins as the writer of "Prodigal Son". His performance of "Prodigal Son" at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival was included on the Vanguard LP Blues at Newport, Volume 2; that performance is similar to the Stones' cover, and this may have been where the band first heard the song, although this is not certain.

On 10 December 1968 and 11 December 1968, the band aimed to promote Beggars Banquet by recording a television extravaganza entitled The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus featuring John Lennon, Eric Clapton, The Who and Jethro Tull among the musical guests. However, the project did not air and would not receive an official release until 1996.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Salt of the Earth

Beggars Banquet
Track 10
"Salt of the Earth" – 4:51

A kick ass album that goes out on a whimper. I liked this song a lot more when the Stones recorded it as "You Can't Always Get What You Want" – but even then, I didn't like it all that much.

The problem is Mick. He is a man who cannot get away with singing lines like,

Let's drink to the hard working people,
Let's drink to the lowly of birth.
It's impossible to take Mick seriously when he sings those words, knowing what we know about him and his cocaine and jet-set entourage. Gives me the same angry feeling I get when I hear Bono talk about the starving people in Africa – don't you just want to punch him in the taint? How's about you just shut the fuck up and count your money, okay? Jesus, you just finished songs about riots in the streets and sex with underage girls – don't give me this salt of the earth bullshit, please? God fucking dammit.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Factory Girl

Beggars Banquet
Track 9
"Factory Girl" – 2:12

A terrific melody that must have sounded classic the moment it came off Keith's guitar. A neat, old timey arrangement with minimal percussion (including the return of Rocky Dijon!), some mandolin courtesy of Dave Mason, and viola care of Rick Grech.

So the question that keeps popping up in my head: why do these tunes sound so good, while the band's previous attempts at blues sound so bad? Part of the answer must be that I am partial to the more traditional arrangements they used on this album over the Chicago style the Stones used on their first few albums. Another part of the answer is surely Mick, who sounded so tentative on those early tracks and so self-assured on these. Compare his slurring delivery on "Factory Girl" with his earlier "Little Red Rooster":

The band also sounds more confident. But I think it's Mick that really gives authority to these songs on this album.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Stray Cat Blues

Beggars Banquet
Track 8
"Stray Cat Blues" – 4:40

Mick's really got that lazy slur working. I thought he perfected it around the time of Exile, but he sounds great here.

Not a great song, but a good enough rocker to maintain the energy level of the album (except for that interlude – what is that all about?). It's songs like this where you can really hear what Mick Taylor brought to the table: Keith is a great guitar player, but his leads are not particularly distinctive, and too many songs in this era of the Stones history simply omit the guitar solo. Strong tracks like "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and "Street Fighting Man" don't really miss anything, but weaker songs like "Stray Cat Blues" suffer a little.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Prodigal Son

Beggars Banquet
Track 7
"Prodigal Son" (Rev. Robert Wilkins) – 2:55

A weird track – it sounds like the type of album filler that was common on the Stones early albums, an old blues track with a neat little melody. It's a nice performance, but the track isn't especially strong itself – it is the placement of "Prodigal Son" on this album that gives it a credibility their earlier blues recording largely lacked. At the beginning, when the Stones were a band who had no ambitions beyond paying homage to their blues heroes, a track like this would just be another tribute. But this time, the Stones clearly have greater goals, and surrounded by tracks as strong memorable as "Street Fighting Man" and "Sympathy for the Devil", "Prodigal Son" serves as kind of a rest stop, a quick look back to the past for a band who is clearly going in another direction.