Ok, ok, so if I’m going to have a wee chat about this album, you can’t but not start with the album cover…
Yes, there’s a massive penis, you can’t really avoid it. And yes, we may all want to move like him – but it’s not Mick Jagger. The cover is the brain child of Andy Warhol, and we’ll never know who the penis belongs to. However, this is one of the most memorable album covers (bar the usual iconic ones), you will ever see. It even involves a real zip and belt buckle! Ingenious! Actually if you want proper titillation, unzip and unbuckle and there’s a serious pair of underwear there. Gulp, oh Matron!
Anyway, now I’ve had a lie down and fanned myself, onto the album.
This is an album of firsts: this was the first album from the Stones in the 70s, the first album without Brian Jones, and the first album away from Decca and Allan Klein (Big Bad Manager). Listening to the album you have a sense that for the first time the Stones were completely free to do what they wanted (album covers and all!) and we discovered that they were downright dirty rockers.
Now I’m very biased towards this album, it contains two of my favourite songs: the country-tastic Wild Horses, and Brown Sugar – and who can’t help but sing along to that? Ok, so the popularity of Brown Sugar completely overshadows the fact it is a pretty scandalous song about all sorts – Slavery, S&M, interracial sex, drugs and err, rape. It really is a hell of a song when you read into the lyrics. Unfortunately, the song is a fine example of getting in the groove and moving like said Mr Jagger; and one of the best examples you’ll find of classic early 70s rock.
However, this album isn’t completely a rock album through and through, the album ebbs and flows with country, rock, ballads and soul songs. I’m in great company with Jerry Hall in saying that Wild Horses is one of the best Rolling Stones’ songs you will ever listen to. Which is odd, when you think what they’re really known for. It is a fairly sober country love song in their catalogue. And as love songs go, I find this to be the most haunting and passionate one you’ll ever hear – It’s a song about loving someone always, through thick and thin; powerful stuff eh?
I suppose that’s the thing about this album, it is full of surprises, mercurial even. You can hop from one song to the next and like a box of chocolates, you never quite know what you’re going to get (Please forgive the cliché).
Hold on whilst I go samba to “Can’t you hear me knocking”.
This album really does have a sense of freedom. The Stones felt like they could showcase anything they damned well liked, and they’re so very cocksure about it.
That’s not to say that there’s not a dark side to all this freedom – this is the chequered history of the Rolling Stones after all.. Side Two feels much more autobiographical about the mindset of the Stones at the time. Sister Morphine is an incredibly dark song, no, I mean dark, so very dark. Yet somehow a tale of heroin cold-turkey is turned into a moving ballad, a lament to being in this state (Brian Jones had after all just died, and the Stones’ drug taking was pretty rife). Also, interestingly, if you look closely the song is partly written by Marianne Faithful – and that should tell you everything..
The album ends with a sweeping ballad – Moonlight Mile. The lyrics feel mysterious and alienated, almost lonely. When I listen to this song I sometimes wonder whether it’s Mick Jagger just telling us that he’s world-weary and tired of being the rock ‘n’ roll star we all know and love. Either that or he’s coming off a massive cocaine high. Not much you can say to that I suppose.
Anyway, you decide. Give it a go, it’s well worth it.
Stand out songs:
- Wild Horses
- Brown Sugar
- Lady Morphine
The Knitty Gritty:
The album is available on Spotify, Deezer, iTunes and on CD/Vinyl
Other albums to listen to:
Live at Leeds – The Who
Morrison Hotel – The Doors
Let it Be – The Beatles