LEFSETZ LETTER: Mid-Period Stones


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This is the era that built the band's reputation. Sure, tons of hits
came earlier, which were documented so well on the 1966 compilation "Big
Hits (High Tide and Green Grass)," but it was after this that the band
truly started testing limits, showing they were more than a hit machine,
it's these works which truly made the band legendary.

THEIR SATANIC MAJESTIES REQUEST

Released for Christmas '67, this LP is seen as a giant misfire, a poor
imitation of the Beatles, inspired by their legendary "Sgt. Pepper." But
if this came out today, by a star band, it would be seen as a solid
effort. Alas, back then you actually had to buy music, so that which was
not laden with hits sat in the bins. Sure, the Beatles ushered in the
album era, but it wasnE28099t until a couple of years later,
certainly the seventies, that so many got the message. There might have
been underground FM radio in San Francisco and New York in 1967, but
elsewhere it was years away.


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"She's A Rainbow"

This is as close to a hit as "Satanic Majesties" contains. Upbeat but
complicated it hearkened back to what came before yet was most certainly
innovative. Furthermore, it's dated not a whit. If you were there back
then, paying attention, you'll nod your head. If you're a newbie you'll
be stunned how poppy the track is. There's this canard that the bands of
yore were so busy testing limits that they didn't care about either
melody or commercialism, this is patently untrue. You get this on one
listen, it's more enticing than seemingly everything on Active Rock
radio today.

"2000 Light Years from Home"

The piece de resistance, the reason you bought "Satanic Majesties," an
almost five minute journey into outer space when that was truly the
final frontier and "Star Trek" ruled and we hadn't yet been to the moon.


The goal was to get a big rig stereo, but this sounds good even on small
systems, and is especially good on headphones. The song speaks of
alienation, a core concept of the era, funny how Bernie and Trump are
appealing to this segment of the population but the acts are busy being
upbeat and telling us how much better they are than us. Art is about
having more questions than answers. And that's how the Stones broke
through, when they were still close to broke and no one knew Mick went
to the London School Of Economics.

"Citadel"

What a riff! With a memorable chorus to boot!

Most people don't know this, but if you play it twice you can't get it
out of your head, you've got to play it ad infinitum, truly a find.

"In Another Land"

A Bill Wyman track which is a period piece that entranced me back then
and that I still like today.

BEGGARS BANQUET

Was released at the same time as the White Album. But unlike the
Beatles, the Stones were coming off a stiff, few were waiting with bated
breath, furthermore, in the U.S. the cover resembled that of the White
Album in its simplicity, so the record was considered an afterthought by
many.

BUT IT'S NOT!

Arguably the best Stones LP ever, "Beggars Banquet" was unexpected and
broke new ground by being more simplistic, instead of adding more the
band took it down to the studs, and the result is staggering, a journey
into the minds of artists that we just want to get closer to.

"Sympathy For The Devil"

This was not a hit! It only gained notoriety in the wake of "Let It
Bleed" and the Altamont movie, "Gimme Shelter." Funny to think the band
was once considered dangerous, that they were aligned with dark forces,
but this track enhanced that reputation.

"Street Fighting Man"

Ditto. Its fame came with time. Furthermore, despite the anarchy of
1968, this was seen as a bit inauthentic. The Bay Area bands could own
the revolution, but these English cats? Not really.

"Stray Cat Blues"

Listen to the intro, with the alternating male and female moans… This
is the most dangerous cut on the LP, this was the true rock and roll
ethos, bands of boys going on the road and taking advantage.

"I can see that you're fifteen years old
No, I don't want your ID"

Underage girls, the rockers were famous for them. It was a different
era, one in which you could even put these words on wax.

"No Expectations"


Where Rod Stewart got the sound he made famous on his first three
albums. This country-influenced number is everything today's Nashville's
hits are not. Funny how the Tennessee town is imitating the rock of
yesteryear yet the progenitors were in thrall to the crooners of yore.

"Dear Doctor"

Risk rewards. Instead of trying to create radio-friendly fodder, the
Stones dropped an even more country-influenced track, which despite its
at times tongue-in-cheek vocal ends up being authentic. The kind of
track you sing along to at home, it's just you and the record.

"Parachute Woman"

Hooky, an immediate groove, this sound is the backbone of "Exile On Main
Street." This track got no traction back when but it's beloved today.
It's infectious. Rock would rule if there was one cut as magical as this
today.

"Factory Girl"

There are no factories and the musicians are all screwing models.

Most people don't align with perfect 10's. Furthermore, exterior is far
from everything. You don't want someone looking over your shoulder, but
someone who loves you.

"Salt Of The Earth"

There's not a dud on "Beggars Banquet," you can listen from start to
finish without lifting the needle, without pressing "skip." One of
Keith's best vocals, the way the track transitions from a low production
acoustic number to a kitchen sink production works, what a finish!

P.S. Eventually the original bathroom stall cover was released in the
U.S., but our nation is still puritanical. The Stones, Jimi with
"Electric Ladyland" and "Queen" with "Bicycle Race"…the artwork was
seen as too much for Americans, no wonder we were in thrall to these
English cats who tested limits.

LET IT BLEED

My favorite Stones LP, a return to production, a cornucopia of sounds,
it's "Sticky Fingers" that gets all the love, but "Let It Bleed" was
just a bit less obvious, a bit more soulful.

"Gimmie Shelter"

There was nothing like dropping the needle on this gem. It got little
airplay but it became a bedroom staple. Some tracks are just undeniable.
Meanwhile, credit Merry Clayton for adding an exuberance, a sexuality
that puts the track over the top, the same way the female vocal does at
the end of "Exile"'s "Let It Loose."

"Midnight Rambler"

Once upon a time there really was a Boston Strangler, the sixties were a
dark era. This cut ended up being the highlight of the live show, with
Mick's scarf thrusts and lighting changes. You've got to love a track
that changes tempo.

"You Can't Always Get What You Want"

A choir and then Al Kooper's French horn and then poignant lyrics in a
seven and a half minute track that accelerates into hyperspace…WHAT
MORE COULD YOU WANT?

There used to be a Chelsea Drugstore, it was ultimately featured in "A
Clockwork Orange," I made a pilgrimage, the place was relatively benign
but I tingled walking through the inspiration for this masterpiece.


Yes, it was a one listen smash. But it wasn't until "Sticky Fingers"
that everybody was on board. Fans were thrilled, but it wasn't until
"The Big Chill" that this track became iconic, deservedly so!

"You Got The Silver"

Possibly Keith's best vocal ever, a magical cut, I prefer it to "Happy."

"Monkey Man"

That twinkly sound, that riffing guitar, this was an explosion in your
brain, it's cuts like these that cemented the rock revolution. Just an
album track, but unique in its own right. It twists and turns and if you
hear this and don't want to go on the road with the band…YOU'RE NO
FUN!

"Live With Me"

The first side's "Monkey Man." Almost as good. Every cut on "Let It
Bleed" is a winner. Put it in the time capsule, it was on the tour for
this LP that the act first got the moniker "The World's Greatest Rock
And Roll Band."

GET YER YA-YA'S OUT

"Sympathy For The Devil"

In its slowed-down live iteration, it's all about the groove. Be sure to
wait for the solos, they're the highlight of the LP, you grimace and
wince, playing your air guitar, this album doesn't live up to its hype
as one of the best live LPs ever, but Mick Taylor was now in the band
and the unit reached new heights, he drove them there, Ronnie Wood fits
the image, is friends with Keith, but Taylor was more lyrical, he
stretched Keith, he's a legend who deserves credit.

STICKY FINGERS

The victory lap, the Beatles were toast, the Stones were the biggest act
in the world and it's this album that made them such.

"Brown Sugar"

The party didn't start until this played. It was the weekend anthem. You
poured down your drink, you got up and boogied, it freed you from your
inhibitions, it's pure magic from start to finish, and one cannot write
about it without mentioning the great work of the gone and seemingly
forgotten Ian Stewart and Bobby Keys.

"Sister Morphine"

My favorite track on the album. Dark and sincere. Never a hit single,
rarely played on the radio, no one who grew their hair out did not know
it.

"Moonlight Mile"

So subtle, so good. It finished and you felt abandoned. They took you to
the edge of the park in the dark and left you there. No one ever talks
about this anymore, but this is GENIUS!

"Can't You Hear Me Knocking"

Mick Taylor's coming out party, a fully-integrated member of the band,
Taylor shines and then in the second half of the track he obliterates
you, so exquisite, so lyrical, with Bobby Keys adding flavor.

Everything on "Sticky Fingers" is great, it's just that the whole LP is
a bit more obvious and less dark than what came before, and for those us
living in the land of alienation we found it a bit less appealing, but
that's like comparing Gehrig and Ruth, Jordan and Pippen, it's all
fantastic!

EXILE ON MAIN STREET

Straight to number one and then straight to the dumper. Everybody who
heard "Sticky Fingers" wanted to own it, but without hits it didn't
sustain. And it was a step back from the obviousness of "Sticky
Fingers." "Exile" requires dedication to understand, to get. Put in the
time, it's worth the reward.

"Tumbling Dice"

The single that got more juice, more of a hearing, when Linda Ronstadt
covered it!

The mix wasn't right. The vocal was buried. The hook wasn't obvious. But
if you saw the band live in this era, they could lock on to the groove,
and the chorus became majestic. Still, the band seemed to have forgotten
how to write a hit, and hits help sell the product, never forget that.

However, with the Beatles finished, with AOR rampant, with "Rolling
Stone" respectable, the band's summer tour was a story so big it's hard
to fathom today. It's as if you put Taylor Swift, Beyonce, Jay Z, Kenny
Chesney and Paul McCartney on the same bill and then brought Tupac back
from the dead. There was not a publication that did not cover it, it was
the apotheosis of the impact of rock and roll, it was the boomers'
victory lap, they'd won, they'd taken over.

"Soul Survivor"

Knowing I was going to see the band, I played this double LP all night
and this was the first cut that jumped out, with the staccato, machine
gun, guitar.

"Loving Cup"

Phish covers this. It fits their style perfectly. A tight band that
starts off in one place and then journeys to another. If this were on
"Let It Bleed" it would be better known, but it works on every level.

"Let It Loose"

Probably the best track on "Exile," stay until the end, with the female
wail, it's as if she's in the throes of sexual ecstasy and once again
you want to get closer, the Stones have done this better than any band,
they're the circus you want to join.

"Casino Boogie"

Talk about capturing lightning in a bottle… It's loose, but tight. You
can't help but nod your head. Riffs are all fine and dandy, but groove
is the essence of the magic, it's when you touch people's souls that you
become a legend.

"Ventilator Blues"

"When your spine is CRACKIN'!"

This is what you get when bands are in control as opposed to labels.
When it's about music as opposed to money. This has got more power, more
nougat, than a slew of Top Forty hits, it evidences humanity and power,
if you know "Exile" you know this!

"I Just Want To See His Face"

Where did this come from?

You're sitting at home, in the dark, alone, the record is playing and
suddenly there's this subtlety, this otherworldly sound coming out of
the speakers. Another Mick Taylor gem. He took the band into places it's
never returned to.

And, of course, "Exile" contains Keith's anthem "Happy," the Angela
Davis tribute "Sweet Black Angel," and it's hard to mention "Ventilator"
without including "Stop Breaking Down," but the truth is for being such
a famous album "Exile" is essentially unknown, it's a Dead Sea Scroll
hiding in plain sight, but no one wants to take the time to learn the
language, to listen to all 18 tracks. Considered to be too long, an
unnecessary double disc package way back when, every cut now seems
essential on this project that easily fits on one CD.

GOATS HEAD SOUP

A disappointment, a misfire, the whole world was watching and the Stones
just couldn't deliver, there was no exceptional cut, nothing to hook
you, just a bunch of good stuff, and when you're the Stones, that's not
good enough.

"Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)"

My favorite song on the album, the lyrics tell a story, the changes in
amplitude hook you, the sounds too, but there's nothing else on the
album quite as good.

"Silver Train"

What kind of a world do we live in where Johnny Winter does a better
version of your second side opener than you?

"Star Star"


The song with the advance hype, it would have had more success if the
title included the F-word, but the truth is it's a middling Chuck Berry
rip-off, something you can enjoy that leaves you kind of blah. Not an
anthem, but they meant it to be. The Stones seemed to be so busy living
the life of the rich and famous that they lost touch with the street.

"Can You Hear The Music"

A minor, totally forgotten cut, it's an unheralded number which is the
heart of the LP, if only they cut out the stabs for stardom and focused
on this more intimate stuff.

"Winter"

Ditto on this. Great atmosphere.

"Hide Your Love"

Great groove, great vocal, another unheralded winner. Rock was
sterilized when you had umpteen tracks and the ability to comp the
vocal, bands haven't locked on with each other for eons.20

IT'S ONLY ROCK 'N ROLL

Another bummer. The band had lost the formula. Less commercially
successful than its predecessor, this album was better, but it all ran
together.

"It's Only Rock 'n Roll"

More famous for its title than its music. A middling hit back in '74.
Eh.

"Ain't Too Proud To Beg"

A total winner. A Temptations cover that succeeds on its own merits,
because of its instrumentation and Mick's impassioned vocal, the best
cut on the LP, worth listening to, you'll smile.

"Time Waits For No One"

Mick Taylor's swan song, this is the second best cut on the album. Pay
heed to his fingerwork, listeners knew how great this was back when, but
fewer were paying attention than in the "Sticky Fingers" era, even
though you wouldn't know that based on the press.

BLACK AND BLUE

Seen as an album of odds and ends, a pastiche best avoided, it's funny
how this album has only grown in stature over time, its rather
stripped-down sound is more accessible than that on the two LPs that
preceded it, it was an empty calorie listen way back when, but today
it's filling and fulfilling.

"Hot Stuff"

Seen as trend-following disco drivel in '76 the aging process has aided
it, but it's still a half-baked dud.

"Hand Of Fate"

The second best cut on "Black And Blue" it got no airplay back then, it
seemingly didn't exist, but it gets love today. This would fit in
perfectly with their '69-'72 canon, a great groove, a one listen like.

"Fool To Cry"

An actual hit, as opposed to the misfires from previous LPs, it went all
the way to number 9 in the U.S., eclipsing "It's Only Rock 'n Roll"'s
number 16, but it was weird and wimpy, syrupy, yet still Stones-like.
You didn't hate it, but you didn't love it.

"Crazy Mama"

Better than "Silver Train" and "Star Star" on "Goats Head Soup," maybe
it's the production that puts it over the top. Completely minor, but
inoffensive.
And then comes…

"Memory Motel"

This track came back to life when Mick duetted with Dave Matthews and
the result was included on the 1998 live album "No Security," but before
that you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone but a hard core fan who knew
it. But if you purchased "Black And Blue," and not many did, it wasn't a
stiff but it was far from a hit, you discovered this gem at the end of
side one.


It's a journey, a story, it humanized the band, and as the song wore to
the conclusion of its seven minutes there was an element of majesty.

"You're just a memory
And you used to mean so much to me"

Was that the Stones?

Most of their contemporaries had faded with the sixties. The Stones had
carried on and hit new peaks, but now despite beaucoup box office, the
legend outstripped the art, this was back when albums still counted,
before live was everything, before the LP was just the blueprint for the
show.

Who knew a renaissance was just around the corner?

That's right, now including Ron Wood in the place of Mick Taylor, the
band dropped a bomb back in '77, when no one was expecting it, the act
freshened its sound and delivered an indelible one listen song that
dominated not only the airwaves but the house parties as "Brown Sugar"
had half a decade before.

Who knew Mick and Keith had "Miss You" in them? Who knew there were
Puerto Rican girls just dyin' to meet them? Who knew they could cover
the Temps' "Just My Imagination" even more successfully than they
covered "Ain't Too Proud To Beg"? Who knew they could break down the
sound and lock into the groove of "Beast Of Burden"?

When the Glimmer Twins had their backs to the wall they delivered.

But it was what came before that they built their rep upon.