Archive for May, 2009

The Rolling Stones, Let It Bleed

May 18, 2009

letitbleedThe Rolling Stones Let It Bleed


“A storm is threatening my very life today” are actually the opening words of Let It Bleed, coming amongst the sinister onslaught of guitar that is “Gimme Shelter.”  It would be a lie to say that’s the theme of Let It Bleed, which is not a particularly “dark” record, but it does indicate the storm clouds that inform the album – it tells us rape and murder are just a shout away; that’s a hard truth to live with, eh?


So much of my thinking about the nature of music and of rock n roll comes back to the Stones in general, and because their sound at their peak in the late 60’s and early 70’s is so distinct, it’s retained a timelessness unlike anyone else.  That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re better than anyone else, simply that still, no one sounds like the Stones in their heyday (plus, the band has been so trigger happy with law suits over the years, you almost begin to think they have their guitar sound copyrighted).  That means also that if I were to think of the core elements of what constitutes rock and roll music, I would think of a Stones song, and a great Stones album.


There was Beggar’s Banquet, then there was Let It Bleed, then there was Sticky Fingers, then there was Exile on Main Street.  There were, of course, Stones records before and many many after, but these are the four from which we truly represent who the Stones are.  Is Let It Bleed better than these other records?  Not necessarily (unless we’re talking about Exile On Main Street in which case the answer is no – Exile On Main Street is the best album ever made), but it’s Let It Bleed I want to discuss 1) because it’s a stretch of 9 extraordinary songs, and 2) because it does, in its drunken party-guy way, does find some answers to that storm threatening our very life.


Let It Bleed, on its initial record release in 1969, began side A with “Gimme Shelter” and ended it with “Let It Bleed,” the song whose famous line sings, “We all need someone we can bleed on, and if you want it, well you can bleed on me.”  The friendlier, and, well, more fun among us can imagine singing these lines with a beer raised, looking affectionately at the friends and lovers in our lives.


As a 27-year-old male, I sometimes am surprised to find out that, amongst my best friends, no one loves the Stones as much as I do.  When I talk about the Stones to my friends, I often get two responses.  1) They’re overrated.  2) “Yeah I know someone who saw them a while ago.  Keith Richards has such big ears.”  I often feel the need to clarify – when I say I love the Stones, I mean that I have love for this string of perfect records in the 60’s and 70’s, healthy admiration of 1978’s Some Girls, and love for occasional songs before or since that I think represent the band in typical horny, drunken fashion.


Here’s another thing friends and I have discussed in my love for the Stones: The Beatles never really sing about sex, and the Stones always seem to sing about sex – constantly, over and over again.  This is actually the other reason I’m surprised to find out I’m a 27-year-old male who is alone in his love for the Stones.  Isn’t this the life of any other guys living out their lives in their 20’s?  “Don’t you think there’s a place for us in between the sheets?” Mick Jagger coos to a potential lover in “Live With Me.”  “Country Honk” finds the band fiddling up the dirtiest lines from “Honky Tonk Women” into a wilder, looser hoe-down version, and that somehow makes the song slyer, more seductive.


The sex and bravado is all there in Let It Bleed, as are the stoner guitar concoctions like “Midnight Rambler” that take over your best music fantasies, but there’s also something more, and it’s most prominent in the totemic songs at beginning, end, and middle of the record.  There’s that glimpse of the coming storm in “Gimme Shelter,” the sweet affirmation of support in “Let It Bleed,” and finally a certain acceptance with all of it in the classic, 9-minute “Can’t Always Get What You Want.”  Let me guess something about you, whoever might be reading this: you know this song.  Someone (maybe your parents?) with seriousness may have said to you something like, “As Mick Jagger would say, you can’t  always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you can get what you need.”  The truth is, despite its infantile drunken logic, there’s an ease and a truth to that line – a tossed off bit of wisdom from a man trying to have fun and live however he pleases, but knows that concessions are part of the world we live in.  When I hear Let It Bleed, I hear that things are tough and we can still be our core, carefree self when we want to – and if we’re true to that, we might just get what we need.