It might be their greatest album, and that’s saying something.
Took a drive through the country Sunday afternoon and slapped this puppy in the player. My god, it sounds as fresh and vital as it did in 1969, and as many Stones albums were during their apex, there’s not a duff track in the lot. Many people focus on the legendary tracks – “Midnight Rambler”, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, “Gimme Shelter” – and those three are certainly landmark tracks of the rock’n’roll era. But it’s the deeper dive that makes this album more rewarding.
Keith’s “You Got The Silver” is among his finest performances, and a perfect example of the “front porch” sound that he gleaned from his relationship with Gram Parsons. Hell, “Country Honk” could have been a Flying Burrito Brothers track. I remember being stunned that the band did not put “Honky Tonk Women” on the album; it was a massive hit single and leaving it off almost seemed counterproductive to the promotion of the album. But as a Stones fan, I was thrilled to have such a different take.
The title track is joyful (and sordid); impossible not to sing along to and timelessly infectious. Speaking of sordid, “Live With Me” is one of their raunchiest, featuring a killer bass line and a nasty sax solo. “Love In Vain” is a prime example of how the blues roots of the band flowered over time; what started as simple expositions of the form started to flower into inventive arrangements.
Charlie Watts is a monster, as always, but the underrated Bill Wyman has some great moments as well. And as much as I love Brian Jones, Mick Taylor was the greatest guitarist the Stones ever had (Ron Wood is a great player, but he has been wasted as a Rolling Stone). The band also pulled out all the stops with horn sections, gospel choirs and majestic arrangements; the sound of this album was phenomenal considering the year it was made.
This album came out as big cultural changes were occurring in the industry and for fans. AM radio was still pretty cool but FM was rearing its head. Singles were still huge (and selling) but albums started to become definitive statements rather than a collection of hit and failed singles. Let It Bleed was proving that these English boys not only understood Delta and Chicago blues, but country music and roadhouse rock as well. Hearing it made me feel cooler than I was. It gave me a window to what could (and would) be.
Listen to clips here…oh just buy the damned thing, willya?