We got the means to make amends… Pearl Jam and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Warning: rant incoming.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a strange thing. From where I sit it seems like a lot of back-slapping and congratulating from industry-types with very little real merit. Does it mean something to be a “Hall of Famer”? Does it add all that much credence anymore? Perhaps it means more in the States than it does here where a UK Music Hall of Fame sputtered, stalled and stopped before anyone paid it any attention.

Let’s spin back a bit to 1983; the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was set up by Ahmet Ertegun (he of Atlantic Records) to “recognize and archive the history of the best-known and most influential artists, producers, engineers, and other notable figures, who have each had some major influence on the development of rock and roll” (Wikipedia) and began inducting such artists in 1986 with the first group of artists including Elvis Presley, Sam Cooke and Chuck Berry.

Since then each year a group of artists are nominated, voted for and inducted in a ceremony – again; from where I sit – that seems overly long on speeches and pretty short on the ‘rock and roll’. With each year there’s criticisms about who is and isn’t nominated (chief amongst which being that those controlling nominations, as a small group, are not musicians and nominate based on personal taste) and then there’s plenty of column inches and website debate and pages handed over to the ‘drama’ of which members from a certain band will be inducted, will attend, will tell the HoF to shove it…

From those Bozos in Makeup to Axl Rose’s tantrums, the question about which ex-members should be in alongside the nominees seems to draw more debate than discussing that band’s lasting impact. The cynical side of me (which seems to only get more so after a decade in marketing) certainly thinks that this is a deliberate act by the HoF in order to stir the pot, get more attention and create more buzz than the ceremony would otherwise get, nominating bands for whom the real question will be “will they induct that member who played tambourine on their first album or…?”

Nirvana had it in 2014 when those members inducted included Dave Grohl and not the four drummers that had sat on the stool pre-Nevermind. Would they induct Chad Channing or the first drummer, Aaron Burckhard? For, you see, there’s a criteria for getting in: “artists will first become eligible for the Rock Hall 25 years after the release of their first record (LP, EP or single)”. Bleach was released in 1989 (with Chad Channing on drums and Jason Everman on guitar*) but Nevermind, the first record Grohl drummed on, came out in 1991. It really adds weight to the idea that the HoF is after the popular vote more than anything – everyone loves a bit of Dave Grohl, nobody knows who Chad Channing is. There was, of course, a lot of online hubbub about the ‘snub’ of Chad.

Being the perennially nice guy of rock that he is, of course, Dave praised those drummers that had hit the skins before him in his speech and the band invited Channing to attend.

This year that question and the online buzz falls upon the collective shoulders of Pearl Jam. A band with a huge and dedicated following who forged a path for many to follow. Few can touch them live or match their unique set lists and they’re certainly the last men standing when it comes to the ‘Seattle Scene’. Their place in the Hall, even in the first year of eligibility, isn’t likely to be questioned. They’re also a band who, for the first half of their career, had a Spinal Tap scenario with their drummers**.

Released in August 1991, Ten featured Eddie Vedder, Stone Gossard, Mike McCready, Jeff Ament and, on drums, Dave Krusen. Krusen, though, had left the band in May due to alcoholism. His replacement, Matt Chamberlain only hung around for a handful of shows before heading off to join the SNL band. He suggested a guy to take his place; Dave Abbruzzese. Abbruzzese played drums through the rest of the tour supporting Ten, on Vs. and Vitalogy before he was fired in 1994.  During which time the band would tour extensively, Abbruzzese would write the music for ‘Go’, ‘Last Exit’ and ‘Angel’ and defined the band’s sound at the time with his ferocious drumming. The harder sound he bought helped them move away from being pigeon-holed as another clone.

If you ask a Pearl Jam fan what the band’s ‘peak’ period was I’m willing to lay money on a large percentage saying 1991-1994. Abbruzzesse was a key part of that sound. The problem is, he enjoyed it too much. I’m not talking piles of cocaine and claims of being a Golden God, no; he just loved it all and smiled too much. Rumours swirl as to why Abbruzzesse was actually let go but it boils down to the fact that he was obviously having fun. Vedder was, at this time, at his most serious and ‘punk’, it wasn’t ‘cool’ to be enjoying your success and, as the front man, he took most of the attention and it was a lot to handle. While the band withdrew from the spotlight, Dave would give interviews (albeit to drum magazines, not Spin or Rolling Stone). While the other members would go the Volvo or battered old truck route, Dave bought a Lexus. He didn’t really care about the famous Ticket Master Boycott either. Apparently the final straw for Dave’s tenure came when he accidentally broke the neck of one of Vedder’s guitars during Vitalogy sessions and didn’t hang around to tell Eddie or apologise. He wouldn’t be in the band when it came time to tour the album he’d helped create, he was let go – Vedder wouldn’t do it, the task fell to Stone Gossard.

Pearl Jam

Jack Irons, formerly of the Red Hot Chili Peppers*** was then in the saddle for four years and two albums before he ducked out (not happy with touring) in 1998 and then-former Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron took the seat he still occupies. Now, Cameron is certainly the stick man with the longest tenure and its clear that he’s considered a full member of the band – Vedder continues to praise him and has credited his joining with keeping them together – but I don’t think I’m alone in seeing him as an outsider even some 19 years and five albums later.

Now of all their six drummers, only one, technically, qualifies: Dave Krusen. He played on Ten, twenty-five years ago. By all accounts he’s quite surprised at the nod. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, however, is also inducting Matt Cameron. And nobody from the period between the two.

Now, out-dated and bloated an institution as it may be, if the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are recognising Matt Cameron then they sure as shit should recognise Dave Abbruzzese.  As much of a deliberate poking of a hornet’s nest as the snub is, it’s also pretty unfair to then place the onus of dealing with the question onto Pearl Jam (ever-shy of such publicity and awards) to be the ones to deal with it. Dave, obviously riled himself, has said plenty, chiefly:

“I have always thought that every award given to a band that celebrates the bands lifetime achievements should be awarded to every person that was ever a debt incurring, life sacrificing, blood spilling, member of that band. Maybe the Hall should reevaluate the need to put all the monkeys in the same cage in order to boost revenue, and instead let the history of the band be fully and completely represented as they were and as they are. …leave it up to the group to show their true colors as they celebrate their own history in a manner of their choosing…

I will admit to wanting to look out over my drum kit at the faces of Jeff, Stone, Mike and Eddie. Looking to my left at my drum tech, the mainest of mellow, Mr. Jimmy Shoaf and seeing him give me that look that dares me to destroy my cymbals and kick the songs ass, the bands ass and the crowds ass… The idea of counting it off and giving the band, the music & the people all that I have to give, as I always have without compromise or hesitation… The sound of the people singing along… Making eye contact with the person air drumming their ass off right before the big drum fill, so we can do it together…
I loved it.
I loved it every single time.”

Pearl Jam have always marked themselves out as a band of integrity and honest values. They’re continually raising money and awareness for important causes and fighting the good fight. Again, it’s unfair of the HoF to put this on them but it is gonna be down to them to decide how to deal with the Dave question. History gives no real clue – their 2004 compilation Rearviewmirror featured photos cropped not to include him yet in 2016 the band performed his composition ‘Angel’ for the first time since 1994 with Vedder stating it ” was written by the guy who was our drummer. Dave Abbruzzese, We wish him well.”

How it’s dealt with come the night, though, we’ll have to see. And that’s how the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame keeps getting people to pay attention. And, damn it, they’ve suckered me in to giving a damn too. The rat bastards.

 

* albeit in name only and his image was ‘tastefully’ removed from the album cover come the 20th Anniversary re-release. Everman would go through a musical life of ups and downs which would include a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it stint on bass for Soundgarden before cutting his hair and joining the army where he would serve with the Rangers and Special Forces – it makes for a fascinating read.

** You can’t dust for vomit.

***and was inducted into the HoF in 2012.

There’s too many home fires burning and not enough trees..

The arguments for and against streaming have and will rage for a lot longer than I’ll be bothered to partake of them. Noel Gallagher recently pointed out “someone tried to sell me Spotify once and I was like, ‘Why would I want the entire fucking catalogue of the Kaiser Chiefs?” – though his argument of ‘if I want music I’ll buy it’ doesn’t necessarily work when not everyone has sold 40 million albums (not to mention the presence of his own music on the platform and that I don’t really want / need access to Dig Out Yer Soul)

There’s also the argument that the availability of so much music in one place means that archival releases and collections are diminishing – everything is already there but you have to find it first.

I’m not even going to touch the money / artist’s pay issue.

Anyway, I digress. This was supposed to be a quick one. So let’s call this rant “Advantages of Spotify, Example 53.8”

  1. Pink Floyd’s complete* discography is now there for streaming
  2. This includes The Final Cut
  3. I haven’t had to fork over cash in order to hear this, now, for the first time in full
  4. It’s cost me nothing to discover that a) it’s almost** a complete turd of an album and b) it’s a bloody good thing Gilmour kept the band going and this wasn’t it’s final release
  5. I’ve now heard the sole exception to the above. Not Now John is the only track on the album to feature Gilmour’s vocals and obvious involvement. It’s no wonder it was the lead only single released from it. It’s also a worthy and bafflingly-overlooked addition to any Pink Floyd compilation and I can’t help but enjoy hearing Mr Gilmour sing, with obvious relish “fuck all that” and wonder if, to his mind, he wasn’t singing about all the tosh that had preceded this song’s placement at the arse end of an arse of an album. Arse.

Here it is:

 

* No Point Me At The Sky, unfortunately.

** The Flethcher Memorial Home is alright. Though only thanks to Gilmour’s guitar arriving to pull the turgid lump away from Waters’ unconvincing wailing and When The Tigers Broke Free isn’t too bad either but that’s about it. Yep. That’s about it.

 

 

 

 

Tracks: Let’s Go Crazy

Undoubtedly a song that’s all over the airwaves and social media today but…. this post was in the works already and it seems fitting enough to push it through now.

Heading home yesterday evening I flipped open twitter and caught the rumours of Prince’s death before confirmation from his publicist changed it into a breaking news story. Shocking doesn’t do it justice.

It’s hard to recall the first Prince song I heard / knew. He was everywhere in music in the 80’s and into the 90’s. Nobody had such a prolific period of constant hits and a career-long streak of strong music.

I do know, though, that Purple Rain remains an ice-cold slab of perfection. There’s not a track on the album I skip. From the hit singles it generated to the breathlessness of Take Me With U, the brilliance of Darling Nikki and the pure Prince audacity-fuck censorship of its lyrics there’s just so many moments of genius on it you could lose count. No wonder it’s shifted upwards of 20 million copies.

For me though, the album, and Prince’s highlight is it’s opening track – Let’s Go Crazy.

It encapsulates everything that the album holds all contained in one four-and-a-half minte track – there’s the exultant chorus, the near-gospel backing vocals, urgent synths, and, of course, Prince’s startling guitar chops (for further evidence watch the little guy in the hat break this cover out of mundaity). This has been a go-to song for me for a long time, those times when the day has been a pile of cack, it’s time for Let’s Go Crazy. It’s impossible to not be uplifted by it, with the sermonising intro with it’s “Dearly beloved…” (boy have I seen that a lot on twitter today) and it’s rousing “and if the elevator tries to bring you down… go crazy; punch a higher floor”. Yeah… Prince is probably trying to evangelisize us with this one but, fuck me, it’s as catchy and brilliant as they come. It’s a pure rush of excitement listening to it especially when – in album format – it breaks into the start of Take Me With U and its opening drum solo.

Thanks to the Purple One’s very tight hold on his copyrights and sharing etc it’s hard to find a video to put here (or one that will stay active for longer than a fart) but let’s try:

 

Self-compiled; The Beatles

Compilations are a funny thing. You’re never going to please everyone but, in theory, you need to give a good reason for existing fans to buy (and a hastily recorded or re-recorded track not considered good enough for the previous album doesn’t count) and enough solid quality to give a career-overview for new / cursory fans to get hooked.

Some people go as far as to turn their nose up at them. Yet I’ve used a ‘Best of’ to get into a fair few bands over the years (Asides from Buffalo Tom remains one of my most-played discs).

When it comes to grabbing compilations from bands I already hold the back catalogue of, I don’t tend to go the Best Of or Introduction To route. Especially on those groups or individuals that are no longer active. Yet I’ll still want a compilation – especially for car use – for those times I don’t particularly want to listen to just one specific album. The problem is, though, that my choice of what I’d consider essential listening very rarely coincides completely with the ‘official’ compiler’s (usually because they’re doing so with a specific aim rather than just cherry picking). So that’s when the old adage “if you want a job done right do it yourself” comes into play and I’ve a fair few of these home-made comps so far.

With the use of Spotify I can even share these here.

So here we go with the first.

Oddly enough the need for a self-compiled disc of The Beatles doesn’t quite fit the ramble above. I don’t own anything from their back catalogue (with the exception of The Magical Mystery Tour). Yet their output is so large that there’s a number of different compilations out there, again each with a different purpose – 1 obviously the chart-toppers, The Past Masters and Anthology seemed too wide-ranging for a good, succinct compilation. 1962-1966 and 1967-1970 came closest but again contained a lot of stuff that I didn’t really care for and when you consider the pricing of all releases Fab Four themed… no thanks. It’s worth noting that this compilation was created before they deigned to allow their songs available via iTunes and streaming so the borrowing of CDs to create this was necessitated (and no piracy was involved) – to be honest though I’d still do so as the idea of paying the required for the whole still makes me flinch.

I’m not a huge Beatles fan. I like a lot of their songs a lot, though, and enjoy them more as I get older, yet I could quite happily never hear some of their earlier stuff again.

So, my choice of Beatles tracks, and the compilation that I’ve kept in my car for some years now also serves as a “my favourite Beatles songs” list – all wrapped around the centrepiece of the amazing While My Guitar Gently Weeps… *

*Yes; George was the best Beatle. You might argue but you’d be wrong.

Tracks: La Cienega Just Smiled

It was Come Pick Me Up that I heard first. Again on a monthly music magazine’s free CD. It seems a lifetime ago that I clogged my bookshelves with the print of the music press but there was some golden discoveries made there nonetheless and Ryan Adams’ first album was one.

As such I grabbed his second album Gold upon day of release. It’s one of those aiming-for-great albums that, while it doesn’t quite make it, you can’t help but feel the quality and ambition and think, fuck, there’s a whole lot of talent and potential here that’s only going to get better. But then the hype for this ‘next best thing’ derailed the train and it was some time before the dust settled, if it ever did.

Now Adams’ musical career, it’s ups and downs (though Rock ‘n’ Roll isn’t too bad), battles with Lost Highway and directions has been well and better documented elsewhere so I won’t assume that I can do is justice. There’s a few versions of Ryan Adams – there’s the alt. country of his début Heartbreaker, there’s the Cardinals-leading swagger of Cold Roses, the hushed acoustics of Ashes & Fire and even the heavy metal of Orion – all of which seemed to meld (save the latter) in the confident and hugely accessible recent, self-titled album.

For me, though, it’s those seemingly-simple but gently and subtly sneaky songs like Come Pick Me Up (with lyrics like “I wish you would, come pick me up, take me out, fuck me up, steal my records, screw all my friends….) that lure the listener in to something darker lurking beneath the surface that are his best.

My favourite is La Cienega Just Smiled.

Such a gentle, growing melody. Instantly hooking and soothing but there’s so much more there. The imagery is instantly simple and casual “on with the jeans, the jacket and the shirt” but then there’s the lines like “I’m too scared to know how I feel about you now” and “one breaks my body and the other breaks my soul”… all brushed off with “see you around”.

Ryan Adams has an arsenal of songs about being broken by love and/or drink/drugs but none of them, to my mind (and it’s my blog) as beautifully crafted and affecting as this:

A little visit, reminding me of his presence…

Somewhere back in time when  I started this blog I mentioned that I was toying with a post on the ultimate Pearl Jam set-list.

Pearl Jam live are a wonderful thing. Gallingly, though, I’ve only seen them live once. They seem to have now joined the list of great bands that consider playing at Milton Keynes and Leeds as a UK tour – what happened to the rest of the country? – and have given up playing at Wembley Arena (where I saw them on the Binaural tour).

A year or so back I read a great piece that stated: “Pearl Jam is known as one of the best live acts in its arena-filling weight class. After only fitfully listening to new Pearl Jam albums for more than a decade, seeing the band live reignited my interest in listening to them again. Pearl Jam will remain interesting to people for as long as it is able to tour.”

I genuinely believe that there’s not many acts that can touch them live in terms of quality, consistency and pure excitement. And, while I’m unlikely to be in the audience any time soon (their 25th Anniversary trek this year is limited to US/Canadian shows) there’s still plenty of opportunity to enjoy them live thanks to the unusual decision they took back in 2000 – the same tour I caught them on – to release an “official bootleg” of every (with a couple of exceptions) show to offer fans the opportunity to get a good-quality audio of each concert for a reasonable price.

Now…. given how many shows they play a year and that it’s been going for close to 16 years… that’s a lot of shows to choose from. I’m gob-smacked at the idea that some people own the lot.

I’ve got…. a few. Physically; just the show that I attended. I can always claim I’m on a Pearl Jam album that way.

On the iPod, however… well that’s a different story.

There’s probably a dozen or so. Some purchased legitimately and others… in the truer nature of Bootlegs. And each one of them is different and worth having in their own right. See, the thing is I got given the amazing PJ20 book one year – along with the DVD and soundtrack – and there’s mention of so many great shows that it’s impossible not to at least check some of the more significant ones out. Like the 2003 show in Uniondale when the band were heckled for their performance of Bushleaguer:

Which pisses Vedder off so much it’s apparent in the cover of The Clash’s Know Your Rights that follows.

I also have the trio of shows they played at the Tweeter Center in Boston that same year where they used the opportunity to play every song they’d played on the tour to at that point over the course of the three shows; 82 originals and 12 covers with only one repeat….

But to get to the original point; I’ve been hunting for that recording that, to me, represents the ultimate set list.

Back in 2012 (pre-Lightning Bolt), Eddie Vedder let a fan club contest winner choose the setlist for a show.  Now the set that Brian Farias – for it was he – chose was pretty good. He even managed to get Vedder to play Bugs for only the second time. But it’s a big challenge, really… how to find the right balance.

I, for example, would want to hear a lot of deeper cuts. But then, looking back at the quote up top of this ramble, how would that play at a show when not all in attendance know every Pearl Jam song. So you do have to mix in the ‘hits’ as it were and – while I don’t always listen to it – Better Man always gets the crowd going and becomes something else live than on record.

Then there’s the case that Pearl Jam don’t do Greatest Hits tours and are usually touring in support of a new album. So what of the newer songs make the grade and still manage to keep the crowd going. In all honesty I wouldn’t really pluck a show from the Backspacer tour because I don’t really feel a lot of tracks from that album worked in that context.

Lightning Bolt, however, was a much stronger effort and there was a lot of stuff I was itching to hear live. Factor in the fact that the band were in great shape and playing better than ever, there’s a lot of gems to be found in the Lightning Bolt tour bootlegs.

So I think I’ve now been able to find the ‘perfect’ set list / bootleg. Well, sort of. Because there’s two.

Worchester, MA, October 15th 2013 is a 32 song strong set that packs in Leash (not as ferocious as I’d love to hear it played but I’ve yet to find a recording that does play it quite as strong as it could be and this one has a great story that precedes it), Red Mosquito and Man of the Hour along with newer cuts like Swallowed Hole and Infallible along with the tour-set-list regulars Mind Your Manners and Sirens. The energy picks up after a quieter start and there’s a great performance of Nothing As It Seems, Fatal gets a play in the first Encore and Crazy Mary makes an appearance. Oh, and Last Kiss.

(I love the moment at about 1:35 where someone realises it’s Leash and gives a joyous yelp)

Set: Release, Long Road, Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town, Lightning Bolt, Mind Your Manners, Hail, Hail, Sirens, Even Flow, Nothing As it Seems, Swallowed Whole, Red Mosquito, Whipping, Corduroy, Infallible, Got Some, Save You, Leash, Let The Records Play,
Do The Evolution, Better Man.

Encore 1: Man Of The Hour, Yellow Moon, Fatal, Just Breathe, Spin The Black Circle, Unthought Known, Porch.

Encore 2: Last Kiss, Crazy Mary, Alive, Sonic Reducer, Indifference.

Meanwhile the tour closer at the Key Arena in Seattle on December 3rd finds the band in an even stronger form, the energy is high and they’re playing to a home-crowd. So tracks like Let Me Sleep, In My Tree and Pilate get pulled out, there’s better banter, Breath, State of Love and Trust, a story from Ed of how he was nearly lost at sea, Chloe Dancer / Crown of Thorns, Pendulum opens and Mike McCready playing Van Halen’s Eruption into Yellow Ledbetter brings the show to a close after 37 songs.

Turns out there’s a video of the whole show ‘out there’ which I’ll leave here as long as it lasts:

Set: Pendulum, Nothingman, Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town, Interstellar Overdrive, Corduroy, Lightning Bolt, Mind Your Manners, Given To Fly, Pilate, Garden, Getaway, Even Flow, Sirens, In My Tree, Do The Evolution, Unthought Known, Black, Let The Records Play
Spin The Black Circle, Lukin, Better Man.

Encore 1: After Hours, Let Me Sleep,Future Days, Daughter, Chloe Dancer, Crown Of Thorns, Breath, State Of Love And Trust, Porch.

Encore 2: Supersonic, Got Some, Rearviewmirror, Alive, Kick Out The Jams, Eruption, Yellow Ledbetter.

So yeah; I think, between those two it’s as close to a perfect set-list / show recording as you’ll get. A good mix of the deeper cuts, the crowd pleasures, strong new material and plenty of Vedder’s stories and not a heckle in ear-shot.

Although I’ve not yet heard the show with No Code played in full or…..

I’m a fleabit peanut monkey…

… for years I’ve been mishearing that lyric as “flea bit beat-up monkey”, what the hell is a peanut monkey?!

Anyway….

I’m not a huge Rolling Stones fan. But there’s a lot of Rolling Stones songs that I love.

Monkey Man is one of em.

Id say I have a handful of Stones albums – a couple of compilations, Their Satanic Majesties Request, Sticky Fingers and Exile… I couldn’t say that I’ve listened to them all that much – more a cherry picking of tracks. Until I read Life by Keith Richards.

But… in that imported-non-event Black Friday and the subsequent weekend of discounts, my local chain music store (if I can I still buy independent but we’re all on a budget) dropped the price on a handful of albums – going so far as to slap “1 purchase per customer” on them as if the £5 discount was as monumental as a signed cover – and I grabbed Let It Bleed.IMG_6471

It’s already been round the turn table a good three or four times. I’ve often sought it out and for three reasons: Monkey Man, Gimme Shelter and You Can’t Always Get What You Want. Any album with those on it is automatically elevated to great status.

One of my favourite song writers – Mr Bill Janovitz of Bufallo Tom – is a huge Stones fan. He’s even written a couple books; a 33 1/3 on Exile On Main Street and one called “Rocks Off: 50 Tracks That Tell the Story of the Rolling Stones”. I don’t know that I could list 50 songs of theirs that I enjoy, probably a dozen or so.

review for said book in the Wall Street Journal kicks off with this:

“I used to work with a salesman who wore a Rolling Stones tongue-logo tie every day. His Stones were the Stones of “Satisfaction,” “Start Me Up,” and even (yuck) “She Was Hot”—huge arena-rock songs with instantly recognizable guitar-riff intros. Then there is the Stones fan of the classic-rock variety—the “Under My Thumb” and “Jumping Jack Flash” fan for whom the group, and the world, ceased to matter around 1968. My Stones are more about “Moonlight Mile,” “Monkey Man,” “Gimme Shelter,” “Rocks Off”—tracks that have the rambling, wide-open blues and rock sound that the band perfected in the 1970s. All three of us will devour Bill Janovitz’s “Rocks Off: 50 Tracks That Tell the Story of the Rolling Stones.”

I fall in the middle – my favourite tracks are, for the most part, of that “rambling, wide-open blues and rock sound that the band perfected in the 1970s.”

So, in the spirit of Top 10s (if it was Top 5 there’d be very little that wasn’t on Let It Bleed) and lists…. they are, in no real order:

Can’t You Hear Me Knocking

It’s not Brown Sugar, nor is it Sway or Dead Flowers… the standout track on Sticky Fingers, to my ears, is Can’t You Hear Me Knocking. I first heard this when it was used in Tedd Demme’s drug-smuggling, Scorsese-like Blow (more on Scorsese and the Stones to come of course) . I love the nasty, dirty-feeling power of that guitar riff, the breakdown and resolve of the saxophone (the hugely talented Bobby Keys appears on so much of their best work) and the fact that the breakdown happened, according to Mick Taylor because “toward the end of the song, I just felt like carrying on playing. Everybody was putting their instruments down, but the tape was still rolling, and it sounded good, so everybody quickly picked up their instruments again and carried on playing. It just happened, and it was a one-take thing.”

It’s a powerful, swaggering monster of a Stones song that contains every element of that blues rock sound that they nailed down so hard and perfectly in the Seventies.

Gimme Shelter

Another belter and, of course, also used in a few films – Goodfellas being the most memorable for me. Mick Jagger has said of it that “That’s a kind of end-of-the-world song, really. It’s apocalypse”. I read that Keith came up with the tune while stuck indoors as it was pissing down outdoors, meanwhile Mick was off filming Performance in which he beds down with Keith’s then-girlfriend Anita Pallengberg. Keith was just starting to use heroin and the anxiety and dread are palpable in the tune and it’s just a glorious tune that – while Satisfaction, Start Me Up or Brown Sugar might be the most well known – is undoubtedly their best.

Monkey Man

So; I’m a flea bit peanut monkey…. Whatever that means. The lyrics here are filled with snarl and bite (“I’ve been bit and I’ve been tossed around by every she-rat in this town”), the guitars even more so with Keith giving it some hard bluesy blasts, the piano is cracking and, like so much on Let It Bleed, pinned down by some ominous, urgent sense of menace. While Jagger’s line of “I hope we’re not too messianic or a trifle too satanic” is a classic, for me it’s all about the yell of “I’m a MONKEY…….”

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

For me, one of the best few seconds of any tune comes 50 seconds into the last Stones song of the Sixties. The choir finishes, the acoustic guitar has a few seconds alone and then the French horn pipes in with what could easily be considered a lament to the decade and the first chapter of the band’s life – the song was essentially all Mick in creation, Keith was beginning his journey into heroin addiction and Brian Jones was practically gone. And yet… it’s hopeful. Despite the universal doom and gloom Jagger sings of the song comes across as a near-rousing song of hope. The gorgeous arrangement, the keys, the horns, the shuffle of the drums and the kiss-off of the chorus “you just might find, you get you need” sung with a joyous sounding choir.

She’s A Rainbow

This is here almost entirely for personal reasons – it’s a song loved by my wife and I and played during our wedding – but it’s still a great Stones tune. Undoubtedly the prettiest thing they ever did and really the only one on Their Satanic Majesties Request that stands up on repeated listen. The delicate, pastoral piano, the shakes of the tambourine and then the dissonant breakdown with sharp, stabs of strings and the lewd “she comes in colours…” If the album was their attempt to take on Sgt. Pepper this song shows they could have knocked the Beatles into a hat and then jumped on it.

Their Satanic Majesties was a turning point in a way probably not intended. However, from here they went into an unbroken run of classics up to and including Exile On Main Street and kicking off with Beggars Banquet, featuring…

Street Fighting Man

To me, more so than Sympathy for the Devil, this one marks the start of the next chapter for the Stones. The lyrics came after a massive anti-war protest Jagger had witnessed, there’s no electric guitar on it with Keith building layer upon layer of distorted acoustic (via a cassette recorder!) and Brian Jones adds sitar and tamboura into the mix, keeping it rooted in the Sixties.

Thru and Thru

Ah Thru and Thru… Perhaps not the most obvious choice and I’d be surprised if it turned up in too many critical lists but this is my list and I love this. I first heard it when used on an episode of the Sopranos and the subsequent soundtrack. That it’s a Keith-sung number threw me off at first as I didn’t realise it was a Stones song. I love the slow build up, the layered vocal of “waiting on a call from you…” and Keith’s bluesy growl (though the ‘love as a takeaway’ lyric might not be his best). You know the subtle strings, build up and minimal guitar is going to break, has to break – especially with the thunder-crack drums appearing around the two minute mark – and yet the build up continues perfectly for more than half of the song and when the full-band does kick in, it’s glorious.

Mother’s Little Helper

“What a drag it is getting old….” An absolute ripper of a song about pill-popping mothers all wrapped up in under three minutes with a gleeful “oi” at the end. I continually find myself singing that opening line.

Wild Horses

Yeah, yeah… but it had to be on the list really. But it’s only lately that it’s snuck in there (over, say, Honky Tonk Woman) for me. Why? Because I read that Keith had written the chorus for his infant son as they were about to head off on tour. As a father I know that sentiment all to well. That it’s also among the best examples of how Mick and Keith wrote together – Keith had the riff and chorus, Mick added the rest (supposedly his relationship with Marianne Faithful going into his lyrics) and the pair of them sharing the mic for the chorus. The music is that most Gram Parsons inspired acoustic strum Keith had down at the time andsounds like it could sit on the Almost Famous soundtrack, underpinned with some beautiful electric lines and piano and is so well known it really won’t benefit from my prattling on about it.

Paint It, Black

Of course you can’t have any kind of Best Of list for the Stones and not have this song. That drone, that sinister sitar (Brian Jones’ legacy, to me, is in how much of their early work he got that instrument into), the drums and those lyrics that would no doubt inspire only Bailey knows how many ‘moody’ emo lyrics –

“I look inside myself and see my heart is black
I see my red door I must have it painted black
Maybe then I’ll fade away and not have to face the facts
It’s not easy facing up when your whole world is black”

Even if, according to Keith, it was written as a bit of a joke, they penned a classic here. Aftermath is the first Stones album to benefit entirely from the Jagger / Richards song-writing partnership, a move which meant Brian Jones got a tad bored with guitars and began exploring instruments like the sitar. This song is the perfect summation of the early-Stones’ parts.