I wasn't a Stones fan back in the day. An elitist weirdo even as a snotnose, I suppose the Who and Hendrix were my Beatles and Stones. My ex-wife loved them to the exclusion of nearly all other music. I liked everything else. But I understand that back in '65, they were the grand avatars of Pissing Off the Grownups for lotsa Ameriteens -- without Brian Jones, no Ron Asheton. Sure, Eric Burdon (with the Animals) and Van Morrison (with Them) were better singers than Mick, but only Mick (the London School of Economics scholar) had the unmitigated audacity to ape James Brown's stage trip (having earned his stripes via the unenviable rite of passage of having to follow The Hardest Working Man In Show Business on The T.A.M.I. Show), and they (Brian?) had the integrity to insist on Howlin' Wolf's inclusion when they appeared on Shindig.
It was the Stones' peculiar blessing/curse to be the biggest band standing (the Beatles having abdicated the position -- consider the human cost of celebrity on that scale) at the precise moment (post-Woodstock) when the suits realized just how much money there was to be made off the "youth culture." Hence, the "world's greatest rock and roll band" hype, which the Baby Boomer sheep audience has bought into for years. (Who else -- the Eagles?) It didn't hurt that Keef had just hit his stride as a writer, fueled by an open G tuning he learned from Ry Cooder, a country vibe he caught off Gram Parsons, and a propensity for dissolution that's since been emulated by generations of impressionable young people, at their great peril.
(I'm ambivalent, to say the least, about that "junkie glamor" bullshit. I still get goosebumps when I hear some kid from Baltimore singing, "Keith don't go / To the town of Toronto / Keith don't go / Don't take away my fun" after Keef got popped in Canada and had to do the New Barbarians tour as his "community service." But I also know a couple of kids that died trying to live up or down to his example. So do you. And I say shame on him for that -- I don't care whether he told them to or not.)
The '69 Stones were the proximate model for just about every idiot band I heard when I was starting to play in the early '70s. The clean lines of Mick Taylor's solo style provided the template for slick lick artists like Steve Hunter and Rick Derringer -- a big leap forward from the early Stones records, where Brian and Keef's guitars were always a li'l bit out of tune. Even after they started performing mainly their own material (from Aftermath onwards), the Stones were still chasing the Beatles and Dylan, which they continued to do on Beggar's Banquet, their first of four great albums.
As great as I think Banquet is, I don't _ever_ need to hear "Sympathy for the Devil" again (thank you, "classic rock" radio), and one need only view Gimme Shelter to observe the results of Mick believing his bullshit press and "flirting with the dark side." Altamont must have scared the shit out of him, as the end of the '60s did a lot of people, and after that, the Stones have been ever more harmless entertainment ("My Grandpa Went To See The Rolling Stones and All I Got Was This T-Shirt"), the Stars ever more distant from their audience. (Ever seen the films of Robert Kennedy riding in an open car through L.A. on the day he was killed?)
"Street Fighting Man" is still a great song (even though the drums were recorded on a cassette player and sound like it), but it's a middle class opportunist's ironic comment on the Zeitgeist, not the call to arms many impressionable youngsters took it for back in '68, at their great peril. As much as I love "No Expectations" and "Parachute Woman" and "Prodigal Son" and "Factory Girl" and "Salt of the Earth," there's also the interminable Dylanesque "Jigsaw Puzzle" to kill the buzz at the end of the first side. (Kind of like "We Will Fall" on the first Stooges album, hmmm.)
Let It Bleed sounds even less like it was made by a _band_ (obvious multiple overdubs, producer Jimmy Miller's hamfisted drums on a few of the tracks). The anchor songs ("Gimme Shelter" and "You Can't Always Get What You Want") are stronger, and suffused with a compassion that was absent from their counterparts ("Sympathy" and "Salt of the Earth") on Banquet, but the songs in between just aren't as strong.
Sticky Fingers _did_ sound like it was made by a real band (touring tightened and toughened 'em up), and might just be their best album, notwithstanding the fact that I don't _ever_ need to hear "Brown Sugar" again (thanks, "classic rock" radio). It's an album full of interesting departures: the weird rhythmic flow of "Bitch," the Santana jam on "Can't You Hear Me Knocking" (which I was very impressed to hear executed note-for-note by a band at a high school dance ca. '73 that also did Beach Boys covers), the beautiful "Moonlight Mile."
It's instructive to remember how roundly Exile was panned on its first release (although the collective rockcrits of the time expended almost as much time/energy/effort forcing themselves to like it as they did Sly's There's A Riot Going On). It only became a "classic" in the fullness of time. Part of it is the similarity of tempo and tonality between the toons. Only a couple of real rockers here -- "Rip This Joint" (the strains of which I have fond memories of crossing the Mississippi River at Memphis with Tom Vincent and Brian Quigley to), "All Down the Line," "Happy." But the rest of the album is like a sonic bath, which is how most people that listen to albums (rather than just songs) treat them now, I think -- what else can you do with an 80-minute CD? (So no Exile, no Sandinista!) In that regard, Exile was ahead of its time.
I have no desire to hear the additional shit they're hawking with the new Exile: If you have a perfect record, what do you need to add to it? And re-recording/overdubbing old tapes seems more than a tad dishonest, although it'd be decent of M. Jagger to throw M. Taylor a few bones -- just look at Iggy's example, fella. But I may go out and score me a vinyl copy of the 'riginal, which I haven't owned in several years. (The closest thing to a Rolling Stones record in my house is a compilation of blues artists covering the Stones. I bullshit you not.) And I'm going to try and convince Terry Horn (who thinks the Stones are as unimportant as the Beatles and Elvis were -- another elitist weirdo) that HIO needs to make a recording entitled Exile On Montgomery St. So there.