By the end of 1967 the Rolling Stones were in a deep rut, Their Satanic Majesties Request had been a dismal failure, the band had tried to answer the success of The Beatles' Sgt Peppers with their own psychedelic album only to fall flat on their face. Drug busts and the growing decline of Brian Jones signalled to many that the Stones were a spent force, with their backs against the wall the Stones decided to answer their critics with an album recorded on their own terms. Beggars Banquet was not only a return to form it was an artistic leap and the beginning of four years of unparallelled creativity. It also saw Keith Richards sink deeper into the blues, this time moving away from the rough streets of the south side of Chicago to the muddy banks of the Mississippi trawling through country blues and the legacy of artists like Robert Johnson and Charley Patton. Lyrically the album was a microcosm of what was occurring in society at the time, the Stones as they often did seemed to predict that the summer of love was coming to a bloody end. No other band captured the dark underbelly of society better than The Stones, this is an album full of sarcasm and darkness and it was the perfect antidote to the growing pretentiousness of psychedelic music.
Sympathy For The Devil is an ominous forewarning of what is to come, it's brilliant lyrically using an historical allegory to comment on the growing evil and turmoil that was being inflicted across Europe and in the streets of the U.S. The opening samba beat and piercing screams from Jagger open onto a dapper character,
Please allow me to introduce myself
I'm a man of wealth and taste
I've been around a long long year
Stole many a man's soul and fate
The song adds an extra dimension, but what's puzzling you is the nature of my game, the Stones play on the growing uncertainty that is pervading the world, is there more to come, something darker does history provide a clue?
I rode a tank
Held a General's rank
While the blitzkreig raged
And the bodies stank
The mournful No Expectations features some great slide work from Brian Jones, it's a country blues styled gem. The song features some nice piano work from Nicky Hopkins, who adds to that sense of loneliness and desolation that lurks at the centre of the song. In their songwriting the Stones were looking over their shoulder at the great blues songwriters like Robert Johnson who captured a sense of isolation and loss. The wicked Dear Doctor is another country blues with Jones supplying the harp bursts, it's a tale of wedding jitters Southern style,
Oh help me please mama I'm sick'ning
It's today that is the day of the plunge
Oh the gal I'm too marry is a bow legged sow
I've been soakin up drink like a sponge.
Parachute Woman is a salacious blues song with Jones sounding like a freight train on harmonica. Jigsaw Puzzle is more obtuse sounding a little like Dylan, the slide guitar just adds to the tension of the song. Jagger captures the band in an ironic sense when he sings
Oh the singer he looks angry
At being thrown to the Lions
And the bass player he looks nervous
About the girls waiting outside
And the drummer he's so shattered
Trying to keep up time
And the guitar players look damaged
They've been outcasts all their life
Jagger couldn't have summed up their individual positions any better, Jagger being deeply resentful of their drug bust the previous year. Wyman who was the established Lothario of the band, Charlie just having to cope with it all whilst not losing the beat, Jones and Richards were both beginning to sink into drug habits that brought them into continual contact with the law. The bare Street Fighting Man has an ominous prediction,
Everywhere I hear the sound of marching, charging feet boy,
Cause summers here and the time is right for fighting in the street.
The Stones take the optimistic tone of Dancing In The Street with it's call for solidarity and peace and turn it towards violent overthrow and the plunge of the knife into the summer of love. Prodigal Son is pure Delta blues something that Keith Richards was delving into deeply, it captures the same lyrical vein present in a lot of the early Delta blues. Factory girls sounds like an Appalachian folk tune with some tasty fiddle from Rik Grech, Salt of the Earth is a fitting closer, it's a tribute to the working masses but it's also an acknowledgement that the Stones are no longer part of that society.
Say a prayer for the common foot soldier
Spare a thought for his back breaking work
Spare a thought for his wife and children
Who burn the fires and till the earth
Beggars Banquet was an album that saw Jagger start to establish his reach as a writer of great social commentary, with acerbic wit and stark realism. Richards was immersing himself in the works of his Delta heroes and coming up with something heartfelt and pure musically. It was also an album of firsts and lasts, Jimmy Miller who had previously worked with the Spencer Davis Group took over as the bands producer giving them greater guidance and scope. It was also a time when other musicians were being brought into the Stones orbit to collaborate and contribute, Nicky Hopkins' playing is sublime. It was the last real contribution from Brian Jones in just over a year he would be eased out of the group only to die a month a later. In being a harbinger of what was to come for the world alas it was also one for the band itself.