Monday, November 21, 2011

23. Rolling Stones, "Street Fighting Man" (1968)


A friend and I were agreeing the other day that over the long haul of the decades it seems more and more that the best Stones albums, the ones we most tend to return to again and live with, are the early half dozen or so—Now! and 12 X 5 and Out of Our Heads—and less so that more typically lionized run of the late '60s and early '70s that started with Beggars Banquet and finished with Exile on Main St. They really were a remarkable rock 'n' roll blues band before they were signifiers for a generation or anything else, and track by track those early albums still sound almost impossibly fresh. Yet, even so, one way or another, I never find myself drifting too far from Beggars Banquet, which is somehow deceptively less than the sum of its parts. But taken one item at a time it houses what seems to me to be their enduringly best, not the least of which, indeed the greatest of which, is this ratatat, irony-inflected paean to political street demonstrations of the times generally, and more specifically to Tariq Ali, a radicalized British Pakistani who has remained relevant long beyond the immediate life of this great, great song. Everything about it is rock hard, and rocks hard: Charlie Watts hits the drums impossibly hard, even for him, and the strange off-rhythms of Keith Richards's opening acoustic guitar are nothing less than electrifying. So that accounts for the first 10 seconds, and it only gets better from there. Jagger's melody lines crease with ferocity, keyboards and whining electric guitar and strings and other things steal in. It's potent with visceral energy, climaxing lyrically with the question, "What can a poor boy do but sing in a rock and roll band?" It's the one thing by them I would save if ever forced to such an extremity.


  1. Beggars Banquet is great, I agree.

    I think I may be slightly too young to have experienced the Stones as cultural signifiers. I didn't know anything about their lionized run til college and grad school, and I was blown away with it when I heard the music.

  2. Those four albums -- Beggars Banquet, Let it Bleed, Sticky Fingers, and Exile on Main St. -- are great, and no argument from me with anyone who says they're the best. The truth is I may be affected by exhaustion at this point from playing them so much, and even at that I'm still quick to defend BB!