The late, great novelist and journalist-extraordinaire Hunter S. Thompson was a huge fan of music. To his writing, and his existence as a human being, music and musicians were a crucial part of his existence. Much like with Stephen King, they are ingrained into his works and were viewed by Thompson as the true soul of writing.
The Godfather of Gonzo journalism considered musicians to be in the same sphere as writers and painters, and he wasn’t wrong. He deeply respected musicians, something he rarely did for other professions. This lends a critical weight to his opinion on music, much like his views on hangovers and politics.
In a letter to Rolling Stone editor John Lombardi, Thompson revealed his top ten albums of what he described as “the rock age”, the ’60s. A brilliant list, we’ve compiled it into a list for you to enjoy.
Thompson wrote to Lombardi: “I resent your assumption that Music is Not My Bag because I’ve been arguing for the past few years that music is the New Literature, that Dylan is the 1960s’ answer to Hemingway, and that the main voice of the ’70s will be on records & videotape instead of books.” Owning a vision that was unmatched, Thompson was right.
He reserved special praise for a handful of acts, “But by music, I don’t mean the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band,” he added. “If the Grateful Dead came to town, I’d beat my way in with a fucking tyre iron, if necessary, I think Workingmen’s Dead is the heaviest thing since ‘Highway 61’ and ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ (with the possible exception of The Stones’ least (sic) two albums… and the definite exception of Herbie Mann’s Memphis Underground, which may be the best album cut by anybody).” A point well made; this was Thompson to a tee.
On the list, The Rolling Stones album he included was 1969’s classic, Let It Bleed. Featuring ‘Gimme Shelter’, ‘Mightnight Rambler’, ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ and the title track, Let It Bleed is often hailed as the definitive Stones record of the ’60s.
The album marked the return to the group’s blues-oriented sound of their early years, ostensibly the pre-Aftermath period. On Let It Bleed, there’s also flecks of gospel, country and country-rock.
Another significant element of the record is that it was both a musical and physical departure for the band. Recorded during a period of tumult, Brian Jones, the band’s founder, had become so volatile due to his drug use and was growing apart from the band. At the recording sessions he did turn up to, he was unable to contribute due to incapacitation.
He was fired during the midst of the recording sessions and replaced by Mick Taylor, effectively ending the band’s first chapter. Jones appeared on only two songs and died within a month of being fired.
Let It Bleed was The Stones’ final ’60s record before they broke off from the past and headed into the excess of the ’70s. A last hurrah from the band’s classic lineup, there’s no surprise that it was Thompson’s favourite. You can imagine him and Raoul speeding around, absolutely off their faces, listening to the effortless cool of ‘Gimme Shelter’.
Listen to Let It Bleed in full below.