Mick Taylor had an impossible job to step into when he joined The Rolling Stones in 1969. As the latest in a long line of impressive guitarists to play with John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, Taylor was tapped to replace Brian Jones, the band’s initial leader who slowly drifted out of the group as his position of power was overtaken by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Richards had been dutifully handling guitar parts in the studio, but Jones was still beloved by the band’s fans when he passed away in July.
To make a tricky situation even worse, the first show Taylor would play with the band would be their July 5 concert at Hyde Park, the band’s largest gig up to that point which had been hastily turned into a Jones tribute. The 20-year-old had to emerge from Jones’ long shadow in front of nearly half a million people waiting for Taylor to do it as good, if not better, than Jones.
What the public didn’t know was just how talented a guitarist Taylor was. A fluid and dynamic lead player, the young strummer had the adaptability to play blues licks, country lines, and straight-ahead rock and roll with the precision and confidence of someone twice his age. He was a wunderkind that The Stones relied on for the next five years as they recorded some of their most beloved albums, including Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, and Exile on Main St.
Unfortunately, Taylor never felt his status had progressed beyond that of a hired gun. While he had allegedly been promised songwriting credits on a number of tracks he helped create, including Sticky Fingers‘ ‘Moonlight Mile’ and It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll‘s ‘Till the Next Goodbye’, his only co-credit came on Exile‘s ‘Ventilator Blues’. Even worse, the relatively lax attitude towards drug use in The Stones’ camp led Taylor to develop addictions of his own. Disgruntled with his status in the band and fearful of becoming another rock and roll causality like his predecessor, Taylor quit The Stones right before the band were set to fly to Munich to record Black and Blue in December 1974.
The band decided not to tour behind It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll, another point of contention with Taylor, who wasn’t happy about the quick turnaround going back into the studio. That means that Taylor’s final show as an official full-time member of The Rolling Stones came on the last stop of the band’s 1973 tour in support of Goats Head Soup. The band’s 1973 European Tour was a less hectic affair than their debaucherous Exile outing the year before, and the disconnect between Taylor and the rest of the band is evident in his dislike of the interwoven guitar approach favoured by Richards.
The band’s setlist varied little between shows, and the tour’s final stop in Berlin presented one of the most consistent shows of the two month jaunt. Opening with the contentious ‘Brown Sugar’, the concert today reads like a greatest hits collection from Taylor’s tenure in the band: ‘Tumbling Dice’, ‘Angie’, ‘Honky Tonk Women’ and ‘All Down the Line’ all featuring Taylor’s unique contributions. The only song that Taylor had to approximate Jones’ guitar work on was ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’, and even then Taylor mostly dispensed with Jones’ chunky rhythm lines, opting for his signature crystalline leads.
Even the tracks that didn’t feature Taylor on record benefitted from his addition. His searing bends on ‘Midnight Rambler’ heighten the blues opera’s drama, while his ominous soaring notes play in perfectly with the moody atmosphere of ‘Gimme Shelter’. His ferocity can be felt in full force on Richards’ ‘Happy’, his subtlety and restraint are showcased on ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’, and he even shows flashes of protopunk on ‘Rip This Joint’. Richards may have bemoaned the rigid lead-rhythm dynamics between him and Taylor, but it’s hard to argue that this was the tightest and most technically proficient version of The Stones to ever exist.
The concert ended without any of the signature flash that comes with a modern-day Stones concert. No fireworks, no encores, no bows, no ‘Satisfaction’. Instead, the group ripped through a killer rendition of ‘Street Fighting Man’ with Taylor unlocking some mind-bending wah-wah effects before simply leaving the stage, and their current lineup, behind.
There are bootlegs available (of dubious quality) that still present The Stones at an undeniable peak. It wouldn’t last, but you can hear the fire that comes from every speaker, especially Taylor’s amp. Taylor would occasionally rejoin The Stones in future years, but his last concert as a full-time member showed the enormous potential that the band still had with him as their six-string virtuoso.
The Rolling Stones, Berlin, Germany, October 19, 1973:
- ‘Brown Sugar’
- ‘Gimme Shelter’
- ‘Tumbling Dice’
- ‘Star Star’
- ‘Dancing With Mr. D’
- ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’
- ‘Midnight Rambler’
- ‘Honky Tonk Women’
- ‘All Down the Line’
- ‘Rip This Joint’
- ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’
- ‘Street Fighting Man’