Subscribe

Credit: Bert Voerhoff

Music

Ranking the songs on The Rolling Stones album 'Beggars Banquet' in order of greatness

@jackwhatley89

It’s hard to put into words just how pivotal The Rolling Stones were in the advent of pop music as we know it today. While they’re continuously compared to their Liverpudlian counterparts, it remains true that The Beatles arrived with a wave of parent-approved Beatlemania, but The Rolling Stones were the dark and dangerous choice of the sixties. They provided a searing array of singles and had their fair share of landmark LPs, but one of their finest came in the early years of their career.

Buoyed by perhaps some of Keith Richards’ most excellent riffs of all time, the 1968 album Beggars Banquet confirmed that The Rolling Stones were a different entity entirely. However, 1967 and their failed attempt to mirror The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper with the equally trippy Their Satanic Majesties could have dented the band’s confidence; the following year, they arose triumphant with one of the greatest rock albums ever made.

Many of the albums in the group’s rich discography are pulsating with the kind of singles that The Rolling Stones have dined out on for years. Beggar’s Banquet, however, not only had those big imposing singles but also worked as a singular piece of work too. Resting on the country blues that Richards had so keenly adopted, the Stones showed they could it all. The album contains some bonafide classics such as ‘Street Fighting Man,’ ‘No Expectations’ and perhaps the band’s greatest ever song ‘Sympathy for the Devil’. But this record had something extra too.

There have always been artists willing to push the socially acceptable boundaries of music’s mainstream. Some do it on stage with their peacocking performances, some with their lyrics or outlandish solos, and others use their album artwork to push the envelope. With Beggars Banquet, The Rolling Stones did all three at once. It quickly saw the record banned from sale until a significant change was made, and it was all down to a ludicrous disagreement about their album cover.

The biggest mistake the Rolling Stones ever made

Read More

“We really have tried to keep the album within the bounds of good taste,” said frontman Mick Jagger in 1968, as they continued to fight for their image. “I mean, we haven’t shown the whole lavatory. That would have been rude. We’ve only shown the top half. Two people at the record company have told us that the sleeve is terribly offensive.”

Naturally, it wouldn’t deter the band. The singer continued: “We’ll get this album distributed somehow, even if I have to go down the end of Greek Street and Carlisle Street at two o’clock on Saturday morning and sell them myself.” The sleeve would cause issues but underneath the apparently provocative album cover was one of the band’s finest records of all time.

Below, we are doing the unthinkable and ranking the record’s songs in order of greatness, and it is a frank reminder of their blinding talent.

Ranking Beggars Banquet from worst to best:

10. ‘Prodigal Son’

There’s a joyful bounce present in ‘Prodigal Son’ that is hard to avoid tapping your toes to. Undoubtedly shaped by the group’s experiences Stateside, it’s hard not to feel this song is almost a direct transfer of Americana.

Simple in conception and somewhat mawkish in delivery, there is much better to be heard on this song. Even though it’s hard to believe it’s a piece of filler on the ten-track record.

9. ‘Parachute Woman’

A dark and smoky blues number is giving accurate billing on the record as it sits between ‘Dear Doctor’ and ‘Jigsaw Puzzle’. Beyond the recreation of the Muddy Waters style of blues, there’s very little to add to the song. Simple and sticky, the track is filled to the brim with sexual innuendo.

At one point, Jagger sings with a smirk, “Parachute woman will you blow me out?” Later, he goes a set further as he garbles: “My heavy throbber’s itching just to lay a solid rhythm down.” It all adds t the backroom daring of the song.

8. ‘Jigsaw Puzzle’

There’s a fair bit of debate about ‘Jigsaw Puzzle’. Some believe the song to be some of the band’s best early material. However, we find ourselves on the other side of the script as we’d more closely associate the song with album filler. The track is naturally influenced by the country blues that permeates the album.

However, where the best of the Delta blues relied heavily on the authority of the lyrics, Jagger’s version goes off the deep end with needless lyrics that develop around the band’s personalities. There’s a good chance you’ll disagree with this placement, but there’s something smarmy about the song that is unavoidable.

7. ‘Salt of the Earth’

There’s something special about the closer on an album. It is the final moment of the work and deserves to be remarkable. For Beggars Banquet, the band reserved something special as they allowed Keith Richards to deliver the song’s beautiful opening lyrics.

The song is reportedly inspired by John Lennon as Mick Jagger attempted to write a “working class anthem” for the everyman. It may not enter the top 50 of the band’s finest songs, but it’s a charming end to a bruising record.

6. ‘Factory Girl’

When Jagger and co. stripped tings to their bare ones they invariably delivered. ‘Factory Girl’ is a song so indebted to the cultures that swirled around them, it acts as one of the band’s defining songs. Naturally flecked with blues, the song is also directly connected to the folk music of the band’s upbringing. Richards said of the song: “To me ‘Factory Girl’ felt something like ‘Molly Malone’, an Irish jig; one of those ancient Celtic things that emerge from time to time, or an Appalachian song. In those days I would just come up and play something, sitting around the room. I still do that today. If Mick gets interested, I’ll carry on working on it; if he doesn’t look interested, I’ll drop it, leave it and say, ‘I’ll work on it and maybe introduce it later.'”

It also saw Charlie Watts take on the Indian instrument tabla, which gives the song an extra unquantifiable layer: “On ‘Factory Girl’, I was doing something you shouldn’t do, which is playing the tabla with sticks instead of trying to get that sound using your hand, which Indian tabla players do, though it’s an extremely difficult technique and painful if you’re not trained.” It makes for an inspiring listen.

5. ‘Stray Cat Blues’

One song in this list was always likely to be a contentious one. ‘Stray Cat Blues’, much like the band’s other notorious song ‘Brown Sugar’ has not aged well. However, depending on your outlook, one can either see this song as a tongue-in-cheek rock and roll classic or a reminder of the darkness that can be found behind some of the brightest musical lights.

As the protagonist of the song contemplates sex with an underage girl, the lyrics “it’s no hanging matter, it’s no capital crime” reeks in the perfumed world of modern rock. Contentious lyrics aside, it’s hard to ignore the song’s power. With such a divided feeling, it’s hard not to place this song in the middle of the pack.

4. ‘Dear Doctor’

A simple country ditty o the face of it, ‘Dear Doctor’ sees Mick Jagger adopt a drawl that would infiltrate much of the band’s later output. As the singer delivers a trans-Atlantic shimmy, there’s nothing to dislike about this song. It may not be the most vibrant on the record, but it does have a home-cooked charm that is hard to ignore.

A continuation of The Rolling stones’ love affair with America, the song has only got better with age. Proving to be one of the more resplendent moments on the album, it soon descends into a bar-room swiller that reeks of cigarette smoke and whiskey as it tells the story of a jilted groom who couldn’t be happier with his situation. Perfection.

3. ‘No Expectations’

Prior to this song, The Rolling Stones had largely focused on the power of rock and roll. They were a lightning strike of a band, delivering shocking energy and leaving behind a smouldering mark on whatever stage they set foot on. However, on ‘No Expectations’ we hear a different side to the group as they unleash one of their more tender ballads.

The song is well supported by Brian Jones’ iconic contribution. Mick Jagger told Rolling Stone of the musician’s introduction: “That’s Brian playing [the slide guitar]. We were sitting around in a circle on the floor, singing and playing, recording with open mikes.” It’s also a painful reminder of Jones’ demise: “That was the last time I remember Brian really being totally involved in something that was really worth doing”

It’s simply gorgeous.

2. ‘Street Fighting Man’

If there was one guitarist ready to kick out against the establishment in 1968, it was Keith Richards, and on Beggars Banquet he was a regular Karate Kid. ‘Street Fighting Man’ sees Richards at his most gnarly, embodying the gruff and ready to rock protagonists in the tune.

The Rolling Stones were at the peak of their powers and songs like this, churned with the intensity of direct danger and filled with the blood, sweat and years of its bandmates, were what separated the Stones from the rest of the pop groups who were circling the clubs at the time.

1. ‘Sympathy for the Devil’

Another Glimmer Twin masterclass the track from 1968’s Beggars Banquet is a powerful and effervescent number that builds from deep down in your belly into something uncontrollable.

As they weave through Lucifer’s narrative without ever mentioning his name (perhaps a little worried about being censored) Jagger takes us through the with a vocal that comes from the pits of Hell. It’s the kind of showing which can convert a non-Stones fan into getting a tongue tattoo.

In a 1995 interview with Rolling Stone, Jagger said: “I think that was taken from an old idea of Baudelaire’s, I think, but I could be wrong.”

The singer added: “Sometimes when I look at my Baudelaire books, I can’t see it in there. But it was an idea I got from French writing. And I just took a couple of lines and expanded on it. I wrote it as sort of like a Bob Dylan song.” It acts as one of the band’s finest ever compositions — potent, pointed and always provocative — and always pleases us when the needle drops.