Were The Rolling Stones the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band of the early 1970s?
They had some company but I’d say yes. The Stones became a great album band in 1970 with Let it Bleed and built a strong touring presence particularly in America.
The Stones of the early 1970s spoiled us with strong albums and continuous singles.
What’s your favorite Stones album? Let it Bleed? Exile on Main Street? Sticky Fingers? Some Girls? Steel Wheels?
Sticky Fingers arrived two years after Let it Bleed. In between was the classic live album, Get Yer Ya Ya’s Out. Recording sessions took place in America in Alabama and in England. The mix of styles throughout the album is quite interesting, as are the lyrical references. The early 1970s was a melting pot of cultural and societal rhythms, from drugs to racial issues. Reviews of the album were phenomenally positive and the album still ranks highly on best-albums-ever lists. The word I see often is “weary” to describe some of the songs on this album. I’m not sure what the Stones had to be weary from, other than being a reflection of the society they wrote about.
If there is an album of the Stones that screams America, it is Sticky Fingers. From the swampy blues, to the honky tonk in the country, to the urban rock with horns, to the Santana/Allman Brothers guitar dueling, the Stones absorbed what they heard and reflected it back like a John Ford paying tribute to the folklore of the Western.
Sticky Fingers is highly ranked on every list of great rock ‘n’ roll albums. It sold three million copies and reached number one in America. It was a mix of R&B, blues, folk, country and blistering hard rock. This album had gentle and haunting ballads, and bluesy, drug-fueled songs in overdrive.
Sticky Fingers had a lot for parents to hate, especially the Andy Warhol designed album cover. A zipper on the front and the subtle outline of a large limp Johnson. Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, right? The album also featured the Stones new logo, the lips and tongue, which would become their brand logo going forward.
This was the third studio album produced by Jimmy Miller, who navigated the band through their most creative and successful period. He had worked with the Spencer Davis Group, Blind Faith and Traffic. He survived the drugs and drinking (barely) to produced a handful of classic albums.
Sticky Fingers was recorded during the reported heavy drug period of the Stones that extended through the recording of their next album, Exile on Main Street. The drug references are there on Sticky Fingers as well. After Sticky Fingers, the Stones would become tax exiles in France, where Exile on Main Street was recorded.
All songs Jagger/Richards, except where noted. This begins the period where guitarist Mick Taylor indicated that he heavily contributed to the writing and arranging of several songs but was denied credit. Songwriting credit on a Stones song is highly profitable, in addition to being acknowledged for your creative work. This battle between Taylor and the Jagger/Richards’ team would go on for until Taylor left the band three years in the future.
“Brown Sugar” 3:48 Released as a single, it climbed to number one. Recorded at Muscle Shoals Recording Studio in Alabama. Written by Jagger about one of the women he was keeping company.
“Sway” 3:50 A nasty blues song, written mainly by Jagger who plays guitar on the record. Mick Taylor plays slide guitar. Keith Richards only appears signing backup vocals.
“Wild Horses” 5:42 Released as a single, it reached number 28. Recorded at Muscle Shoals Recording Studio. One of the most covered Stones songs. There is a particularly good version by The Sundays.
“Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” 7:14 Perhaps the best and most requested song on the album. A tour ‘d force by Richards and particularly Taylor on co-lead guitars. Taylor played the last solo which lasted over two minutes, in one of the most revered solos on record. Taylor nailed it in one take.
“You Gotta Move” (writers: Fred McDowell, Gary Davis) 2:32 A country blues song that the Stones loved and often played during the period.
“Bitch” 3:38 One of their best songs, relegated to the B-side of a single. The song had a very definitive groove that Richards played on his guitar. The familiar horn players of Jim Price and Bobby Keys contributed the trademark horns.
“I Got the Blues” 3:54 The Stones always loved the blues and incorporated the style into many of their songs from this era. They also had one of the best blues guitarists in their band, Mick Taylor.
“Sister Morphine” (writers: Jagger, Richards, Marianne Faithful) 5:31 Co-written by Faithful, who first recorded it. Ry Cooder and Jack Nitzsche played on the record.
“Dead Flowers” 4:03 Brilliant slide guitar by both Richards and Taylor. Played in a country style.
“Moonlight Mile” 5:56 Disputed as being co-written by Mick Taylor. Jagger plays it on guitar but Taylor claims he reworked it from a piece written by Richards. The guitar playing is quite spectacular. Richards does not play on the song.
What do you get with this album? A bit of everything – Stones’ riff rock singles, acoustic and electric blues, folk ballads and classic hard rock. If you ask where this album fits into the Stones discography, it would be at the top of their work to that point. Viewed over the course of their history, it is definitely in the top three, but that’s a personal decision. For quality and moving the needle on their sound, this album’s place in history is significant.
The blues are prominent on this album as well as a country influence, this was an American influence, as the Stones spend a lot of time touring and recording in America during this time frame. For an album recorded at various times in different studios, even the divergent styles seem to fit together. Credit producer Jimmy Miller, who earned his money working with the Stones. The success of the group during this period comes from two areas, in my opinion. The quality of the material from Jagger/Richards was exceptional, specifically as they blended influences they were hearing. The other factor is the amazing ability of Mick Taylor as not only a lead guitar player, but he improved what Jagger/Richards brought into the studio.