Sympathy for the Devil
Street Fighting Man
Stray Cat Blues
Salt of the Earth
After the spacey excess of Their Satanic Majesties Request, 1968’s Beggars Banquet was like cold water in the face. The band sounded lean and angry, their silk caftans traded for workwear that wouldn’t snag in the street. Mick Jagger had shown up to anti-Vietnam protests at Grosvenor Square in London that March, but was even more inspired by the unrest in Paris that May—“because in sleepy London town there’s just no place for a street fighting man,” as he put it on record. That it was “sleepy” London and not “swinging” London was signal enough—one moment was over, and another was already exploding.
The band had never been political per se. Instead, politics had been sublimated in the music, whose punch and swagger suggested violence even if the lyrics didn’t call for it. That Jimmy Miller—their new producer—had been a drummer helped: Even Jagger’s voice sounded like a percussion instrument now, hitting words and syllables (“…but what’s PUZZ-ling you is the NA-ture OF my GA-me,” he says on “Sympathy for the Devil”) like they were detonators. At a time when the culture was acclimating to the reality that the personal would always be political and vice versa, the Stones always remained a little detached, careful not to lay too heavy a hand on any part of the scale. The band weren’t freedom fighters and Beggars Banquet wasn’t a manifesto—they were keen onlookers, and here was the picture from the window.
The marching, charging feet of the “Street Fighting Man,” the stained dress of the “Factory Girl,” and the “Salt of the Earth” so vast they appear numberless: Beggars Banquet belonged to The People. Even the album’s goofs—“Stray Cat Blues” and the country farce of “Dear Doctor,” the spit and the sour bourbon—were real enough to smell. And as though to write themselves into a deeper, longer history to which they were only humble inheritors, the band even dipped back into blues covers—Robert Wilkins’ “Prodigal Son”—for the first time since 1965.