9 Songs, 42 Minutes

EDITORS’ NOTES

The day after Let It Bleed came out, The Rolling Stones played a show at the Altamont Speedway in Northern California that ended with the Hells Angels' ad hoc security force stabbing an 18-year-old concertgoer named Meredith Hunter. Hunter’s death was cast as a kind of punctuative moment in the cultural narrative, a violent climax to an increasingly violent decade. But more than a marker of the era’s end (a loss of the hippie movement's supposed innocence, the passage from optimism to cynicism), Altamont reflected tensions—racial (Hunter was black), geopolitical, and generational—that had been mounting in America for years. In other words, Altamont didn’t end the '60s, the calendar did—but you’d be hard-pressed to find a richer allegory for what that end meant.

What role, if any, the Stones played in all that—well, no matter how eruditely the New York Times compared their shows of the era to Nazi rallies, they were, after all, just a band. But they were also a weathervane of cultural sensitivity, detecting gathering winds of sexual violence (“Midnight Rambler”), spiritual fatigue (“Let It Bleed”), and a sense of fear too deep for any drug to sufficiently numb (“Gimme Shelter”).

Musically, they’d taken the Americanisms of 1968’s Beggars Banquet a step further, shedding the primness of albums like Between the Buttons for something slurred, messy, more liable to be dragged out than walk on its own accord. Half the time, you can’t even understand what Mick Jagger is saying, which makes the fact that you can basically hear him alternately high-kicking and shambling through it that much funnier and more seductive. Like the drunken bender that lurches toward revelation, Let It Bleed is the bad idea that starts to look pretty good: the sound of confusion rendered with perfect clarity. In a year when Led Zeppelin started to repurpose blues as the soundtrack for ancient fantasies, Let It Bleed cast it as accompaniment to modern apocalypse—one all the more gnarly because you end up living through it.

As for what the album meant in the band’s maturation, consider the ground covered between “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”—a song about angry young men complaining about what they don’t have—and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” in which the same, less angry (and slightly older) young men make peace with what they do. Asked a couple of weeks before Altamont if he was, in fact, now satisfied, Jagger told a press conference in New York, “Financially dissatisfied, sexually satisfied, philosophically trying.” Sometimes all you can do with a world at war is hunker down and have a drink.

EDITORS’ NOTES

The day after Let It Bleed came out, The Rolling Stones played a show at the Altamont Speedway in Northern California that ended with the Hells Angels' ad hoc security force stabbing an 18-year-old concertgoer named Meredith Hunter. Hunter’s death was cast as a kind of punctuative moment in the cultural narrative, a violent climax to an increasingly violent decade. But more than a marker of the era’s end (a loss of the hippie movement's supposed innocence, the passage from optimism to cynicism), Altamont reflected tensions—racial (Hunter was black), geopolitical, and generational—that had been mounting in America for years. In other words, Altamont didn’t end the '60s, the calendar did—but you’d be hard-pressed to find a richer allegory for what that end meant.

What role, if any, the Stones played in all that—well, no matter how eruditely the New York Times compared their shows of the era to Nazi rallies, they were, after all, just a band. But they were also a weathervane of cultural sensitivity, detecting gathering winds of sexual violence (“Midnight Rambler”), spiritual fatigue (“Let It Bleed”), and a sense of fear too deep for any drug to sufficiently numb (“Gimme Shelter”).

Musically, they’d taken the Americanisms of 1968’s Beggars Banquet a step further, shedding the primness of albums like Between the Buttons for something slurred, messy, more liable to be dragged out than walk on its own accord. Half the time, you can’t even understand what Mick Jagger is saying, which makes the fact that you can basically hear him alternately high-kicking and shambling through it that much funnier and more seductive. Like the drunken bender that lurches toward revelation, Let It Bleed is the bad idea that starts to look pretty good: the sound of confusion rendered with perfect clarity. In a year when Led Zeppelin started to repurpose blues as the soundtrack for ancient fantasies, Let It Bleed cast it as accompaniment to modern apocalypse—one all the more gnarly because you end up living through it.

As for what the album meant in the band’s maturation, consider the ground covered between “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”—a song about angry young men complaining about what they don’t have—and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” in which the same, less angry (and slightly older) young men make peace with what they do. Asked a couple of weeks before Altamont if he was, in fact, now satisfied, Jagger told a press conference in New York, “Financially dissatisfied, sexually satisfied, philosophically trying.” Sometimes all you can do with a world at war is hunker down and have a drink.

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