Photo by: Brenden Cowan
54 years ago, a man of wealth and taste, who has been around for long, long years and stole millions of men’s souls and faiths, introduced himself. Have you guessed his name?
Beggars Banquet, one of the most underrated albums in the Rolling Stones’ discography, celebrates its 54-year anniversary on Dec. 6. Perhaps, underappreciated is a better way to describe this ten-track classic and blues rock album that may have gone under the radar due to the massive shadow posed by both “Sympathy for the Devil,” and “Street Fighting Man.”
The two hit songs were extremely controversial in their own way which shone the spotlight even brighter on them.
“Sympathy for the Devil”, is sung from the devil’s perspective with lyrics full of satire that play with the meaning of morality and reality. The song was inspired by the heavily censored novel The Master and the Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, which has a fascinating story in and of itself. A strong reference can be seen in how the devil is portrayed in both the song and novel as a cunning and sophisticated man instead of a little devil with horns and a tail.
The lyrics of the song are a playful game of “guess my name” as Mick Jagger drops hints while making it evident who he means by describing different historical events in which “he” was present. It’s arguably one of their most famous songs, with an incredible fast-paced rhythm and one of Keith Richards’ best guitar solos.
Its taboo and controversial lyrics drew a lot of attention at the time, resulting in The Rolling Stones being labeled as devil worshipers. In an interview with Creem magazine, Mick Jagger responded, “I thought it was a really odd thing, because it was only one song, after all. It wasn’t like it was a whole album with lots of occult signs on the back. People seemed to embrace the image so readily, and it has carried all the way over into heavy metal bands today. Some people have made a living out of doing this; for example, Jimmy Page.”
“Street Fighting Man” was controversial in a different way. Inspired by the riots in Paris, the anti-war Vietnam protests, and civil unrest in the USA in the late 60s, “Street Fighting Man” was Jagger’s way of critiquing London’s quiet response during a time of revolution. The song became known as their most political song and was banned from many radio stations in Chicago due to the riots in the city at the time.
Out of the 10 tracks in the album, these two songs stand out both for their controversy and their fast-paced rhythms but there are some hidden gems that should be given more attention.
After the intense start from “Sympathy for the Devil,” the second track of the album, “No Expectations,” tones the pace down. Its acoustic theme with hints of blues rifts seems to fit better under their 1973 album Goats Head Soup, where it may have gotten the praise it deserves.
Not only were The Rolling Stones born from the blues, but they modernized the genre and took it to a new level. Most of the album falls under this genre but one stands out the most. “Parachute Woman,” the fourth track in the album, has the rifts and a beat that will make you think Muddy Waters is about to join at any point. “Jigsaw Puzzle” follows with Hendrix-Esque vocals while maintaining the blues background. This is the second longest track after “Sympathy for the Devil” with a run time of a little over six minutes.
Beggars Banquet’s inspiration and the aftermath were controversial, but it does not take away from the impact and legacy it has left to this day appreciated by music lovers.