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Aftermath

The Rolling Stones

1965

Aftermath sounds like how you might expect a mid-60s Rolling Stones album to sound.  It's somewhat subdued, and sounds a bit watered down compared to what was to come from them.  There's slight hints of psychadelica here and there, but they are very subtle.  A classic opener, a couple of other good songs...nothing bad-persay, but overall a tad bit underwhelming. 

8.2

Beggar's Banquet

The Rolling Stones

1968

This is the 1st truly classic Rolling Stones album in my book.  Granted, I haven't explored ALL of their mid-60s catalog, but this is certainly an improvement over the murky "Aftermath" and is more true to the band's sound than the psychadelic "Satantic Majesty's Request".  Beggar's Banquet sounds like the dirty and bluesy Rolling Stones that we all know and love, and kicks off a set off solid/great albums leading up to "Exile On Main St" (aka their best album).  Pretty much all the songs found here are worth listening to.  Standouts include "Sympathy for the Devil", "Parachute Woman", "Street Fighting Blues", "Jigsaw Puzzle" and "Stray Cat Blues".  This is a gritty and somewhat decedant Rolling Stones album, and a classic in most everybody's book including mine.

8.8

Let It Bleed

The Rolling Stones

1969

Initially, I thought this album was a real snoozer, but I have come to enjoy it more over time.  That said, it's still not as good as what came immediate before or after it.  Let It Bleed has a hedonisticly subdued vibe about it.  For me, it works better as background music, that's how I discovered the middle chunk of the album is actually pretty damn good after all.  Apparently most people consider this to be among the Stones greatest work...I think that is a stretch, it's just pretty good, and aside from the opening and closing songs, certainly not great overall.

8.4

Sticky Fingers

The Rolling Stones

1971

Sticky Fingers is a definite improvement over the somewhat underwhelming (yet apparently classic) Let It Bleed.  This is arguably the Stones album with the most swagger and attitude, so suffice to say it rocks most of the time.  That said, what really makes Sticky Fingers a great album are the more full-realized songs found here.  "Wild Horses" is an endearingly sweet tune, "Can't You Hear Me Knocking" features perhaps the best long instrumental jam in the Stones entire catalog to close out the song (spicy!), "Sister Morphine" is a frightening and appropriately intoxicating little tune, and "Dead Flowers" is probably the best country-inflicted song the Stones ever made.  Sticky Fingers was the best album the Stones had made at the time, but they would top in the following year with the epically soulful Exile On Main Street.

8.8

Exile on Main St

The Rolling Stones

1972

Plastic soul.  That was the tagline some placed on the Rolling Stones during their ascendance to rock & roll supremacy during much of the 1960s.  Sure they rocked and made great songs, but their efforts to channel the classic R&B influences that helped inspire their own unique brand of raunchy, blues-centric cock-rock didn't always translate well across the span of an entire album.

In fact, prior to Exile on Main St, the Stones hadn't really crafted an undisputed masterpiece of an album yet, and this was in an era when many of their peers were creating great, epic albums on a regular basis.  Sure Beggar's Banquet, Let It Bleed, and Sticky Fingers were good albums, each offering up their respective share of classic songs, but in between those great songs featured some less than stellar material. 

Enter 1972, fresh off the heals of arguably their best album to date (Sticky Fingers), the Stones found themselves in, well, for lack of a better term, "exile" from England, haven fled the country to avoid paying excessive taxes before the government could seize their assets.  Keith Richards had developed a nasty heroin habit, and Mick Jagger had recently married and fathered a child with his new wife.  A lot was going on with the band, which makes it all the more extraordinary that they were able to come together and create the best album of their career, and one of the best pure rock and roll albums of all-time.

Exile starts out in a fairly underwhelming fashion, as the first handful of songs are all pretty good, but somewhat lack the punch or freshness of some of their earlier work (with the exception of "Rip This Joint" which is a riot).  It's not until the 5th track on the album "Tumbling Dice", that the listener is hit with a classic Rolling Stones masterpiece.  One of the band's greatest songs of all-time, "Tumbling Dice" is perhaps the best representation of why the early labels of "plastic soul" no longer applied to the Rolling Stones, as they really bring it all together on this track to create a near perfect rock & soul combination.

"Tumbling Dice" effectively kicks off the start of an absolutely fantastic set of songs that make up the middle section of the album.  These tracks are not in the vain of your typical cock-rock, prancing/posturing-type songs that the Stones are largely known for.  No, these songs actually have soul, and there's nothing plastic about it.  "Sweet Virginia" has an authentic, weary quality to it that sounds like it was recorded after last call at 4:00AM in a some dingy, old-school whisky-stained bar with a lot of character.  "Torn & Frayed" is another warm and soulful track, also weary in tone but with a country-flavor going on.  Not overtly country, but enough to make the song a unique and endearing.  "Sweet Black Angel" follows, continuing the soulful vibe of the prior tracks, but adding a quality of sweetness to the mix.

The streak of great songs peaks out with "Loving Cup" which opens with a beautiful piano intro that greets the listener like a warm fire on a cold and snowy winter's night.  It's a really beautiful song, and Mick Jagger's yearning singing only helps to accentuate the warm and soulful feel of the song.  Another classic in my book.

The album then takes a bit of a break from the more inimate vibe of the prior tracks with "Happy" and "Turd on the Run" which, to me, almost serve as a brief intermission from the barrage of soulful tracks that proceeded them.

"Ventilator Blues" starts the transition back into more soulful territory, although this is primarily an old-school, down-tempo blues song.  It eventually melts into the moving "I Just Want To See His Face", a beautiful, spiritual song that sounds as if it was cut live from a church on Sunday morning somewhere in the deep South.  It's mostly chanting, reverb, and light-drumming, but it has a very personal, holy quality to it that makes it a very gripping piece.

"I Just Want To See His Face" leads into possibly the best song on the album "Let It Loose".  If it's not the best song on the album, it certainly is the emotional climax, acting as the culmination of all the blues-soaked, rock & roll soul that leads up to the track.  Jagger really puts his heart into this song, and the backing female vocals definitely add to the soulful and emotional feeling the song possess. 

After that, the album somewhat reverts back to the same vibe of the introductory songs on the album: good songs that rock, but aren't particularly great or epic in quality.  With the exception of "Shine A Light" (which reclaims the epic, soulful vibe of the middle-portion of the album) the remaining songs to a respectable job of closing out an overall great album.

A classic in most everybody's book, Exile on Main St is easily my personal favorite Rolling Stones album of all-time, not because it rocks, but because of the authenticity and beauty of it's soul. 

9.6

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