Music-versary: The Rolling Stones’ ‘Beggars Banquet’ was released on December 6, 1968


Release date: December 6, 1968

Credits: Mick Jagger (vocals); Keith Richards (guitar); Brian Jones (guitar); Bill Wyman (bass); Charlie Watts (drums); Additional musicians including Nicky Hopkins (piano), Dave Mason (guitar), and the Los Angeles Watts Street Gospel Choir

Backstory: “You can’t say that aside from Sympathy [for the Devil] and Street Fighting Man that there’s rock and roll on Beggars Banquet at all,” Keith Richards declared in his 2010 autobiography Life. And yet the album they started working on in the spring of 1968, as the war in Vietnam was escalating and the student movement was taking to the streets, would become one of the greatest rock and roll albums of all time.

Recorded with producer Jimmy Miller (who would go on to help craft the albums Richards would later call “the backbone stuff,” like Let it Bleed and Sticky Fingers) Beggars Banquet marked a new period for the Stones. Their previous record, Their Satanic Majesty’s Request took full advantage of the psychedelia that had become so much a part of the counter culture — particularly as guitarist Brian Jones experimented with his melotron — and the album was seen by many as a response to the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s, a comparison they didn’t particularly appreciate given that the Liverpudlians had clearly had better luck with theirs. The Stones needed to get back to their roots.

Miller, an American, was hot off the success of producing Steve Winwood’s band Traffic and was eager to work with the young British legends. The album they created would produce two of their biggest hits, Sympathy for the Devil, and Street Fighting Man. (They also cut Jumpin’ Jack Flash during those sessions, which was released in advance of the album to help drum up excitement instead of being included on the album.) Mick, Keith, Bill and Charlie worked well together, with Richards unique guitar style as the force behind it. But their fifth member, Jones, after years of heavy drug use, was becoming estranged from the band. While he hardly appears on the album, some of his parts, like the slide guitar on No Expectations, left his print on the record.

Sympathy for the Russians: Although for a long time Jagger maintained that his inspiration for the song was Baudelaire, he later admitted that many of the scenes in the song came directly from Mikhail Bulgakov’s classic novel The Master and the Margarita, the story of Satan’s visit to Stalinist Russia. Turns out Jagger’s girlfriend Marianne Faithful gave him a copy of the book’s first English translation, which was released in 1967.

Ch-ch-ch-changes: Even at the time, fans could see that the band was entering a new era. “The Rolling Stones are constantly changing but beneath the changes they remain the most formal of rock bands,” critic Jon Landau wrote in his review for the new music rag Rolling Stone. “Their successive releases have been continuous extensions of their approach, not radical redefinitions… The Stones are constantly being reborn, but somehow the baby always looks like its parents.” If only he knew how true that would be over the next 50 years.

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