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The Rolling Stones – Beggars Banquet 50th Anniversary Edition – Decca Records/London Records (1968) ABKCO Records (2018) UIGY-9709 Hybrid SACD (stereo & mono) ****:

(Mick Jagger – vocals, harmonica, maracas; Keith Richards – acoustic guitars, electric guitars, bass, vocals; Brian Jones – acoustic guitar, slide guitar, mellotron, sitar, tambura, vocals; Bill Wyman – bass, double bass, synthesizer, maracas, vocals; Charlie Watts – drums, claves, tambourine, tabla, vocals; Nicky Hopkins – piano, organ; Ry Cooder – mandolin; Rocky Dijon – congas; Ric Grech – fiddle; Dave Mason – shenai, mellotron; Jimmy Miller – vocals; Watts Street Gospel Choir – vocals)

Only one group has ever been described as the Greatest Rock And Roll Band In The World. That is The Rolling Stones. They were so iconoclastic that their named was eventually be shortened to The Stones. The quintet (Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones, Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts) was part of the 60’s British Invasion, which was heavily influenced by American Blues and R & B. Ironically, these English rock bands would re-introduced these genres to America youth. Of course, The Rolling Stones were compared (like all bands) to The Beatles. Like Lennon and McCartney, the songwriting duo of Jagger and Richards would become prominent. “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” and “Paint It Black” reached #1 on the charts. Unlike The Beatles, The Rolling Stones stayed committed to their gritty live performances, and toured relentlessly. In 1967, the group released Their Satanic Majesties Request. The project was criticized for its derivative psychedelic core and it seemed that the band was “losing its edge”. The following year, everything changed with the release of Beggars Banquet. Jagger and Richards’ songwriting maturity solidified and expanded. Songs like “Sympathy For The Devil”, “Street Fighting Man” and “Stray Cat Blues” ushered in the era of timeless compositions. This album was the last that primarily featured the original five members and was notable for Richards’ ascension as musical leader.

Beggars Banquet also signaled the best 4-album run in the annals of rock history. They followed with Let It Bleed (1969), Sticky Fingers (1971) and Exiles On Main Street (1972). For the next five decades, The Rolling Stones recorded and toured. They have announced a 2019 tour. ABKCO Records has released a 50th Anniversary SACD Edition of Beggars Banquet. This sonic upgrade makes a great album better. With increased vibrancy and technical detail, the slick “unpolished” aural landscape of this rock/blues/country is unleashed. The “blue” disc is in stereo and opens with “Symphony For The Devil”, showcasing the “African” drum/conga intro and Jagger’s guttural yells. Nicky Hopkins (perhaps the greatest studio pianist in rock and roll history) chimes in with colorful shading as Jagger introduces disturbing imagery of social upheaval and violence. This cut represents 1968 culture and is driven by the fierce gritty play of Keith Richards. “Please to meet you, hope you guess my name” is a haunting lyrical refrain. As listeners crank up the volume (a prerequisite for Stones music), they are immersed in high-energy stereo bliss. Switching gears, “No Expectations” is languid and glows with bluesy elegance. Brian Jones (whose musical contributions had been mitigated by his lifestyle) is nimble on slide guitar. Jagger has an organic affinity for country vocals, even a twang. The loose country vibe continues on “Dear Doctor” a waltz-time arrangement with Dead-like harmonies, Jagger’s humorous falsetto, acoustic guitars and harmonica are guided by Wyman’s double bass.

In what some describe as The Stones trademark electrified Delta blues, “Parachute Woman” exerts a tough pulse with head-bopping grooves. Richards and Jones jam on electric and acoustic guitar respectively, as Jagger adds a simple harmonica. His vocals have a lighter touch, and interact concisely with the weighty drumming of Watts. Again , the Nicky Hopkins bluesy chording is countered by the spacier guitar runs by Richards. Cut #5 Jigsaw Puzzle, (which was the finale  of “Side A” in the world of vinyl) is the last remnants of psychedelia with idiosyncratic Bob Dylan-like vocal phrasing.

Track #6 Street Fighting Man” explodes with an infectious acoustic guitar and rollicking piano. Jagger’s vocals are evocative and exemplifies contemporary angry vocal phrasing. Brian Jones’ sitar adds an Eastern-infused element to a straight rocking finish. Their anthemic musical context is part of a rock and roll legacy. Richards generates power with hard strumming acoustic guitar and Hopkins delivers atmospheric piano riffs. Back to Delta roots, “Prodigal Son” (a cover of the “Reverend” Robert Wilkins” blues classic and the only non Jaggers-Richards track) is pure homage to Mississippi blues. But, the group quickly returns to genuine Rolling Stones blues hooks on “Stray Cat Blues”. Richards’ blistering, distorted electric guitar is is nothing short of fierce. Jagger’s vocals are commanding and the dense mix is vintage. Watts and Dijon contribute a funky percussive break, as the band ends in an energetic, hypnotic coda. This became a Stones classic! “Factory Girl” feels like working class British folk resonance. The brief cut has an effective violin (Ric Grech) and synthesized mandolin (Dave Mason). In a robust finale “Salt Of The Earth” is a harbinger to future expansive composition and arrangement. Beginning with a rare first verse lead vocal by Keith Richards, the song builds momentum as a gospel celebration. The uncanny “loose” dynamics of the band are amplified by a soulful gospel choir and muscular piano chords from Hopkins.

There is a “Bonus” SACD disc which features a mono version of “Sympathy For The Devil”. It sounds great. The “thicker” mix is the epitome of The Rolling Stones electric blues/rock. A second track is a phone call interview between Jagger and a label executive for the Japanese distributor of London Records. It is amusing from an anecdotal perspective, but the audio quality is lacking. Overall, Beggars Banquet 50th Anniversary Edition is memorable for the full album SACD re-mastering. The packaging includes reproductions of 45 r.p.m. sleeves for “Street Fighting Man” and “Jumping Jack Flash”/‘Child Of The Moon”. The inner gatefold has the controversial bathroom graffiti front and back, and the “debauchery feast” photo of the 5 band members. There is a novelty 7” flexi-disc (that also includes the phone interview). The outside packaging is the fancy “wedding invitation” cover.

TrackList:
Disc 1 (SACD Stereo Blue London Label): 
Symphony For The Devil; No Expectations; Dear Doctor; Parachute Woman; Jigsaw Puzzle; Street Fighting Man; Prodigal Son; Stray Cat Blues; Factory Girl; Salt Of The Earth

Disc 2: (SACD Mono): 
Symphony For The Devil; “Hello! This Is Mick Jagger” (Interview)

Bonus 7” Flexi Disc: 
“Hello This Is Mick Jagger” LONDON to TOKYO April 17, 1968 Interview

—Robbie Gerson

More information at the ABKCO Records website:

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