Many Rolling Stones fans cite Exile On Main Street as The Stones best album, but for me it has always been the dark, raw and visceral Let It Bleed that makes it my favourite. In fact if I was put in the impossible position of only being allowed to listen to one album ever then it would be Let It Bleed.
The album opens with Gimme Shelter, quite possibly the best Stones track of all time, and also includes Midnight Rambler and You Can’t Always Get What You Want. It is no accident, that in their live sets The Rolling Stones always play these three songs, all taken off of this seminal album. By 1969, The Rolling Stones were already a critically and commercially dominant force and composed and recorded their eighth LP (tenth for the U.S.) amidst both geopolitical and personal turmoil.
In June of 1969, during the peak of the Vietnam War and the era’s social upheaval, the group was in the process of recording eight Jagger/Richards-penned tunes and one cover (Love In Vain from the canon of bluesman Robert Johnson) when they made the difficult decision to part ways with founding member Brian Jones who was found dead in his swimming pool the following month.
Jones had already been replaced by 20-year-old guitar prodigy Mick Taylor formerly of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. Let It Bleed stands as the only proper Rolling Stones full-length that contains contributions from both members; Jones played autoharp on You Got The Silver and congas on Midnight Rambler, while Taylor laid downslide guitar on Country Honk and guitar tracks, along with Richards, on Live With Me.
The second of four Rolling Stones albums made with producer Jimmy Miller (Traffic, Blind Faith), Let It Bleed perfectly captures the ominous spirit of the times with Gimme Shelter, the opening track. Keith Richards came up with the song’s hook while witnessing people scramble for shelter during a storm; it evolved to a much darker direction with background singer Merry Clayton’s cries of “rape” and “murder” on the choruses of the finished recording.
The thematically similar Midnight Rambler was inspired by the Boston Strangler murders of 1962-1964; by coincidence, the Manson Family killings were front-page news while the album was being finished at Elektra Studios and Sunset Sound in Los Angeles, a short drive away from both major crime scenes.
Gloom and doom notwithstanding, Richards sings lead vocals on You Got the Silver– a first for the guitarist. With the aid of the London Bach Choir and Jack Nizsche’s vocal arrangements, You Can’t Always Get What You Want completes the album in an epic, uplifting fashion.
In celebration of the album’s original release a half-century ago, ABKCO Records is offering Let It Bleed (50th Anniversary Limited Deluxe Edition) this November 1st. This 2 LP/ 2 HybridSuper Audio CD set was entirely remastered in both stereo and mono by Grammy®-winning engineer Bob Ludwig at Gateway Mastering.
The collection also comes with a reproduction of the 1969 7” mono single of Honky Tonk Women/ You Can’t Always Get What You Want, in a picture sleeve. Also included are three 12” x 12” hand-numbered replica-signed lithographs printed on embossed archival paper, and a full-colour 23” x 23” poster with restored art from the original 1969 Decca Records package. An 80-page hardcover book that includes an essay by journalist David Fricke and never-before-seen photos by the band’s tour photographer Ethan Russell is part of the set. ABKCO Records is also releasing the remastered stereo version of Let It Bleed as a stand-alone CD, vinyl LP, and digitally.
Honky Tonk Women (b/w You Can’t Always Get What You Want) was originally released four months ahead of Let It Bleed. Honky Tonk Women, with its distinctive cowbell-centric intro, was a #1 hit in both the US and UK, and was reprised on the album in a countryfied manner as Country Honk
Eleven-time Grammy®-winning mastering engineer Bob Ludwig was tasked with remastering this edition of Let It Bleed and worked from Direct Stream Digital files taken from the original tapes at a 2.8 MHz sampling rate.
“When we did the first Let It Bleed remaster in 2002, our intention was to pay homage to the original work,” said Ludwig, who is no stranger to the Stones catalogue, having mastered or remastered many of their classic albums over the past four decades. “When we did this new version, the purpose was to make it as great as it could possibly sound. If you listen on a good set of speakers or good headphones, you’ll hear subtle things in the background that are now much more clear that were somewhat hidden before.”
Graphic designer Robert Brownjohn’s sketches for his original cover art depicting several random round items piled onto the spindle of an antique record player, including a cake with figurines representing the band members baked by, a then unknown cookery writer, Delia Smith is reproduced in Let It Bleed (50th Anniversary Limited Deluxe Edition). The sketches are offered on two 12” x 12” lithographs, hand-numbered, replica-signed and printed on embossed archival paper. A third lithograph of the finalized art, sans titles, completes the set housed in a foil-stamped envelope. Brownjohn passed away less than a year after the release of the album; his estate granted ABKCO exclusive use to manufacture his images and signature. The package also comes with a reproduction of the full-colour 23” x 23” poster that came with the original 1969 Decca Records UK version of Let It Bleed.
As this is my favourite album of all time, then it goes without saying that I would recommend listening to it. With the Vietnam war raging, the death of Brian Jones and other upheaval in the band following “that scene” in Performance, between Mick Jagger and Keith Richards girlfriend, Anita Pallenberg and the carnage that was to follow at Altamont, where Meridith Hunter was stabbed to death by Hells Angels, Let It Bleed perfectly captures the death rattle of the Summer of Love. This 50th anniversary edition is a must for any Stones fan. You can pre-order HERE
Rock Media by Tony Creek September 2019