Ellen Sander

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 465

It begins with a crazed wildcat yelp and the primordial rhythms of hand drums on a rampage. It builds maniacally in intensity and complexity, the vocal brawling, the drums double gunning, the bass pumping, and the piano twisting the melody and rhythms together like so much heavy two-ply twine. The guitar whines, the voices hoot, and the lyrics blast the consciousness with a pageant of chaos. It's a bit pretentious in spots, has a couplet or two of unadorned truth and some specious nose-thumbing at history, but it gets you moving, jiving, and throttles you with its raunchy nastiness, the furious ranting that ranges far beyond the lyrics. "Sympathy for the Devil," the opening cut from Beggars Banquet …, is a song full of what rock 'n' roll is all about, and for all who lament the bastardization of rock. The Rolling Stones have finally come through. They show all too clearly that what had generously passed for 1968 rock was just a scene of loudmouthed mediocrity and studio claptrap….

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One of the finest songs on the album, "Jigsaw Puzzle," is openly reminiscent of Dylan. It's a narrative, flowing with characters and instant vignettes, a preoccupation with outlaws and outcasts in their latter-day incarnations: tramps, grandmas, soldiers, and a rock 'n' roll band:

      Oh the singer looks so angry
      at being thrown to the lions
      and the bass player looks so nervous
      about the girls outside
      and the drummer he was shattered
      trying to keep on time
      and the guitar player looks damaged
      they've been outcasts all their lives….

The Stones have always enjoyed and excelled at lusty music and joyfully lecherous lyrics. They're the evil loners, Marlon Brandos of pop, Hell's Angels on a rock 'n' roll stage. Mick Jagger, a prancing, lascivious satyr, is the prototypical sex symbol of rock. The bluesy backbeat of "Parachute" is couched in the heavy concupiscent symbolism of the lyrics, a tradition of the folk-blues heritage from which it draws. On the other hand, "Stray Cat Blues," one of the outstanding rock songs on the album, is explicitly lewd and sadistic.

It's a raw, leering song about a fifteen-year-old girl climbing the stairs to find the Stones. It begins with a salty snicker and driving beat. It builds and twists with brutal rhythms, an explosive balance of tensions and a shattering release….

Beggars Banquet is not an album that will be cooed over by condescending classical music critics or patronizing college professors trying to be chic. There is nothing for either here, no intellectual profundity or melodic innovation, no avant-garde experimentalism or mixing-board contortions. It's a raw and raunchy rock album, delightfully vicious and deliciously bestial.

Ellen Sander, "The Rolling Stones: Beggars' Triumph," in Saturday Review (copyright © 1969 by Saturday Review; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Vol. 41, No. 4, January 25, 1969, p. 48.

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