Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 640
A good Stones song does two things at once: it moves the listener through the sheer power of the music, and at the same time intrigues him in the words (what are they saying?). It's impossible to figure out, at times only select phrases become translatable. In each case, Jagger has selected them well.
"Jumping Jack Flash," the Stones' first hit single of 1968, is probably their all-time power song. Embodying a roaring, repetitive guitar riff, the song is the joyful cry of an unashamed rabble rouser, one who has outgrown an unpleasant childhood and all difficulties to come to the point where he rather enjoys himself…. "Street Fighting Man" is a most curious record, another good example of the intertwining of rock and youth culture. The narrator announces the need for revolution, but admits that his hometown isn't very political, and claims that all he can do to help the cause is sing rock 'n' roll. This song brings out an interesting point; that is, rock is not revolutionary. It is, in fact, the current opiate of the masses. (p. 231)
A masterful collection of hard rock and the Rolling Stones version of blues, [Beggar's Banquet] was also one of their few not made up entirely of hits, that also kept up the pace. The feature piece was not a hard rock, though. It was a sultry, percussive piece called "Sympathy for the Devil," which ran over six minutes in length and chronicled episodes of violence in history. "Sympathy for the Devil" was harbinger of the Rolling Stones' softer sound, which existed side by side with the hard rockers. (pp. 231-32)
In June of 1971 the Stones released Sticky Fingers…. A spotty album, one which had enough of the mediocre in it to make it distinctly inferior to Let It Bleed, it nonetheless contained several classic rock songs. There were three slow blues of note, "Wild Horses," "I Got the Blues," and "Sister Morphine," the latter being explicit to an extent seldom heard on a record geared toward a wide audience. However, the two best songs are hard rockers, "Brown Sugar" and "Bitch." The former is a beauty, excellent hard rock combined with the Stones' newly acquired Southern strategy. It tells of the wild life in and around a slave market in New Orleans. Quite different, "Bitch" was a 1971 update of familiar rock 'n' roll themes from the 1950s. That is, what can I say, after I say I'm randy? Jagger, thankfully, adds flair to even this overused theme. (pp. 283-84)
In the spring of 1972 … the Stones released a two-disc collection of new songs, called Exile on Main Street. Quality wise on-again, off-again like its predecessor Sticky Fingers, it continued the fascination with the South. There was the usual quota of Delta blues and close relatives thereof, a couple of would-be hillbilly numbers, and a few rockers with allusions to chaos on the levee ("Tumbling Dice," the group's 1972 hit, for example). "Let It Rock," certainly the most out-and-out rock 'n' roll song ever written by the Stones, is a pure Little Richard derivative, and just wanton in its wild tempo and untamed energy. "Rocks Off" is a moderate-tempo rocker reminiscent of Their Satanic Majesties Request, only much harder. In all, Exile on Main Street is a bit of an exercise in the abuse of power: it's far too long, the group apparently having gotten the impression that anything they do is acceptable at least. It could have been a brilliant single-disc LP. Instead it's a so-so double album. (pp. 284-85)
Mike Jahn, "The Stones in the 1970s," in his Rock: From Elvis Presley to the Rolling Stones (copyright © 1973 by Quadrangle/The New York Times Book Co.; reprinted by permission of Times Books, a Division of Quadrangle/The New York Times Book Co.), Quadrangle/The New York Times Book Co., 1973, pp. 230-32, 282-86.