Tag Archives: Beggars Banquet

Album #119: Beggars Banquet, by The Rolling Stones


Beggars Banquet
1968, Decca Records. Producer: Jimmy Miller.
In My Collection: CD, 2003.

(Five minute read)

IN A NUTSHELL: Beggars Banquet is a record of three gorgeous diamonds set amongst seven smaller gems. It’s mostly acoustic blues, with Keith Richards giving a masterclass on guitar. Mick Jagger’s vocals stand out, as he yelps and seethes, but also puts on other voices to sell each song completely. Even stronger than Mick’s voice are his lyrics. He’s a deeper guy than his decades-long persona would indicate. And let’s not forget drummer Charlie Watts, who always manages to liven up even the most straightforward numbers.


My dad, forever. With the author (top) and two sisters, circa 1970.

The dearly departed exist in our minds, where they are fixed forever. My dad died two years ago and I think of him regularly. In my mind, he remains about thirty-three years old, making his family laugh, fixing anything that breaks, working on cars, and getting ready for hunting season. There was so much more to him, and he lived for 45 more years, but most thoughts that pop up are of him as a young father. I generally only consider his many other attributes when my own kids ask me questions, and he becomes a character in one of my answers. I’ll say, “I totally forgot about this, but …” and then share a little tidbit.

Author (r) and mother, ca. 1969.

Even those still with us are subject to this compressed perspective. My 80-year-old mother continues to grow and change, but in my mind she’s stuck as the young auburn-haired mom, baking cakes, running the PTA, taking us to the pool, and watching The Guiding Light.

Similarly, we tend to remember historical figures and artists for small parts of their lives and their work. As we approach 2021, it’s very easy to go online and dive into the details about everyone, so it may seem useless to remember more than The Big Stuff. But I think it’s worth knowing that Thomas Edison didn’t just invent the lightbulb. Nina Simone did a lot more than Little Girl Blue.

And if we remember The Rolling Stones merely as the guys that played “Satisfaction” and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” or “Miss You” and “Start Me Up,” or released 16 number-one hits in the US and UK, recorded 25 (or thereabouts) albums over 58 years, and up until the pandemic of 2020 were annually among the highest-grossing live acts in the world … well, if you only think of those things, you may overlook Beggars Banquet.

The “toilet cover” was originally banned, but was brought back for CD release.

There are many terrific Stones albums. From 1966 (Aftermath) to 1981 (Tattoo You) the Stones released 13 albums. Not all were classics (ahem, TheirSatanicMajestiesRequest, ahem), but none of them sucked. Not even the much-maligned Emotional Rescue, from 1980, which I’d argue (perhaps in a future blog post) is actually a standout album of the era. Three of these records are already on my Official 100 Favorite Albums List: Sticky Fingers, Some Girls and Exile on Main Street. Several others nearly made the list. Beggars Banquet just missed.

Beggars Banquet is a subdued, acoustic blues album with a few startling spikes of power, grit and even whimsy. It starts off with a number that is among the band’s most-popular, and that sounds like nothing else on the album. Or anywhere else.

“Sympathy for the Devil” is a straight-up, no-questions-asked classic. It starts perfectly, with conga drums, by guest Rocky Dijon. Together with the yelps and background laughter, it sounds rather sinister. Initially, Mick Jagger’s vocals, on top of longtime side man Nicky Hopkins’ piano chords, sound restrained and, well, refined. When Keith Richards’ beautifully sloppy bass line[ref]I swear, all the best Stones bass lines are played by either Keith or Ron Wood or Mick Taylor.[/ref] begins halfway through the first verse, about 0:37, the song really kicks into high gear. Jagger gradually becomes more menacing with each verse. Not much changes in the song, except for the intensity, which continually ratchets up. The lyrics of the song are really brilliant. On first pass, they’re a rundown of Satan’s deeds through history[ref]The band was recording the song when Robert F. Kennedy was killed in Los Angeles. Jagger immediately changed the lyrics from “I shouted out who killed Kennedy” to “… the Kennedys.[/ref], the sort of thing that my 14-year-old self thought was really cool. But the last verse makes the real point of the song clear: “Just as every cop is a criminal/ And all the sinners saints …” Jagger’s saying that “Satan” is in all of us, we all have the capacity for both good and evil. If we don’t have a little respect for that evil residing in ourselves, we’ll see this shit happening forever[ref]Okay, I don’t want this to drag on and on, but let me say that I think Mick’s lyrics are generally WILDLY underestimated by many. He is a smart guy who wrote some pretty thoughtful lyrics. I mean, he uses the word “politesse” (correctly) in this song![/ref].

Anyway, the song is fucking amazing. Keith on bass is always terrific, his guitar solo, beginning at 4:48, is a classic, and the “hoo-hoo” backing vocals are catchy as Covid. (Sorry.) The song’s so good that I even liked it when World Party (basically) re-did it in 1990 as a song called “Way Down Now.”

The Stones explore a different, sadder dark territory on the acoustic blues of “No Expectations.” Mick’s voice is in fine form on a hangdog song about a breakup. Original Stone Brian Jones plays acoustic slide, on what Jagger would later say was his last real contribution to the band. (He’d be excused from the band a year later and drown within days at age 27.) They lighten the mood considerably on the near-parody “Dear Doctor.” I always love hearing Keith sing, and his harmonies here are fun, drawling alongside Mick. It’s a jokey song about a hick who’s left at the altar.

Beggars Banquet maintains its full-on, acoustic blues direction on the swampy “Parachute Woman,” a double-entendre-laden ode to Mick’s horniness. I really like Charlie Watts’ drumming on this one. It’s simple, but he throws in more stuff than a slight, three-chord blues number would normally have. His creativity is also on display on the strange, cool “Jigsaw Puzzle.”

It’s a rambling, dreamy, Bob Dylan-ish number that gives us the amusing imagery of the posh, sophisticated Mick Jagger on the floor engaging in the pedestrian humdrummery of completing a jigsaw puzzle. (I don’t know why he wants to complete it “before it rains anymore,” as jigsaw puzzles are known to be a delightful rainy-day activity.) This is one of my favorite Bill Wyman bass lines, as he travels up the neck, hiccuping alongside Keith’s terrific slide guitar. It’s not perfect, as Brian Jones nearly ruins the song with a high-pitched, whiny mellotron, and it could’ve been shortened by 90 seconds, but I like it.

If you want a perfect track, along with “Sympathy for the Devil,” Beggars Banquet presents to you the incomparable “Street Fighting Man.”

It’s got one of the strongest acoustic guitar openings of any rock song. It’s a declaration, immediately taken up by Watts’ bass drum. Mick’s voice impersonates a wailing siren, dismayed at the fact that the street fighting happening in ’68 isn’t happening in London. He does, however, offer to kill the king – which must have been pretty shocking in 1968 UK, the lack of a king notwithstanding. The song struck a chord with me again this past summer, as I drove my kids to rallies and protests where – thankfully – no street fighting occurred while they participated. (Like their dad, neither of them is a street fighter.) The song has a driving energy, and the sitar behind Mick provides a sense of dread. I like Bill Wyman’s descending bass line after the chorus, but it’s Keith’s acoustic and Mick’s vocals that make the song.

The band returns to traditional blues on the Rev. Robert Wilkins number “Prodigal Son.” Mick’s affected voice is terrific on the retelling of a parable of Christ. It’s one of my favorite of the band’s straight blues numbers. “Stray Cat Blues” is a druggy, swampy number that could’ve come off Exile on Main Street. As good as the song sounds, the lyrics are some of Mick’s most disturbing, perhaps even beating out “Brown Sugar” for that prize. Keith’s guitar solo stands out. Up next is “Factory Girl,” an acoustic folky number, featuring Ric Grech on violin. In this song, Jagger is waiting for another girl. She works at a factory, so, unlike the character from “Stray Cat Blues,” she’s presumably older than 15.

Beggars Banquet is three brilliant diamonds surrounded by seven smaller gems. And the third diamond, after “Sympathy for the Devil” and “Street Fighting Man,” is “Salt of the Earth.”

It’s a touching ode to the working class, and as a childhood member of that class, I’ve always connected with it. I absolutely love Keith’s warbly singing voice, and he sings the first verse with gusto. He then supplies harmony vocals throughout, and they sound great. Charlie Watts has several rumbling fills, after entering about 1:20. The band’s always loved gospel music, and the Watts Street Gospel Choir beautifully joins in at 2:35. Then they help turn it into a stomping Ray Charles number after 3:50. The song’s a brilliant, sentimental anthem that turns into an uplifting celebration. Mick and Keith sang it on stage after 9/11, at the Concert for New York City. There aren’t too many better album-closers.

The entire album really shows off Keith’s acoustic guitar playing. He’s never been a flashy, guitar-hero type guitarist, but he’s always creative. His Glimmer Twin, Mick, is also on fire, both as lyricist and singer. There’s a lot to remember when we think of The Rolling Stones. Let’s not forget Beggars Banquet.

Sympathy 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


4th Favorite Album: Let Me Come Over, by Buffalo Tom


Let Me Come Over. Buffalo Tom.
1992, RCA Records/Beggars Banquet. Producer: Paul Q. Kolderie, Sean Slade and Buffalo Tom.
Purchased CD, 1992.

IN A NUTSHELL: Let Me Come Over, by Buffalo Tom, is an album split evenly between spirited rockers and subtly seething quiet numbers, each one performed with emotion and power. Singer/Songwriter Bill Janovitz uses his voice to great effect, making the listener believe in everything he says – even when it’s obscure. Bassist Chris Colbourne and drummer Tom Maginnis provide steady backing for Janovitz’s rage and pathos and joy. Every number requires repeated listens, and brings the power each time.

NOTE: The setup – below the line ↓ – might be the best part … Or skip right to the album discussion.

One summer, either 1971 or ’72 or ’73, when I was 4, 5, or 6, my dad became assistant coach of the Ebenezer team in the local “Teener Baseball” league. It’s a league for kids 13 – 15[ref]It’s called “Babe Ruth League” in many places.[/ref], and it’s traditionally been the first experience for baseball players on “the big diamond,” the baseball field the same size they use in the Major Leagues.

The author, front, and his dad, top left. Circa 1972.

Because I was the young, baseball-loving son of the baseball-loving assistant coach, I was immediately made the team bat boy. If you’re unfamiliar with baseball, let me explain: when a player hits a ball, he drops his bat and runs to first base. The bat boy comes onto the field before the next batter and brings the bat back to the bench where the players sit. Very often there is no bat boy, and the next batter simply tosses the castoff bat towards the bench. But if you have an enthusiastic, 5-year-old coach’s son on the bench, it’s kind of cool to let him race out among all those big kids and grab the bat. (It can be scary, too.)

It was an honor to me, and I still remember how proud I felt to be entrusted with this task[ref]I also got to chase down foul balls during games, and bring them back to the head coach, who’d give me a quarter for each one. But lots of kids helped do that, so it wasn’t as special.[/ref]. I felt a bit older than my years, and not just because I got to pick up bats in games. At practice, sometimes the older kids let me bat, and they’d cheer for how hard I hit the ball and how fast I ran. Sometimes they’d play catch with me. Sometimes they’d forget I was nearby and I’d hear them swear or talk about girls.

The entire experience was thrilling, as if I was given access to a world that kids my age never got to enter. Those Teeners seemed so big and mature, and I revered them. I still recall many of their names: Kevin Garmin, Dennis Natale, Jett Conrad, Chuck Fasnacht, and my favorite: star pitcher Scott “Honey Bear” Miller. Over the next few years more names cycled through as I continued my bat boy duties. Falk, Rittle, Groff, Witters, and so many younger brothers of players from previous seasons. All these big kids were doing stuff I couldn’t wait to do myself.

The Author, 1982. C/CF. That uniform was VERY uncomfortable in the heat and humidity.

Eventually I joined a Teener team of my own. Not Ebenezer, however. A series of … let’s say “issues” occurred, which led me to join an upstart crew in the summer of 1980, called The Orioles. I had finally arrived at “The Show.” Okay, I know that “The Show” means the MLB, but even though I played baseball another few years, even into college, I was never as successful again as I was as a Teener. Plus, it’s the league I always strived for, so for me, it was “The Show.”

My time had come. There I was, out on those same baseball fields I’d traveled to with my dad, sitting on the same benches in the same dugouts, this time with a uniform of my own. Why, my dad even helped coach the team one year, when our elderly Coach Bosh, who had coached my dad in the 50s, asked him if he would. I felt really happy to be living the Teener Ball Life.

When you’re a kid, the big kids are doing all the fun stuff. Driving cars, going to late-night movies, hanging out at The Mall … all you can do is wait. And eventually it’s you, and the people your age, who get to do these things, and it feels great. Your time has come.

Making music is another one of those things that older kids and adults did. In the 70s, the hairy grown men and sultry adult women making music felt as distant to me as the Ebenezer Teener team had. But by the early 90s I was in a band, writing songs, and realized that – holy shit! – my time had come! The people making music were now my contemporaries!

Many of these new acts connected with me because they took the music I grew up around – The Beatles, 70s AM radio, funk, Johnny Cash, disco, classic rock, metal, new wave, punk, even Saturday morning cartoons – and threw it all into a virtual blender of guitar, bass, drums and synths to create something new, but familiar. It was a sound for me, by my cohort, tuned to my tastes. I’d resisted new music for a while, but once I dove in, I stayed under for a long time.

Around this time I’d gotten my first place on my own, in a little cabin in a lakeside getaway village called Mt. Gretna. I was earning some decent money as a chemist, and I felt – suddenly – grown up. And for music, I turned to other new grown-ups, like me. Of course, Nirvana was in the mix, and my buddy’s band, Gumball. Dinosaur Jr., with J. Mascis’s furious guitar, was a favorite. Relative old-timers Sonic Youth were in heavy rotation by the lake, as were Scotsmen Teenage Fanclub. Brit shoe gazers Ride[ref]A band my band opened for, a fact I cling to desperately to validate my art.[/ref] and twin Boston acts The Lemonheads and (#19) Juliana Hatfield were favorites. This is also the height of my hip-hop knowledge, as new grown-ups like De La Soul, and A Tribe Called Quest, and slightly older kids Beastie Boys and Public Enemy spent significant time in my CD player. Then there was the “Greatest Hits,” of sorts, the soundtrack to the 1992 movie Singles.

But my favorite album among these new contemporaries, the one that connected with me immediately upon first listen, was Let Me Come Over, by Buffalo Tom. I bought it at a little record store[ref]For you youngsters, a “record store” was a store where physical objects containing music were sold. (Yes, I realize I use this same jokey footnote on every post where I mention a record store. I’m old, and a dad, what can I say? I make the same bad jokes over and over.)[/ref] where my band sold copies of its first cassette. At the same time, I picked up Green Mind, which came with a bright purple t-shirt that my daughter now likes to wear.

Let Me Come Over stuck with me from the very first notes of my very first listen. I still remember sitting in my cottage hearing the rumbling, introductory three-note bass line of the opening song “Staples.”

That’s bassist Chris Colbourn opening things up, with guitarist/singer Bill Janovitz building a structure of guitars around him. It’s all very simple, rather repetitive, but the band really makes it work. Janovitz is a cagey vocalist who sings with emotion to get the most out of his voice. He does cool things like subtly hesitating as he sings his first “Staple …” Drummer Tom Maginnis has a very Ringo-esque habit of slightly speeding the tempo when needed, as he does here about 0:40, as the second verse begins. Colbourne provides terrific vocal harmonies in verse two, and I love when the chorus first hits, about 1:20. Janovitz provides a noisy guitar solo. The band’s lyrics are usually a bit obscure, displaying Janovitz’s poet tendencies, but this song seems to be about someone who’s love has left and he has no idea why. I tend to shout along to all the songs on this album, even though I don’t know any of the words. It’s a record that demands to be played LOUD!

Next up is a moving song about either a horrible childhood or a lost love, “Taillights Fade.” It’s one of the band’s most popular songs.

This one really shows off all the features that I love about the band. The loud guitars, the emotional vocals, great drum fills. Janovitz really gives his all to the vocals – for example, at 0:46, and each time it repeats. I saw the band live in 1994, and it remains one of the most powerful rock shows I’ve seen. I love the descending bass after each line, and the dense guitar throughout. (By the way, “Cappy Dick,” who can’t help our protagonist even with assistance from Jesus Christ, was a comic sea captain who provided kids activities in the Sunday Comics for years.)

I love the sequence of the album – how it alternates between rockers and slow songs. After a sad song like the last one, the raucous entrance of “Mountains of Your Head” sounds particularly excellent.

The ringing guitars, the driving drums, the descending riff … I love this song. The voices of Janovitz and Colbourne blend so nicely on lyrics that seem to be about a lovers’ quarrel perhaps? (“What’s on your mind? / If it’s on your tongue you should speak.”) By the third verse it sounds like 13 guitars are strumming along, a dense sound that Maginnis’s drums keep grounded. There’s a nice little piano added at the end, too. The song leads into another beautiful, softer number, “Mineral.” Janovitz belts and emotes on lyrics that, to me, sound like a reflection on an unhappy childhood? Once again, numerous guitars chime and grind throughout creating a powerful soundscape. This song reminds me of being blown away at the 1994 SF concert …

Since I like the sequence of Let Me Come Over so much, I’m going to go straight through, which means that my probably-favorite song on the album is up next, the Faulkner retelling, “Darl.”

Perhaps another reason I love this album is that I was reading William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying around the time I got it, and this song is a frenetic first-person account (just as in the book) of the character named Darl. It’s sung by bassist Colbourne, with great harmonies from Janovitz. I love the syncopated melody, and – once again – how Maginnis quickens the pace when needed. There’s a cool guitar solo about 1:25, too. It’s a fast, fun, head-banging song that always sounds great.

The band changes gears once again with the swaying, sea-shanty-esque “Larry.” Like Led Zeppelin, Buffalo Tom has a fondness for song titles that are not part of the lyrics.

I don’t know what Larry is about, but Janovitz’s voice is as affective as ever, particularly around the 4:00 mark. It’s a sad, evocative song, and I don’t know why, but it really moves me. By the end it fades to squealing feedback that seems to sum up everything that’s come before. How can feedback summarize a song, you ask? I don’t understand it, either, but I sure do feel it. And I don’t feel it for long before the band bashes me with the riff-heavy “Velvet Roof,” a song that again, for some reason, again reminds me of a sad childhood. Maybe it’s the “scraggly hair and messed up shoes,” but I wonder if it’s about a kid’s memories of a crazy mom? Anyway, it’s a great guitar rocker with excellent work by the rhythm section.

I’m Not There” is not a song I enjoy, and I’ll leave it at that. But it does serve as the entry to “Stymied,” a mid-tempo, densely-packed, melodic song with a cool rhythm and bass guitar, that may be about a big lovers’ fight. Many of the songs on Let Me Come Over seem to be about violence and anger, and one of the best and most oblique, lyrically, is the terrific “Porchlight.”

It’s a story song with an upbeat, bouncing rhythm that seems to tell of, maybe, a guy who saw two friends (including an ex, perhaps?) die in a house fire (while making eggs?), one of whom left a voicemail for him earlier in the day? The lyrics have that Steely DanBelly thing I love so much of telling a story that kind of makes sense but maybe not? The music and melody are catchy, and once again – Janovitz’s vocal performance makes the song. Around 1:00 he punches the words “chill” and “king” in a significant way, then his voice cracks a bit on “I ain’t here on business.” (Was it a drug deal, [“It’s all work, anyway”] and that’s why he ran away?) Janovitz’s voice is always perfectly imperfect, and that’s why I love it. He sounds like a guy who has to get these thoughts and feelings out RIGHT NOW. Plus he writes awesome songs.

Like the lovely “Frozen Lake.”

If you’ve ever loved and lost, and found yourself pining away for that other person, well, “Frozen Lake” just might be the song you play fifteen thousand times in a row. I may or may not have done this in the fall of 1992. For me, “Porchlight” and “Frozen Lake” are the climax of the album. One fast, one slow, both examples of what I love about the album. That’s not to say “Saving Grace,” with its driving punk angst, or “Crutch,” with its layered, rippling beauty, and poetic lyrics, are lesser songs. They are both outstanding, a fitting closure to an amazing album.

Let Me Come Over is the sound of me realizing my time is now. It’s hard to believe that “now” is so many years ago, but the feeling of arriving stays with you forever. It combines the excitement of running onto diamonds and grabbing heavy, wooden bats for big kids, the anticipation and longing for a time when you’ll get to play, too, and, finally, the pride in handing your own bat to another coach’s son a few years later. You’ll feel it forever, even when it’s gone. You’ll never forget the feeling that your time is now. It feels, to me, a lot like Let Me Come Over.

“Taillights Fade”
“Mountains of Your Head”
“Velvet Roof”
“I’m Not There”
“Frozen Lake”
“Saving Grace”