July 14, 2010
First things first: the great majority of 1-star reviews here seem centered around the fact that some peeps are unfortunately having issues putting this disc on their computer to download to mp3 and import to their portable mp3 player. I had no such problem at all nor have most reviewers here, so I think these folks need a new computer or perhaps a little help using it. Either way, I think we can easily disregard over half of the 1-star reviews since they aren't commenting on the MUSIC here.
So discounting that issue, we have 180+ 4 or 5-star reviews (so far) and maybe 15 or so that rate it as 1, 2 or 3-stars. The majority of course isn't always right, but in this case, they ARE. Simply put, everyone has their opinion of what the "best" Stones album is, but for anyone who's heard it all, this album absolutely has to at least be on the short list of titles that can realistically be nominated for Best Stones Album Ever. I personally have it at #2 behind "Sticky Fingers" and 1 spot ahead of "Tattoo You," with "Some Girls" at #4.
This is of course the 2nd of 4 consecutive albums generally considered to be among the very best the Stones ever delivered, starting with "Beggar's Banquet" (1968), followed by "Let It Bleed," then 1971's "Sticky Fingers" and then the much (over)-hyped "Exile On Main Street". Personally, I find Sticky Fingers and Let It Bleed the best of these 4 classic Stones albums, but everyone has their own opinion. Forget the comparisons though and just look at what's here: classic cuts even non-Stones fans will have heard (and most likely enjoyed) include "Gimme Shelter," "You Can't Always Get What You Want," "Monkey Man," as well as the title cut. That's half the album that has featured prominently on rock radio for 40+ years now!
And these songs are surely the strength of the album, but the rest of the less popular cuts are what propels this release to the ranks of "undeniable classic": the superb take on blues-master Robert Johnson's "Love In Vain" is Mick and Co. at their bluesy best. "Country Honk" is a country-fied version of the better-known "Honkey Tonk Women," and while I might agree with Stones label-heads who were disappointed that this version was selected for inclusion on the album instead of the single version, we are fortunate in that we don't have to choose: the more popular single version is available on multiple compilations ("Hot Rocks," "40 Licks," etc.) and the country version here is an interesting display of how country the roots of the Stones could truly be while still delivering the overall sound and attitude that made them famous to begin with.
Next up is "Live With Me" which kicks off with a driving Bill Wyman bass-line and Charlie Watts thumping a straight and solid beat that propels the hardest rocking song of this album (which also features outstanding sax by Bobby Keys and piano by studio legend Nicky Hopkins). The excellent sound quality makes it sound like this was recorded in 2009, not 1969.
My perhaps favorite cut is next, the title cut, "Let It Bleed". I knew the song, but I didn't know the title until I bought this album and I was truly thrilled to have found this song as it's a gem! It could almost be a Grateful Dead song, but the Stones make it sound better than the Dead ever could. "We all need someone to lean on, and if you want to, you can lean on me...". Not sure if that's "rock," "blues" or "country", but I like it. Superb.
Also included is "Midnight Rambler," but buyer beware: this is the studio version, not the more popular live version lifted from "Get Your Ya-Ya's Out!" and featured on "Hot Rocks". A great song is a great song and this is definitely a solid track, but to me the definitive version of this song is the live version. Hard to call this studio version a "disappointment" though.
Perhaps the weakest cut (imo) is "You Got The Silver," the first song in the Stones catalog to feature Keith Richards on lead vocals. Which is not to say it's a bad cut, but it is the weakest track on an otherwise flawless album.
All told, 9 cuts, 4 that almost everyone will know, 4 more that are every bit as good as "the hits" and the one so-so track by Richards. The sum total is an album you can listen to from start to finish time and time again without getting tired of it (and boy are THOSE hard to find these days...).
Some earlier reviewers have argued over who the driving force of this album is since this came out when the role of Brian Jones was dwindling but before Mick Taylor was on as a full-time member. The credits show that Jones played on only two tracks (and not even guitar at that...) and Mick Taylor played on only two as well, so I think it's obvious that the driving force of this album is the same as most Stones classics: the songwriting of Mick and Keef, the solid rhythms of Bill and Charlie and the guitar of Keith Richards and whoever else was around! Brian Jones certainly deserves credit for his early role in shaping what the Stones would become, but the majority of their best work was done without him and Mick Taylor certainly wasn't around long enough to put his stamp on this one.
Bottom line: if you don't have this and are even slightly intrigued with the possibility of checking it out, BUY IT. Maybe "Sticky Fingers" or another title or two the Stones did at some point is better, but if they ever did a better album than "Let It Bleed," it wasn't by MUCH.