Stones fans will most likely take issue with this choice and I understand. They have better albums. 'Exile On Main Street' is like a time machine...it prefigures about 8 different musical genres. It is like its own cottage industry. 'Some Girls' is probably my favorite with a sound that is like the collective energy that accumulates from every stripper in New York City the split second before they start their burlesque.
But 'Beggar's Banquet' is the one that came first for me.
In high school, as I've repeatedly said, I was a punk. I rejected a lot of the mainstream music I heard, a prejudice which was retroactive to hits of the '60's. Anything that wasn't written and recorded in a teenager's basement by angry 1980's punks was a golden oldie for me.
Into that wall of judgment came 'Beggar's Banquet'. At this point I knew 'Jumpin' Jack Flash' and didn't like it. I probably knew 'Start Me Up' and didn't like it. And I especially didn't like 'Sympathy For The Devil' which was the ULTIMATE establishment rock song. They played it 3 times a day on the classic rock station. Everyone knew the 'woo-woo' bit and everyone over-inflated the depth of the thing itself.
How I wound up with the cassette is a story that has escaped my memory. Why I delved in at all when I considered The Stones to be hopelessly passe...this too has flown into the mists of the past.
I'll tell you what I do remember.
Our station wagon didn't have a tape deck so I would pile 27 gigantic batteries into my boom box and tote the thing around with me wherever I went. Usually it held The Replacements, or 7 Seconds, or Minor Threat, or Husker Du, or The Descendents.
But every now and then I'd pop in 'Beggar's Banquet'. Usually the second side. I have a giant streak of the contrarian in me so 'Street Fighting Man' is something of a touchstone. The ease with which The Stones delve into religious territory while keeping all of their edge and raucousness infuses 'Prodigal Son' with, dare I say it, an ecstatic tinge. 'The Stray Cat Blues' is sex on wheels. 'Factory Girl' has a hard-won ramshackle ease that brings to mind a whole neighborhood of good time bars and late night hook-ups. And then 'Salt Of The Earth' shoots a cupid's arrow through it all, tying it up with a shout out to the collective.
If you'd never heard of The Stones and listened to this album, you might do a jig and say, "At last! Wilco had a few cups of coffee before they recorded for once!" Or maybe "Damn, who knew The Jayhawks could actually write good songs?" Or even "Thank God Ryan Adam finally grew some nuts."
Point is, this is the best alt.country album of all time and it was recorded 30 years before there was ever a blank dot blank anything.
I must also turn this review back to the personal and admit a deeper reason for my affection for this album. My girlfriend Shannon and I would cruise around the mean streets of South County and crank this sucker. Its echo would still be ringing when I fumbled with her buttons in the parking lot of the Great Swamp under a gorgeous summer night sky.
And that moonlight that visited us, that lit her young beauty from the reaches of outer space, that moonlight, though noiseless, that moonlight sang in my head as I explored the wonder of what lay under her shirt.