Band: The Rolling Stones
Album details: "Beggars Banquet" - 1968
Label: Abkco - vinyl reissue
Reviewer: Geoff Husband - TNT France
Published: November, 2004
I've spent so much time lately reviewing equipment that I found I was forgetting that the whole point of the exercise is to listen to music. With that in mind I'm doing a series of occasional articles focusing on records that mean a lot to me, in the hope that some of you might give them a spin and share my enjoyment.
If we assume that the Rolling Stones were the greatest rock band of the '60's - and it's a very small if - then we are left to decide which of the many albums they issued during that period deserves the accolade of "The Best of the Best". Competition is obviously fierce, how can you ignore "Aftermath" or " Let it Bleed" to name just two. But with "Beggars Banquet" the Stones leave me breathless...
Any album that opened with the malevolent genius of "Sympathy for the Devil" was going to be something very special. A song, so sparse that it would have worked even with just Jagger and Wymans metronomic bass, so simple yet so tight. And while we are pushing the hyperbole button let's put that forward as a candidate for "Greatest Rock Record of all Time". The fact that "Street Fighting Man" which opens side 2 is also a candidate gives a hint of the depth of the album.
Outside these two towering achievements the Stones discover that rather than being a London based rock band, they are in fact a Louisiana born country outfit... With the exception of Jaggers cod accent you could believe it too. The humour that runs through much of the output of the great British bands of the '60's is well to the fore - just listen to "Dear doctor, I'm damaged" to bring a smile that maybe explains why so few of the British 'greats' ended up in the morgue compared to their US counterparts.
But I digress, because tongue in cheek or not, the songs that populate this slab of vinyl have remained timeless reminders of the genius of the Jagger/Richards team. Listen to early Beatles, or the output of many of the 'supergroups' of the 60's and 70's - how dated some of it sounds. And of course with this album they laid the foundation for a career that seems to know no end - though it has to be said that nothing they've done in the last 30 years comes close.
Sadly, like so much of the Stones '60's output, there is an Achilles heel. Maybe I've been unlucky but with no exceptions the records I own from this period have pretty grim recording quality whether (especially?) digitally remastered or not. Don't expect the sort of quality George Martin gave the later Beatle records for example.
Here we come to the other reason for this short review - because in my hot little hand I have a copy of Abkco's reissue. Over the last few years I've become increasingly disillusioned with reissues in general and so-called audiophile reissues in particular. Generally decent originals are best, the reissues often sounding open and bright to begin with and becoming untrackable by the end of side. Add strangely high wear rates and the confirmation by someone-who-know's of my suspicion that many use the CD reissue as the 'mastertape' and you can see why I populate charity shops. But here besides the usual glossy gatefold we have a disc that truly justifies it's not outrageous price.
I have just bought the new 'Stones' best of "40 Licks" - if you want to dispute the status I give the group just listen to the first CD and wonder. It's all nicely repackaged and remastered and it sounds - well, pretty ordinary. "Sympathy for the Devil" is the usual flat and rattly early Stones mix. Putting on the same track on the Abkco reissue is simply a revalation, the warmth, the depth, the precise imaging, that bouncy bass with sharp leading edge, it is, quite simply the best reissue of any disc I have ever heard and even if you already have this album on vinyl I would strongly recommend going out and buying this reissue.
So a great album and a great reissue - what more do you want, go buy a copy.
Recording Quality (historic - see test): 10/10
© Copyright 2004 Geoff Husband - www.tnt-audio.com