In Good Album Bad Album, Hank Hietala ’17 describes exactly what the title suggests. This week, sitars, Volvos and sticky fingers.
Good Album: Sticky Fingers by The Rolling Stones
“It’s just that evil life got me in its sway.” This lyric sums up Sticky Fingers, where the Stones are at their most bedeviling. Ragged and unadorned, this record is the bastard child of Delta Blues, old school rhythm and blues revues and Marlon Brando. Every song swaggers with the energy of a rock ‘n’ roll band in its Dionysian prime. This was the early 70’s, after all. The Stones were basically a touring version of Animal House. They dropped TV’s from hotel room windows, started a pie throwing fight with an audience, and, in the case of Keith Richards, nearly burned the Playboy Mansion to the ground.
Sticky Fingers takes all of this rowdiness and celebrates, questions, and condemns it. “Brown Sugar” is controversial and sublime; a classic Stones album opener. But every track is a standout. “Bitch” is a rhythm and blues horns workout, complete with a reference to Ivan Pavlov’s famous drooling dog. “Wild Horses” is stripped down country balladry, lovelorn but still iconic.
When he wasn’t surrendering lead duties to Mick Taylor, Keith Richards played some of his most evocative guitar lines on Sticky Fingers—his riff on “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” is criminally underrated. It’s the kind of blistering snarl that made Nixon supporters faint back in 1971. Speaking of axes, Ry Cooper steals the show with his apocalyptic slide guitar on “Sister Morphine,” a harrowing drug song. It’s rare to hear three legendary guitarists share duties on an album, and the results are unmatched.
At times unintelligible, Mick Jagger’s singing is visceral in its growling glory. “I Got the Blues” may be his finest vocal. Soul hasn’t been this devastating since “Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding, and Billy Preston’s solo on a Hammond organ makes the song a boozy gospel. One can’t forget the the lyrics either; they’re pure midnight melancholy. Amid all of their early 70’s debauchery, the Stones’ literate, complex songwriting permeates this album. Jagger and Richards are alternately unapologetic, ironic, and repentant.
Sticky Fingers closes with the orchestra fueled “Moonlight Mile.” The lyrics are road weary, but Jagger’s delivery against the sweeping violins makes for utter transcendence. The Stones have an enviable catalogue of albums, but Sticky Fingers may be their masterpiece.
Bad Album: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band By The Beatles
Rolling Stone Magazine calls Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band the best album ever produced. Sure, everyone in the Western world has heard a piano cover of “Let It Be” at a school talent show, but does the Beatles’ popularity automatically make their signature album a masterpiece? No.
Sgt. Pepper revolves around the concept that the Beatles are an early 1900’s military band caricature of themselves (See: pompous cover art). In reality, the album’s concept seems like a marketing scheme, as the title track is the only track with any visible military band influence.
Lyrically, Sgt. Pepper is a wading pool: occasionally interesting but ultimately shallow. For every “Day in the Life,” there are tracks like “Lovely Rita,” where the Beatles ask a girl to tea. The only way Paul could have written more of a snoozer is if they’d bought Rita a goddamn elderberry scone.
Musically, the album is part vaudeville film score and part Indian folk song. There are 40-piece orchestras, ethnic instruments and studio shenanigans. To be fair, the Beatles were experimenting on this record, but the result is an overblown Jackson Pollock of an album, with disjointed styles splattered randomly across the sonic canvas.
As instrumentalists, the Beatles were never virtuosos, so their genre-mashing comes across as pretentious and undeveloped. For instance, the iconic trip song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” features George Harrison on pointless sitar. Evidently, George required more than a year to learn this difficult instrument; he should have stuck with guitar. “Good Morning Good Morning” has the distinct honor of showcasing not only Ringo’s caveman-with-a-hi-hat drumming, but also Paul’s soulless guitar dilly-dallying, plus unnecessary studio effects (a rooster and an elephant, please). That’s not all. “Getting Better” crumbles under a childish vocal melody and a driving rhythm guitar—and by driving, I mean 15 mph below the speed limit in a ’93 Volvo.
Yes, Sgt. Pepper is beloved by virtually everyone, but with the exception of “Day in the Life,” it falls far short of its lofty status in the pantheon classic albums. Roosters man, roosters.
By Hank Hietala ’17
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