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Background to recording “Let It Bleed“
“Let It Bleed” was released on November 27th 1969, the result of hundreds of hours of recordings. The Rolling Stones had begun the recording of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” in May 1968, before their previous album, Beggars Banquet, had been released. The Rolling Stones re-grouped in earnest at London’s Olympic Studios to record “Let It Bleed” in February 1969 and would continue sporadically until November the same year. However this was a turbulent time for The Rolling Stones.
Mick Jagger and Keith Richard narrowly avoided jail terms after they were arrested in a drugs bust at Keith Richard’s home. In a separate raid, Brian Jones was also arrested for drug possession and also narrowly avoided a jail term.
Brian Jones leaves The Rolling Stones
By 1969, founding member Brian Jones was nothing more than a peripheral figure in The Rolling Stones. In fact by now all The Rolling Stones were getting used to life without Brian Jones. Bill Wyman was quoted as saying, ‘Brian Jones contribution to “You can’t always get what you want” was to lie on his stomach most of the night, reading an article on botany.’
The other members of The Rolling Stones were not prepared to carry their former leader any longer. After missing days on end he would finally turn up only for the other members of The Rolling Stones to get producer Jimmy Miller to tell him to, ‘Clear off!’
Jimmy Miller felt for Brian Jones and his situation, ‘One night Brian Jones showed after he hadn’t bothered to come for the previous four. He had a sitar and we were doing a blues song….but I was happy he was there.’ Jimmy Miller felt the band should do more to help him and encourage him to turn up. The rest of The Rolling Stones were less sympathetic, “You’re new on the scene. We’ve been putting up with Brian’s nonsense for years.”
Brian Jones was struggling with addiction to prescription drugs and emotional problems. He had been left by his girlfriend, actress and model Anita Pallenburg, for his band-mate Keith Richard. This seemed to be the final nail in the coffin for his relationship with the rest of The Rolling Stones.
By now he had stopped referring to The Rolling Stones as ‘we’ and now used ‘they’ to describe them. Brian Jones only performed on only two tracks on “Let It Bleed“, the autoharp on “You Got the Silver” and percussion on “Midnight Rambler”. With a tour of the US looming and Brian Jones drug convictions making it hard to get a visa, it was obvious a parting of ways was on the cards.
As 1968 moved towards winter, The Rolling Stones manager Allen Klein, a feared man in the US Showbiz world, pushed the other members to deliver the coup de grace. The conspiracy grew during the new year and by the following summer it was decided. Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Charlie Watts drove down to Brian Jones‘ Sussex home on the first Sunday in June, 1969. They stopped on the way back to London to tell Bill Wyman the news; Brian Jones was no longer a Rolling Stone.
Ry Cooder as Brian Jones Replacement?
During this period The Rolling Stones had been thinking about a replacement and Ry Cooder topped their list. Ry Cooder was initially flattered to be considered, but after being invited to Keith Richards home in Chichester he became a little wary of Keith Richard’s close attention to his playing. A dispute blew up between Ry Cooder and The Rolling Stones over authorship of “Honky Tonk Women” and it’s companion “Country Tonk” (both recorded during the same period) Ry Cooder said of the incident, ‘My experience with The Rolling Stones showed me one thing, if you don’t advance yourself, you’ll find yourself left in the dust.’
The relatively innocuous track “Country Tonk” track was not only subject to Ry Cooder claiming co-authorship, but also of Gram Parsons. The former Byrds man had been hanging out with Keith Richards in London. Gram Parsons claimed he arranged the track, “Country Tonk”, a fact disputed by Keith Richards and Mick Jagger. What cannot be disputed is his influence on Keith Richards, having introduced him to his collection of traditional country records.
Mick Taylor becomes Brian Jones Replacement
With Ry Cooder replacing Brian Jones no longer a possibility, Mick Jagger turned to John Mayall of The Bluesbreakers for advice. He recommended Mick Taylor, whom he had drafted in to The Bluesbreakers to replace none other than Eric Clapton when he was just 18 years old.
When initially asked by The Rolling Stones to come along, Mick Taylor thought it was as a session musician, but it soon dawned on him he was there as a possible replacement for Brian Jones. His playing impressed the duo of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards and he left the studio to the sound of, ‘See you tomorrow’.
Mick Taylor continued to rehearse with The Rolling Stones played overdubs on on two tracks on “Let It Bleed“; “Country Honk” and “Live With Me” before making his on-stage debut with The Rolling Stones at their famous free concert in London’s Hyde Park on 5 July 1969.
Recording “Let It Bleed“
Mick Jagger was having greater influence away from the music (he was believed to be the driving force behind their split from former manager Andrew Loog-Oldham, their tax exile and later the formation of their own management company with Rupert Löwenstein) whereas Keith Richards was now the driving force in the studio.
Keith Richards had taken creative control in the studio. Keith Richards, who had already shared vocal duties with Mick Jagger on a handful of songs (“Connection”, “Something Happened to Me Yesterday” and “Salt of the Earth”), sang his first solo lead vocal on a Rolling Stones recording with “You Got the Silver.” (although this is rumored to be down to an engineer accidentally erasing Mick Jagger‘s version!)
‘He doesn’t just march into the studio and say, “it’s going to be this, that or the other”‘, said Ian Stewart, ‘He just kicks off into something and people just follow him. He is the one that usually decides how each song is going to shape up’.
The routine of nocturnal jams and countless takes, which became the norm was also formed in over the long recording process of ‘Let It Bleed‘. The material that came out of these sessions was dark and murky. From the opening track, the classic Gimme Shelter, a foreboding warning that rape and murder are ‘just a shot away’ to the finale in the shape of ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’, beginning with the angelic voices of the London Bach Choir, and ends in a raucous, although thoroughly downbeat, climax, “Let It Bleed” is the death knell for the 1960s innocence and naivety.
On Release of “Let It Bleed“
Admittedly this innocence and naivety had died for The Rolling Stones far earlier after falling foul of The Establishment and their jail sentences following the February 1967 raid of Keith Richards home. However as the 1960’s drew to a close ‘peace and love’ was being replaced by something darker, and The Rolling Stones were perfectly placed to reflect it.
Upon release “Let It Bleed” made it to number 3 on the Billboard charts and in the UK it hit the number 1 spot on the album chart (knocking The Beatles “Abbey Road” from the top of the chart) “Let It Bleed” went on to go Double Platinum in the USA.
- backing vocals
- acoustic guitar
- electric guitar
- slide guitar
- percussion (congas)
- electric guitar
- slide guitar
- Jimmy Miller – Producer
- Glyn Johns – Engineer
- Gus Skinas – Engineer
- Bruce Botnick – Assistant Engineer
- Jesper Hansen – Assistant Engineer
- Ian Stewart – piano
- Nicky Hopkins – piano, organ
- Jimmy Miller – percussion, drums, tambourine
- Merry Clayton – vocals, backing vocals on “Gimme Shelter”
- Ry Cooder – mandolin on “Love in Vain”
- Nanette Workman – backing vocals on “Country Honk” (not actress Nanette Newman as credited on the LP)
- Byron Berline – fiddle on “Country Honk”
- Bobby Keys – tenor saxophone on “Live with Me”
- Leon Russell – piano and horn arrangement on “Live with Me”
- Al Kooper – piano, French horn, and organ on “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”
- Jack Nitzche – choral arrangements on “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”
- Rocky Dijon – percussion on “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”
- Gimmie Shelter (although more commonly titled “Gimme Shelter” on later compilation albums) – 4:31
- Love in Vain (Robert Johnson) – 4:19
- Country Honk – 3:07
- Live with Me – 3:33
- Let It Bleed – 5:28
- Midnight Rambler – 6:53
- You Got the Silver – 2:50
- Monkey Man – 4:11
- You Can’t Always Get What You Want – 7:29
The track listing on the sleeve did not follow the actual order of the songs on the record. The sleeve designer, Robert Brownjohn, admitted later he did this solely for aesthetic reasons. The paper label at the center of the vinyl gave the correct order for the tracks, however when “Let It Bleed” was first issued on CD in 1986, the CD track listing followed that of the original LP sleeve! The folk at ABKCO finally corrected this on the 2002 re-issue.
The London Bach Choir plays on the song “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, but the group asked to have its name removed from the credits on “Let It Bleed”
In The Rolling Stones song “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, the line “I sang my song to Mr Jimmy” is a reference to their producer Jimmy Miller, not Jimi Hendrix as is often believed. The rest of the line says “and he said one word to me and that was dead”. At this time The Rolling Stones and Jimmy Miller used “dead” to refer to something they really liked, so when Mick Jagger sang the original song idea to Jimmy Miller, his response was “dead”!