Sunday, 8 May 2016

"Beggars Banquet" by THE ROLLING STONES (2002 Abcko 'Hybrid SACD/DSD CD' Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...






"…Pleased To Meet You…" 

As the truly fantastic "Sympathy For The Devil" sails into your living room on a patter of Tabla shuffles and Salsa shakers – all slithery, slinky and sidewinding like a snake – you wonder how many times this incredibly durable song has been used in movies? How many instances has a smug vampire or demon or Old Nick himself (in human form of course) played this tune in his car CD-player as he heads off for another rendezvous with a succulent throat in the big dark city?

Bloodletting and a propensity to name-check Hades and its unsavoury occupants aside - The Rolling Stones started a peerless run of albums with 1968's "Beggars Banquet" that ran through 1969's "Let It Bleed", 1971's "Sticky Fingers" (the first on their own Rolling Stones Records) – culminating in the magnum opus double-album "Exile On Main St." - a deserved No. 1 in 1972. Yet in its plain white British laminated gatefold or naughty US toilet graffiti sleeve - somehow good old 'BB' seems to get ignored over the illustrious trio that followed it. And its history on CD has been murky and problematic too...

When the Decca label side of the Stones catalogue first came out on CD in 1986 on London - it was not the greatest moment for the new format. This 2002 'Hybrid SACD/DSD CD' reissue and remaster acknowledges this and advises that after 'long and painful' searches through tape vaults on both sides of the Atlantic - both time and technology had caught up enough to warrant a proper stab at it again. And like the other titles in this wicked series of card digipaks - man what a result. Here are the street fighting men...

UK and Europe released August 2002 – "Beggars Banquet" by THE ROLLING STONES on Abkco 8823012 (Barcode 042288230120) is a Limited Edition Hybrid SACD/DSD CD Remaster – a straightforward transfer of the 10-track Stereo album that plays out as follows (39:47 minutes):

1. Sympathy For The Devil
2. No Expectations
3. Dear Doctor
4. Parachute Woman
5. Jigsaw Puzzle
6. Street Fighting Man [Side 2]
7. Prodigal Son
8. Stray Cat Blues
9. Factory Girl
10. Salt Of The Earth
Tracks 1 to 10 are the album "Beggars Banquet" - released 6 December 1968 in the UK on Decca LK 4955 (Mono) and SKL 4955 (Stereo) and 7 December 1968 in the USA on London LL 3539 (Mono) and London PS 539 (Stereo). Only the STEREO MIX IS USED.

Made by Sony and Phillips - the SACD/DSD Hybrid Disc actually has two layers - the first contains the normal CD playback - but the other layer has a SACD remaster which will automatically come on if your machine has SACD playback facilities (it doesn't require a special machine to play this disc). The three-way foldout card digipak unfortunately doesn't reproduce the British front cover artwork (white with script titles) but does have the inner sleeve 'banquet' photo of the boys pigging out spread across the inner digipak and further onto the CD label. As with all of these three-way card digipaks - there is also a small square paper 'Certificate Of Authenticity' for the 'Inaugural Edition Hybrid Disc 2002' that quotes some lyrics to a song from the album and (in this case) pictures a black and white snippet of the 'toilet sleeve' on the rear. Not sat in any kind of pouch within the glossy card digipak - these little certificates are easy to lose - and the glossy sleeve easy to mark or smudge - so perhaps use a protective plastic to hold the lot in place/keep it new.  

But the real layers of soft ply are the new Audio. STEVE ROSENTHAL did the Sound Restoration and Archive Coordination - TERI LANDI the Analogue to Digital Transfers & Tape Archive Research with final Mastering carried out by the legendary Audio Engineer BOB LUDWIG at Gateway Mastering. The sonic transformation of Jimmy Miller's original production is awesome. This CD sounds fantastic in either DSD CD mode or SACD – a great Stones album made better at last.

After the bombastic backwards-tapes bilge of December 1967's psych-out "Their Satanic Majesties Request" – the stripped down almost country R&B instrumentation of "Beggars Banquet" came as a welcome relief. And excepting a cover version of "Prodigal Son" by Reverend Robert Wilkins (covered by Hank Williams in 1952 – probably the version Keith Richards heard and admired) – the other nine are Jagger-Richards originals. It opens on a balls-to-the-wall Stones classic – "Sympathy For The Devil". As well as the famous 'ooh ooh' chorus throughout that features Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones, Bill Wyman, Nicky Hopkins, Marianne Faithfull, Jimmy Miller and actress/Stones girlfriend Anita Pallenberg - one of the unsung heroes of this 6:02 minutes is Nicky Hopkins whose brilliantly complimentary piano playing underpins the rhythm. Up next is one of my all-time Stones craves – the gorgeous "No Expectations". Sailing in on a bed of Bluesy acoustic strums – Brian Jones plays slide while Nicky Hopkins once again does a sweet piano refrain throughout (you can hear Wyman’s bass in the remaster now too – so sweet). American fans will know that the song was used as B-side to "Street Fighting Man" on London 909 (shame they didn't feature its rare picture sleeve somewhere in the digipak - under the see-through tray for instance). We go all hick-Country with "Dear Doctor" where Keith and Mick complain "...there's a pain where there once was a heart..." - Brian Jones plays Harmonica while Dave Mason of Traffic guest on guitar. Keith Richards famously took over the 'slide guitar' reins from Brian Jones on the wickedly good "Parachute Woman" while Mick gives it some Harmonica and Nicky Hopkins plays piano (lost somewhere back in the mix). They were never so ramshackle and louche as on "Jigsaw Puzzle" where the bishop's daughter has been an outcast all her life while poor Mick pours over his jigsaw puzzle (undoubtedly in a very cool Chelsea flat).

Side 2 opens with the mighty "Street Fighting Man" - banned by the knobs at the BBC for its 'incendiary' sentiments (guaranteed million seller then). A harsh-reality statement – the song asked "...what can I poor boy do...” The direct opposite to the message of hippies and peaceniks – the authorities clearly thought its seeming praise of 'fighting' was going to cause riots in the – well – streets. It didn't. More likely the real violence came from American cops trying to control thousands of peaceful protestors riling against the sickening Vietnam War and its waste of life. I still don't know how Richards got that slightly off guitar sound and once again – Nicky Hopkins contributes Piano while Dave Mason offers Percussion. Acoustic Blues comes at us with "Prodigal Son" - Richards on Acoustic - Jones giving it some cotton-field Harmonica while Jagger sings about restlessness - going down the road - a poor boy crying for mercy. Truthful but "Some Girls" angry in ways - naughty rock-band antics fill the saucy lyrics of "Stray Cat Blues" where a 15-year old needn't show her ID (grow up boys). Far better is "Factory Girl" - a pretty song that has Dave Mason on Mandolin and Family's Rick Grech on Violin - both lifting the song into something special. It ends on more acoustic introspection - "Salt Of The Earth" - a song about the working everyman - the 'common foot soldier'. Keith croaks out the first verse - Jagger takes over from there in with Keith doubling. Nicky Hopkins plays melodious piano licks until The Watts Street Gospel Choir come sailing in towards the big finish.

"Beggars Banquet" isn't as immediately 'rocky' as say 1969's "Let It Bleed" or the crowd-pleasing riffage of "Sticky Fingers" from 1971 - but it's a Stones album I keep returning to - wanting to play it side to side. Whether you go for the 2002 Abkco SACD/CD Hybrid issue or Japan's SHM-CD from 2010 with all the repro artwork (and the 2002 remaster) you're in good hands - the best Rock 'n' Roll band in the world on fighting form...

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