The recording sessions stretched from February of this year to the end of June, with plenty of three week vacations during that time. The sessions were booked from 7:00 PM in the evening and sometimes lasted till daybreak, depending on who was getting flaked out, when, where and how, and why. It was the fastest album that the Stones have ever done.
A month before they went into the studios, they rented a rehearsal hall in Surrey and played there every day, not formally practicing for the album, but just blowing for fun, for getting together and losing the rust that accumulates when you are not working for months and months at a time.
Each basic track on the album took from three or four hours to eight or nine hours. Most of the songs were written beforehand, so that studio time wasn't taken up with a lot of fussing around. One track remains untitled at the moment, but was originally called "Silver Blanket." Mick did the vocal while in Los Angeles.
One of the interesting things that characterized the sessions was that Mick did a lot of live singing, that is, he did the vocal track at the same time that the instrumental tracks were being done, rather than overdubbing the vocal onto an already recorded number. Just this little thing improves the feeling and sound of the record intangibly but very definitely.
Beggar's Banquet is a cohesive work in style and spirit, yet the tracks are all easily identifiable on their own, each with its own distinction. "Factory Girl" is a simple one, with very basic lyrics about a cat who is waiting in the rain for his chick, a factory girl, and he describes how she looks. There is a country fiddle on the number. "Parachute Woman" is a moderate blues, an R&B number really, with a strongly echoed harmonica.
"Prodigal Son" is almost literally the story from the Bible, about the son who leaves home and then returns. It is done in modern phrasing although some of the things, like killing the fatted calf, are taken right from the Bible. Mick does it in a deep, Southern voice, accompanied by a mouth harp and acoustic guitar.
"Street Fighting Man" and "Stray Cat" are what would be called "ravers." They are very strong, hard bluesy numbers with heavy guitar chording and pace, reminiscent of what the Stones must have felt like a long time ago when they were unknown and trying to make it in the cheap clubs and bars around London. "Stray Cat" is about a 15-year old chick with an older sister, both of whom are invited up for a little fun. Mick sings "Bet your mama don't know you can bite like that." The solos on the electric guitar are a little disappointing, but the excitement of the 12-bar structure, turning around and around again with harder and harder punches (and accompanied by a mellotron) is superb. They are great numbers.
"Dear Doctor" is a hokey, countryish song. Mick said that it wasn't intended to be a laugh, or in any way light, but that it came out that way and it makes a good change of pace. The song sounds like some bizarre jugband with a string-bass and a washboard. The refrain is "Help me, please, doctor, I'm damaged." In the middle, Mick reads a "letter" spoken over the bridge, in a high-pitched, cracked country voice, a la the Diamonds in "Little Darlin!"
"No Expectations" is probably the best of the songs, in the classical meaning of song. It is very together, a ballad in the country style, but a very smooth one. The lyrics are plain but elegant: "Take to me to the airport, Put me on a plane; I've got no expectations to pass through here again." Nicky Hopkins on piano dominates the cut with a Floyd Cramer style. In fact, the song as a whole could be described as what Floyd Cramer might have written were he leaving "Desolation Row."
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