Two of the greatest Rolling Stones albums, Beggars Banquet and Let It Bleed, were born during an intense period of tumult and creativity. From March 1968 through November 1969, the Stones recorded both albums while losing one guitarist (Brian Jones), hiring another (Mick Taylor), filming The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus, touring the U.S., and staging milestone concerts in London (Hyde Park) and outside San Francisco (Altamont). Moreover, the Stones got caught up in the unrest over Vietnam and other issues like everyone else. As a result, Let It Bleed was the most powerful and troubling of all Stones records. "Well, it's a very rough, very violent era," Mick Jagger reflected in a Rolling Stone Interview. "The Vietnam War. Violence on the screens, pillage and burning." Let It Bleed was released in the U.S. in 1969 just days before events at Altamont bore out the Stones' recorded portents.
Three songs from Let It Bleed — "Midnight Rambler." "You Can't Always Get What You Want" and "You Got the Silver," featuring Keith Richards' first lead vocal — came from the prolific sessions for Beggars Banquet in the spring of 1968. The other six — including the apocalyptic "Gimme Shelter" — were cut at sessions stretching from May through July 1969. Beggars Banquet and Let It Bleed were produced at Olympic Studios in London by Jimmy Miller, who would work with the Stones through 1973's Goats Head Soup.
Al Kooper, who played keyboards and French horn on "You Can't Always Get What You Want," says of Jagger's artistic control, "Mick was really the producer. He knew what he wanted, and he was doing just about everything."
"I don't know that Mick ever did anything other than from a producer's level, really," notes engineer Glyns Johns. "Certainly, Jimmy Miller had an active role, but it was more of a co-production than not."
As for Brian Jones, Kooper recalls, "He was just sort of lying in the corner on his stomach, reading an article on botany." Kooper was particularly impressed with the Stones' epicurean tastes. "There was a great deal of cannabis and the like passed around," he says, chuckling. "At dinnertime, these two vans pulled up and put out a spread of food the likes of which I have never seen in a studio: lamb chops, curried dishes, class-A desserts. A pot smoker's dream!"
This story is from the December 11th, 2003 issue of Rolling Stone.