The age old argument of Beatles v Stones continues to this day as new generations discover the genius of both bands. I myself, like both. But I definitely fall into the camp of “Beatles nut”. I’ve voraciously collected their albums, read many books, magazines and articles; watched documentaries and films; visited museums and historic Beatles venues; and searched out bootlegs and memorabilia.
Meanwhile with the Stones, as much as I really like them, it has been a more casual and loose affair. Dipping into and collecting their albums with a louche coolness and steady pace that Keef himself would surely admire.
So, this Christmas just gone, (in addition to new socks and another Beatles book) I received Let It Bleed by the Stones. Shameful I know, that at the age of 28 I didn’t own this album and of course, hadn’t heard Monkey Man (although strangely no other track was new to me).
For me, Monkey Man exudes everything that the Stones are about. There’s a swagger in its rhythm; there’s a strut, a cockiness, a downright coolness in its attitude. Richards’ guitars tangle with Jagger’s seemingly nonsensical lyrics providing a sense of danger in a seedy world of junkies. On Monkey Man the Stones are aurally refining the image they’d adopt in the 70s to an almost self-parodying extent.
The Gilmmer Twins’ menace is carried along by downright funky drums and bass from Messrs Watts and Wyman but there is also a beautiful lining laced around every break, lick and chord change of the song within – which I find to be what elevates this song from a good song to a great one.
Nicky Hopkins, piano man for hire and ace sessioner, player on some of the greatest songs of all time, provides an astonishing, spiraling, spine-tingling part on the ivories. In particular, the middle section solo, a glorious rush of piano, slide and thundering drums. An audio junk rush perhaps? Judging by the many interpretations of the song, it could be quite possible.
It’s hard to single out great songs by the Stones because there’s just so many of them. The reason I’ve been able to share my love of this track is most likely because of its relative freshness to my ears… and it’s quite simply the Stones personified. Listen to this now and I guarantee you’ll adopt its infectious swagger and become a Monkey Man too.