Well I hope we're not too messianicOr a trifle too satanic…- Monkey Man (Jagger/Richards)
People who have seen me under the influence of Let It Bleed – listening to it on my headphones as I walk to work – have said that I look like a man possessed, remote from reality and the presence of others. What they have seen is how I feel when I hear this album. To borrow a phrase, it 'sends me'.
Let It Bleed is the second of four extraordinary studio albums released by the Rolling Stones between 1968 and 1972. It marks the end of Brian Jones' involvement with the band and the beginning of Mick Taylor's. With the exception of Live With Me and, Country Honk, Keith Richards plays all the guitar parts on this 1969 masterpiece. And how.
Let It Bleed also represents a high-water mark in the song-writing partnership of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards: Gimme Shelter, Let It Bleed, Midnight Rambler, Monkey Man and You Can't Always Get What You Want are all certifiable classics. Blistering, awesome, elemental, spine tingling: you can take your pick from the superlatives.
Aside from their originality and the musicianship with which they are performed, what makes these songs special for me is their ability to invoke the darker side of my soul. This is rock's answer to voodoo. While Christianity conceives of God and the Devil as separate entities, of dark as a mere absence of light, the orgasmic energy of a song like Midnight Rambler suggests a more complex but less neurotic universe.
At 6:52, Midnight Rambler is the second-longest track on Let It Bleed, behind You Can't Always Get What You Want. It's a great example of the band's ability to build and sustain mood and atmosphere, to draw the listener into an experience beyond his understanding. The stars of the show in this instance are the slide guitar of Keith Richards and the harmonica of Mick Jagger: the two instruments duet with demonic grace throughout the changing pace of the song, against a solid backdrop of bass, drums and rhythm guitar.
Lyrically, Midnight Rambler is about the joys of breaking into people's houses in the middle of the night and murdering them in their beds. It begins as jaunty, seductive rhythm and blues; Mick Jagger sounds like the most playful and teasing homicidal maniac in history. As the song progresses, the harmonica comes to the fore, becoming more frenzied and unpredictable; it whirls madly around the hypnotic throb of bass and drums. Then the song slows down, grinding to a halt. A wicked cackle sounds on the track before the most explosive build up of pace and energy in recording history. Words cannot do justice to this shuddering, coital climax; it must be experienced.