As a life-long partisan of both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, it’s always intrigued me how Fab Four touts argue obsessively amongst themselves over how the various albums stack up, whereas Mick and Keef adherents seem to have a much more laissez-faire attitude. Part of this might have to do with the Stones spanning more eras, and the Beatles having just their half dozen or so years together as commercial artists, but the breakdown of the Stones’ best albums usually goes like this: Either Beggars Banquet ('68) or Let It Bleed ('69) takes the top spot, followed by '71's Sticky Fingers, then Exile on Main Street from the next year, then maybe Some Girls from '78. (And a hardcore fan will probably slot in '66's Aftermath somewhere.)
But what almost everyone fails to do is include The Rolling Stones, Now!, a mighty, meaty slab of blues rock released the day before Valentine’s Day, 50 years ago. Now! is the Stones’ third American album, released the same year as Out of Our Heads. The latter featured "Satisfaction," the tune that would turn rock’s preeminent blues renegades into a more populist act—social commentators, even.
But even “Satisfaction” wasn’t as audacious as Now!, which drags the deepest blues into a rocked-up environment, while also showing that five London white kids could hang with the hoariest of past masters. This was new territory for rock, never mind that the genre had been picking the blues clean since the mid-1950s. The leftovers were trotted out in new, pepped-up styles, so someone like Elvis was able to sing about being a one-eyed cat peeping in a seafood store as if he were some contented feline shopper rather than a champion rutter. But no white pop artists before the Stones had, well, the stones to stand acne-coated chin to wizened brow with America’s blues greats.