This hour long recording, originally made for the BBC at Leeds University on 13th March 1971, and bootlegged in the 1970s on vinyl as "Get Yer Leeds Lungs Out", is easily the finest unissued live music by the Rolling Stones. In fact the last 45 minutes from Midnight Rambler on is arguably some of the best music they ever recorded.
After the hysteria and drug busts of the mid 1960s and the death of Brian Jones still overshadowing the band, the Rolling Stones returned to touring in 1969 with new guitarist Mick Taylor in tow. Taylor, fresh from John Mayall's band, added a virtuosity to the Stones' music which put them on a par with contemporaries like Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac, Eric Clapton and other blues wailing guitar heroes of the day. The Stones were now a band with a blues maturity they had previously, in their mid 60s pop incarnation, lacked.
The 5 years which Taylor spent with the band can be seen as their most artistically creative (Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main Street, Goats Head Soup, and It’s Only Rock’n’Roll were all recorded during his tenure). As a live band, they were at their tightest and most energetic and Mick Jagger was at his youthful demonic peak. The 1969 American tour saw the band reinvent themselves as “the Greatest Rock’n’Roll Band in the World” and although terminating in the disastrous Altamont festival, the tour was highly successful and put the band back on the rock center-stage along with Dylan, the Who and the recently separated Beatles.
The Rolling Stones played Leeds University in the spring of 1971 on the penultimate date of their first UK tour since 1966. Recorded in the Refectory in front of (presumably) less than a thousand slightly stoned hippy students, it has an intimacy and informality that the later Rolling Stones' arena shows lack. It sounds like a band in a club. Jagger talks to rather than shouts at the audience. The Watts / Wyman / Richards rhythm section has the funky looseness soon to be recorded on Exile On Main Street and there is a tight rhythm guitar / lead guitar interplay between Richards and Taylor, both of whom instinctively know when to leave space for the other. Taylor’s playing is arguably better on the '72 American tour however on that tour the band tended to pay everything too fast and a lot of the funk present here was lost. This is a recording of a band with a virtuoso lead player who is however playing within, and functioning as a part of the band, rather than in front of it, as Eric Clapton, Alvin Lee or Johnny Winter would have done. It isn’t about the guitar player it’s about the music. It’s about the “roll” as well as the “rock” as Keef said. This is a prime recording of the "roll" in the Rolling Stones.
And this is the dirtiest, rawest, rudest guitar sound Keith Richards ever achieved. His amp sounds as though the speakers have gaping holes in them. Midnight Rambler burns and crackles and Brown Sugar is far more incendiary here than on the single version. The flick knife intro precedes a guitar sound which is the aural equivalent of rusty razor blades. Jagger still sounds as though he is interested in what he is singing and makes an effort to put some life in the words as opposed to the breathless barking and yelping he would be making on the 1972 tour and for quite some time thereafter. The version of Satisfaction here is slower than the single and has a much funkier arrangement that seems to owe a lot to James Brown and Otis Redding. However the overwhelming climax here is Chuck Berry's Let it Rock. It is everything you ever wanted from the Rolling Stones. Richards and Watts appear to take inspiration from the opening lines "In The Heat Of The Day Down In Mobile Alabama, working on the railroad with the steel driving hammer" and pound and hammer their way through the song to bust through into a moment of true magical inspiration when the band takes off and appears to become energized and overtaken by some higher power. Their own momentum overtakes them and it's the song itself that seems to be play the band. I swear about half way through they all sound like they are levitating...
It'll leave you breathless.
I have no idea how often I have listened to the last 45 minutes or so of this show over the years. For me Midnight Rambler through to Let It Rock it is the quintessence of the Rolling Stones. It has all the rawness, grace, swagger and danger of what rock music was supposed to be about in the early '70s. The Stones were soon to lose their ability to conjure up those qualities but should anyone now too young to know ever ask you who were the Rolling Stones and what was all the fuss about...
Play them this.
Note; The track list for the hour long BBC broadcast is Dead Flowers / Stray Cat Blues / Love In Vain / Midnight Rambler / Bitch / Honky Tonk Women / Satisfaction / Little Queenie / Brown Sugar / Street Fighting Man / Let It Rock (the band opened with Jumping Jack Flash however the early part of the show is missing)
Midnight Rambler starts below at 14:45