The Rolling Stones: Sticky Fingers (1971)
I tend to vacillate. I lean towards Exile, as previously noted, given its sprawling breadth. It's an imperfect album, much like the comparable White Album, where you can conceivably distill it down to a shorter masterpiece, or absorb it in its entirety, its flaws making its peaks that much higher. The more concise Sticky Fingers is arguably better song for song, though without the impressive majesty and mood of Exile.
Here are the arguments in favor of Sticky Fingers:
- "Moonlight Mile" is among the finest deep tracks in the Stones catalog, an emotionally rich opus that sounds like it should serve as the backing track to the closing scene of every great film.
- "Bitch" is a phenomenal pop single (without the lyrical baggage of "Brown Sugar").
- "Can't You Hear Me Knocking," with its extended Santana-like coda, makes a strong case for the Stones as the great lost jam band.
- "Sway," "Wild Horses," and particularly "Dead Flowers" proved the Brits could write better Americana than most American bands (Byrds/Dead aside).
- There's really not a bum track in the bunch (I'm not a big fan of "I Got The Blues," but even if it's a relatively inconsequential blues ballad, the horns and harmonies elevate it so it's at the very least perfectly acceptable).
- "Tumbling Dice." Best Stones song, bar none.
- "Rocks Off" is perhaps the ultimate opening track to a rock & roll album. Yeah, "Brown Sugar" has that riff, but "Rocks Off" gets my vote.
- Keith gets his definitive lead vocal in "Happy."
- So many great songs that probably don't suffer the same classic rock radio overplay as a lot of Stones greats ("Torn and Frayed," "Loving Cup," "All Down The Line," "Shine A Light," etc.).
- Despite a few dispensable tracks (i.e. "Casino Boogie"), there's a cohesiveness that permeates the whole work, where even songs that might not hold up as stand-alone tracks feel essential. I can't imagine throwing something like "I Just Want To See His Face" or "Let It Loose" on a Stones compilation, but in the context of the album are just striking. It's a concept album as much as Quadrophenia or The Wall, just without a lyrical concept.
"Moonlight Mile," live 2017. Takes a hell of a song to sound this great nearly 50 years after its initial release.