Album: Beggars Banquet
. . .
Cognitive dissonance defined: “Jigsaw Puzzle” is simultaneously the greatest song the Rolling Stones ever recorded and the fourth-best song on Beggars Banquet.
Maybe, but one thing is absolutely certain: the drum sound that Glyn Johns & Eddie Kramer get for Charlie Watts is complete and utter dynamite, maybe the greatest drum sound I’ve ever heard in my life. The snare is primal and visceral, and the toms sound like fireworks trailing off into the night.
So it’s really the drums you notice at first, along with Keith Richards’s acoustic guitar & slide guitar, plus Bill Wyman’s melodic bass, all of which provide a suitable backdrop for Mick’s Dylanesque lyrics.
There’s a tramp sitting on my doorstep
Trying to waste his time
With his mentholated sandwich
He’s a walking clothesline
And here comes the bishop’s daughter
On the other side
And she looks a trifle jealous
She’s been an outcast all her life
Mick starts “Jigsaw Puzzle” off quiet, like it’s 3AM, and while he can’t sleep, he’s also trying not to wake anybody up.
Me, I’m waiting so patiently
Lying on the floor
I’m just trying to do this jig-saw puzzle
Before it rains anymore
The music of “Jigsaw Puzzle” is loose and funky — especially Bill Wyman, who’s doing an almost John Entwistle amount of notes — instruments popping in and out of the mix at will, like Nicky Hopkins, who shows up in the middle of the first chorus and then in the second verse pops in and out with random notes.
Oh, the gangster looks so frightening
With his luger in his hand
But when he gets home to his children
He’s a family man
But when it comes to the nitty-gritty
He can shove in his knife
Yes, he really looks quite religious
He’s been an outlaw all his life
In the middle of the second chorus, Brian Jones pops in with what various sources say is either an electric dulcimer or a mellotron: either way, it’s that high lonesome keening sound that seems to fly over the whole song, counterpointing Keith’s slide guitar during the first instrumental break. Nobody is really soloing on that break: Brian, Keith and Nicky are all doing leads but also not doing leads, after which comes the incredibly meta third verse, Mick switching to his outdoor voice, not caring if he wakes anybody up now.
Wait! Stop! Before we move forward, just try to focus on what Charlie, Bill and Keith are doing right now: they’re so deep in the pocket, so in perfect sync, so utterly in tune that everybody else can get away with anything, because it’s so fucking groovy. And that’s actually at any point in the song.
Oh, the singer, he looks angry
At being thrown to the lions
And the bass player, he looks nervous
About the girls outside
And the drummer, he’s so shattered
Trying to keep up time
And the guitar players look damaged
They’ve been outcasts all their lives
It’s such a great verse, chock full of inside jokes and obvious references. While Mick being thrown to the lions and the damages of Brian (especially) and Keith (getting closer) were obvious at the time — and the “outcasts” was a great callback to the first verse — at the time, nobody outside of the band knew what kind of pussy hound Bill Wyman was, and of course, Mick would write a whole song about being “shattered” a decade later, though it didn’t really have anything to do with Charlie.
One of the great things about “Jigsaw Puzzle” is that it gets more intense as it goes along, and so as Mick goes into the final verse, there’s a great bit where Charlie’s snare and Keith’s slide both try to smash their way out of the song, leaving it to be dominated by Nicky Hopkins, who basically takes over the final verse, where Mick kinda overreaches on the whole “Dylanesque” thing.
Oh, there’s twenty-thousand grandmas
Wave their hankies in the air
And burning up their pensions
And shouting, “It’s not fair!”
There’s a regiment of soldiers
Standing, looking on
And the queen is bravely shouting
“What the hell is going on?”
With a blood-curdling “Tally-ho”
She charged into the ranks
And blessed all those grandmas who
With their dying breaths screamed, “Thanks!”
Of course, all these years later, you could probably find twenty thousand grandmas at any given Rolling Stones show, though the odds of them waving their hankies to a live rendition of “Jigsaw Puzzle” are pretty slim: the Stones have never played it live, not even once, maybe because they knew they couldn’t really replicate the weird cacophony in a live setting.
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