Album: Beggars Banquet
. . .
The final song on Beggars Banquet was the most successful attempt yet for the Rolling Stones to end one of their records with a big production, as “Salt of The Earth” starts quietly and ends up as a gospel-fueled rave-up, kinda of a warm-up for their next album closer.
It starts off, though with that instantly identifiable acoustic guitar strum by Keith Richards, who gets a fantasticly haunting and dark sound from it, and then like he’s the only one who happened to be in the studio, he sings the first verse, another milestone in Stones history.
Let’s drink to the hard working people
Let’s drink to the lowly of birth
Raise your glass to the good and the evil
Let’s drink to the salt of the earth
It was a pretty cool move: “Salt of The Earth” was written as a straightforward tribute to the working class, but given how many characters Mick Jagger had played throughout Beggars Banquet, it would have come off as ironic almost instantly, but having Keith’s fragile vocals lead it all instantly signified authenticity, which — as Keith’s gentle slide guitar, Bill Wyman’s bass and Nicky Hopkins piano all come in — Mick trades upon.
Say a prayer for the common foot soldier
Spare a thought for his back-breaking work
Say a prayer for his wife and his children
Who burn the fires and who still till the earth
But, of course, Mick couldn’t be totally sincere here — though I love the way he pronounces “soul-dee-er” — and after a small piano-led break, he almost instantly creates some distance between himself and the people he’s singing about.
When I search a faceless crowd
A swirling mass of gray and
Black and white
They don’t look real to me
In fact, they look so strange
At this point, Charlie comes in, his drums again sounding like bombs bursting in the air — if only Godard had done a documentary on how Jimmy Miller and Glyn Johns got that drum sound! — and now driving “Salt of The Earth” through verses that salute the uncounted heads, the wavering millions and the stay-at-home voters, all of whom still look strange to him.
By this time, Mick’s been joined by the Watts Street Gospel Choir, who have taken over the vocals, now saluting the lowly of birth, the rag taggy people, and the two thousand million, until there’s one final breakdown, which features some bombs bursting in air drum rolls and eventually resolves into a rave up, featuring the choir singing “let’s take a drink to the salt of the earth” over and over and over until they run out of breath. At it’s fade, “Salt of The Earth” has basically become a race between Nicky Hopkins and Charlie Watts, which we never actually find out the winner of.
While it would eventually get overshadowed by the big album closers that followed it, “Salt of The Earth” was a big, ambitious way to close out the biggest, most ambitious album the Rolling Stones had yet issued. It’s also a song that the Stones pretty much never performed. They closed out their Rock and Roll Circus with a version that featured Mick and Keith singing to the studio backing track (and where you can see folks like Marianne Faithfull, Pete Townshend and Keith Moon in the audience), and one time in 1989, Axl Rose & Izzy Stradlin talked them into to playing it, which was also kinda fun.
“Salt of the Earth” Official Lyric Video
“Salt of the Earth” from The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus(es)
“Salt of the Earth” live in 1989 (featuring Axl Rose & Izzy Stradlin)
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