During the Rolling Stones’ 1973 tour of Europe, the band would usually end the show with their 1968 single (and Beggars Banquet album track), “Street Fighting Man.” On occasion, the Stones’ performance of the tune on the ‘73 jaunt could be magical. One such version was professionally recorded—and bootlegged—eventually seeing official release in 2011, before fading back into obscurity.
“Street Fighting Man,” like most of the Stones’ best stuff from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, is not only a fucking great song, but the studio version sounds cool.
Believe it or not, what you’re hearing during the opening moments of is Keith Richards’ acoustic guitar, which was recorded using a cheap cassette deck, giving it an overloaded, electric character. Charlie Watts used a 1930s practice drum kit on the intro, also captured with the tape recorder, the thin tone of the kit adding to the lo-fi effect. As the song progresses, Indian instruments are heard, giving the track a psychedelic quality. One of those instruments, the shehnai (essentially an Indian oboe) produces the wailing sound heard towards the end of the song. Mick Jagger’s lyrics—is he calling for revolution?—are open to interpretation. Jagger’s words, and the fact that his vocals are partially buried in the mix, contribute to the mysterious nature of “Street Fighting Man.”
French picture sleeve
In support of their new record, Goat’s Head Soup, the Stones launched the 1973 European trek on September 1st in Vienna. Though significantly less dramatic than their infamous 1972 U.S. tour, the outing still had its moments. Take this one, in which saxophonist Bobby Keys quits the band right before the first of two scheduled performances that were to take place in Brussels, Belgium, on October 17th. In his autobiography, Life, Richards describes the scene:
No sign of Bobby at the band assembly that day, and finally I was asked if I knew where my buddy was—there had been no reply from his hotel room. So I went to his room and said, Bob, we gotta go, we gotta go right now. He’s got a cigar, bathtub full of champagne and this French chick in [the tub] with him. And he said, fuck off. So be it.
The Stones had booked the shows in Brussels due to its proximity to France, as they were banned from entering the country after behaving badly while recording Exile on Main St. in Villefranche-sur-Mer. The Brussels gigs took place at the Forest National arena.
With a live album in mind, the Stones recorded both Brussels performances. Though the live LP idea was eventually scrapped, the public did eventually get to hear portions of the Belgian recordings via the syndicated radio program, The King Biscuit Flower Hour in both stereo and FM quadraphonic 4-track. Naturally, the KBFH broadcast was subsequently bootlegged.
Cover of the “Brussels Affair” bootleg
On the Brussels recordings, the Stones—augmented by keyboardist Billy Preston, as well a horn section—are in fine form, for sure, but the absolute highlight of the tapes is the version of “Street Fighting Man,” the final song played during each of their sets that day. From the get-go, the energy of the band is palpable. Keith, especially, stands out, as he doesn’t seem to be playing his guitar as much as stabbing the thing, but it’s when Mick Taylor steps on his wah-wah pedal (in place of the shehnai) that this rendition starts to become spectacular. As the number continues, Bill Wyman’s bass swoops, the horns squeak and squawk, and the tempo increases and increases until the music ceases to be just that, morphing into a riotous, stunning wave of sound.
In 2011, after decades of praise from fans who heard the Brussels tapes, the Stones finally granted the release of a selection of the recordings. Nicking the title from one of the bootlegs of the Belgium gigs, Brussels Affair (Live 1973) was made available as a download via Google Play and the Stones’ website, as well as a limited edition boxed set. But the box is now out-of-print, and, for some reason, you can’t even buy the download anymore. Currently, the only way you can pick up the release (through official channels, that is) is if you splurge for this Japanese set. I bought the download when it came out, and can say that the recordings, given a fresh remix by Bob Clearmountain, sound stellar (much better than what’s heard above, which is from the bootleg version).
The below live footage of “Street Fighting Man” is from the second of two shows the Stones played in Frankfurt on September 30th, 1973. Per usual, it was the closing song of their set.
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
The Rolling Stones, Phil Spector and Gene Pitney get drunk and record the X-rated ‘Andrew’s Blues’