Let It Bleed is not only one of the most intelligent rock and roll albums ever made, but also one of the most visceral and exciting. It not only summed up its era as well as any recording has ever done, it has escaped its era, and sounds as direct and mysterious today as it did upon release in late 1969. It includes what may well be the greatest single rock and roll performance (“Gimme Shelter”) plus some of the most surprising (“You Got the Silver,” “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”). Let it Bleed is more than anyone could have expected from the Rolling Stones—more, in fact, than any fan could have hoped for. That kind of satisfaction is part of what rock and roll is all about.
The other selections above are not arbitrary, but aside from Let it Bleed the rankings are. Modern albums are listed higher than classic rock collections simply because they are albums, not collections. Such a listing cannot, of course, say anything much about rock and roll as such; that would take a list of singles and album cuts, with room for at least one hundred entries. A list that must omit Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” or The Five Satins’ “In the Still of the Night” or everything by Phil Spector and Motown is an almost private conceit. Still, here we find something of the very best, and in several cases, albums that contain tracks that can honestly be put forward as the greatest rock and roll of all: Rod Stewart’s Every Picture Tells a Story, the Beatles’ “Money” (from With the Beatles), “Gimme Shelter” by the Rolling Stones, Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode,” Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti,” Elvis’ “Milkcow Blues Boogie” (A Date with Elvis) or “Hound Dog” (Golden Hits), and Bob Dylan’s titanic “Like a Rolling Stone.”
It is surprising, too, how many of the very greatest single instrumental performances in the history of rock and roll turn up on a list of ten 12-inch LPs. The ultimate in rock and roll drumming is Mick Waller’s cataclysmic assault on “Every Picture Tells a Story” (runners-up: Kenneth Buttrey on Bob Dylan’s “Absolutely Sweet Marie,” from Blonde on Blonde; Hal Blaine on the Phil Spector/Ronettes “Be My Baby”). The finest bass playing in all of rock is that of Richard Davis on Astral Weeks (runners-up: James Jamerson on any number of Motown classics; Charlie McCoy on Dylan’s John Wesley Harding). Rhythm guitar is a toss-up between Elvis on “Mystery Train,” Bob Dylan on “Like a Rolling Stone,” and—my choice—Martin Quittenton on “Every Picture Tells a Story” (note that both Elvis and Quittenton played acoustic, not electric). My sentimental favourite for piano would be the unknown genius (Carole King?) on the Chiffons’ “One Fine Day,” though I would settle for Lafayette Leake’s magnificent work on “Johnny B. Goode.” Harmonica belongs to Bob Dylan alone, for “Absolutely Sweet Marie”; saxophone to Boots Randolph on Elvis’ “Reconsider Baby” (from Elvis is Back). And lead guitar—well, it is either Chuck, on “Johnny B. Goode,” or Keith Richard, following Berry’s lines, in “Gimme Shelter.”
Not that rock is made up of virtuoso solo performances; it is no accident that more than one tune cited contains more than one of the supreme performances, and that neither “Money” nor “Tutti Frutti” can be broken down into its parts. Rock is a continuum: my list represents only a few explosions, albeit those whose echo can still be heard, explosions that will be audible as long as anyone is listening.
from Rock Critics Choice: The Top 200 Albums (compiled by Paul Gambaccini, 1978)