We all know that in the Mick Taylor Years (1969 / 74) the Rolling Stones were at their live peak. He added a real lead guitar muscle to complement their riff heavy catalogue. They went from being great to being the best. Watching the Stones in this period ranks - with me anyway - alongside watching Elvis 1969-72. Yeah, two great acts at their peak at the same time. Saw neither. Thank goodness for YouTube.
Apparently Keith Richards once told Mick Taylor he was great live but shit in the studio. There's a ring of truth to this - even if it was overstated. Taylor certainly was less dominant in the Stones albums he played on. Maybe he knew he was being shafted for song writing credits. Maybe Mick and Keef overshadowed MT when it came to controlling who did what and when. They certainly bossed the mixing desk. Playing live they didn't have the same control.
But dig (not too deep) and you have some classic Mick Taylor performances committed to vinyl.
I've tried to filter out songs where he was just 'one of the band' and purposefully pick songs where it's absolutely all about Mick Taylor. Agree? Disagree? Tell me in the comments.
Mick Taylor appeared on Stones albums between 1969 and 1973*. They are Let It Bleed (just a little) and then Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main Street, Goat's Head Soup and It's Only Rock n Roll plus the live album Get Yer Ya Ya's Out.
To me, I'd probably rank them Sticky Fingers, Goat's Head Soup, Exile on Main Street, It's Only Rock n Roll. Which is strange as my favourite MT tracks appear on It's Only Rock n Roll.
Sway - Sticky Fingers (1971)
Keith was absent and so the two Micks fooled around in the studio together, coming up with this gem. A real guitar-heavy rocker, taken at a stately pace, it's one of those Stone tracks that should be better known but it's cult like obscurity makes me feel good I'm in the know. As does my possession of an original Andy Warhol designed jeans zip cover (framed and on my wall next to 8/9 others of similar vintage). This was, for a while, my fav Stones track. Jagger sings exceptionally on this - as demonstrated by his later, pitiful, attempt on the 2013 tour. MT's guitars are hard, the solos fluid - slide and then full on rock solo as the track ends. One to look up if you don't know it.
Winter - Goats Head Soup (1973)
Winter is one of those epic ballads the Stones seemed to just knock off in their sleep in the mid 70's (Angie, Memory Motel, Fool to Cry, Coming Down Again). Just like Sway, it features no Keith Richards. What separates this from the others is the Mick Taylor guitar solo which is both powerful and incendiary. Taylor had a way of complementing Jagger's vocal lines, adding fillers and runs throughout the song. Like he would do when the Stones played live. Many people rate this his best solo. I enjoy it but, no, it would be bettered the following year.
Can't you Hear Me Knocking - Sticky Fingers (1971)
It starts with a Keef riff and then, according to MT, when everyone was putting their instruments down at the end of the song, the groove just continued - first Bobby Keyes on sax and then, the Master Mick, the God of guitar (virtuosity be his name) started soloing. One take. Not rehearsed. As live as you can get and this is the result. The Stones should have employed this method on their recordings 69-73; just turn Mick Taylor loose. What you get is a classic and a classic because he turns the songs around and pushes it into new directions. That's one of Taylor's strength - his ability to effortlessly improvise.
All Down the Line - Exile on Main Street (1972)
Rock and rolling Stones kicking it back in the South of France, noses in bags of narcotics, dodging tax and playing some of their best music ever! Exile on Main Street was a groove, a feel, the sound of - to steal a phrase from Sir Paul - a Band on The Run. Mick Taylor adds some sharp, rocking slide guitar, taking the solo. To see how hard MT worked on this track - watch the video below.
Til the Next Goodbye - It's Only Rock n Roll (1974)
Another acoustic ballad, another slide solo. Beautiful song and for some reason completely overlooked. Why?
Honky Tonk Women - Let it Bleed (1969) / Brown Sugar - Sticky Fingers (1971)
Two songs from 1969 (Though Brown Sugar lay in the vaults over a year). Mick Taylor's introduction to the band. Honky Tonk Women - apparently MT made a small but telling contribution. He rocked up the song from the country ballad (Country Honk) to the rock classic we know now. Brown Sugar, is another group ensemble song where MT adds to mix but doesn't stand out. Recording on the sly in 1969 in Muscles Shoals, it was Mick Taylor's suggestion that they play this unreleased song at Altamont when all was falling on the Stones' heads/ Didn't make the film Gimme Shelter but the audio of this first ever version is the Stones against the wall, punching back.
Time Waits for No Man - It's Only Rock n Roll (1974)
The boss. The winner. The best track Mick Taylor and the Stones studio track. So beautiful. So wistful. And that solo at the end! A fucking artist at the top of his game in a band at throwing in a good performance. In the late 80's I wrote a shot song called 'It's Raining Again' and the only good thing about it was that I grafted a sausage fingered version of this MT's solo in the middle. The song is perfect in every way -Jagger's lyrics, Keef's spine tingling riff, Wyman, Watts, Nicky Hopkins and Ray Cooper all adding to the mix. And then Mick Taylor solos like a bastard for two / three full minutes of magic. he employs Latin influenced runs up and down the fretboard. Wow! This is what the Stones could have been. This is the Stones, timeless, standing out of time, looking at us and beckoning mere mortals forward.
To read my other Mick Taylor pieces, click here...
* Yeah - Waiting on A Friend was reused in the 80's.