Ladies and Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones – the concert film complement to Cocksucker Blues

Ladies and Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones – the concert film complement to Cocksucker Blues


Zack Wilson

The other week at Couch Thing we took a closer look at the Rolling Stones’ famous ‘lost movie’ Cocksucker Blues, Robert Frank’s fly on the wall ‘rockumentary’ about the band’s 1972 American tour.

While that film was suppressed for years, and can only be seen these days thanks to some kind soul posting it on YouTube, another film document of that 1972 tour was released in 1974.
‘Ladies and Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones’ is purely a concert film, and features the band playing many of the songs which have since become standards.

The performances are taken from a number of concerts on the tour, as can be seen from the band’s costume changes.

Most of those numbers were very new at the time, of course. 

If you want to know about the Rolling Stones, a copy of this film is really all you need.

If you want to know what rock n roll used to actually mean, this film is really you need.

And if you want to know why the Stones acquired the soubriquet of the ‘greatest rock n roll band in the world’, this film is really all you need.

The movie begins in darkness, and we hear Chip Monck and other assorted road crew bantering away in the background, as the call goes out that the Stones are on their way to the stage.

The excitement is palpable, even at this distance in time and space, and when a clipped English voice announces, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, the Rolling Stones’ then hairs will rise on the back of your neck.
The band’s entrance onto the stage is fantastic. Charlie Watts battering shit out of his drum kit in excitement, just before Mick Jagger emerges.

Jagger is full of sneering, sexy bravado, a skinny punk before punk was a thing, pointing at the crowd, challenging them, confronting them.

Keith Richards emerges from the shadows like the Prince of Darkness he wanted to be but never quite could manage, then kicks the rest of the band into life with the intro to Brown Sugar.
Jagger immediately springs into life, borrowing a lot from Tina Turner as he struts around the stage, delivering his vocals like a world of pent-up energy is being released.

But that energy gets its fullest expression the band’s next number, Bitch.

If anyone ever asks you to pinpoint the essence of rock n roll, show them this performance.
Jagger is a whirlwind of denim-jacketed movement, his gestures wired and tense, but also fluidly sexual.

The band drive through the song, high on their own sense of exhilaration. The axis of Watts and Richards is perfectly complemented by Bill Wyman’s underrated bass playing and Taylor’s supreme ability on the guitar.

Taylor plays second fiddle to Richards during the number, but it is his riff that grinds away under it, making it complete.

Gimme Shelter, up next, falters a little bit here, simply because the song’s epic and heartbreaking qualities were almost impossible to recreate with this line-up.

Nevertheless, the grinding riffs from Richards and Taylor working in perfect tandem make it more than just another rock song. 

Jagger also works so hard to make the song at least a little bit transcendent that it’s hard to fault the performance, as he moves around the stage in his silver jacket.

That graft from Jagger is really noticeable all over these songs. It’s hard to point to a harder working front man in rock history.

Despite the famed decadence off-stage, it’s worth noting just what perfectionists the Stones were at that time when it came to live performance.

Taylor’s guitar work is outstanding too, and his wild licks come closest to capturing the sense of heartbreaking doom that the recorded version of the song possesses.

Dead Flowers comes next, with Richards and Jagger singing it almost as a duet. The interplay between the Glimmer Twins here is fun to watch, and that sense of fun extends into Happy, Keith’s theme song, which comes after.

Jagger’s reputation as a vanity ridden egoist takes a battering during Happy. Keith was never a natural front man, and it’s his old blood brother who takes most of the spotlight, even as he wiggles his arse and points to Keith as the main man.

It’s Jagger’s vocals that keep the song moving too, as Keith, perhaps understandably given the amount of heroin coursing through his veins at this time, sometimes focuses more on his guitar work than the vocals.

Tumbling Dice brings another epic Jagger performance. In an interview conducted many years later, and available on DVD versions of the movie, the singer admits that this song is tricky one to do with no backing vocalists.

You never notice, though, as he drives the song into epic territory almost as an act of pure will.
Then things calm down, as he announces that, “We’re gonna do a blues for ya,” and asks if “anyone can ‘ear in the back?”

That blues is Love in Vain and the song has heartbreaking quality that should give the lie to the notion of the Stones being cynical and insincere.

Some acoustic numbers follow, with Bobby Keys and his sax taking deserved centre stage for a rousing version of Sweet Virginia.

You Can’t Always Get What You Want follows, and its brilliant and fresh performance here reminds us of what the song really is, after it was adopted by some TV show wanker who became President of the USA.

Keith’s emotive mannerisms as he strums his favourite Telecaster tell you plenty about the Human Riff’s emotional involvement in his work.

Richards never looks complete unless he is holding a guitar, and the close-ups on him here show a man perfectly in his element.

All Down the Line is one of the songs from Exile on Main Street that appear in this film, and it’s enjoyable enough.

Midnight Rambler and its blues opera serial killer storyline get the full Jagger treatment next, even though from a distance of almost 50 years it’s difficult to appreciate just how chilling and transgressive this song was, especially when performed like this.

Bye Bye Johnny is filler, it’s just giving Keith a chance to play some Chuck Berry stuff, and it segues into an unmemorable version of Rip This Joint.

Two iconic Stones classics complete the set, with Jumpin’ Jack Flash and Street Fighting Man played with an energy and lightning fast purpose that they have lacked in live performance for decades.
The sense in the latter is that the “marching, charging feet” might actually be about to kick the door down.

It’s worth noting the band’s additional members at this time too. Bobby Keys and Jim Price provided a real blockbuster sound on horns, while Nicky Hopkins and Ian Stewart (on Bye Bye Johnny) can be heard on piano.

The Stones at this time were never a five-piece, they were an eight-piece live band, and those guys deserve plenty of credit.

Ladies and Gentlemen, if you want to know why the Stones remain such an iconic and fixed part of popular culture, watch this movie.

But make sure you watch Cocksucker Blues first.

Zack Wilson is a writer from Sheffield, in the North of England. He used to write short fiction and his novel is available from Epic Rites Press.  It's called Stumbles and Half Steps and it can be purchased on Amazon