Thursday, 2 August 2018

The Rolling Stones (inc. 2020 Goats Head Soup)




"I wanted to make the Stones a raunchy, gamy, unpredictable bunch of undesirables and to establish that the Stones were threatening, uncouth and animalistic" - Andrew Loog Oldham

Ah, The Rolling Stones. Where do I start? I guess I was first made aware of them as a seven or eight year-old in the 1966-67-68 period when they started to appeal to my heightening sense that The Beatles were goody-goodies and The Stones were bad boys. My developing tastes found this to be an admirable thing. Even at that age, there was a nascent feeling that if the older generation - parents, teachers and the like despised them, they must have something about them. Ironically, my Mother loved The Stones.

Then there was the music - loud, punchy, riffy, buzzy and singalong, but not in a "she loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah.." way, but in a "he can't be a man because he doesn't smoke the same cigarettes as me" style.  The Stones always had a healthy cynicism and a bit of tongue-in-cheek humour that appealed to me no end. Not only that, there was the look - the cockiness, the laddish (but pretty harmless) sexism, the sneers, the long hair. A general grubbiness that appeal to many young boys such as myself. I let my hair grow Stones-ish. No mop-top for me, thank you very much.

When The Stones really started to resonate with me was in 1969 when Jumpin' Jack Flash hit the number one spot. Wow! What a song. I was ten by then and I loved it. The huge, dirty riff, the menacing lyrics - "I was bawwwn in a crossfire hurricaaaaane....", Mick Jagger's drawled, affected but immensely captivating singing. The next song to do the business for me came as life went in to colour in the seventies and Brown Sugar came out. Jagger strutting around on Top Of The Pops in a pink shiny suit and looking just supremely decadent. They just looked the absolute business. That was that sealed for me. The Stones were here to stay. They have been here ever since. They always will. Say what you like about them going through the motions for over thirty years. So what? Just listen to any Keith Richards intro. They can go through as many motions as they like.

THE EARLY YEARS (1963-1965)



These are The Rolling Stones' early albums - those that had confusing UK/US versions and were liberally populated with bluesy cover versions. Like with The Beatles, there were several albums in this vein before the supposed "proper" albums came along. Let this not detract from the seismic influence these collections of music had on popular culture, however, which is indisputable.

The Rolling Stones (1964)


Not Fade Away/Route 66/I Just Want To Make Love To You/Honest I Do/Now I've Got A Witness/Little By Little/I'm A King Bee/Carol/Tell Me/Can I Get A Witness/You Can Make It If You Try/Walking The Dog  

"I thought of being a journalist once" - Mick Jagger
                                
This is a hugely significant album. It is the debut album from The Rolling Stones. Before this there was no Rolling Stones. Just imagine that. Granted, it is almost all blues/r 'n' b cover versions, save the two "Nanker/Phelge" compositions, Now I've Got A Witness and Little By Little and the first Jagger/Richards composition, Tell Me (You're Coming Back), but it is played with a huge effervescence and energy that made people really sit up take notice.

The UK version of the album included Mona (I Need You Baby) instead of the hit single Not Fade Away and was simply titled The Rolling Stones, as opposed to England's Newest Hitmakers, as it was for the US version. The album was recorded in mono and, for me, by far the sonically-best version to listen to is that taken from The Rolling Stones In Mono box set. It is the UK version of the album on this set, and it quite simply will blow you away with its pure mono power. The sound comes blasting right from the centre of my speakers with a huge big, bassy thump right from the frantic opener, Chuck Berry's Route 66.  The throbbing bass is a thing of aural beauty. I Just Want To Make Love To YouHonest I Do and Mona all continue the quality with a full-on attack that is pretty much irresistible. I have been listening to stuff from The YardbirdsThe Animals and Them (all bluesy contemporaries of The Stones) a lot recently, and, in doing so, I have sort of neglected The Stones' recordings that kicked the whole thing off. Listening to this now, I realise just why it spawned so many similar groups hammering out the same stuff. It is wonderful, youthfully vibrant fare but with a real respect to music from what was, until then an almost-forgotten bygone genre.

Now I've Got A Witness is a monaural jewel. The sound on it is simply superb. I'm King Bee has Mick Jagger adopting that affected supposedly-American accent most obviously for the first time. Once again, the sound on this just takes your breath away with its clarity. Keith Richards nails the riff on Chuck Berry's Carol, which is another copper-bottomed corker.

Tell Me (You're Coming Back) is, as mentioned earlier, Jagger and Richards' first song and you can tell. It has that typical mid-sixties Stones sound that the other songs don't have. That mid-paced, electric and acoustic guitar backed sound. It has an excellent guitar solo near the end too. It is a bit of an underrated early Stones number.

Obviously this album's wide-reaching effect was far greater than the sum of its parts, but it is still a most uplifting, invigorating listen, all these years later.



Something notable about The Rolling Stones' output throughout the sixties was the absolute wealth of non-album tracks. Those from this period of their career were the first single, Chuck Berry's Come On, the follow up, Muddy WatersI Want To Be Loved, Lennon & McCartney's I Wanna Be Your Man (the only song recorded by both The Beatles and The Stones) and the bluesy virtually instrumental groove of Stoned. They all date from 1963.

12 x 5 (1964)


Around And Around/Confessin' The Blues/Empty Heart/Time Is On My Side/Good Times, Bad Times/It's All Over Now/2120 South Michigan Avenue/Under The Boardwalk/Congratulations/Grown Up Wrong/If You Need Me/Suzie Q   

"What are those records you've got there..."  - Keith Richards (apocryphal)
                                                
This album was actually only released in the USA, but it has long been available everywhere. It featured more Jagger/Richards compositions than the debut album from five months earlier. There were still several impressive, excitingly-played cover versions, though, notably Chuck Berry's rocking Around And AroundThe DriftersUnder The Boardwalk and Bobby Womack's It's All Over NowGrown Up Wrong is an excellent early Stones composition.

It is, once again, a vibrant, energetic album that cemented The Stones' reputation in the USA, as well as in the UK as the tracks eventually got released on the next two albums "No.2" and "Now".

With regard to the best way to listen to it, as with the debut album, the mono version of the album taken from the excellent Rolling Stones In Mono box set is simply wonderful, with a huge, bassy sound shaking your floor. Just check out Around And Around. Sublime. Having said that, the ABKCO remaster of the album has six songs in stereo - Around And AroundConfessin' The BluesEmpty HeartMichigan Avenue,  If You Need Me and It's All Over Now and these sound absolutely magnificent too.

All these early Stones albums, whether in the UK or US format are excellent and worth checking out. There is a youthful, irrepressible energy to them all.



Some non-album tracks from this general era were covers of Benny Spellman's Fortune TellerThe CoastersPoison IvyChuck Berry's Bye Bye Johnny and Barrett Strong's Money. These all date from 1964.

The Rolling Stones #2


Everybody Needs Somebody To Love/Down Home Girl/You Can't Catch Me/Time Is On My Side/What A Shame/Grown Up Wrong/Down The Road Apiece/Under The Boardwalk/I Can't Be Satisfied/Pain In My Heart/Off The Hook/Suzie Q 

"We weren't layabouts" - Brian Jones    

They are strange things, these early Rolling Stones albums, in that there are UK and US versions (similar to The Beatles) and tracks from one album crop up on another or don't appear at all on an album and so on.                                                  

This is basically the group's second UK album and includes some tracks that appeared on the US-only "12 x 5" and some that would appear on the forthcoming US-only release, "The Rolling Stones, Now!". Like the group's debut album it contained a fair few r 'n' b cover versions, notably Chuck Berry's You Can't Catch MeSolomon Burke's Everybody Needs Somebody To Love and Muddy WatersI Can't Be Satisfied. The Stones covered this sort of material so well. Mick Jagger gives Somebody To Love an almost ad hoc, almost "live" feel. Jagger/Richards compositions were now also beginning to make themselves known - What A ShameGrown Up Wrong and Off The Hook are on this one. It is the next step in their development. Of course, individual non-album singles were also being released at the same time.



When the early albums were remastered in 2002 by ABKCO, they overlooked this one (as they did the UK version of The Rolling Stones, the group's first album), so it is pretty difficult to get hold of individually. It is available in its original form as part of the excellent Rolling Stones In Mono box set. The sound on all these early albums in mono is mind-blowingly good - full, powerful, bassy and crystal clear. Perfect mono. Stereo versions of What A Shame and the infectious Down The Road Apiece appear on the ABKCO version of The Rolling Stones, Now!. These are really impressive but listening to the album in booming, bassy mono is a highly recommended experience.

 

The Rolling Stones Now! (1965)


Everybody Needs Somebody To Love/Down Home Girl/You Can't Catch Me/Heart Of Stone/What A Shame/Mona (I Need You Baby)/Down The Road Apiece/Off The Hook/Pain In My Heart/Oh Baby (We Got A Good Thing Goin')/Little Red Rooster/Surprise, Surprise 

"Everything we did had to be connected with rhythm and blues" - Brian Jones
                                                 
This is another of those US-only early Rolling Stones releases, coming just after the UK release of Rolling Stones No. 2. It was released on CD by ABKCO in 2002 with three of the tracks in stereo - Heart Of StoneWhat A Shame  and Down The Road Apiece. They all sound incredibly good it has to be said. Sixties stereo at its very best. The others were in mono, but also of seriously good quality, particularly the crystal clear blues of Little Red Rooster, the cod-Southern States drawling Down Home Girl and Chuck Berry's rocking soul/blues of You Can't Catch Me. Indeed, Rooster in mono is a thing of beauty.

The album is also included, in wonderful pure mono, on the incredibly impressive Rolling Stones In Mono box set. Listening to it in perfect, bassy, powerful mono via this box set is, for me, the best way of listening to the album, although as I said earlier the three stereo tracks from the ABKCO remaster sound incredibly good too.

This was a fine album, actually, a nice mix of solid blues covers and Jagger/Richards originals. The sound quality is the best of the four UK and US albums released thus far. It is my favourite collection of songs on these early Stones albums. You simply can't beat Little Red RoosterDown The Road ApieceOff The Hook, the blues of Pain In My Heart and You Can't Catch Me are all personal high points. The bluesy early Stones at their very best. I will never tire of giving this album a listen.



Out Of Our Heads (1965) & December's Children (1965)

  

Out Of Our Heads released September 1965

December's Children released December 1965

Out Of Our Heads, along with December's Children was one of those confusing UK/US released albums which varied considerably between each release. Out Of Our Heads was released in both countries, and December's Children was a US-only release. All of the albums contained some of the same songs, but also significant changes.

These were the albums, and the year, 1965, which saw The Rolling Stones really start to stand on their on two feet as a credible rock band singing their own credible rock songs. Yes, each album contained contemporary soul covers as well (as opposed to the r 'n' b covers of their 1964 albums), but they also had some seriously good Jagger/Richards original compositions, such as Satisfaction and Get Off My Cloud. Even the covers now showed The Stones to be masters of their art, a band in total control. These albums would, however, be the last of their albums to include covers. Aftermath in 1966, would be completely made up of Jagger/Richards songs. The inclusion of a few live tracks dotted around in these albums was pretty superfluous and detracts from the quality.

  

The albums were recorded in mono and are best listened to either via the ABKCO 2002 remasters or as part of the excellent Rolling Stones In Mono box set. The sound on the latter is truly superb - speaker-pounding and floor-shaking in its pure mono, vibrant, heavy bassy, centred sound. Just listen to that throbbing bass and clear, jangling guitar on Oh Baby (We Got A Good Thing Goin')Some have a poor sound that no amount of remastering will cure, I am thinking particularly of She Said Yeah.

Overall, however, these are albums that are very much part of a time of change for The Stones. They were their Beatles For Sale.

Here are the track listings for each release:-

Out Of Our Heads UK - She Said Yeah/Mercy Mercy/Hitch Hike/That's How Strong My Love Is/Good Times/Gotta Get Away/Talkin' 'Bout You/Cry To Me/Oh Baby (We Got A Good Thing Goin')/Heart Of Stone/The Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man/I'm Free

Out Of Our Heads US - Mercy Mercy/Hitch Hike/The Last Time/That's How Strong My Love Is/Good Times/I'm Alright (live)/(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction/Cry To Me/The Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man/Play With Fire/The Spider And The Fly/One More Try

December's Children US - She Said Yeah/Talkin' 'Bout You/You Better Move On/Look What You've Done/The Singer Not The Song/Route 66 (live)/Get Off My Cloud/I'm Free/As Tears Go By/Gotta Get Away/Blue Turns To Grey/I'm Movin' On




Also dating from 1965 is a pretty good cover of Otis Redding's I've Been Loving You Too Long. It was a studio recording overdubbed with crowd noises on the Got Live If You Want It album. The best version has the crowd noises taken off and is included on The Rolling Stones In Mono Box Set. a cover of The TemptationsMy Girl was recorded in mid-1965 with extra strings added in mid-1966. It is not a patch on the original, Jagger's voice sounding particularly clumsy.

Most of the material from this period was included on one of the albums discussed above, so there was not much else left over.

On Air At The BBC (1963-1965)


Recorded at the BBC in various sessions between 1963 and 1965

This is an excellent release of Live at the BBC recordings from the first two years of The Rolling Stones’ career.

What is a bit irritating is that the performances are not synchronised in any particular chronological order. Digitally, I have remedied this by numbering the tracks in the correct order. I find it makes for a better listening experience.

The sound quality on this double CD “deluxe edition” is variable, from the surprisingly impressive to the not quite so good. The three 1963 tracks from The Saturday Club are really very good indeed, clear and sharp. Roll Over Beethoven is certainly a rarity. The four 1964 tracks from Blues And Rhythm are similarly good. It really is a pleasure to listen to the band so tight, so early in their career. Mick Jagger was already perfectly his “transatlantic drawl”, however. Great to hear You Better Move On from these sessions. It really is surprising just how good some of these recordings sound, after all this time.

The 1964 Top Gear cuts are not quite so good. A few slight sound drops and they are mono as opposed to stereo, sounding as if they are being played on a 1960s transistor radio. Still listenable though. Nice to hear Crackin' Up, which of course would resurface on 1977’s Love You Live. I Can't Be Satisfied is a welcome addition too.

1964’s Saturday Club material is much worse, however. Very muffled. Surprising, considering 1963’s material from the same show was so good. Carol is a little better than I Wanna Be Your ManWalking The Dog has nice bass reproduction but is still somewhat muffled.



I Just Want To Make Love To You has slightly better sound but is blighted by screaming girls like on the Got Live If You Want It recording. The Joe Loss Pop Show songs are even worse for general sound quality. Strange how, chronologically, the sound gets worse! After a while, though, you get used to it. The quality returns, though, with the material from Rhythm And Blues from 1965.  Also the next bunch of Saturday Club stuff, with a rousing Satisfaction and Oh Baby We Got A Good Thing GoingCry To Me sounds great too.

The tracks from Yeah Yeah are even better. An excellent, bassy Spider And The Fly. The Top Gear tracks end things on a high.

Overall, an interesting listen.

THE MID-SIXTIES (1966-1967)



As The Rolling Stones started, like The Beatles, to put out full albums of their own material, we moved nearer to the indulgent excesses of the psychedelic era. This was a period that never suited The Stones and it resulted in one of their most ill-conceived albums.

Aftermath (1966)


Mother's Little Helper/Stupid Girl/Lady Jane/Under My Thumb/Doncha Bother Me/Goin' Home/Flight 505/High And Dry/Out Of Time/It's Not Easy/I Am Waiting/Take It Or leave It/Think/What To Do 

"It finally laid to rest the ghost of having to do these very nice and interesting, no doubt, but still, cover versions of old R&B songs – which we didn't really feel we were doing justice, to be perfectly honest" - Mick Jagger                          

Aftermath, released in early 1966, and recorded, for the first time, in the USA, was something of a turning point in The Rolling Stones’ career. After several albums that featured quite a few r’n’b the and blues covers, this was the first album to feature only Jagger and Richards songs. Granted, there were a few throwaway songs, a little bit of “filler”, included among the album’s fourteen songs. But, make no mistake, this was seen as a “serious” album. It also included an eleven minute blues jam in Goin' Home, a highly unusual thing among popular music albums of the day. The album is clocked in at fifty minutes in length, another notable thing. Most contemporary albums were around thirty minutes in length. The album also saw Brian Jones’ skill as a multi-instrumentalist feature heavily. He played, among other things, marimba, sitar and organ. The song writing of Jagger and Richards was also developing at quite a pace, however, some puerility still existed in their schoolboyishly sexist lyrics at times, notably in Stupid Girl and Under My Thumb, with its pompous put-downs. The album’s lively opener, Mother's Little Helper sung in Jagger’s affected “mockney” voice, was patronising, lyrically, to say the least. No matter, really, though. They were still comparatively young. Check out the slightly disconcerting picture below dating from the period, though.

Both Stupid Girl and Under My Thumb, though, have great riffs and hooks, as does the soulful Out Of Time, a huge hit for Chris Farlowe, and the catchy Flight 505. The lively blues rock of It's Not Easy and the thumping, bassy, folky blues of High And Dry are also both upbeat, appealing numbers as indeed, is the unique, Elizabethan-influenced Lady Jane, with Brian Jones on medieval dulcimer. A similar instrumental vibe exists in I Am Waiting before it bursts in to a slightly overloud chorus. The track reminds me of something else but I can’t put my finger on what. Something by The Kinks or Cream, maybe?

Dontcha Bother Me has a great slide blues guitar riff, but it is a bit “blues by numbers”. Enjoyable enough though. Sounds great in mono. What To Do is a bit like The Beatles country rock outings, and has some poor Beach Boys “mba-ba-ba” backing vocals, which were unnecessary. Think has some interesting instrumentation, but is unremarkable otherwise. Standard mid-60s pop. Take It Or Leave It is a melodic, emotive and catchy ballad with a sad, mournful chorus. A nice song.

The sound in both stereo and mono is impressive. The mono is much more powerful and bassy than the follow up, Between The Buttons.  Returning to this album, I realise I should do so more often. It is not at all bad. It must be tempered, though, with the realisation that Beggars’ Banquet was only two years away. Maybe it wasn’t quite so good...



Non-album material from this album's period included the hit single 19th Nervous Breakdown, which mined the same seam as Mother's Little Helper and contained Bill Wyman's epic rubbery bass line run near the end. Its b side in the USA, but not the UK, was the bluesy ballad Sad Day, which also featured a bit of that Elizabethan-style keyboards too. Also from the same late 1965 sessions was the underrated Ride On Baby, which was covered, admittedly better, by Chris Farlowe and the jaunty, surprisingly lightweight Sittin' On A Fence. Then there was the excellent single of Paint It, Black, of course, and its solid blues-influenced b side, Long Long While.

Between The Buttons (1967)


Yesterday's Papers/My Obsession/Back Street Girl/Connection/She Smiled Sweetly/Cool, Calm And Collected/All Sold Out/Please Go Home/Who's Been Sleeping Here?/Complicated/Miss Amanda Jones/Something Happened To Me Yesterday 

 "I don't know, it just isn't any good. 'Back Street Girl' is about the only one I like." - Mick Jagger
         
This was The Stones last "60s pop/rock" album, before the psychedelic experiment of Satanic Majesties and then the blues rock of Beggars' Banquet. In that respect it marks the end of an era, although on the other hand it marks the start of proper, fully constructed albums, with a vastly-improved sound quality from the tinniness and monaural airs of the earlier albums. It is an often-forgotten album though, the band rarely, if ever, resurrect any of its tracks to play live (apart from Connection) and the tracks just sort of come and go when one listens to it. They all seem a bit throwaway, often dominated by an unaccompanied bit of Charlie Watts drumming, such as on the two lively openers, Yesterday's Papers and My Obsession.

The Stones seem almost polite and shy-ish on much of the album's material - certainly no Get Off My Cloud defiance, Stupid Girl misogyny or Let's Spend The Night Together lust. Jagger's beautiful vocal over Brian Jones piano-accordion is typical of this. Like Lady Jane, it is almost Elizabethan in its instrumentation and ambience.

Connection is one of the rockiest numbers. One of the only ones with any sort of faint grit, or bluesiness. However, it ends far too quickly. It is soon back to the mild-mannered stuff though, with the non-lead guitar, organ-backed slowie She Smiled Sweetly. Jagger's saccharine vocal is not one of his best. Nice bass from Bill Wyman though. Cool, Calm And Collected is one of those quintessentially British, music-hall style rollicking singalongs best left to Paul McCartney and The Kinks (by whom this is so influenced). It certainly doesn't suit The Stones. Ray Davies could get away with that silly "posh" voice, such as on Dedicated Follower Of Fashion, but sung by Mick Jagger it just sounds ludicrous. One of the album's low points. It goes on too long, too.

All Sold Out is more like it, more typical of mid-60s Stones material. At last, a bit of Keith Richards guitar, and some pounding Watts drums. About time too. Some more bluesy guitar on Please Go Home, another impressive track with a Not Fade Away/Mona Bo Diddley rhythm. Apparently a "theramin" instrument was used on this to make weird noises. The Beach Boys had memorably used one on Good Vibrations not long before. The Stones did not really need to use gimmicky instruments like this, just use Keith's guitar, for God's sake. Who's Been Sleeping Here is also a good track, good vocal, nice bass and drums on a mid-pace rocker with even a bit of harmonica returning. Shades of Dylan's electric guitar/organ sound on here as well, together with oblique, mystifying lyrics. It wouldn't sounded out of place on Highway 61 Revisited.



That old Charlie Watts drum sound is back for the more typically Stones-sounding Complicated. It's ok, but basically sounds like a reject from AftermathMiss Amanda Jones expresses Jagger's fascination with "society" girls, as voiced before on Lady Jane and Play With Fire. Some Chuck Berry guitar prevails, thankfully, for the first time on the album. Keith Richards was criminally underused throughout. The album's best rocker.

Something Happened To Me Today was a Kinks meets The Beatles in a music hall unfortunate prelude to The Stones' derivative era - whistling, a tuba, some New Orleans jazz brass and those "posh" affected voices that would blight parts of Satanic Majesties. The Stones should never be doing stuff like this. Ever.

On Satanic Majesties, The Stones aped The Beatles, on this album they aped The Kinks. They were The Rolling Stones. They didn't need to ape anyone.



Not included on the album from its sessions was the lyrically odd Have You Seen Your Mother Baby, Standing in The Shadow?, which saw The Stones featuring a brass section for the first time. Its b side was the impressive blues rock of Who's Driving Your Plane? It was a single with two question marked titles. Another fine stand-alone single/b side combination was Ruby Tuesday and Let's Spend The Night Together, neither of which need any introduction.

Their Satanic Majesties Request (1967)


Sing This All Together/Citadel/In Another Land/2000 Man/Sing This All Together (See What Happens)/She's A Rainbow/The Lantern/Gomper/2000 Light Years From Home/On With The Show  

"Basically,'Satanic Majesties' was a load of crap" - Keith Richards

So, here we have The Rolling Stones most non-Rolling Stones album - a leap on to the "psychedelic" bandwagon with blatant echoes of The Beatles' recently-released Sgt Pepper (in June of the same year), musically, conceptually and artistically (the cover, in blue instead of red, was embarrassingly Pepper - influenced). Quite what possessed The Stones to come up with something like this is unclear, maybe they just thought "everybody's doing it, man" and went ahead, not wondering how it may appear. After all, groups like Pink Floyd, Traffic, The Kinks and Cream were all going weird. Why, even The Beach Boys were messing around with animal noises and multi-tracked, multi-instrumented "experimental" music. This was just The Stones' contribution to the vibe. Fair enough, I suppose, but it stands alone as one big mistake in so many ways. The Rolling Stones are just not suited to this sort of thing are they, in any way, and to be fair to this album, there had been hints on Between The Buttons that led to some of the material we were subjected to here. All that hippy philosophy and communal generosity of spirit did not sit easily with a band who preferred to be affectedly rude, perverse and very much out on a limb as opposed to being part of some perceived "movement".

The album provides the most obvious bridging point in The Stones' career. Gone was the 60s pop, the frantic blues covers and blues-influenced pop that so characterised the mid-60s. In was experimentation and ideas allowed to run away with themselves, particuarly as producer Andrew Loog Oldham had left, and The Stones reacted like kids chucking paper around when the teacher has had to leave the room. Yes, it is intriguing and, at times, there are some genuine inspirational moments in there, hidden away. However, maybe we should just take Keith Richards' word for it, that "basically, Satanic Majesties was a load of crap".    

                                 
Sing This All Together is a communal "we're all part of the show" (typical of the era), somewhat silly singalong introduction. However, at about two minutes in, it has some interesting eastern-sounding percussion bits on it. Despite the supposed animosity (mostly press conceived) between The Beatles and The Stones, John Lennon and Paul McCartney appear on backing vocals, in an All You Need Is Love conglomerate. Citadel is not a bad track at all, one of the album's best, featuring some chunky guitar riffing in addition to the obligatory swirling "psychedelic" keyboard sound and a distant Jagger vocal urging us to visit him in his citadel which exemplifies its mystifying lyrics. In Another Land, oddly and rarely, features Bill Wyman on vocals. This was not surprising, maybe, as he wrote the song (breaking the Jagger/Richards monopoly) and only he and Charlie Watts of the regular Stones appeared (fully, apart from later backing vocals) on it. Steve Marriott of The Small Faces played guitar and Nicky Hopkins played piano. It has one of those medieval-sounding keyboard pieces. It has echo, reverb vocals and a general 1967 "hippy rock" sound that often sounds more like Pink Floyd or Cream or Traffic with hints of The Kinks than it does The Beatles, although the drum sound is very Ringo. I have to say that the snoring at the end has always put me a little on edge.

2000 Man, is not too dissimilar to a lot of the material on Between The Buttons - the jangly guitar and the rhythmic, sometimes unaccompanied drum sound and some lyrics typical of the era. Again, something about it all that has touches of what The Kinks were doing at the same time. Quite a bit of studio trickery was involved in its production too. It all sounds a bit tinny, however.



Sing This All Together (See What Happens) has a woodwind introduction that is pure 1967 Beatles but then we get a rather seductive guitar/drum/weird sounds part and some horn parts. It all has considerable appeal. Some excellent bluesy guitar a couple of minutes in, some more funny noises and it all just continues like some blurry drug-addled party. However, an eight minute jam with a few good bits and some unusual instruments, such as The Beach Boys' favourite - the theramin - makes for a testing listen, to be honest. As I said, it has its attraction, but it really just doesn't sound much like The Stones as anyone knew them. I should imagine many people at the time thought 'so this is what taking drugs does to you' and decided against it.

She's A Rainbow is a brilliant, addictive piece of pure 1967 in the same vein as Love's She Comes In Colours. It has an unforgettable keyboard hook and an affecting Jagger vocal. It just sums up the zeitgeist, man. The Lantern has some genuinely impressive bits - very Beatles-ish psychedelic, with that Starr-inspired  drum sound again. However, it was not all derivative, there is some excellent guitar and piano and Jagger's vocal is one of his best on what was not a great album for him. Gomper is the album's Within You Without You - the tabla drum sound, Eastern quasi-religious ambience and dreamy lyrics. Some great guitar sounds also make for a interesting listening experience but, let's face it, it is so Harrison it's untrue. To be fair to Brian Jones, though, he had been into Eastern instruments long before Harrison.

Incidentally, at this point I must say that the album sounds much better in stereo than it does in mono, mainly due to all those strange sounds floating around. It is particularly noticeable on this track, although I have to admit that 2000 Light Years From Home sounds truly awesome in mono.

Along with communality and peace, the other leitmotif of the era was space travel. It was here that The Stones produced something that was ahead of the game. 2000 Light Years From Home got on the space rocket a few years before others, expressing the perceived loneliness of space travel before David Bowie (Space Oddity) and Elton John (Rocket Man), and the mystery of space travel in general long before Hawkwind's 1972 Silver Machine single. Instrumentally, it is also a most impressive track, great drum sound and psychedelic guitars and an ethereal vocal. It is by far the high point on the album. Along with She's A Rainbow they were the album's only two really properly memorable tracks. The others just sort of wash over you, seemingly incomplete in some way, however good parts of them are.

On With The Show was a blatant tap-in to Lennon's circus imagery of Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite!, almost embarrassingly so. It also uses those "posh" English voice samples that had crept in to Something Happened To Me Yesterday on Between The Buttons. No need for all this silliness. The Stones needed a sea change, quickly. They needed to move onward and upwards while revisiting their roots. In 1968 they would do just that, and some.



The two non-album tracks that appeared as a single were the Moroccan-influenced dirge We Love You (featuring John Lennon and Paul McCartney on backing vocals) and the hippy-ish Dandelion, which seemed a bit of a throwback in 1967. Thankfully, stronger stuff was just around the corner.

THE "BIG FOUR" (1968-1972)



For many, these four albums, released between 1968 and 1972 are all the Stones you need. A bit excessive, maybe, but there is a compelling case for this four year period containing the very essence of The Rolling Stones at their swaggering, seedy best.

Beggars' Banquet (1968)


Sympathy For The Devil/No Expectations/Dear Doctor/Parachute Woman/Jigsaw Puzzle/Street Fighting Man/Prodigal Son/Stray Cat Blues/Factory Girl/Salt Of The Earth 

"...And the others, particularly Mick and Keith, would often say to me, 'Just tell him to piss off and get the hell out of here'..." - Jimmy Miller
    
After the ill-advised and uncharacteristic venture into psychedelia that was 1967's Their Satanic Majesties Request, The Rolling Stones were in dire need of a re-discovery or reassertion, whatever the case may be, of both their image and their musical roots. They needed to get away from the counterfeit feelings of "community" and hippy love for all that they seemed to have drifted into, almost unwittingly. Musically, they needed to forget about matching The Beatles, forget psychedelia and get back to their blues rock roots.

They did exactly that with this, one of the "big four" albums that straddled the end of the sixties and the beginning of the seventies - Let It BleedSticky Fingers and Exile On Main Street. Blending blues rock with nods to early delta blues and Americana-style country music they adopted their "bad boys of rock" personae once more and became the band parents didn't want the children liking, the band that was indeed the spawn of the devil.  
                            
The old devil thing was never given greater significance than in the album's dramatic, iconic opener, Sympathy For The Devil  - a menacing, intoxicating devilish brew of mesmeric voodoo-influenced percussion, searing Keith Richards guitar, insistent "woo-ooh" backing vocals and one of Mick Jagger's best ever sneering vocals. An absolute Stones classic. I can never hear it too many times, it sounds great every time, really.

From then on it was blues to the fore in the stark, bass and slide guitar-driven No Expectations, with its plaintive, bluesy vocal and laid-back, dusty blues sound. Dear Doctor was a bit more upbeat, but it was still very much "blues" in its ambience - acoustic guitar again and a wailing harmonica in the background and Jagger leering away in his best cod-US accent. The Stones were cementing themselves solidly now as blues rockers, no messing around with songs about space travel, Eastern mysticism or British music hall pastiches. This "new Stones" would see them through another five decades and counting. Richards was responsible for a lot of this blues influence, particularly as the group's other real blues aficionado, Brian Jones, became an increasingly infrequent visitor to the sessions, due to his burgeoning drug abuse. Richards took on much of Jones' workload and it became arguably his finest set of contributions to a Stones album, and that is saying something. As for Jones, producer Jimmy Miller had this to say -

"....and the others, particularly Mick and Keith, would often say to me, 'Just tell him to piss off and get the hell out of here'...". How sad that it had come to this.



Anyway, on the the blues offerings again - Parachute Woman was a chugging, solid blues rocker with some superb guitar and another great, slightly slurred vocal - the bluesy Stones really were back - and how. Jisgaw Puzzle began with some excellent slide guitar, a bassy vibe, rocking piano and lyrics that were decidedly influenced by Bob Dylan's Desolation Row - "here comes the Bishop's daughter..". The Dylan influence is also there in Jagger's vocal delivery and it is more rocky than the previous three definitely blues numbers.

The same applies to the next track and even more so - it is Street Fighting Man, an ideal anthem for the turbulent summer of 1968, which saw students rioting in the streets (pictured at the bottom of the review) and fighting running battles with police, particularly in Paris. The song takes Martha Reeves & The VandellasDancing In The Street and paraphrases its title and meaning into something darker. Musically, it gives us the first truly great guitar "riff intro" since possibly Get Off My Cloud or Under My Thumb and Jagger's affected vocal - "my name is called disturBOWANCE". Great stuff. As a ten year old boy who had always preferred The Stones to those milksop Beatles, this was music to my young ears. This was how I wanted my Stones to sound, even then.

 

The Delta blues was well and truly back again with the acoustic blues of Prodigal Son, a rambling, thumping blues about feeding swine and killing the fatted calf. After three years of treading lightweight sixties water, The Stones were made for this sort of material as the sixties came to an uncertain end. The menace and parental disapproval returned for Stray Cat Blues about it being "no hanging matter, no capital crime" to have sex with a fifteen year old. Different times indeed. The Stones were re-revealing themselves as rude, haughty, arrogant and rough-edged and one feels the music scene needed them to be like that. Musically, the song ends with a great piece of Richards guitar similar to that used in Sympathy For The Devil.

Factory Girl is a lively, acoustic guitar and percussion piece of country-style rock. Rather than aping The Beatles as they had foolishly tried to do on some of Satanic Majesties, The Stones were very much in The Band of The Basement Tapes territory now, although the music still had their own unique stamp on it.

Salt Of The Earth is an anthem to the honest working class which is a little bit incongruous, to be honest, but it is a pretty good slow rocker with a lazy singalong gospel-style chorus.

1968 would prove to be the beginning of The Rolling Stones' best four years. This album heralded it perfectly.

The sound on the stereo remaster is superb, incidentally.  I have it in its "un-pure" folded-down mono too, but it just doesn't quite compare. Having said that, the bluesy tracks like No ExpectationsJigsaw Puzzle and Prodigal Son sound thumpingly, speaker-shakingly wonderful in their contrived mono incarnations, so there are benefits to listening to both. Apparently, Sympathy For The Devil is the only track that was ever recorded in dedicated mono.



The non-album material from 1968 included the barnstorming menace of Jumpin' Jack Flash and its excellent, psychedelic rock 'b' side Child Of The Moon. It was one of the great non-album singles and b side releases. The other surviving track from the sessions for the album is the 1966-ish Family. It is a bit of a directionless track with odd lyrics about a girl wanting to be a prostitute that was probably best left off the eventual album. Jagger's vocal on it is a bit similar to that used on Jigsaw Puzzle.



Let It Bleed (1969)


Gimme Shelter/Love In Vain/Country Honk/Live With Me/Let It Bleed/Midnight Rambler/You Got The Silver/Monkey Man/You Can't Always Get What You Want   

"The album extends the rock and blues feel of Beggars Banquet into slightly harder-rocking, more demonically sexual territory" - Richie Unterberger - AllMusic 

The Rolling Stones said goodbye to the decade that spawned them, the sixties, with another of their "big four" albums that straddled the turn of the decade that had begun so successfully with the previous year's blues rock masterpiece that was the magnificent Beggars' Banquet. With the emphasis a bit more towards "rock" than "blues" on this album, it is pretty much the equal of BB in many ways.
      
The Stones were now firmly established a the masters of riff-domniated rock with a bluesy touch and this is exemplified magnificently in the iconic opener, Gimme Shelter. With a mesmeric opening guitar part and some typically drawled vocals from Mick Jagger it is a true tour de force. Certainly one of their best ever introsA candidate for The Stones' best ever track. For me, though, it has always been a bit blighted by a more muffled sound than features on any of the album's other tracks.

Love In Vain is a convincing return to the Delta blues style of the previous album, all acoustic and wailing, twanging bottleneck guitars and laid back bluesy vocals - "All your love's in voin". One of The Stones' best ever blues, if not the best. Keith Richards' blues from later in the album, You Got The Silver is from the same mould, but a bit more muscular in its rock drum backing. Country Honk sees a re-adoption of the country rock, Americana-influenced style used on the previous album's Factory Girl. Here it produces a backwoods fiddle-dominated version of the big non-album hit single, Honky Tonk Woman. It was nowhere near as good as the single, I have to say, but it somehow fits the album and, to be honest I prefer it used here like this to using the single version.

The album's big blues rock anthem is the sprawling, menacing Midnight Rambler with Jagger and guitarist Mick Taylor on superb form. Just check out that insistent, rumbling drum/guitar/harmonica intro. Just before this mighty track are two wonderful rockers - the leery Live With Me with its thumping drum sound and the acoustic/piano/drums of the the lazily lusty Let It Bleed. Again, Jagger's odd phrasing is to the fore as on Beggars' Banquet - "we all need somewowwhn to lean owwhn". His sometimes quite ludicrous voice is perfect though, it wouldn't be the same with anyone else, or indeed anywoh-an else.

Similarly, Monkey Man ("Monn-kayy My-een") is just as it should be on another of the album's copper-bottomed Stones down 'n' dirty rockers. That sort of sums this album up - it certainly is down 'n' dirty, axle-grease caked blues rock. Indeed, Jagger refers to "my dirtyfilthy basement" in Let It Bleed. It sounds like the whole album was recorded in that basement.

Incidentally, Live With Me saw the first appearance of eventually legendary saxophonist Bobby Keys with The Stones.

Then there is one more genuine Stones anthem to end proceedings, the even mightier You Can't Always Get ("git") What You Want - an extended rock anthem with build-up shades of Jimi Hendrix's The Wind Cries Mary and an invigorating gospel choir massive, dramatic ending. The choir is used at the beginning and end of the song and remain somewhat detached from the song's sleazily infectious main part. I guess the song could have been done without the choir, but we are all so used to it now that it would sound odd any other way, wouldn't it? Indeed, the single version of the song omits the choir at the beginning but I have always preferred the full monty.

Overall, this album was The Rolling Stones at their absolute best. For me, it probably beats all the others - just.

Finally, there is a "mono" (see below) edition of this album in The Rolling Stones In Mono box set. After initially thinking that it was stereo all the way for this album I have found my attitude to the mono recording softening considerably. Apparently it was never recorded in "pure" mono but is a fold-down mono version of the stereo, whatever that is. As readers of this blog may know, I am certainly no audiophile. What I do know is the "mono" version of the album actually sounds fantastic - deep, resonant and bassy, thumping out of the centre of the speakers in an incredibly powerful fashion.

Culturally, the sixties ended in so many ways with this album and then The Stones' catastrophic decade-ending open-air concert at Altamont, in December 1969, Northern California (pictured below). The event was the very opposite of that summer's peace and love vibe of Woodstock. Much has been written about it elsewhere, so I have concentrated on the music, which deserves to be assessed in isolation from the event that so blighted it at the time.



Like Jumpin' Jack Flash in 1968, 1969 yielded a corker of a stand-alone single in the cowbell-driven sleazy glory of Honky Tonk Women. The song sounds great in either stereo or mono. Mick Jagger also cut the underrated but highly impressive bluesy rocker, Memo From Turner.

The blues rock of Jiving Sister Fanny and the afore-mentioned Memo From Turner are excellent, but Downtown Suzie, with its airs of Dylan's Rainy Day Women and awful backing vocals, was best left on the cutting-room floor. Their cover of Stevie Wonder's I Don't Know Why is muscular, with a rocking guitar solo and powerful brass backing. They make it sound like a bluesy Stones rocker. The guitar-driven rock of I'm Going Down uses a riff they would apply a lot more in the seventies and eighties.

Let It Bleed (The 2019 Remaster)


Gimme Shelter/Love In Vain/Country Honk/Live With Me/Let It Bleed/Midnight Rambler/You Got The Silver/Monkey Man/You Can't Always Get What You Want  

"...If you listen on a good set of speakers or good headphones, you’ll hear subtle things in the background that are now much more clear that were somewhat hidden before..." - Bob Ludwig  

It has always been about the music, for me, I am not interested in coffee table books, pictures of Mick Jagger or sleeve notes. I fully accept that £140 is a ludicrous price to pay for the vinyl box set and it is a price I would never, ever consider paying. However, I am prepared to purchase the download remaster ( I am listening to it via a streaming service at present), particularly as it has been remastered by the legendary, respected knob-tweaking fingers of Bob Ludwig.
                                    
So, does it sound any different? The previous remaster sounds excellent, so this one would need to go some to match it. In some tiny respects it does and is worth owning, for me. Just. The changes are VERY subtle, however, particularly to my proudly non-audiophile ears. This is what Ludwig has recently said about it -

'...If you listen on a good set of speakers or good headphones, you’ll hear subtle things in the background that are now much more clear that were somewhat hidden before...".

He is right. I am able to pick up little bits here and there - nuances in the guitar, oomph in the bass or the drums, just small bits that make me think "hold on, that isn't on the previous remaster". I keep listening to the songs side by side and there are a few differences, but they are unfortunately so minute as to render it virtually impossible for me to really describe them effectively. I have listened to it through several times and feel that Love In Vain, Live With Me, Midnight Rambler, Monkey Man and You Can't Always Get What You Want possibly sound better than on the previous remaster, but Gimme Shelter possibly sounds worse. Or maybe I'm just imagining it all? It is that difficult to pin down.

There you go. I am sorry if I have not really provided a concrete answer about the sound. I have tried my best!

Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out (1969)


A brief diversion, no, for possibly The Stones' best live album. Yes, the original Ya-Ya's album is a superb offering. Now remastered by Bob Ludwig, it captures The Rolling Stones at the peak of their live powers in November 1969 at New York City's Madison Square Garden. The performance is pulsating from the opening bars of Jumping Jack Flash through to a storming Street Fighting Man. Good to hear Carol and Little Queenie in there and Live With Me is always welcome in my book. Apparently Sympathy For The Devil was song three on the actual set list, this is alterable if you are playing it digitally.

I owned the album anyway, and a real motivation for me was to have the five "bonus" tracks that were previously unreleased. You get a great version of Under My Thumb; the folky blues of Prodigal SonI'm Free; more blues in You Gotta Move (which had not appeared on an album as yet, it ended up on 1971's Sticky Fingers; and Satisfaction. Good to have the live "set" (taken from two consecutive nights) expanded from the original. Again, digitally, one can arrange the whole 15 song setlist in the order as played.

Also of interest to was the live material from the show's wonderful opening acts - B.B. King and Ike & Tina Turner. What support acts! The King material is superb. In many ways I enjoy listening to this material more than The Stones because I have heard it less. Check out the guitar/bass interplay in That's Wrong Little Mama. Phenomenal. Why I Sing The Blues. Wow. What a bassline. King's lead guitar blows you away. You can hear the sell-out crowd loving it too. Oh to have been there.


Ike and Tina Turner's set was suitably frenetic from the opening instrumental cover of Spencer Davis'Gimme Some Lovin' that segues into Arthur Conley's Sweet Soul Music. When Tina first sings "do you like good music", it sends shivers down my spine. Then they do a soulful Son Of A Preacher Man before it's time to do the next song - Proud Mary, of course. Unfortunately without the "nice...and...slow" build up. No matter.

It is so rewarding to get this material alongside The Stones' show and it just makes you reflect on what a great night it must have been.

The sound quality on the whole thing is top quality. Nice and bassy, which always suits me.

THE ROLLING STONES

Jumpin' Jack Flash/Carol/Stray Cat Blues/Love In Vain/Midnight Rambler/Sympathy For The Devil/Live With Me/Little Queenie/Honky Tonk Women/Street Fighting Man/Prodigal Son/You Gotta Move/Under My Thumb/I'm Free/Satisfaction                                       

B.B. KING

Everyday I Have The Blues/How Blue Can You Get/That's Wrong Little Mama/Why I Sing The Blues/Please Accept My Love   
                                  
IKE & TINA TURNER

Gimme Some Loving/Sweet Soul Music/Son Of A Preacher Man/Proud Mary/I've Been Loving You Too Long/Come Together/Land Of A Thousand Dances   


Sticky Fingers (1971)


THE ORIGINAL ALBUM/Brown Sugar/Sway/Wild Horses/Can't You Hear Me Knocking/You Gotta Move/Bitch/I Got The Blues/Sister Morphine/Dead Flowers/Moonlight Mile

"I'm no schoolboy but I know what I like..."  

The Stones began the seventies as they would carry on through the decade - drug-addled, indulgently decadent, slightly bitter and cocksure. This album magnificently sums all that up - they met the Devil at the crossroads and in return for staying true to their blues roots they had to promise to take lots of drugs. They do that to the max on this largely bluesy but also blatantly narcotic corker of an offering.

You simply cannot beat the riffy, sleazy glory of Brown Sugar, can you? Dodgy lyrics and all. It is up there as a candidate for the best Stones song of all time - the iconic opening riff, Jagger’s leery vocal, Bobby Keys’ blistering sax - I’m no schoolboy but I know what I like...and I have done since 1971 when I was one. Some have criticised the song for its more obvious commercial sound compared to the rest of the album. Sometimes some critics astound me - so it’s catchy, lively and gets you off your feet - so it should, it’s The Rolling Stones.

Then, from the rock of Brown Sugar we are straight into the assured, confident and down’n’dirty blues sway of, yes, Sway. What an apt title for this loose, almost lazy-sounding serving of cookin’ blues rock. Once again, it is another example of The Stones at their very best, as, of course, is the slow grandeur of Wild Horses. If Brown Sugar is one of their best rockers, the this is one of the best ballad. Building up slowly, it bursts into huge life on the chorus when Charlie Watts’ solid, steady drums kick in. It has a country feel to it, too, and indeed first appeared as a cover by The Flying Burrito Brothers. The classics keep coming in the grinding Can’t You Hear Me Knocking, with its introductory vocal part followed by an intoxicating, extended instrumental workout full of rhythmic percussion, seductive sax, blaring horns and insistent guitar interjections.

Four better opening tracks to a Stones album you would do well to equal - rock, blues, balladry and instrumental innovation, one after the other.

The Delta blues arrive with the authentic bottleneck guitar strains of You Gotta Move, a chunky old blues cover that continues the Stones’ tradition of covering this sort of material since the early days. It harks back to the blues minimalism of Little Red RoosterLove In Vain and No Expectations.

Want a bit more copper-bottomed Stones rock? Then check out the grubby but glorious swagger of the horn-drenched Bitch. The horns take this one home from the very start and Jagger addresses Charlie in the lyrics for, I think, the only time. It is one of my all-time favourite Stones rockers. It kicks ass, big time. I would put it on any “best of” compilation. Never have The Stones used horns so effectively.


You are never far from the blues on this album, though, and we return to them with the slow and dignified brassy blues of I Got The Blues. Again, it is most powerfully enhanced by the horn section. Thinking about it, only Brown Sugar, parts of Can’t You Hear Me Knocking and Bitch are essentially rock tracks. The rest of the album is blues-based, with a few nods to country.

One of the group’s most bleak, depressing songs is the hard-hitting and stark Sister Morphine“Why does the doctor have no face?” asks Jagger, in drug-addled character. Not many songs makes drug taking so horrifyingly unattractive as this one does, but, despite that it is a miserable masterpiece. The guitar on it is superb - Mick Taylor, I think. His contributions throughout the album are magnificent. Stones guitar was never just Keith Richards and Taylor was truly spectacular for a few years.

The Stones always enjoyed delving into country, and they do so here on the enjoyable romp of Dead Flowers, with Jagger hamming up the cod-country accent. The album ends with a dense, slightly Van Morrison-esque chugging ballad in Moonlight Mile, a song that merges a country maudlin feeling with a slow rock muscularity to great effect. It is a pretty difficult song to analyse or pigeonhole, particularly when the sweeping, cinematic strings arrive halfway through.

Along with Let It Bleed, its predecessor, this has a strong case for being The Stones’ best album. I might just plump for the former, but only just, for this one kicked off the seventies in superb rocking, chunky blues fashion.

THE STUDIO EXTRAS/Brown Sugar/Wild Horses/Can't You Hear Me Knocking/Bitch/Dead Flowers

Brown Sugar with Eric Clapton on it is very enjoyable, Clapton's whining guitar adding something extra. While not out-doing the original it is certainly interesting. The acoustic take of Wild Horses has a stripped down beauty. Lovely acoustic guitar on it, particularly at the three minute mark. The sound is crystal clear. Up there with the original. Can't You Hear Me Knocking is largely the first part of the original without the extended percussion outro. Some nice rumbling bass on it, some riffy guitar action around 1.40 and Charlie's rough and ready drums. It has its appeal but I prefer the original. Just when you want it to continue the groove it unfortunately stops. 

  

Bitch is extended and has a different vocal delivery from Jagger, slightly. More rambling than the original and had this been the original I would have preferred it, if you get my drift, but as I know the original so well I have to stick with it. Nice guitar interplay around 2.25. Again at 4.23. The extended bit is basically the horn riff given a longer fade out, with a great bass line right at the end, a bit like a live gig extension. Enjoyable. 

Dead Flowers has the bass to the fore and a Byrds-ish jangly guitar at the beginning. The steel guitar is laid on a bit thicker. Worth it for the bass and the rough and ready feel. Rock guitar pushes its way into the country feel a bit, for the better, particularly at the end. I think I prefer this cut to the original. Feels like a first take live in the studio cut. Jagger's vocal is a little lazier too. Seems somehow lower down in the mix.

LIVE FROM THE ROUNDHOUSE/Live With Me/Stray Cat Blues/Love In Vain/Midnight Rambler/Honky Tonk Women  
                                                                    
A great "live" feel on these cuts. Great sound quality without losing anything or sanitising it. Down and dirty, uncut and live. 

A punchy, bass-rumbling opener in Live With Me that rocks like the a canine's nether equipment. The Stones were really on fire live in 1971. The Brussels Affair from 1973 probably betters the 1971 material, but only just. For me, the live stuff from 71-73 beats Get Your Ya-Ya's, but that's just my personal taste. most people prefer Ya-Ya's. No doubting that The Stones were cooking in this period though. Stray Cat Blues is urgent, lazily dirty and bluesy. It really doesn't get much better than this. In 1971 they could still get away with this song. Love In Vain continues the blues, of course. Great guitar and vocal. My God, Mick Taylor was good. 

Midnight Rambler is as you would expect. Very clear sound though. Laid back and almost a bit jazzy as opposed to bluesy at the beginning, then the riff and harmonica takes over. Honky Tonk Women winds things up after the band introductions. I can never tire of hearing this. A great rendition of an often-played song here. Still a (relatively) new song to play live and the enthusiasm shows.

LIVE FROM LEEDS UNIVERSITY/Jumpin' Jack Flash/Live With Me/Dead Flowers/Stray Cat Blues/Love In Vain/Midnight Rambler/Bitch/Honky Tonk Women/(I Can't Get No ) Satisfaction/Little Queenie/Brown Sugar/Street Fighting Man/Let It Rock                                           
Originally recorded in mono for BBC radio broadcast, the show from the short UK tour in Spring 1971, would appear to have been excellently remastered, in stereo. Kicking off with a heavy, menacing Jumpin' Jack Flash, we get excellent versions of Live With MeDead FlowersStray Cat Blues and, as with The Roundhouse cuts, the sound quality is good, but the live feel has not been lost. You feel as if you are there. Nice to hear Little Queenie and, of course, the old Brown Sugar 'B' Side Let It Rock. The sound is slightly better on "Roundhouse" but no real matter, it is just good to get this gig remastered and official, at last.

Funnily enough, Leeds was from 13th March 1971. Roundhouse was the next day, the 14th March, yet the band sound tighter on the second gig. That one of those vagaries of touring I guess. Some nights are better than others.

  

Exile On Main St. (1972)


Rocks Off/Rip This Joint/Shake Your Hips/Casino Boogie/Tumbling Dice/Sweet Virginia/Torn And Frayed/Sweet Black Angel/Loving Cup/Happy/Turd On The Run/Ventilator Blues/I Just Want To See His Face/Let It Loose/All Down The Line/Stop Breaking Down/Shine A Light/Soul Survivor   

"It was just an afternoon jam that everybody said, 'Wow, yeah, work on it'" - Keith Richards

The final album in the quadruple set of superb Rolling Stones albums that included Beggars' Banquet (1968); Let It Bleed (1969) and Sticky Fingers (1971). While Sticky Fingers had been a dynamic thump of what was to become typical Stones blues rock, Exile On Main St was an absolute tour de force. Without doubt The Stones' finest album of the seventies, there is a compelling case for its claim to being the finest Stones album of all time.



Recorded at the moment in time when The Stones were their most "debauched", the group were by now gnarled old veterans of the rock music scene, having outlived The Beatles already by two years. Along with Led Zeppelin, they were the "big" rock group of the early seventies. The lived it too, the drugs, the drinking, the private jets, the women. Recorded largely in a sweltering hot basement in Southern France, the album has often been labelled a work of lazy, rough and ready, don't give a whatever genius. In many ways this is true, the sound has always been a bit muffled and it plays like one long drinking and rocking session. However, on this 2009 remaster, the sound is surprisingly good, nowhere near as bad as that on the follow-up, 1973's Goat's Head Soup. The bass is full and warm and the drum sound excellent. Even Jagger's supposedly "slurred" vocals are, for me, at times clear, energetic and impassioned. A lot of the musicianship on the album is deceptively impressive, contrary to the "lazy" description usually attributed to it.

For much of the album, blues is the name of the game. This is so much a blues album, possibly one of The Stones' best. Blues rock of the highest order. While Sticky Fingers had set the standard high with an album of what would now become typical Stones blues rock, this album went one, no two, no three better and blew the roof off.

                          
It kicks off with Rocks Off, continuing the sound from Sticky Fingers' Bitch - punchy horns, big full bass and a general sound quality that is much better than one had been led to believe. Rip This Joint is rousing, fast-paced bar-room rock with Jagger on fine form, rocking boogie piano and a great saxophone solo at the end.

Shake Your Hips is some New Orleans-style rhythmic boogie blues, intoxicating and menacing with some wonderful percussion and guitar and a sneeringly nasal vocal from Jagger. The blues feeling continues with Casino Boogie, some genuine thumping kick-ass Stones blues. The Stones never played blues rock better than this. Then there is Tumbling Dice, vaguely Southern states-style, drawling rock, lyrics about gambling and a great choice for a single.

Sweet Virginia has and acoustic guitar leading proceedings. Very rough and ready with yet more excellent boogie piano. Torn And Frayed gives us even more blues heaven, that wonderful guitar again and Sweet Black Angel is has a creole, Haitian-style voodoo rhythm. Very seductive.

Loving Cup sees the return of the horns to yet another bluesy number, while the upbeat, rocking, riffy Happy is possibly Keith Richards' finest "solo" Stones number. He said of it that, after turning up late on afternoon for a session, he, Bobby Keys (sax) and producer Jimmy Miller (drums) cut the original take - "it was just an afternoon jam that everybody said 'wow, yeah, work on it'".

The blues gets even better with the excellent Turd On The Run with its powerful bass lines and the industrial, potent Ventilator Blues. This album just gets better and better. the mysterious, mesmeric I Just Want To See His Face sees the return of voodoo-style drums. This section of the album concludes the most bluesy part of it.

What would be more like typical Stones 70s rock returns with Let It Loose, which wouldn't have sounded out of place on "Goat's Head Soup" - slow-paced guitar, drums, keyboard riffs and a tortured, affected Jagger vocal. The upbeat All Down The Line, a concert favourite, continues the rock feel.

Shine A Light gives us a bit of gospel in an anthemic, soulful underrated classic of a song, while Soul Survivor ends the album with some classic Stones rock, introducing the riff that would be used by The Stones again on It Must Be Hell on 1983's Undercover and by guitarist Slash guesting on Michael Jackson's mid -80s Black Or White.

For many, The Stones did not produce anything of any real worth after this, which is a bit harsh on some other great material, but in terms of true, copper-bottomed greatness, it is probably true.

The Exile Extras

Similar to the Some Girls sessions extra tracks released on 2010's Deluxe Edition, these tracks were recovered from the Exile On Main St vaults and their foundations re-vamped and enhanced by new vocals and some new instrumentation, together with an upgrade in sound quality. It is sort of like a new album, but one that has its roots in those heady days back in 1972. Only two of the out-takes are un-doctored, so to speak - Good Time Women (an early Tumbling Dice) and Soul Survivor.

Many have criticised this decision to effectively re-record this material around its original foundations but not me. Yes, the material they found could have been released as half-finished, scratchy demos, but this gives us an idea as to how good the eventual songs may have sounded, while in effect releasing a new Stones album at the same time. The material, like that for Some Girls, is most impressive.

Pass The Wine (Sophia Loren)/Plundered My Soul/I'm Not Signifying/Following The River/Dancing In The Light/So Divine (Aladdin Story)/Loving Cup (alternative take)/Soul Survivor (alternative take)/Good Time Women/Title 5

Pass The Wine (Sophia Loren) is a deliciously bassy, shuffling groove with a lasciviously drawled Jagger vocal. It is clearly enhanced by some latter-day instrumentation, particularly the brass sections, but that it not a problem for me, it is a great track. Quite what the link to Sophia Loren was is unclear. The sound quality on this is by far the most "modern" and it certainly sounds like a new 2010 song as opposed to an old 1972 session leftover.

Plundered My Soul is a mid-pace slow rocker with a fair few hints of the original album about, especially in its slightly muffled, dense muddiness. Mick Taylor added a new guitar part in 2010. The piano-driven blues of I'm Not Signifying is one that kept its original Jagger vocal. You can tell, it has that Exile-era lazy feel to its sound. Jagger added a killer harmonica solo in 2010.


Following The River is a typical piece of slow but powerful Jagger balladry led by piano and subtle backing vocals. It wouldn't have sounded out of place on A Bigger Bang. Dancing In The Light, as with quite a lot of the material, is a bit more 1973-74 sounding than 1972. It is a rhythmic number with a few vaguely funky hints in its backbeat. It has a great guitar solo on it.

The enticing, seductive and mysterious So Divine has slight echoes of Paint It, Black in its guitar riff. It has a very strong Exile feel to it as well as those sixties vibes and Keith Richards recorded a new guitar part it for it. It is one of my favourites from the collection.

Loving Cup is an out-take that originally dated from 1969, three years before Exile. It has a lot of that Memo From Turner late sixties/early seventies sound, particularly on the guitar backing and indeed on Jagger's vocal. There is a sort of seediness it that possibly out-does the original. I love the guitar at the end. Apparently it is two out-takes moulded together, but you can't really tell, well I can't anyway.

Soul Survivor is different in that it features Richards on lead vocal, giving it a sleepier ambience. Good Time Women, while an early version of Tumbling Dice, has musical similarities but pretty much functions as a different song with nearly all different lyrics. Yes, you think of Tumbling Dice when you hear it, but you can still listen to it in its own right. The spacey, psychedelic instrumental, Title 5 actually dates from early 1967 and listening to it, that becomes clear.

This collection of material is certainly not throwaway stuff, it is an interesting and enjoyable addition to the original, classic album, and stands up in its own right, separate from it.

Above photo from the NME. Below photo from Rolling Stone.



THE REST OF THE 70s & THE EARLY 80s (1973-1981)



Just as it is the accepted wisdom that the four albums from 1968-1972 were the best of The Rolling Stones, it seems to be similarly accepted that 1973 is where it all started to go downhill. That would be to do some of the material recorded between 1973 and 1981 a disservice. Yes, none of these albums are classics in the way their predecessors were, but the material on them should not be dismissed out of hand.

Jamming With Edward (1972)


The Boudoir Stomp/It Hurts Me Too/Edward's Thrump Up/Blow With Ry/Interlude A La El Hopo/Highland Fling

"I hope you spend longer listening to it than we did recording it..." - Mick Jagger

The material on this album dates from The Rolling StonesLet It Bleed sessions from 1969. It contains six loose jam sessions performed by the band, plus pianist Nicky Hopkins and guitarist Ry Cooder, while waiting for Keith Richards to return to the studio. The story goes that he had walked out, unhappy about Cooder's presence. Whether this is apocryphal will never be known, but Keith also had initial problems when Mick Taylor appeared on the later sessions for the same album.

Mick Jagger said of it - "I hope you spend longer listening to it than we did recording it...". It was laid down on one alcohol-loosened evening in London. It is, therefore a fans' curio - inessential to many but interesting none the less. I certainly am unwilling to write it off as a fair few reviewers have done over the years. Firstly, I quite like jams. I like George Harrison's and Eric Clapton's from the early seventies. Secondly, one thing that hits you is just how great the sound quality is, especially for such an ad hoc creation. It was, of course, never intended for release. I actually find it provides a nice breath of fresh air to listen to every now and again, particularly while doing something else.

The Boudoir Stomp recycles the Midnight Rambler riff, with accompanying similar blues harmonica. It sounds very like the middle instrumental bit from Rambler, to be honest. It Hurts Me Too features a muffled, distant Jagger vocal and can be listened to as a bona fide song. It is a cover of an Elmore James blues song, delivered in that typical slow, grinding blues rock style. Edward's Thrump Up is a solid jam featuring Hopkins' rollicking piano (Hopkins was "Edward", by the way). Some good harmonica on this one too.

You cannot deny the quality of Ry Cooder's blues guitar on Blow With RyWatts' drums are loose and relaxed. I really like this. Jagger again contributes a detached-sounding vocal which has echoes of Parachute Woman about it. Interlude A La El Hopo is a jaunty but ultimately pointless couple of minutes. Hopkins rocks the traditional Scottish Highland Fling tune on piano before it morphs into a sort of jazz meets rock workout. I bet Charlie Watts enjoyed this. Bill Wyman's bass on this is delicious. Throwaway it may be, but these guys can play, as obviously we all know. Many bands may well have stuck a couple of these instrumentals on their albums. Santana were doing it all the time in the late seventies/eighties, and Jeff Beck too.

Casual Stones fans will probably not get much out of this release but anyone with an interest in the band's minutiae will enjoy it, I think. Just as many did so with the material from The BeatlesWhite Album sessions. I reiterate, as well, the sound is bloomin' marvellous!

Goats Head Soup (1973)


Dancing With Mr. D/100 Years Ago/Coming Down Again/Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)/Angie/Silver Train/Hide Your Love/Winter/Can You Hear The Music/Star Fucker  

"We didn't know where to go to record. because Keith was in so much trouble. Jamaica sounded like a fun option" - Mick Jagger

This somewhat enigmatic, beguiling album has always suffered as the follow-up to the towering Exile On Main StreetGoat’s Head Soup has never been given too much credit. It has been criticised for being lazy and for having a muffled, muddy sound (even more so than Exile). The latter is undoubtedly true, and no amount of remastering will make any difference to that. However, it is not really a ”lazy” product. “Louche” (definition: disreputable or sordid in a rakish and appealing way) is maybe a far better description - looking at that definition it would seem perfectly apt. Time, however, has seen many attitudes softening towards the goat, amongst fans and music writers alike, which is pleasing, because I have always liked it.

Decadence and excess, drug abuse and jet-setting rock star celebrity glamour was what The Stones were all about now. This album was a huge bridging point in the public’s perception of them, and indeed of the dynamics between themselves, particularly Jagger and Richards, as they now moved in clearly defined different directions. Richards despised Jagger’s swanning around and Jagger had no time for Richards’ voluminous drug consumption. That said, the dirtiest, most decadent songs on the album are obviously Jagger’s and the tenderest ones surprisingly Richards’. This dichotomy is no better exemplified than on Jagger's malevolent Dancing With Mr. D and Richards' beautiful Angie.

Recorded initially in Jamaica, largely because it was one of the only places that would take the group (particularly Richards) and their drug-fuelled potential for narcotic criminality. After several busts, he felt he couldn't return to the UK at the time and the USA was out of the question for a while. The sessions were fraught with tensions - the general dangerous nature of the area, continued drug use from many of the musicians involved, too many hangers-on and intra-band rows and discontent. With all that was going on it was amazing that an album was created at all.
                                             
Despite that, there is some great, often overlooked stuff on here though - menacing, mysterious and moody. The afore-mentioned devilish and beautifully insistent Dancing With Mr D, the sublime Angie and the semi-funky and vibrant urban menace of Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker) were stand outs, and remain so to this day. I can never get enough of Mr D or Angie.

  

However, there are also unsung heroes too - the bluesy, dirty, insistent Exile-style groove of Hide Your Love, one of my favourites; the Cat Stevens-esque piano of the tender ballad Coming Down Again, with its saucy "stuck my tongue in someone else's pie" lyric and gritty saxophone solo and the doleful, bluesy grind of 100 Years Ago with its impressive funky organ/guitar extended instrumental ending. The energetic blues rock of Silver Train is a bit under-cooked, sound-wise, but there is no arguing concerning its vigour. It is as lively as anything else from the Stones in the period with some wonderful guitar breaks from Mick TaylorWinter again suffers from a few sound problems - a slight crackliness during the opening guitar, but it is a beautiful slow rock ballad nevertheless. If it didn't sound at times as if it had been recorded in someone's garage, it would be a Stones classic. The layered strings at the end are an interesting embellishment too.

Can You Hear The Music is a partner to Sticky Fingers' Can't You Hear Me Knocking in that it has an extended jam-style groove, although the vocals continue throughout the song here, whereas they stopped after a couple of minutes on the Sticky Fingers number. It is the album's tour de force. Oh for a better sound on it, though, again. Star Fucker is still available in its original, uncensored, tasteless self. All the better, because the latest “doctored” version sounds as if something is going wrong with your sound reproduction for a few seconds. They made a right mess of trying to override the offending lines, to be honest, totally ruing the song. The risqué original is far superior.

   

The muddy sound sort of adds to the appeal of the goat. It is very much a product of its time, put it on and its October 1973 again. Worth a bit of attention. I remember in 1973 as a fourteen year-old just properly getting into The Stones (album-wise) thinking this was a great album. I had no reason not to like it. I still like it too, always enjoying its annual listen. There is still some excellent down ‘n’ dirty Stones material on here, though, and, if it wasn’t for the appalling, muddy sound, it would have been one of their best albums. Hell, it was still The Stones and it was the first Stones album to be released after I became "album-conscious" so it was always going to be one that I liked.

Indeed, Mick Jagger said of the album when comparing it to its predecessor - …There’s more thought to this one. It was recorded all over the place over about two or three months. The tracks are much more varied than the last one. I didn’t want it to be just a bunch of rock songs….”. Listening to it again, you can sort of see what he meant. To be honest, they are still a bunch of rock songs, but there definitely is some variety of styles and sounds in there. He also said "I really feel close to this album, and I really put all I had into it...I guess it comes across that I'm more into the songs. It wasn't as vague as the last album which kind of went on so long that I didn't like some of the things..."So, there you are. That sort of flies in the face of the accusation that the album was a half-hearted, lazy one. 



There are several tracks that were initially recorded during the sessions for this album but did not appear until later on other albums. These were Short And CurliesThrough The Lonely NightsTops and Waiting On A Friend. The latter two surfaced on Tattoo You, the first one on the next album and the second one was the b side to It's Only Rock 'n' Roll.

Released to the public in 2020 and also dating from the sessions for this album is the grinding, vaguely funky Criss Cross, which features some wah-wah guitars, funky organ and that sort of loose, sleazy Stones funk/rock that would dominate their music for years to come. It could easily be from Black And Blue or Emotional Rescue, despite dating from 1973. See the review below for comments on All The Rage.



Goats Head Soup (The 2020 Remaster)



"I really feel close to this album, and I really put all I had into it" - Mick Jagger

Giles Martin was the remasterer on this long-awaited re-release of The Stones’ notoriously muddy album. Could he do it? You bet your ass he could! It is a triumph, in my non-audiophile opinion.

Dancing With Mr D has some much-enhanced vocal bits in it, particularly at the beginning and end, a new, massive bass sound which I absolutely adore, along with crystal clear cymbals. Jagger’s vocals improvisations at the beginning and end are now much more audible. As soon as I listen to this I am thinking that it is like a new song, the new version just leaps out of your speakers like Mephistopheles himself during a bad dream. A lot of the song’s original murk has gone, but not to the detriment of the song’s nefarious atmosphere. There is also an infectious instrumental version of the song included.

The bit where the drums kick up a notch half way through 100 Years Ago is spectacular, as is the big, rumbling newly-defined bass sound. The demo version of the song with Jagger at the piano is plaintively appealing.

Listen the glorious beauty of the piano/bass/cymbal intro to Coming Down Again, and the clarity of the cheese-grater percussion when it arrives. The lead guitar sounds awesome too, as is the improved clarity of the backing vocals and Bobby Keys’ saxophone. Wonderful stuff, truly. 

As for the intro to Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker) - oh Lord have mercy! Power, muscle and thump. Nothing more needs to be said, really - one of the album’s best tracks now sounds even better. The bass/guitar/percussion interplay coming up to two minutes in is simply glorious. The song’s instrumental version is funkily fantastic too, just listen to those horns.

The drums on Angie are sublime and the acoustic guitar crystal clear - you’re beautiful indeed. Angie, I still love you, but now even more.

Silver Train is as bluesily raucous as it ever was, but, as with the other tracks, featuring added dynamism. Check out the intro to Hide Your Love too. Both these tracks retain their attractive sleaziness but have been bestowed with extra oomph. The alternative mix of the latter is warmer, less murky and even better than the original, for me.

The underrated beauty of Winter is enhanced by some lovely, warm bass and razor sharp guitar. The strings/guitar/cymbal bit is captivating as Jagger wraps his cost around us and takes us to Califawwwnia, sounding even more like Van Morrison.

You would expect the album’s instrumental tour de force, Can You Hear The Music, to be excellent, and it duly is, coming in to its own, unsurprisingly, on the flute snd percussion parts.

Then, guess what? They have given us Star Fucker with the John Wayne bit left intact! The 2009 remaster was ruined by clumsy editing.



I have mentioned Scarlet and Criss Cross earlier. All The Rage, the other reject from the album’s sessions is a robust, upbeat rocker that no doubt we would have got used to had it been on the album but it doesn’t stand out as anything notable on its first few listens.

The previously rejected Glyn Johns 1973 mixes of Mr. D, Doo Doo and Silver Train have been well remastered but, for me, only the latter really can be seen as bettering the new remaster of the original release of the tracks.

The first dancey, contemporary remix of Scarlet is catchy and debatably improves on the original, while the second one renders the track much more grungy and edgy. Both are listenable, the former much more so, though.

The live gig previously known as The Brussels Affair was always one of the best Stones live shows around. It still is. The remaster is even better than the previously available on, though - louder and chunkier.

I never expected my old caprine friend to ever sound this good, but, blow me down, he does.



It's Only Rock 'n' Roll (1974)

 
If You Can't Rock Me/Ain't To Proud To Beg/It's Only Rock 'n' Roll/Till The Next Goodbye/Time Waits For No-One/Luxury/Dance Little Sister Dance/If You Really Want To Be My Friend/Short And Curlies/Fingerprint File  

"I did have a falling out with Mick Jagger over some songs I felt I should have been credited with co-writing on It's Only Rock 'n Roll" - Mick Taylor 

An often underrated album from The Stones. After the critically-lauded Sticky Fingers and Exile On Main Street, 1973's Goat's Head Soup began the supposed descent from which The Stones were never to recover, according to many. Another popularly held opinion is that it was something of a "treading water" album with the band at a period of transition. To a certain extent that was true, and this was, unfortunately, the last album to feature the wonderfully talented Mick Taylor on guitar. However, in terms of looking for positives about it - the very fact that it includes Taylor is one huge positive. Secondly, while both this and its predecessor suffer from poor sound quality, the sound on here is markedly improved from the muddiness of Goat's Head Soup. Listening to this album every now and again is always a pleasurable experience. There was some good material there.
                                     
Starting with the upbeat, rousing If You Can't Rock Me with, for a change, Keith Richards soloing on bass guitar. A good start that is continued into the surprisingly good cover of The TemptationsMotown classic from the mid 60s, Ain't Too Proud To Beg. Motown covers are notoriously difficult, they rarely come close to the originals. This one is not too bad at all. Then there is, of course, the hit single It's Only Rock 'n' Roll, which pretty much became a Stones classic instantly, with its fist-pumping, singalong refrain, recognisable guitar intro and continued excellent guitar parts throughout. Incidentally, the original backing track featured David Bowie on backing vocals, Willie Weeks on bass and Kenney Jones on drums, although The Stones re-recorded some of the song and the vocals, they kept this rhythm track.



Till The Next Goodbye is a beautiful, melodic ballad with a touchingly tender Jagger vocal that references his lady's "Louisiana recipes that let you down" at one point (maybe he had a disappointing gumbo) while Times Waits For No-One features a stunning Mick Taylor lead guitar that was his last great contribution. It also has an appealing drum rim, piano and bass slow burning intro. The bass continues to be of a quality throughout. Indeed, it is played by Mick Taylor, presumably at a different time to his lead guitar! Again, Jagger's vocal here is impressive, vastly improved on his somewhat slurred delivery on Goat's Head Soup. Regarding Taylor's contribution, he is said to have contributed considerably to the writing of these two songs and had this to say about that -

"I did have a falling out with Mick Jagger over some songs I felt I should have been credited with co-writing on It's Only Rock 'n Roll. We were quite close friends and co-operated quite closely on getting that album made. By that time Mick and Keith weren't really working together as a team so I'd spend a lot of time in the studio."

Taylor was not credited, of course - the songs went down as Jagger/Richards compositions - but this showed the first signs of the pair starting to drift away from each other and operating individually. This is something that would carry on for the rest of the seventies and be obvious and often counter-productive by the mid-eighties.

 

Luxury is a piece of cod-reggae seemingly popular with artists at the time (Elton John's Jamaica Jerk-Off and Led Zeppelin's D'Yer Mak'er spring to mind). While it is unconvincing and Jagger's vocal faintly ludicrous, it has a lively, light, summery appeal. It was, at the time, the "album track" that often seemed to get the radio play upon release. I remember it was the first one I heard from the album, played one Saturday morning on the Stuart Henry show on Radio One. Dance Little Sister Dance was similarly radio-friendly with its fast paced, drum dominated groove and catchy vocal refrain. If You Really Want To Be My Friend was another lengthy, slightly mournful ballad that had echoes of Waiting On A Friend from the Goat's Head sessions that would eventually appear on 1981's Tattoo You compilation of unreleased tracks. Philadelphia soul group Blue Magic (see my review of their debut album) contribute backing vocals.

Short And Curlies is perhaps aptly short and to the point. "She's got you by the balls" proclaims a miffed Jagger, or "bowwwls" as he enunciates it, typically. It was initially recorded during the sessions for Goat's Head Soup.

Fingerprint File is a real high point upon which to end this better than popularly thought to be album. The Stones embrace funk with Billy Preston's keyboards and some wah-wah guitar on this slow-paced, mysterious number about the FBI's surveillance techniques. As it fades out among whispers and a descending, disappearing beat at the end, we hear the fading out of the classic end of the 60s/early 70s Stones line up. Maybe it is this, not Exile that sees the last of the truly credible Stones material. It is certainly true to say that after this album The Stones ceased to be at the cutting edge of youth culture, or indeed relevant to it. They were into their thirties now and so were many of their fans. From now on they were seen as respect-worthy elder statesmen or boring old farts, depending on your opinion of them. Me, despite my punk years, I never turned my back on them.

Never again would The Stones be considered corrupters of the nation's youth, however. Time waits for no-one.



The b side to the It's Only Rock 'n' Roll single was Through The Lonely Nights. It is a mournful number that sounds like a Keith song but it is Mick on vocal. It has a killer guitar solo on it, possibly from Mick Taylor. The track originated from the Goat's Head Soup sessions.

Dating from an October 1974 session, a few months after the release of this album, is Scarlet, an interesting raw rocker featuring Jimmy Page on guitar and Ric Grech from Family on bass. It has a rough-edged drum sound, some grungy guitar and a sound closer to that of Goat's Head Soup than this album. The track was finally let loose to the public in 2020.

 

Metamorphosis (1975)


This was a sort of official release by ABKCO records five years after severing their ties with The Rolling Stones. It was, for many years, the only album of Rolling Stones outtakes around. It has no chronological arrangement, however, the tracks are included willy-nilly. So, with that in mind, here is where they are sourced from:-

Out Of Time - recorded in 1966. Shorter than the extended version that appeared on "Aftermath/Don't Lie To Me - 1964/Some Things Just Stick In Your Mind - 1964/Each And Every Day Of The Year - 1964/Heart Of Stone - 1964 (with Jimmy Page on guitar)/I'd Much/Rather Be With The Boys - 1965/(Walkin' Through The) Sleepy City - 1964/We're Wastin' Time -1964/Try A Little Harder - 1964/I Don't Know Why - 1969 - on the night the news broke of Brian Jones' death. For the "Let It Bleed" sessions/If You Let Me - 1966 - for the "Aftermath" sessions/Jiving Sister Fanny - 1969 - for the "Let It Bleed" sessions/Downtown Suzie - 1969 - for the "Let It Bleed" sessions/Family - 1968 - for the "Beggars' Banquet" sessions/Memo From Turner - 1968 - a different version to that released by Mick Jagger in 1970/I'm Going Down - 1969

The quality is varying, although all the tracks are of interest - the impressive blues rock of Don't Lie To Me would not have been out of place on any of the early albums. Dating from 1964, it actually sounds quite ahead of its time. The early Eastern-influence on Some Things Just Stick In Your Mind is a definite pointer toward later material. I'd Much Rather Be With The Boys had a huge early Beatles influence and it was probably better left off albums, leaving The Stones to forge their own identity. The track was impressively covered by Ronnie Spector, replacing "boys" with "girls" on her 2016 album, English HeartTry A Little Harder is upbeat and punchy. If You Let Me is fairly typical of the group's 1966 output, featuring that distinctive keyboard sound and acoustic guitar backing.

The superb, buzzy and earthy blues rock of Jiving Sister Fanny and Memo From Turner are excellent, but Downtown Suzie, with its airs of Dylan's Rainy Day Women and awful backing vocals, was best left on the cutting-room floor. Having said that, each time I listen to it, its lazy appeal grows on me. Family is an unnerving prototype of Sister Morphine, with its controversial lyrics about prostitution - they were probably why it was ultimately left off Beggars' Banquet.

Their cover of Stevie Wonder's I Don't Know Why is muscular, with a rocking guitar solo and powerful brass backing. One of the best cuts on the album. They make it sound like a bluesy Stones rocker. The guitar-driven rock of I'm Going Down uses a riff they would apply a lot more in the seventies and eighties. This is another good one. The album ends strongly.

The version of Memo From Turner that appears here is more raw, edgy and faster than the one released by Mick Jagger in 1970. It is almost punky in comparison to the drawly, guitar-dominated later version. I prefer the longer, later version, although I like both of them. The vocals are clearer on the latter too.

Overall, this is an interesting album for completists, but certainly not essential.



Black And Blue (1976)


Hot Stuff/Hand Of Fate/Cherry Oh Baby/Memory Motel/Hey Negrita/Melody/Fool To Cry/Crazy Mama  

"Rehearsing guitar players, that's what that one was about" - Keith Richards                                       

Another somewhat maligned album from The Stones - it seems as if everything post - Exile On Main Street is viewed disparagingly, which is something of a shame. Just as with the solo work from the members of The BeatlesBob Dylan’s post 70’s work, or The Beach Boys' post Pet Sounds work, everything is measured against those classic periods in the group/artists’ career. It means, unfortunately, that sometimes, perfectly acceptable albums get the brush off from critics and fans alike.

Black And Blue is by no means a bad album at all. Yes, maybe the band had become a bit lazy and were enjoying the “rock star” life a bit too much, but that was not surprising. I should imagine some of the fire does go out. It would appear to be the case as it has happened to pretty much every major artist over many years. 

In December 1974, just as recording was due to begin for this album, underrated guitarist Mick Taylor abruptly left the group, leaving them in a bit of limbo. Despite that, though, as they always seemed to do, the arch pragmatists got by and produced an album that is a favourite of mine, at least.

If the cover is anything to go by, this is a HOT album - musically sweating and broiling throughout, like mid-afternoon in Jamaica (something I have experienced). However, it was recorded in Rotterdam, Montreux and Munich from December 1974 to April 1975 and was not actually released until April 1976, well over a year since recording began. (Made In The Shade, the retrospective compilation, filled the gap). It was also Ronnie Wood’s first album with the group, although he doesn’t feature prominently on all the tracks. Guitarists such as Wayne Perkins and Harvey Mandel were virtually auditioned on the album’s recording.

The album was one of only eight tracks, many of them dabbling in reggae, funk and slow, extended dance-ish grooves. While this may not appear to be archetypal Stones fare, it is in its loose, jamming style that its strength and its appeal lies. At the time of release, however, it was panned by many critics and fans alike, unfairly in my book. Thankfully, retrospective views have been kinder.                                                  

  

Check out Bill Wyman’s huge, rumbling bass on Hot Stuff and the superb guitar, both of which help to neutralise any criticism of the sparse lyrics. Hand Of Fate just bristles and burns with typically riffy power as Wayne Perkins’s guitar magnificently matches Jagger’s confident vocal. The swaggering offering is one of my favourite Stones rockers. It rarely gets mentioned, but for me it is as good as anything from the 1972-1981 period and that includes the Exile material.

The Stones are a white group that can do reggae acceptably and they produce a more than credible version of Eric Donaldson’s slow, seductive skank, Cherry Oh Baby. The track thuds along appealingly, Billy Preston’s swirling organ breaks to the fore.

The impressive and fetching country-ish slow rock number Memory Motel is one of the few tracks to feature Jagger and Richards sharing lead vocals. Harvey Mandel actually handles the guitar (Richards only sings on here). It has that effortless Stones lazy appeal that was so prevalent in their early/mid-seventies material and I just love to bit where Jagger says “going back up to Bowwston” in that silly but enjoyable drawl of his.

Reggae returns on the chunky reggae/rock of Hey Negrita, which is another easily swaying groove of a track, with a killer vocal and equally good guitar parts. It slowly boils as hot as the album’s overall ambience. Ronnie Wood makes his first great Stones guitar contribution here. It is said that he basically wrote the song. Once again, as with Brown Sugar, The Stones reference themes of interracial sex, something that was considered quite risqué in the comparatively intolerant seventies.

Melody is one of The Stones’ most off-the-wall, experimental tracks, with Billy Preston’s jazzy flourishes on the keyboards given free rein throughout. The song was credited to Jagger-Richards, but many suspect that it was pretty much Preston’s song. The way the two main songwriters appeared to hoover up all songs, whether they wrote them or not, has always seemed a bit mean to me.

Fool To Cry, a somewhat maudlin Jagger ballad to his daughter, was the album’s sole big hit. It is largely Jagger’s pained vocals and his electric piano, but it has a starkly soulful appeal. I remember really loving it in the hot summer of 1976.

Crazy Mama is the album’s other blatant rocker along with Hand Of Fate and it bears the hallmarks of Richards all over it. Its riffs are perfectly irresistible. Any Stones fan will love it. Jagger’s vocal is gruffly likeable too, as he growls and grunts in between verses.



As I said at the beginning, the album has a general “hot” feel about it, maybe for that reason. I know that I only ever seem to play it on hot summer days.

Incidentally, Slave and Worried About You were recorded during the sessions for this album (they eventually appeared on 1981’s Tattoo You). There was room for them to appear on here. If they had it would have been an even better album, as they are both impressive.

The remastering on these 2009 releases is more than acceptable as well, delivering a really good sound, particularly when compared to that of Goats's Head Soup and It's Only Rock 'n' Roll

Love You Live (1977)


Honky Tonk Women/If You Can't Rock Me/Get Off My Cloud/Happy/Hot Stuff/Starfucker/Tumbling Dice/Fingerprint File/You Gotta Move/You Can't Always Get What You Want/Mannish Boy/Crackin' Up/Little Red Rooster/Around And Around/It's Only Rock 'n' Roll/Brown Sugar/Jumpin' Jack Flash/Sympathy For The Devil   
                  
Live recordings taken from Stones tours between 1975-77 which sees them at their most drug-addled and lazy in many ways, but in other ways therein lies the appeal of this leery live stuff. It is a “riffy” album. Keith Richards’ glorious riffs on cuts like the opening Honky Tonk WomenIf You Can’t Rock MeHappy and the risque Starfucker. There is also a great version of Fingerprint File with Jagger on great form and the blues cuts of You Gotta Move and Mannish Boy see Jagger at his best again. The organ/guitar interplay on Tumbling Dice is sensational. Keith is on fire. It even makes one forget Jagger’s slurred vocal on this one.

The rarity of Crackin’ Up appears for the first time since the sixties as does Around And Around and are really enjoyable. Sympathy For The Devil is not their best rendition of it, a bit messier than others available. The piano-driven funk of Hot Stuff rocks though.

 

Just listen to the first tracks though, there is a lazy Jack Daniel's-soaked beauty about it. They were still cooking in these years. Check out the ad-lib percussion/guitar bit in If You Can’t Rock Me and then Keith comes in, and he’s blistering, although he probably didn’t want to be there, man. The laid back Get Off My Cloud with some excellent keyboards is almost soulful. Keith on the intro to Happy. Wow. He sings as if he means it.

The album has finally been remastered acceptably after all these years. The great thing about it, though, is that although the performances are culled from different gigs, it plays like one complete concert with a more than credible set list order.

A better live release from this era, however, is the Stones Archive album, L.A. Forum 1975. This is not as bad an album as some say, though. The Stones are an easy target these days. Listen to this album, take yourself back to the mid seventies, and imagine you were at one of these gigs. You would love it. The heat. The smell of cigarettes, drugs, drink, sweat and perfume. Then The Stones come on. You feel a bit sick but what the heck. It's The Stones.

Some Girls (1978)


Miss You/When The Whip Comes Down/Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)/Some Girls/Lies/Far Away Eyes/Respectable/Before They Make Me Run/Beast Of Burden/Shattered 

"The inspiration for the record was really based in New York and the ways of the town" - Mick Jagger
     
In 1978, the disco boom had taken over the charts, thanks to the previous year’s Saturday Night Fever and everyone, it seemed, from Abba to Roxy Music were encouraged to put out a disco influenced single. Why, even The Stones got in on the act. The result was the extremely impressive bassy disco/funk groove of Miss You which showed people that they were able to diversify. It was also the first album to feature Ronnie Wood as an official full band member.

Overall, Some Girls is considered to be the band’s best offering for six years, since 1972’s Exile On Main Street. It taps into the contemporary disco vibe, but also features keyboards prominently and also exploits a bit of punk's attitude and energy. 

It is very much a New York album, with Big Apple references prevalent throughout. Indeed, Mick Jagger said of it - 

“The inspiration for the record was really based in New York and the ways of the town. I think that gave it an extra spur and hardness. And then, of course, there was the punk thing that had started in 1976. Punk and disco were going on at the same time, so it was quite an interesting period”.                                                          

It also has a decadent seediness to it in songs like the upbeat, rocky When The Whip Comes Down, the saucy Some Girls and the invigorating, soulful Beast Of Burden. The latter is a really good song, one of The Stones' best from the period. The title track has a slow, sensually chugging beat to it that always drags you in to it. Jagger's vocal is delightfully louche

Mick Jagger is in full leery mode on the catchy and commercial cod-funk rock of Shattered and  Respectable and reprises his Dead Flowers from Sticky Fingers country-hick voice on the oddly appealing Far Away EyesLies is a frantic, almost punky rocker which sort of acknowledges the contemporary taste for fast guitar-driven rock.

There is a strong case towards the fact that Jagger wrote a lot of this material on his own, with possible help from Wood, as Keith Richards was pretty drugged-up and embroiled in court cases at the time. It does seem very much like a Jagger album (Richards’ archetypal piece of "Keith rock", Before They Make Me Run excepted).

   

Their cover of The Temptations' Imagination is more than  acceptable too. Nowhere near the original, but they certainly put their own stamp on it.

Despite the album coming out at the height of punk, the music cognoscenti respected it, so too did the punks. So much for “No Elvis, Beatles or The Rolling Stones..”. It seemed to go down well with everyone. 

The album has always had something of a tinny sound to it, however, and no amount of remastering seems to be able to correct that. The current (2009) remaster is the best to date, but it still comes off worse in comparison to other Stones albums either side of it. It was probably recorded like that and that is that, like Goats Head Soup, just not a great one, sonically. I just wish it could up the bass and lower the treble a bit within the recording. This can be remedied slightly by turning up the bass of my thumping sub-woofer. The tinny treble is still present though. Maybe The Stones were simply looking for that harsh, punky sound when the album was recorded.



Everything Is Turning To Gold was the b side of the Shattered single. It was a reggae-influenced. slightly edgy and earthy number featuring some wailing saxophone and a bit of the 1978 white reggae/punk fusion feel to it. 

Black LimousineStart Me Up and Hang Fire - tracks that ended up on Tattoo You, were originally from this album's sessions. 

The Some Girls Extras

The extra tracks released on the “deluxe edition” of Some Girls were controversial for being enhanced versions of original out-takes and demos from the original sessions given a contemporary makeover by the Stones in 2010. Personally, I don’t mind this at all, it has allowed some previously unheard material to be given new life - fair enough.

What is also notable is that the sound quality on these new tracks is far superior to the tinny sound of the original album. It is like having a new Stones album and doesn’t detract from the original Some Girls at all.

Claudine/So Young/Do You think I Really Care?/When You’re Gone/No Spare Parts/Don’t Be A Stranger/We Had It All/Tallahassee Lassie/I Love You Too Much/Keep Us Blues/You Win Again/Petrol Blues                                                                                        
Claudine is a rollicking piece of piano-driven bar-room blues and is a great start to this collection of songs.

So Young is a solid piece of Stones rock, apparently it had been around on bootlegs for years and this latest recording doesn’t sound much different. It has a loose, rocking, Exile On Main Street feel to it. In fact, it rocks harder and more urgently than anything on the original Some Girls.

Do You Really Think I Care? has the country rock vibe of Faraway Eyes but it is faster in a sort of Shattered way. Jagger sings in that silly country voice again, something we have all just got used to and happily accept. Nobody else would get away with it would they? But it’s Mick Jagger, so we’ll forgive him most things. It is actually a really appealing track, so there you go. When You're Gone has something Some Girls lacks - some copper-bottomed Stones blues. It is a bit like Back Of My Hand from A Bigger Bang but faster. No Spare Parts is a country style slow number sung in the same style as Do You Think That I Really Care? but it is another strong song. There is a real vibrancy to some of this material, you have to say.



Don't Be A Stranger is a vaguely reggae-sounding upbeat number with a summery breeziness to it. Time for a Keith song - We Had It All is typical Richards, being a slow, sleepy romantic ballad. Tallahassee Lassie is a very lively, southern bluesy cover of the old Freddy Cannon number. The Stones do it really well, full of vigour and enthusiasm with a hint of Creedence Clearwater Revival about their guitar sound. I Love You Too Much is a riffy, sensual Stones rocker in their late seventies/early eighties style.

Keep Up Blues is a more than welcome delicious helping of grinding, bassy blues. This is The Stones at their best and it is as good as anything they recorded in this period, to be honest. It has a great full sound to it too. You Win Again sees the group go back to that good ol’ country bar. It is like the sort of song that Elvis Costello did on Almost Blue. It is an old Hank Williams song and was also covered by Van Morrison and Linda Gail Lewis on their album of the same name.

No Petrol is a throwaway bit of piano and vocal blues that sounds like one of those early Dylan songs. I’m sure that is what Jagger is trying to sound like, in a very tongue-in-cheek way.

I have to say that listening to this side by side with Some Girls, this is by far the better collection of songs. It has far less of that 1978 cod-disco synthesiser-style backing and far more of a rootsy Stones sound. I guess the former was thought to be more popular in 1978, hence the make-up of the eventual album. Give me these other songs any day, though, and their warmer, fuller, bassier sound.



Emotional Rescue (1980)


Dance (Pt. 1)/Summer Romance/Send It To Me/Let Me Go/Indian Girl/Where The Boys Go/Down In The Hole/Emotional Rescue/She's So Cold/All About You 

"It may consist mainly of filler, but it's expertly written and performed filler" - Stephen Thomas Erlewine - AllMusic 

Assessed by many to be one of The Stones' worst albums, Emotional Rescue is generally seen to be a poor relation of Some Girls. Indeed it utilised many cast off tracks from that album's sessions. However, despite some lazy low points such as Summer Romance and Where The Boys Go, there are some redeeming features in Down In The HoleSend It To MeLet Me Go and the album's two dance numbers, Dance (Pt 1) and the hit single title track, Emotional Rescue. As with 1983's Undercover, I don't mind listening to this every now again. It just has to be taken in context. It would be a fair conclusion to see this as more a Jagger album than a Richards one. The reggae of Send It To Me and, of course, All About You is pure Keith, but the rest of it is very Mick.
                                     
Dance (Pt. 1) continued the connection with contemporary dance rhythms explored with "Miss You" on 1978's "Some Girls", we had an even more "in the groove" number here, with a full drum sound and a convincing vocal. Lyrically, it was somewhat barren - "get up" is repeated quite a bit, but that is often the case in tracks that are more about the music than the lyrical content.

Summer Romance was a track on which it was rather odd to hear the already nearly forty-somethings singing about a teenage high school summer romance. It is a catchy, upbeat song though, but one can't escape that slight embarrassment of it all, however. Send It To Me was an appealing slice of light reggae/rock, with Jagger on fine yearning, lovelorn form, vocally. One of his best vocals on the album.

 

Let Me Go is a classic early 80s Stones mid-pace rocker, with some nice chugging guitar and a bit of saxophone at the end. Indian Girl was a Mexican/Latin influenced slow groove with some slightly contrived lyrics about "gringos" and "Che Guevara" and some Mexican-style horns and tinkling keyboards. The sort of laid-back thing Jagger loves and twists his slurred vocal around. Pleasant enough.

Where The Boys Go was a low point. Another embarrassing track. Oafish "laddishness" doesn't sit well with men of their age and the chorus has some over-loud female backing vocals that tend to drown out the whole thing. Low point of the album. An almost punky riff that pays a bit of a late nod to the late 70s genre. However, Down In The Hole could possibly be the best track on the album. A genuine mysterious blues concerning soldiers buying counterfeit goods - "cigarettes" and "nylons" in "the American Zone", presumably East Berlin. One of the band's first real blues since the early 70s.



Emotional Rescue had a sometimes unfairly maligned falsetto vocal from Jagger lends a commercial appeal to this disco-influenced number. He even "raps", to a certain extent in the middle of the song, not particularly convincingly, but leery enough to add to the song's appeal. At least it showed that The Stones were prepared to diversify to meet contemporary trends. An excellent saxophone solo from Bobby Keys at the end too.

She's So Cold was something of an archetypal Stones rocker that was sometimes still played in concert many years later. Some nice pedal steel guitar parts from Ronnie. All the guitar is good on this track.

All About You is a Keith track to end things off. A popular lyric in his case about loving a woman who is no good for him. As usual, so laid-back as to be almost comatose, but a sumptuous, vaguely comforting delivery. Like an old pair of slippers. Some nice saxophone in this one as well.

Interestingly, four tracks from Tattoo You - No Use In CryingHeavenNeighbours and Little T & A - came from the sessions for this album. They would have probably improved it slightly.



If I Was A Dancer (Dance Pt. 2) was an unreleased outtake from the sessions for this album. It is basically an extension of the original track with a few added words, but the overall groove of the track is the same one.

  

Tattoo You (1981)


Start Me Up/Hang Fire/Slave/Little T & A/Black Limousine/Neighbours/Worried About You/Tops/Heaven/No Use In Crying/Waiting On A Friend  

"The thing with 'Tattoo You' wasn't that we'd stopped writing new stuff, it was a question of time. We'd agreed we were going to go out on the road and we wanted to tour behind a record. There was no time to make a whole new album and make the start of the tour." - Keith Richards

This was a not a "new" album from The Rolling Stones in that it was a collection of rejected songs that had been recorded for possible use on earlier albums, dating as far back as 1972. Having said that, they are all tracks of a high quality. In my view, there is not a duff track on there and all of them would have considerably enhanced the albums they were initially recorded for.    
                                
The album's stonking, riff based opener,  Start Me Up, dated from the sessions for 1978's Some Girls and apparently started life as a laid-back reggae skanking number. Thankfully it changed over time otherwise we would have had that riff. A now iconic Stones track used either at the opening or closing of live shows.

Hang Fire dates from the same sessions and is probably the weakest track on the album  - an upbeat, almost punky rocker with some trite lyrics about nobody working hard enough in the UK. Slave dated from 1976's Black And Blue sessions and it is a tour de force - bluesy, rocky and featuring a great Jagger vocal and some excellent saxophone from Sonny Rollins too. A true high point. It would have raised the standard of Black And Blue no end.

 

Keith Richards' saucy Little T & A comes from 1979's Emotional Rescue sessions. It is ok, catchy enough, but, as with many of Keith's songs, it just sort of rambles gently and croakily along. From the Some Girls sessions comes the wonderful, vibrant blues boogie of Black Limousine. Another high point. Another one from 1979 is the frantic vocal attack, Neighbours. The repeated title is a bit off-putting and while it seems lyrically bland, it has a breakneck punky appeal, a good vocal and an excellent Bobby Keys saxophone at the end.

Also from Black And Blue is the beautiful build-up ballad that is Worried About You, featuring some impressive piano from Billy Preston. Jagger's vocal is top notch on this too, going all falsetto at one point. Imagine Black And Blue with this and Slave on it.

Tops and the fetching Waiting On A Friend both date from 1972 and are both excellent. Mick Taylor featuring on the rocking and soulful former and some Latin-tinged, saxophone groove from The Goat's Head Soup Jamaica sessions makes for an appealing latter.

Heaven is one of those seductive Jagger "solo" numbers dating from 1979 with some hypnotic percussion and a "phasey" deliberately muffled vocal and No Use In Crying, from the same sessions, is a slow-paced, bluesy ballad with one of those instantly recognisable Jagger vocals. Has a bit of a feeling of automatic pilot about it, though. Heaven, though, is a remarkably addictive piece of work, worthy of repeated listens.

In conclusion, although not a "new" album, it certainly plays like one, to be fair, and doesn't seem like a collection of cast offs. It is by far the superior to Emotional Rescue and Undercover. It is a good album.



THE POST-1981 YEARS (1982-2020)



The very long "latter period" of The Rolling Stones' career, one initially wracked with internal strife, is one that many feel just does not cut the mustard, and they are probably right, but if you like The Stones, you like The Stones. You will get something out of all the albums. I know I do. Contained within this batch, however, is most people's "worst Stones album ever" in 1986's Dirty Work.

Undercover (1983)


Undercover Of The Night/She Was Hot/Tie You Up (The Pain Of Love)/Wanna Hold You/Feel On Baby/Too Much Blood/Pretty Beat Up/Too Tough/All The Way Down/It Must Be Hell  

"A murky, overblown, incoherent piece of shit. The band's worst studio album" - Robert Christgau   

This is so much an album of its era. The 1980s saw albums awash with synthesisers, synth drums and keyboard riffs. How this affected a band so intrinsically linked to guitar riffs is obvious here, not particularly well. However, the fact that the band tried to move with the times has to be respected, even though, at times, the trademark Stones sound is buried beneath synthesisers and automatic drums. If you have Charlie Watts, why use programmed drums? Nevertheless, some interesting rhythmic experiments can be found on the barnstorming title track, Too Much BloodTie You Up and Feel On Baby. The album's last four tracks also see a partial restoration of something of the Stones sound fans had come to expect. In many ways it is a very similar album to Emotional Rescue, but slightly better due to the lack of any "embarrassing" tracks where The Stones forget their age. Not really anything truly wonderful on here, but no true duffers either.

As with 1980's Emotional Rescue, this album has to be viewed in the context of when it was recorded. The cracks between Jagger and Richards that were beginning to show three years earlier are even more apparent here. It is pretty obvious whose tracks are whose.                                     
Undercover Of The Night was a deserved hit single. Despite containing much of the dreaded synth drum sound, there are still some killer Stones riffs in this (relatively) rare political song. The song rocks from beginning to end and, if it has to bow to 80s production trends, it does so magnificently, still sounding good today. "the smell of sex, the smell of rubber" sets a tone for the rest of the album, lyrically. She Was Hot is an excellent rocker, underpinned by some boogie-woogie piano and some classic guitar work. Where the song is let a bit by a slightly lazy vocal in places it makes up for in energy and attack. Jagger's obsession with sex is expressed in many of this album's songs in language that is violent, uncaring and dominating. Tie You Up (The Pain Of Love) was maybe typical of the emotional detachment of the "me" generation 1980s. This is a mid-pace, insistent rocker - lyrically menacing and back by some grinding guitar and metronomic "proper" drums. One of the best on the album.

 

Wanna Hold You was the now seemingly-obligatory Keith-on-vocal track. Average chugger in the usual Keith style. Inoffensive but unremarkable. Just as obligatory as a Keith track would also seem to be a Keith-influenced reggae track. Feel On Baby was it here. Many critics have slated the inauthenticity of this track, but, as a reggae fan myself, I have to say it sounds pretty real to me, as far as white reggae goes. No doubt helped by the fact that Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare are on drums and bass. Not a bad song at all.

On the somewhat bizarre Too Much Blood Mick Jagger goes all horror film and rap on this odd track. A funky horn-dominated riff, similar to those used by David Bowie in his Let's Dance and Tonight albums from the same period eases off on two occasions to hear Jagger rapping firstly about a cannibalistic murder that took place in Japan and then asking his audience if they have seen the movie Texas Chain Saw Massacre - "'Orrible wasn't it?" he leers in his best "mockney". Pretty Beat Up was apparently more of a Ronnie Wood track, this was only added at the last minute. It is pretty standard stuff, a solid bluesy upbeat rhythm lifted by an excellent tenor saxophone part and a more typical Jagger vocal. Too Tough saw a trademark Stones riff opens this, one of the album's better tracks with some more dodgy sex-influenced lyrics about a woman whose demands for rough sex show her to be "too tough" even for Mick. A vocal that sounds like he means it, though.

 

All The Way Down had a title that leaves nothing to the imagination. Jagger reminisces about a girl he knew when he was twenty-one who "went all the way down". Marianne Faithfull? Musically, it is formulaic Stones - solid, guitar based one pace rock and trustworthy, unspectacular drums. It Must Be Hell saw another classic riff to introduce this quality track. It was used on Exile's Soul Survivor and also on Michael Jackson's Black Or White. A driving, urgent groove to this one. Good vocal too.



A rarity that doesn't show up very often is the b side to She Was HotI Think I’m Going Mad, which is an attractive, mid-pace, very Jagger in the eighties-style number, loaded with saxophone and a great bass line too. It is actually a really good track that would have enhanced the album.

Dirty Work (1986)


One Hit (To The Body)/Fight/Harlem Shuffle/Hold Back/Too Rude/Winning Ugly/Back To Zero/Dirty Work/Had It With You/Sleep Tonight 

"Mick is more involved with what's happening at the moment. He has to go backwards and compare himself to who's hitting the Top Ten at the moment" - Keith Richards

Widely considered by most to be the worst Rolling Stones album, by far. It genuinely had a lot going against it - a fractured band with its main protagonists pretty much functioning completely independent to each other, with even comparatively mild-tempered Charlie Watts falling out with Jagger, a musical trend of the time in synthesisers dominating everything and, yes, a bloody awfil cover.

Let me try and "accentuate the positives" with this review. It is had too much negativity over the years, probably correctly, but oh well, here goes.                                 

One Hit To The Body is a rousing, impressive opener employing that old acoustic/electric guitar riff intro again and some impressive guests like Led Zeppelin's Jimmy PageBobby WomackPatti Scialfa and Kirsty McColl. It is as good as anything on Emotional Rescue or Undercover to be fair. Fight is a bit more of a Stones-by-numbers track with Ronnie Wood on bass (unusually), it is lyrically bland but has a killer riff opening and Harlem Shuffle is a totally convincing cover of Bob & Earl's 60s soul hit. Excellent vocal and general sound on this. Nothing wrong with it at all.

 

Hold Back is a pounding drum attack rock number and is redeemed by another energetic Jagger vocal, as indeed is Winning Ugly, whose synthesiser riff is also rescued by a funky bass and drum underpin taken, in my view, from Don Covay's Northern Soul number, It's Better To Have (And Don't Need). Strangely, Covay appears on this album on backing vocals on One Hit and Sleep Tonight. Maybe he had some input? Jagger also attacks this enthusiastically, going falsetto in places again. Keith Richards' obligatory reggae number, Too Rude, is enjoyable too. I always like these. Jimmy Cliff appears on backing vocals.

Back To Zero has a delicious funky intro and, yet again a good Jagger vocal. The guitar and drums are great on this and, yes, it is a good track. Hints of dub reggae in its skanking guitars in places too. This would have sounded great on Undercover, with its political undertones about the world's impending meltdown. Ronnie Wood's bass on this, again, is impressive. You know, Im enjoying this re-listen quite a lot... This is possibly the best track on the album.

 

Dirty Work is pretty much a typical mid 80s Stones cut. It is ok, but that's about it. If you like The Stones you can listen to it and there are good parts, the chorus is catchy. A lot of people have moaned about the 80s drum sound on tracks like this, and, although it is a loud attack, at least they are proper drums and not a drum machine. Had It With You features Ronnie Wood on saxophone, would you believe, but a lazy vocal and general unremarkableness pervades. A blues-inflluenced "bridge" sounds pretty terrible, to be brutally honest. Probably the album's low point. Richards' affecting low-key ballad Sleep Tonight finishes things. Good old Ronnie is now, unbelievably, on drums, not very impressively, it has to be said and Keith's vocal is unsurprisingly laconic.

Yes, it probably is their worst album, but, as a Stones fan, I will try to derive something from it and the occasional forty minutes listening to it every few years is enjoyable enough.



Steel Wheels (1989)


Sad Sad Sad/Mixed Emotions/Terrifying/Hold On To Your Hat/Hearts For Sale/Blinded By Love/Rock And A Hard Place/Can't Be Seen/Almost Hear You Sigh/Continental Drift/Break The Spell/Slipping Away  

"We had got into a terrible habit of meandering and being disorganised" - Mick Jagger

Along with 1986's Dirty Work, it is easy to dismiss this album as "execrable", as many, many journalists and fans have done over the subsequent years. Yes, it is has a synthesiser presence, as did work from many artists in the mid/late eighties, but, in my opinion, it is nowhere near as bad an album as so many have considered it to be. It is actually far superior to Dirty Work.

The late eighties were, admittedly a dreadful, barren period for music, and this album suffers some of the drawbacks of coming from that era, but there is still some solid Stones rock on here.                                     
Sad Sad Sad is an excellent, riffy opener, while Mixed Emotions is a captivating rocker, some great backing riffs and, on the 2009 remaster, a big, throbbing bass sound. Conspiracy theorists claim the title is a subtle play on "Mick's demotion". Yeah, of course it is. Not. I love the line in Sad Sad Sad of "the elephant's in the bedroom, throwing all his weight about", though. Jagger is on revitalised vocal from on these tracks. He sounds totally rejuvenated.

 

Terrifying has another killer bass line and a hypnotic intoxicating beat with one of those sleazy, menacing Jagger vocals, going on about "strange, strange desire...". Some nice brass at the end of it and some rhythmic drums from Charlie WattsHold On To Your Hat is a breakneck, slightly punky rocker that sounds a bit like it should have been on Dirty WorkHearts For Sale is a Jagger vocal-dominated mid-pace, intuitive rocker that I haven't heard for ages and I am quite enjoying discovering it again. Some excellent guitar and harmonica interplay comes in near the end. You know, this really isn't too bad an album.

A lilting, rich bass and fetching percussion introduce another Jagger, Latin/Elizabethan-style groove of a smoocher in Blinded By Love, with him going all snake hips as he gavottes to it, no doubt. There are endearing country/acoustic twinges to the song too. One of the better, undiscovered tracks from the album. Songs like these are never played live, which is a shame. It is current trend, utilised by Bruce Springsteen a lot, to play old albums in their entirety. I reckon it would be good to hear The Stones do so with albums like this. A typical Stones grinding riff and rubber band bass give us the rocking Rock And A Hard Place. This was a single and a good one it was too. Keith RichardsCan't Be Seen is a appealing, upbeat Keith song, it would have sounded great on Talk Is Cheap, but it is ok here and considerably ballsier than some of his more wheezing ballads that cropped up with increasing regularity on latter-day Stones albums.

Almost Hear You Sigh was a leftover from Richards' Talk Is Cheap sessions, but here  is sung, and convincingly too, by Jagger. It does beg the question that all those "Keith songs" would have been better served by Jagger's vocals. Certainly the latter era ones. Not so much the earlier I Got The Silver blues ones. The song features some lovely acoustic guitar in the middle, Ronnie Wood, I think.

  

Continental Drift is the big surprise on the album - a lengthy song, with instrumental experimentation not heard in The Stones' material for many a year. Moroccan sub-Saharan musicians are used on the track, in true Brian Jones-inspired style. Many have said, rightly, that The Stones would have done a lot more stuff like this, had Jones lived. Best track on the album by a mile. The repeated line "love comes at the speed of light" would not have sounded out of place on Satanic MajestiesBreak The Spell is another revelatory track - a sort of grinding, upbeat, jazzy almost rockabilly meets the blues sort of thing - if that makes any sense whatsoever.  Either way, it is some speeded-up fun. Then we end, of course, with one of those Richards songs I mentioned earlier. Actually, despite that, I quite like Slipping Away. It has a gentle tenderness to it. All in all, a much better, more enjoyable album than it is ever given credit for being.



The b side to Mixed Emotions was a real gem, the copper-bottomed Stones blues of Fancy Man Blues. A great "rarity" of a track. Jagger's vocal is impressive as is the piano. The b side to Terrifying was Wish I'd Never Met You. It is another solid, chunky blues featuring some more excellent piano and guitar. Imagine if both these tracks had been on the album, I reckon it would have been received far more favourably.

Voodoo Lounge (1994)


Love Is Strong/You Got Me Rocking/Sparks Will Fly/The Worst/New Faces/Moon Is Up/Out Of Tears/I Go Wild/Brand New Car/Suck On The Jugular/Sweethearts Together/Blinded By Rainbows/Thru And Thru/Baby Break It Down/Mean Disposition 

"There were a lot of things that we wrote for 'Voodoo Lounge' that Don steered us away from - groove songs, African influences and things like that. He steered us very clear of all that - and I think it was a mistake" - Mick Jagger on producer Don Was

It is an unfortunately popular cliche to condemn this album, comparing it to Let It Bleed or Exile On Main Street and saying that it is one of the worst Rolling Stones albums. I have to say I disagree. I think it is a reasonable album. Comparisons with their outstanding past work are actually pretty pointless. Just listen to this album and decide whether it rocks or to. In my view, it does.                                         

It had been five years since Steel Wheels, their previous album and the first two lead off tracks are seriously powerful. A great return from The Stones. Love Is Strong is a rousing bluesy, leery rocker and You Got Me Rocking is a riffy absolute corker. It has been a great early track in their live set ever since, and rightly so. Jagger's voice is on characterful top form and Keith Richards' riffage is as fresh and invigorating as ever. A great track. Sparks Will Fly has received a fair amount of opprobrium over the years for its relatively "slack" sexually oriented lyrics. Personally, I haven't got a problem with it. It's The Rolling Stones. I'm glad to hear they are still naughty boys! Also, its a copper-bottomed rocker. Keith's laid-back, sadly yearning The Worst is a lovely track actually, although his voice is sounding older and older. New Faces sees a return to that Elizabethan vibe that the band used in the sixties on the melodic keyboard refrain and Jagger's vocal is excellent. I love this track.

 

Moon Is Up is a menacing, grinding, bassy mid-paced rocker, while Out Of Tears has another great hook and convincing vocal. I Go Wild ploughs the same furrow as Sparks Will Fly, although is not quite as risqué. Again, it has a singalong chorus, something that is common to a lot of the songs on the album. One problem with albums after the year 1990 or around there, is that the age of the CD meant that bands were filling them up with 75 minutes' worth of music, so, on occasions, they included some filler and can go on a bit too long. On this album, probably the bluesy Brand New Car and the staccato, funky Suck On The Jugular, while I like both of them, I feel the album would not suffer if they were not there. Similarly, Sweethearts Together is a plaintive Jagger love song, but there are better tracks on the album.

Blinded By Rainbows is another with a captivating hook, and a great chorus and Richards' Thru And Thru is just great - a slow burner with a superb, powerful rock ending. One of Richards' best songs for a while. Baby Break It Down is a bit more average, but Mean Disposition is a fantastic rocker to end the album with. Although I feel the album is maybe few tracks too long, I can honestly say that I like all the tracks on there. When I say there is not a real duff track on it, in my opinion, I actually mean it. I know many, many people will not agree and I fully understand why, but, for me it is a good album, that I enjoy listening to. Of course, it isn't as good as some of those earlier albums, but very few albums are.

Bridges To Babylon (1987)


Flip The Switch/Anybody Seen My Baby/Low Down/Already Over Me/Gunface/You Don't Have To Mean It/Out Of Control/Saint Of Me/Might As Well Get Juiced/Always Suffering/Too Tight/Thief In The Night/How Can I Stop 

"I thought at least if we had some different producers, we would stand a chance of not sounding exactly the same on every track" - Mick Jagger     

On this album, in contrast to Voodoo Lounge, which had seen The Stones revisit sounds from their previous two decades, they decided to utilise a few contemporary musicians and production assistants. They used tape loops, samples, drum enhancement and the like. Quite why you need drum enhancement when you have Charlie Watts is unclear. It is still a rock-ish album but these differences make it a slightly different album to listen to, as opposed to more of the same. For some, though, it seemed The Stones couldn't win - the same style would have brought accusations of "the same old formula", whereas dabbling in contemporary sounds had people saying "why don't they just stick to what they know best?". Either way, it is a pleasurable listen, although like Voodoo Lounge and A Bigger Bang it is probably one or two tracks too long. There is a big, thumping, full bass sound to the album which is good to hear, although at times the cymbal sound is a bit tinny, notably on Low Down. It is overridden by the full bass though.                              

Flip The Switch is a storming, drum-driven rocker to open with, featuring a great "proper" drum intro and a superb Keith Richards riff. It really gets the album off to a rousing start. There are also some soulful, atmospheric and brooding numbers, like the shuffling, percussive Anybody Seen My Baby, with its Fingerprint File-style vocal, great bass and killer chorus and the addictive Saint Of Me, both of which have a really mysterious feel to them and great vocals from Jagger. Low Down is archetypal riffy, slow burning Stones rock. Already Over Me is one of those laid-back Jagger rock ballads he does so well. As with most of the songs on here, it has an instant refrain.

  

Gunface is a rumbling, slightly menacing, industrial number while Out Of Control has a superb rock hook but also a rhythmic, contemporary tinge to the sound. All muddy and mysterious. Some great blues harmonica on it too along with some funky keyboards. One of the album's best tracks. Keith Richards' horn-driven reggae on You Don't Have To Mean It is as convincing a piece of upbeat white reggae as you will find. The U2-esque Might As Well Get Juiced is bluesy, intense and experimental, with all sorts of weird electronic noises an a muffled, distant Jagger vocal.

Always Suffering is a slightly country-tinged Jagger slowie. Too Tight is the one real throwaway on the album, although its an ok upbeat rocker, just remarkable. Richards' two final slow, melodic cuts are excellent too - the bluesy Thief In The Night, and the tender How Can I Stop with the slightly South African-influenced saxophone bit at the end.

It is common to criticise this, along with all the other Stones albums from Steel Wheels onwards. I don't though. I like all of them.



A non-album track from this era was Anyway You Look At It, the b side of Saint Of Me. It is a slow-paced, strings and acoustic Keith Richards song, with the usual sleepy feel and croaky vocals that his songs invariably have.

A Bigger Bang (2005)


Rough Justice/Let Me Down Slow/It Won't Take Long/Rain Fall Down/Streets Of Love/Back Of My Hand/She Saw Me Coming/Biggest Mistake/This Place Is Empty/Oh No Not You Again/Dangerous Beauty/Laugh, I Nearly Died/Sweet Neo-Con/Look What The Cat Dragged In/Driving Too Fast/Infamy

"They played with a strength and swagger they hadn't had in years" - Stephen Thomas Erlewine - AllMusic

While 1994's Voodoo Lounge and 1997's Bridges To Babylon were, somewhat unfairly, (particularly in the case of the former) panned by critics, this one, nearly ten years later, was given the cliche-ridden "return to form" praise. Why was this? Maybe it was the considerably stripped down, back to basics backing, no horns or saxophones, just organ and piano plus the core of The Stones. Also, the fact it included a blues track for the first time in years caused many people to go a bit over the top in their "back to their roots" panegyrics.

Just as the previous two album had been, this was, in the age of the CD, an album that was several tracks too long. Fifteen or sixteen tracks now seemed to be the average for an album, using up the full 78 minutes available. To be honest, it was too much for me and all these three albums are difficult to listen to all the way through. Twelve tracks would be much more preferable.   

  

Anyway, all that said, there are still some good tracks on here, although the sound is unfortunately typical of the year it was released and the others immediately either side of it in that the album's production is overloud and clashing. The sonic bombast tends to override some of the subtleties that earlier recordings possess. As Keith would say, "on with the show" - the first six tracks are of a high standard. Rough Justice is a vibrant rocker with some leery Jagger vocals, Let Me Down Slow and It Won't Take Long have grinding, bluesy aspects to them, while Rain Fall Down is a typical Jagger, slowish, atmospheric number. It is ever so slightly disco-ish. Streets Of Love continues in that vein, even more appealingly, with an addictive chorus "ahh, ah ahhh.." hook. Possibly the best track on the album. Then comes the blues. Back Of My Hand is indeed one of The Stones' finest copper-bottomed blues  rockers for many a year, but it doesn't make the whole album. Indeed, it is pretty much on its own, compared to the rest. No need to exaggerate the importance of one track.

Then we go into a bit of a rut, with some run-of-the mill tracks that are a bit indistinguishable from each other, to be honest. Biggest Mistake is a yearning number, full of vocal Jaggerisms, however, and Dangerous Beauty has a sort of Goats' Head Soup appeal. Sweet Neo-Con is, though, an embarrassment, even though I agree with the political sentiments. It has no place here, really. Look What The Cat Dragged In should probably have remained on the cutting room floor, too. However, Oh No Not You Again rocks hard and convincingly.

Keith Richards' tracks are both, as we have come to expect - laid-back to the extent of being almost comatose, with a croaking vocal. Of the two, Infamy has a slightly more upbeat catchiness that This Place Is Empty doesn't have, although the latter is pleasant enough.

Of these three latter-day Stones albums, Voodoo Lounge is by far my favourite and gets played the most. I know that is a contrary view to most, but there you go.



Blue And Lonesome (2016)


Just Your Fool/Commit A Crime/Blue And Lonesome/All Of Your Love/I Gotta Go/Everybody Knows About My Good Thing/Ride 'Em On Down/Hate To See You Go/Hoo Doo Blues/Little Rain/Just Like I Treat You/I Can't Quit You Baby 

"We're gonna feature a lot of Chicago Blues" - Keith Richards   

Apparently recorded very quickly, in an "almost live" studio setting, in order to give the album a raw feel, this was the long-waited Rolling Stones album of Chicago blues covers.  
                                   
Just Your Fool kicks the album off in a lively fashion, full of blue riffs, blues harp, barroom piano and a general all round rollicking feel. The sound is a tiny bit dense and muffled, though, throughout the alum. Maybe that was the intention, giving it that authentic blues sound, or maybe trying to replicate The Stones' sixties blues covers in its sound. Commit A Crime is a big, bassy thumper of a number. It is clear that The Stones are playing here for the sheer, unfettered enjoyment of it. Mick Jagger's vocal on this one, and indeed on all of them, is excellent, sounding half his venerable age. His blues harp (harmonica) is already sounding the dominant accoutrement to the album. Little Walter's Blue And Lonesome is solidly powerful, again the sound is a little indistinct, but I am sure by now it is deliberate. All the tracks are relatively short. This is not an album for drawn out Midnight Rambler-style soloing, it would seem. All Of Your Love has a copper-bottomed blues riff, killer piano and another peerless vocal. If I didn't know better I would swear they put a hissy background on this track to make it sound more genuine. Actually, I'm sure they did. It's 2016, no need for any hiss.

  

I Gotta Go starts with some wonderful harp from Jagger. The sound, again, is almost mono, but a dull mono at that. In fact some of their original sixties mono blues covers actually sound much better. It is not a huge criticism, however, this material is still smokin' hot. Everybody Knows About My Good Thing has a superb riff played by Eric Clapton. It is so good to hear these two giants of sixties UK blues playing together so well, all these years later. Ride 'Em On Down is an upbeat rocking blues, one of the liveliest on the album so far. Hate To See You Go has that riff that seems to have appeared in a thousand blues songs. Play it - you'll know the one I mean.


Hoo Doo Blues is a menacing, down 'n' dirty grinder of a number. It is maybe the most authentic-sounding of all of them. Little Rain is a slow, powerful but mournful blues. Just Like I Treat You is a frantic blues rocker. Jagger sounds great on this one. Eric Clapton joins the boys again for a searing solo on I Can't Quit You Baby which has a great "live" feel to it. In conclusion, you would have thought this album has Keith Richards' stamp all over it. Funnily enough, it is Jagger who dominates the whole thing. He seems to be revelling in it.

Despite the admittedly less than perfect sound (to my taste) this is still a highly enjoyable, pure album  from a band who burst on to the scene, and into our lives, playing the blues. If this is to be their last studio album, then they went out playing the blues. As it should be.



Living In A Ghost Town (single) (2020)

Living In A Ghost Town is, at present, a stand-alone single released in April 2020, at the height of the coronavirus pandemic lockdown. Apparently it had been partly recorded before the virus struck, but was amended to include lyrical references to the lockdown and social distancing - "life was so beautiful but now we're under lockdown - living in a ghost town....".

The song is a typically later-era Stones loose, rhythmic slide with a vaguely reggae-ish underbeat and some killer blues harmonica from Jagger in the middle. It is easy to dismiss this attempt to be contemporary in the same way that some critics dismissed High WireSweet Neo-Con and Mick Jagger's England Lost and Get A Grip but that would be somewhat churlish. A good song is a good song and there's nothing wrong with the sentiments, for me, anyway.



The Rolling Stones In Mono


Now, I have always been 110% a stereo man but I was still inspired enough by some of the reviews on various media to purchase this excellent box set. The sound is certainly crystal clear and marvellously remastered. In some ways it has redressed the balance quite considerably. After hearing this, it is more 60-40 in favour of stereo and I certainly now derive a lot of pleasure from these mono recordings.

For sure, the first batch of albums - The Rolling Stones12 x 5; and The Rolling Stones Number Two were, I believe, released originally in mono and sound excellent here in punchy, clear remastered mono. The stereo tracks from The Rolling Stones Now, like Down The Road Apiece are better served in stereo, to my taste. However, I prefer the two Out Of Our Heads versions and December's Children in mono, by far. These two sound superb in mono. With the mono it is all about the bass - it comes out of your speakers pounding full and loud, just as I like it, and from a central position. I am just listening to Lady Jane. It is fantastic. Check out the intro to Under My Thumb or the punch of It's Not Easy and the thump of High And Dry from Aftermath. Or That's How Strong My Love Is. Wonderful. The sometimes problematic Heart Of Stone sounds better than it has ever done here. Good Times just sounds marvellous.

Many people prefer Aftermath and Between The Buttons in mono. I am sold on Aftermath, with its big, bassy sound, but I am not completely convinced about Buttons, however I can hear where they are coming from. In many respects, though, they come alive in stereo. Particularly Buttons. However, My Obsession and its drums from that album sounds impressive in mono. It is from these two albums onwards, arguably,  that stereo is certainly the preferred medium, for me. It definitely is for Beggars Banquet and Let It Bleed. Those two have excellent stereo versions. Indeed, neither album was recorded in dedicated mono, what you get here are "fold-down" mono versions taken from the stereo recordings.

All that said, I have to say that I recently listened to No ExpectationsJigsaw Puzzle and Prodigal Son - the bluesy numbers from Beggars’ Banquet - in mono and they sounded big, bassy and floor-shakingly powerful. Midnight Rambler from Let It Bleed sounds excellent in mono too, as it happens. So too does Gimme Shelter and Monkey Man, so there is far more of a case for the mono versions of these two than I originally thought - checking out the wonderful thump of Jumpin' Jack Flash and Child Of The Moon from the same era adds to that argument considerably, too.


As for Their Satanic Majesties Request I have to admit there is something of an appeal hearing what is musically often a bit of a mess, remastered here in mono - Light Years in particular, but again, stereo probably just wins out in the end. Only just though, because of the multi-instrumentation of the album. 

My same logic applies to the Stray Cats bonus material. The pre-1966 ones are pretty much all better in mono, after that stereo is king.

So, in conclusion, there are, however, always things to discover in these box sets. I love big, booming bass and these mono recordings certainly give me that.

These are just my opinions and, as I said, I am (maybe was, though) more of a stereo man, so they are pretty predictable. It is still a highly recommended box set, however. A great document of this seminal band at their 1960s best in some gloriously powerful sound.



                          Brian Jones

                          1942-1969

2 comments:

  1. I listened to Black and Blue yesterday because I didn't remember everything that was on it. I actually think it's their last good album. Or at least the last one that actually sounds like the Rolling Stones. I never liked Some Girls or anything that came after it because it no longer had the great Rolling Stones sound that I like. This has about four great ones on it and the rest are at least okay. And Memory Motel is so great that I don't know why it's not considered one of their classics. Same thing with hand of fate.

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  2. I know what you mean, one could draw a line at 1976 and survive on the albums that came before it quite happily. There's some good stuff on Tattoo You but, of course, some of those tracks are from pre-1976 sessions. Slave and Worried About You are from the sessions for Black And Blue. Tops and Waiting On A Friend from the Goats Head Soup sessions.

    Memory Motel has something about it, for sure. Hand Of Fate and Crazy Mama are both excellent rockers.

    If you can, check out the new remaster of Goats Head Soup. It's great.

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