Monday, 9 June 2014

"Another Journey Through The Past, Darkly" - The Best Unreleased Rolling Stones Recordings


Dear all, I've been busy the past month or so trying to bash the Alan's Album Archives empire into shape in the hope of publishing a series of 30 books on the AAA stars we've covered the most. Don't go out and rush to pre-order them just yet though - by my reckoning they'll take about another 3-4 years to complete! What I'm hoping to do is add all of the 'top ten' entries at the end of each book as an appendix, which has set me thinking what else I have left to write about for all of these bands. The good news is there aren't many angles we haven't already covered during the past five odd years and at times I'm amazed at how much ground we have covered (food-based puns?! AAA-related words that can be added to a calculator?!?) One very important element that we haven't really covered yet except in a couple of cases is the best music still unreleased by certain bands. Occasionally - as in this week's article - the music that's left unreleased is as important as the music that was and I can guarantee that around 75% of this material will get released one day on something, perhaps long after the groups included on this list- and probably me - have gone. So for last week, this week and the next few weeks we're going to bring you a series of' 'mock' outtakes albums, as close to 33-and-a-third tracks in length as we can make it.

This week, it's the Rolling Stones' turn. Despite being well served during with more and better outtakes sets than most AAA bands (check out 1971's 'Metamorphosis', which is better per song than most 1960s Stones albums - 'Rarities 1971-2003', though, is not quite so good - and where is the Stones equivalent of 'Beatles at the BBC' ?!) there's still a huge amount that could be released on a double-disc set with fillers. So here is 'Green Grass - A Journey Through The Past Darkly', an alternate journey through the Stones' career than their two original greatest hits sets:

CD One:

1) Come On (BBC Session 1963)
The Stones are as nervous sounding as you'd expect on their first professional recording, chugging through one of Chuck Berry's lesser songs with as little effort as possible. A few months later, however, the Stones are a nicely confident band with a real swing in their step and their re-recording of the song for a BBC session suddenly makes the choice of song as their debut single seem less curious than it used to. Check out Charlie Watt's most Beatleish drumming!

2) Poison Ivy (Without Overdubs 1963)
Technically not unreleased but certainly rare - this track is the 'first' version of the song taken from an aborted session intended to produce the band's second single in 1963 and to date has only ever been issued on the now rare-to-find 'Hot Rocks' compilation (which used to be the Stones comp to own before '40 Licks' replaced it in 2002). A second version isn't that much better known anyway to be honest, buried on the band's first EP 'The Rolling Stones'. One of the better Leiber-Stoller songs it was recorded by a lot of bands (the Hollies never released their version at the time either) but the Stones' is the best, with the slightly sarcastic lyrics really suiting Jagger's sneering vocals.

3) Fortune Teller (Without Overdubs 1963)
Another popular 1950s song recorded by everybody (and one of my very favourite pre-Beatles songs as discussed elsewhere on this site), this was another track taped early on in the hope of getting a hit single. Fans know it best from its appearance on the concert album 'Got Live If You Want It' where this same recording appeared overdubbed with screams on the right channel (released against the band's protests, Decca simply rummaged through the tape box to see what they could find and passed it off as being by the '1966' era Stones!) Not quite as strong a performance but still a lot of fun, with some nice Brian Jones harmonica.

4) Everybody Needs Somebody To Love (Alternate Version) (1964)
This Solomon Burke song, which kicked off the Stone's second album, was already pretty long for its day, the first Stones song to break the three-minute barrier. An earlier, looser version of the song still exists in the tape vaults, however, lasting an impressive 3:32 and featuring more of Mick and Brian's vocal interplay. Keith, meanwhile, sounds like he's gone to sleep, playing the same chord throughout...

5) Memphis Tennessee (Rare Recording 1964)

A classic Chuck Berry track, pealed off with real maturity by the band during sessions for 'Rolling Stones no 2' but amazingly never used for the record. Slower than you might expect, with Mick convincing in the part of the sad single parent instead of hitting the groove as most of the Stones' Berry songs do. Note Mick changing 'slowcoach took the message to 'phoneboy', suggesting their ears were still on the British, not American markets at this time.

6) Stewed and Keefed aka Brian's Blues (Rare Recording 1964)
Reportedly the Stones were filling in time during this 1964 session waiting for Brian Jones to turn up (he didn't, starting a trend for unreliability that will get him kicked out the band in four year's time) and never seriously intended to release this jam. Dominated by Keith's guitar and 'sixth Stone' Ian Stewart's boogie-woogie piano licks, this song is actually the closest the Stones got to getting the 'Chess' sound on tape during the band's stay in the legendary American studios in mid-1964.

7) Down In The Bottom (Unreleased 1964)
A Willie Dixon number, this is another song taped at Chess but never released despite being better than many of the songs on 'Rolling Stones No 2'. Mick has really got the hang of the vocal, now, and Brian Jones' eccentric bottleneck guitar break is either a tremendous racket or a thing of beauty, the jury's still out...

8) Andrew's Blues (Unreleased 1965)
A famous outtake that sadly will probably never come out, in fear of a libel suit! By 1965 the band were tired, drained and concerned that their manager Andrew Loog Oldham's love of publicity was becoming a millstone around their necks, As a result they let off steam with this devastating song, set to a real Bo Diddley shuffle beat, in which Mick mockingly tells his manager to 'suck it' before doing as pretty accurate impression of his posh manager's vocals: 'The Rolling Stones are a real fucking group!...' Listen out for the reference at the end to all the Stones' friends: 'Phil Spector, The Hollies, Gene Pitney...' Amazingly not the most litigious song in the Stones archives! The beat, though, is strong enough to make a fun Stones song in its own right, even without the words!

9) Lookin' Tired (Unreleased 1965)
'Lookin' Tired' is one of the best 1960s Jagger-Richards songs not to find release and again its strange why this song never mind the final running order of third album 'Out Of Our Heads' when so much inferior material did. Slow and lazy, like 'Little Red Rooster' but with slightly more purpose and drive, this song features a nice little guitar solo from Keith and unusual drumming from Charlie playing with brushes rather than sticks.

10) Satisfaction (BBC Recording 1965)
One of the best Stones BBC songs features the earliest alternate recording of a band classic. The song is still new enough for the band not to be playing simply by numbers and the whole piece has a much looser, bouncier feel than the famous single. There's also the extended outro that's the way the band used to play it in concert. The interview snippet is fascinating too, Mick shocked when Brian Matthews asks him if it's true the song took ten whole hours to make ('No - not even with a hamburger break in the middle!')  If this take isn't available then there's a terrific 'Ready Steady Go!' performance of this song that would do just as well, with the Stones showing off their raw power as Mick screams 'no no no' for about two minutes: shocking stuff for 1965!

11) 19th Nervous Breakdown (BBC Session 1966)
Better still is this chaotic, crazy version of one of the very best Stones singles. Singing lower, with even more venom, Mick really nails the mocking lyrics while the band hit a groove somewhere around the third minute that's amongst their most exhilarating, the Wyman-Watts rhythm section at their exciting best.

12) Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing In The Shadow? (Alternate Take 1966)
An unloved song, mired by a wonky production and a throwaway performance sounds much better as the band originally intended, without all those busy effects and speeding up and slowing down. Starting with Mick softly singing to himself before suddenly lurching into life, Mick's vocal is rawer than the finished record but the band behind him are tighter, doing a much better job of nailing this early piece of funk. Bill is on especially good form, fighting the rest of the band as his bass licks are all over the song, driving it relentlessly on and on. In this version 'Shadows' sounds like one of the Stone's best works.

13) Get Yourself Together (Unreleased 1967)
A @Between The Buttons' outtakes, this song would have been rockier than most entries on the album and sounds not unlike 'Complicated' at times, with an angry, snarling guitar riff at the core and lyrics that, like much of the album, are a nasty put-down of woman kind delivered as if the narrator thinks he's being kind not critical.

14) Old King Cole (Early Version of 'We Love You' 1967)
This is an earlier, rougher, instrumental take of my personal favourite Stones moment, their scary-yet-triumphant 'thankyou/fuck you' recorded for fans/critics after their release from prison. This take has Brian Jones' mellotron playing all the way through and Keith almost busking his guitar parts as he tried to fit round Nicky Hopkin's choppy piano chords. Sadly Brian's simply ridiculous improvised solo at the end isn't there yet and instead of reaching for the stars this version of the song falls flat on its face, but it's an intriguing glimpse into how the Stones recorded songs bit by bit in the mid 1960s.  Alternatively the backing track to the finished version of this song is pretty darn amazing too, especially a bootleg mix with the backing vocals fading in and out at key moments.

15) Dandelion (Demo 1967)
Here's the B-side, sung by Keith in its early days and only featuring him and Charlie. The lyrics haven't been worked out yet and for now are the far less interesting 'something borrowed, something blue', but it's a delight to hear Keith sounding so joyous ('dum dum dum dum bah!' he sings in the chorus like a tennybopper idol!) and to hear one of the Stone's sweeter songs come to life before your eyes.

16) She's A Rainbow (Alternate Take 1967)
Only slightly more polished is this early take of 'She's A Rainbow', which is clearly giving the band problems. A slightly longer opening, less emphasis on piano and no backing vocals or orchestral 'polish' dubbed on top yet arguably makes this rather sickly Stones song all the sweeter. Interestingly there doesn't seem to be any guitar here - we speculated on our album review of 'Satanic Majesties' that Keith hated this song, judging by his angry slashed guitar chords at the end of it - did he refuse to take part in the song's early sessions?

17) Highway Child (Unreleased 1968)
Instead Keith gets to slash guitar chords on this unfinished song, taped during the early 'Beggar's Banquet' sessions and featuring just him, Charlie and Mick and dominated by his nicely shrieking guitar. Tougher than most things the band were doing in 1968, this would have made a fine little rocker, with  Mick singing some promising lyrics about being a wanderer, unable to settle to family life. Strange the band never returned to it - arguably its closer to the Stone's later style than any of the songs on 'Banquet'.

Disc 2:

18) Pay Your Dues (Early Version of 'Street Fighting Man' 1968)
At first 'Street Fighting Man' wasn't about riots at all, but was apparently about American cowboys shooting Red Indians or something like that ('He's a ribal chief, his name is disorder, his flesh and blood he tears it up when acting right is normal') Mick clearly picked up on the 'Indian' vibe of Keith's strummed guitar part here. The backing is much as we know it, albeit rougher, although there are some interesting rock and roll guitar frills from an overdubbed Keith that didn't make it to the final version and make the chorus sound even more distinctive from the verses. The song is clearly inferior to the finished version but still fascinating to hear and lyrically about as radical a change as the Stones made to one of their songs.

19) Dear Doctor ('Straight' Version 1968)
The version of this spoof country song on 'Beggar's Banquet', with a panicking bridegroom who doesn't want to get hitched, is terribly unfunny (apart from Mick's falsetto as his bride anyway!), trying too hard to go with the gags. This looser, bluesier version (complete with Brian Jones harmonica senselessly taken off the final version) is a huge improvement, though, Mick singing straight and making his lyrics about his impending doom all the funnier for it. Interestingly he doesn't try his 'female' voice on this version, suggesting he ad libbed it later.

20) Blood Red Wine (Unreleased 1968)
Another 'Banquet' outtake, this acoustic song is actually closer to the menace of what's to come on 'Let It Bleed' and 'Sticky Fingers', invoking the riff from 'Wild Horses' and the feel of 'Sister Morphine'. It's always nice to hear Keith play acoustic and hear Mick sing a ballad and with a bit of polish this basic demo could really have been something, while the moment the whole band suddenly kick in some 90 seconds into the song only to just as suddenly swell back down again is a classic piece of arranging. Mick's lyrics aren't quite there yet, but that's often the case with the early versions of Stones songs.

21) Stuck Out All Alone (Unreleased 1968)
Another unfinished 'Banquets' song with an uncomfortably high falsetto from Jagger, this is another song that could have turned into something nice with some lovely country-rock licks from Keith. Mick's lovaboy narrator follows a girl he fancies home from the bus but isn't stalking her, dearie me no - 'it's just a trip', you see. A little too like the Stones songs of a bygone era, perhaps (in fact I was surprised researching this song to see it was as late on as it was - I thought this was a mid-1965 track when I first heard it!), but it would have still made for a sweet return to an earlier time.

22) Gimme Shelter (Alternate Take 1969)
If you thought the finished version of this song from 'Let It Bleed' sounded like the voice of impending doom, then that's nothing on this version. The strong rhythm of the final version is all there, but Keith's echo-drenched guitar licks sound ever more desperate and hopeless, ghostly cries from a generation that's already collapsed. Mick's double-tracked vocal finds him trying out a new voice, growlier than usual and he's less passionate and almost mockingly triumphant in the way he sings these words. There's also no girl singers on the song yet, preventing this song from gaining the release of the finished version but keeping the scariness of the mood intact right up until the very end.

23) You Got The Silver (Jagger On Lead, 1969)
Keith started off being very shy about his voice. He doesn't sing lead on a Stones track until surprisingly late (Something Happened Yesterday' from 'Between The Buttons') and clearly thought that Mick had the better voice for this stab at the country-rock ballad that may well be the best moment on 'Let It Bleed'. Certainly Jagger suits the song, sounding like an Americanised cowboy on this tale of woe and drama, although Keith clearly has a bigger 'connection' with the song, living it whereas Mick's original vocal is simply good acting. Still interesting to compare the two, though.

24) Potted Shrimp (Unreleased 1970)
An unreleased backing track from the 'Let It Bleed' sessions, it's hard to make out where the tune on top would have gone for this song. The typical Stones riff at the heart of the song is a good one, though and Nicky Hopkins' delightful piano lines tracing Keith's guitar make for a fascinating little arrangement that clearly had a fair bit of time spent on it before being abandoned. Did Mick ever have time to write lyrics for it? And is the unusual title Mick and Keith's or simply the whim of a bootlegger?

25) Cocksucker Blues (Unreleased 1970)
The Band's most famous unreleased moment, which staggeringly did get an official release, briefly, in 1984 before being pulled. Astonishing because this is the Stones at their wildest, most provocative and downright dirty, with a chorus that runs 'where can I get my cock sucked, where can I get my ass fucked?' that would have caused riots on the street in 1970 had it been released. The Stones knew full well it wouldn't be, however - they were under contract to provide Decca with one last single but weren't under contract to give them something that could be released, so they deliberately made this song as unreleasable as it possibly could be. The song has grown in statute down the years as talk of it being the most outrageous song ever has grown from the few people who got to hea\r it at the time (It's also the title song of a swearing and sex-filled film of the band on tour in 1972 that, owing to an unusual contract a worried Stones management drew up, can only be shown to fans with the director in the same room). What's unexpected about this song now isn't its outrageousness but the fact that it sounds like a bona fide proper song, with the misery of the 'Sister Morphine' era Stones coming through loud and clear, with a decent tune (better than most Stones songs of 1969-70 it has to be said) and a nicely intimate acoustic performance that puts a great vocal from Mick centre stage.

26) Leather Jacket (Unreleased 1971)
Comparatively, very few people seem to know this song, another unfinished backing track this time from the 'Sticky Fingers' sessions which features another lively shuddery Keith Richards guitar riff at its heart and some great Mick Taylor 'weaving' going on alongside it. Breezy and laidback, it's quite unusual for the Stones and would have made a great album even better had it been finished. Again 'Leather Jacket' is probably the invention of a bootlegger rather than a serious name for the song.

27) Good Time Woman (Early Version of 'Tumbling Dice' 1972)
'Tumbling Dice', the last Stones single the general public are guaranteed to know, started off as a slow and slinky purring blues about a woman who simply wants to have a good time. You can almost hear this song evolving as the song takes off - the rhythm is there but the riff isn't yet, although it's easy to see where it came from seeing as the sudden 'duh-duh' rhythm of the chorus is crying out for something like the guitar riff to go here. Mick's lyrics, while clearly not as good, aren't all that far off the metaphor of the gambling casino for life yet, although gambling is only one thing this runaway missee seems to be interested in.

28) Loving Cup (Alternate Take 1972)
I've always loved this song since hearing it on 'Exile On Main Street' but considered the recording of it on that album, covered with the same bleary-eyed mix of the rest of the LP, was a bit too throwaway. Why on earth didn't the band release this slower, rougher, looser take, which features some delightful Mick 'n' Keef vocals and a feeling that Mick is living every word that he's singing. The sudden leap from laidback song into nasty urgency ('Give me a little drink!) is also better realised, making this song about the blurring lines between lust and love really come to life. reduced to blocking piano chords rather than twinkling, Nicky Hopkin's piano part is better than the finished version too.

29) Criss-Cross Man (Unreleased 1972)
More 'awake' than most of the 'Exile' recordings, this song from the earlier sessions sounds more like the strutting songs of 'Black and Blue' and by rights both these last two songs should have been on the deluxe 'Exile' set a few years ago. This track may be the most Stonesy song on this list, with a riff not far removed from 'Start Me Up, a great drawling vocal from Mick that ranges from purring sexuality ('Touch me!') to hard-edged anger (You're giving me a criss-cross mind!') A nice wah-wah guitar part from Mick Taylor makes this sultry song more interesting musically than normal for the Stones too - in all its a mystery why this song wasn't added to the 67-minute too-short-for-a-double 'Exile' LP.

30) 100 Years Ago (Alternate Take 1973)
'Goat's Head Soup' gets a bad press from fans but I don't know why - song by song its better than any other Stones set of the 70s barring 'Sticky Fingers'. perhaps fans would have liked it more if the recordings had the rawness and lack of polish of this early version of the album highlight. Mick's rip van winkle narrator sounds more desperate here, wondering what the world has in store for him after such a long time away in his life, while the sudden charge of guitar histrionics in the second half of the song takes the listener even more by surprise, Nicky Hopkin's keyboard riff setting up the scene with an even greater contrast between the two versions whole Mick's vocal is loud and proud throughout, rather than ducked low in the mix, and the song runs a fraction longer too, allowing for Mick to get even more desperate in his howls and screams.

31) Start Me Up (Alternate Take 1975)
You can see why the version released in 1981 was used rather than this one - 'Start Me Up', a song taped during 'Black and Blue' in 1975 and then forgotten about until the Stones needed to make an album in a hurry and checked out their bank of tapes - sounds like a Stones song in finished form. It doesn't here, in a slower, more reggae-fied arrangement that grooves rather than pounces and Mick clearly doesn't know his own words yet, lapsing into silences and reading them rather than living them. For all that, though, 'Start Me Up' already sounds like a pretty key song and it's amazing it was left to rot in a tape vault for some six years!

32) Love Is Strong (Alternate Take 1993)
Personally I like the later Stones albums better than most people, although there's no getting away from the fact that the best Stones songs nowadays tend to be ballads - they lost the knack of rocking somewhere around 1978. As heard on 'Voodoo Lounge' 'Love Is Strong' isn't any better than the band's other attempts, ending up a lot of polished, antiseptic noise. Heard in raw form, though, without all the extra polish and with a better, scarier vocal from Mick this track is a revelation. The band are reduced to just themselves again, the space gives the middle eight real room to breathe and the band are clearly having fun, adding a good two minute jam at the end of the song that sadly gets cut from the finished product. Mick gets wilder and more out of control with every 'hey yeah', venting his frustration at not getting the girl in the song more and more in one of his greatest vocal performances. Why oh why wasn't this recording left the way it was, instead of tampering with it?! A fine end to our Stones collection.

Hidden Track:
And to finish an extract from the rare 'Brian Jones Presents The Pipes Of Pan at Joujoukou' LP, recorded just before the guitarist's death in 1968 but not released till the 1970s on a hard-to-find LP, a haunting burst of tribal music to round out our compilation.

And that's all from us for another issue - be sure to tune in next week when we'll be discussing the 33 and a third best unreleased CSN songs! See you then!

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