Monday, 30 January 2017
The Rolling Stones: Live/Solo/Compilation Albums Part Three 1989-2015
(Abcko, August 1989)
CD One: C'Mon/I Want To Be Loved/I Wanna Be Your Man/Stoned/Not Fade Away/Little By Little/It's All Over Now/Good Times Bad Times/Tell Me/I Just Want To Make Love To You/Time Is On My Side/Congratulations/Little Red Rooster/Off The Hook/Heart Of Stone/What A Shame/The Last Time/Play With Fire/(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction/The Under Assistant West Coast Promotions Man/The Spider and The Fly/Get Off My Cloud/I'm Free/The Singer Not The Song/As Tears Go By
CD Two: Gotta Get Away/19th Nervous Breakdown/Sad Day/Paint It Black/Stupid Girl/Long Long While/Mother's Little Helper/Lady Jane/Have You Seen Your Mother Baby Standing In The Shadow?/Whose Driving Your Plane?/Let's Spend The Night Together/Ruby Tuesday/We Love You/Dandelion/She's A Rainbow/2000 Light Years From Home/In Another Land/The Lantern/Jumpin' Jack Flash/Child Of The Moon
CD Three: Street Fighting Man/No Expectations/Surprise Surprise/Honky Tonk Women/You Can't Always Get What You Want/Memo From Turner/Brown Sugar/Wild Horses/I Don't Know Why/Try A Little Harder/Out Of Time/Jiving Sister Fanny/Sympathy For The Devil
"I said yeah! yeah! yeah! Woooah!"
Released the same month as the big Stones comeback 'Steel Wheels', this three CD set is the single best Rolling Stones album you can buy and the perfect rejoinder to any weary music fan who wondered why a band a quarter century old were being given such fuss. In case you're wondering, 'London' is the Decca subsidiary the Stones were on in America before switching to Atlantic with their own Rolling Stones Records label in 1969 - though clearly aimed at the American market, it's always seemed strange that it wasn't called 'The Decca/London Years'. Though released with typical bandwagon-leaping timing by the Stones' old masters at Decca and without any Stones involvement, it shows a lot more love and care than any of their older sets, including every single A and B side released by the Stones on their label in the right order - even, oddly, the ones released by the label after the band left the label (so you get the outtakes from 'Metamorphosis' released as singles here too, with 'Surprise Surprise' uncomfortably filling the gap between 'No expectations' and 'Honky Tonk Woman', plus the inclusion of 'Sympathy For The Devil' because it once came out as a B-side in the 1980s; normally I'd be cross at such playing around with history but it's the single most important Stones song of the 1960s not already here so I'll let it pass). The result is an intense listening experience where you can hear the Stones grow month by month, as their focus shifts from R and B to blues to rock to psychedelia and through to the country-folk of the 'Beggar's Banquet' and 'Let It Bleed' era.
The Stones crossed over into being an 'albums' rather than a 'singles' band relatively late on compared to their rivals - sometime around 'Beggars Banquet' in 1968. As a result a good two-thirds of the most vital work they made in the 1960s comes from the singles, which had never before been collected in such bulk and in the 'correct' chronological order. Tracks like 'Satisfaction' and 'Jumpin' Jack Flash' are, of course, some of the most famous songs of the decade but equally good - if less immediate - are some of the rarer singles that never seem to get the same kudos or airtime in our day and age: 'Little Red Rooster' (still the only blues song to ever get to #1 and curiously absent from most Stones compilations), the most inventive Stones recording 'Paint It, Black', the full on funk and fizzle of '19th Nervous Breakdown', the always overlooked 'Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby?' and the wicked sarcastic delight of 'We Love You'.
Better yet though is the inclusion of so many rare B-sides, many of which are the equal of the better known 'A' sides ('Spider and the Fly' 'Dandelion' 'Child Of The Moon'). Though a handful of the flipsides did make it onto album, most never had and it seems odd that in their desperation to rummage through the Stones' 'yesterday papers' that Decca had never hit upon a B-sides compilation. Oddly enough, some had only ever been released on one side of the Atlantic anyway, with some singles represented by three tracks not two: that's why 'Get Off My Cloud' is followed by four songs only fans know and in some cases features singles taken from albums only released in the States (such as 'Tears Go By' and 'Mother's Little Helper'). This means that we get both the Stones at their best and their most creative, as like so many other 1960s acts the Stones used their flipsides as a chance to stretch themselves without the need to worry about their audience or reputation, with some real hidden gems from the back catalogue allowed to sparkle all over again. Collectors also get the bonus of 'Memo From Turner', the song from the Mick Jagger film 'Performance' and technically credited to the singer alone and while no carat gold classic it makes sense nestled in between 'You Can't Always Get What You Want' and 'Brown Sugar'. Though the packaging could have been better (just a boring monochrome shot of the band's picture sleeves, which on the CD edition is so small you really can't see them at all and no real sleeve notes), this is a first class set that fills many missing holes and includes some of the best music ever made in the 1960s. If you don't have anything by the band at all then start here and you'll be a fan for life.
Continetal Drift (Intro)/Start Me Up/Sad Sad Sad/Miss You/Rock and A Hard Place/Ruby Tuesday/You Can't Always Get What You Want/Factory Girl/Can't Be Seen With You/Little Red Rooster/Paint It Black/Sympathy For The Devil/Brown Sugar/Jumpin' Jack Flash/(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction/Highwire/Sex Drive
"If you want to change your style and live a life more versatile, we could be a smash!"
The 'Steel Wheels' keep on turning, with yet more merchandise from the Stones' biggest attempt at a comeback album. This fifth live Stones record made sense when we feared it might well be the 'last time', but has become rather more redundant with each and every passing Stones tour since. The 'Urban Jungle' tour as it was nicknamed, with its steel grey hubcapped stage and massive big blowup tongues, was the biggest Stones spectacle yet and went toe to toe with Paul McCartney's touring band as the biggest earning tour the rock world had ever seen, playing to massive crowds in mammoth arenas. Unfortunately all this makes the Stones play big in response, which is great if you're there and the band only look like dots on the horizon a mile away, but doesn't make for easy listening. Though it's not particularly loud, there's so much going on in a messy mix and so much echo from the oversized halls that this album 'feels' loud, overpoweringly so at times. With this a concerted attempt to re-launch the Stones as the biggest band in the world there's an understandable reliance on their biggest hit songs, with very few tracks in this running order that hadn't already been heard on any of the previous four live LPs. If it's merely the hits you want, though, this seems like a good place to start with sloppy but always committed performances of more classics in one place than any of the other live LPs and barely a chance to draw breath before some other classic gets released from the cupboards. Nice to see relative obscurities like 'Little Red Rooster' (with a guesting Eric Clapton) and 'Ruby Tuesday' back in the setlist too, ballads that offer a nice balance to the up-tempo classics, though neither performance is exactly careful. The best song is an unexpected revival of 'Factory Girl' though, last heard back in 1968 and given the added push of a full live touring band. If you have to sit through performances of 'Satisfaction' and 'Jumpin' Jack Flash' again this is the way to hear them, although there are less surprises on this set than any of the others. Even the cover seems streamlined, looking like one of those health and safety notices you get on the back of fire extinguishers.
There are two new songs recorded in the studio stapled to the end here too which offer a sort of belated 'oh yeah and we're still going!' coda to the album. The music of 'Highwire' and especially 'Sex Drive' do the band no real flavours, adding to the bloatedness poured on top of Chuck Berry riffs that have already been assaulting your ears for over an hour, but lyrically 'Highwire' at least deserves more credit than it ever got at the time. Only perhaps the band's fourth or fifth political commentary, it features Jagger commenting on the Gulf war and how funding terrorists and getting a quick buck for cheap weapons is bound to backfire on us eventually. How right he was - and how tragic that it took a supposedly out of touch rock star to make the point over politicians who are paid to consider that sort of thing. Both tracks bode well, being up to the better half of the 'Steel Wheels' album, though they seem slim pickings as the only new songs released in the ever growing gap between albums - 'Voodoo Lounge' won't be along for another three. Not quite a 'flashpoint' then - more a 'waiting for the fuse to light' kind of a release - but this live set makes more sense than 'Still Life' ever did and kept the Stones in brown sugar long enough to come back for a stronger 1990s than many were predicting.