Monday, 16 January 2017
The Rolling Stones: Live/Solo/Compilation/American Edition EPs and Albums Part One 1963-1974
(Decca, January 1964)
You Better Move On/Poison Ivy//Bye Bye Johnnie/Money (That's What I Want)
"It'll really do you in if you et it get under your skin"
Back in the early 1960s when there was a sudden influx of bands, the most cost effective way of testing out a new band was to get them to record a few singles and then make an EP as the next stage. An 'Extended Play' record that ran for twice as long as a single, they generally cost twice the money and proved how loyal a band's fans were. This debut EP - the first of three to contain exclusive material - made #1 in the EP charts and stayed somewhere near there for most of the year and a month (!) it spent there. Even more than their first two singles, it was the success of this first EP that proved the band's worth. Sadly, though, the sudden decline of the EP by the mid 1960s (when music became so essential to teenagers they all began to buy albums and America, where money was generally more plentiful, never took to the EP as a format) means that this selection of key songs gets rather overlooked in the modern Stones collection, difficult and expensive to track down on CD (it's currently available on CD complete only as part of the hideously costly 'Singles 1963-1965' box set, though we'll draw your attention to some other CD appearances for individual tracks).
That's a pity because despite being four covers of songs every other bands was doing back in this early period, the Stones' versions already have a particular anarchic spirit that makes them stand out. More confident than any of the three earlier sessions that resulted in the first two singles and the aborted 'Fortune Teller' recording meant to go in the middle, it's a sign of a band in transition, growing in confidence and edging ever closer towards rock than R and B and blues. Released just after Christmas so as to avoid competing against 'With The Beatles' (starting a near decade long trend), it's very much a product of 1963 rather than 1964, with messy but ear-catching and very English covers of American classics performed at speed. It doesn't perhaps stand up even to the Stones' first album release, but it's a crucial stepping 'stone' for the Stones who have spent most of 1963 casting round for a sound that will sell - and now have very much found it. A sign of how early this still is for the Stones though can be seen on the cover where all five are smartly dressed and look like office workers rather than rock stars - they won't be this smart en masse ever again.
[ ] 'You Better Move On' is easily the best of the four covers, a soulful lyrical ballad by the late, great Arthur Alexander that the Stones pack with a world-weary passion that makes it the better of every other period version (even The Hollies' and I say that as a fan). Mick sings with a purity he'll rarely match later, while the lack of plugged in power gives you a chance to hear the subtleties in the Stones' natty playing, especially Bill's busy bass and Charlie's jazzy drum parts. Even the tricky but oh so Alexander shift from major to minor key in the middle eight is handled well. Only a slightly clumsy series of backing vocals from Brian and Keith together, heavily treated with echo, gets in the way: it's probably no coincidence that Phil Spector will be hanging around the Stones a lot in the next set of sessions for the first LP...The song was chosen for release on the American album 'December's Children (And Everybody's) in 1965 where it sounded very out of place and the 'More Hot Rock's compilation of 1972.
Leiber/Stoller's comedy [ ] 'Poison Ivy' is great fun, another song the Stones had been beaten to by The Hollies. Brian's croaking frog guitar and grungy backing vocals are the highlight of a cover that slightly slows down the main riff to something less jovial and slightly more menacing. It is, after all, a song about obsession - a future Stones theme regular - and was probably written to suggest a sexually transmitted disease to those in the know ('You'll be scratching like a hound the minute you start to mess around!') Just light enough to be funny and dark enough to sound unlike anybody else's version, 'Poison Ivy' is another success, ending with a triumphant improvised drum roll from Charlie that sounds as if he really felt the band nailed that one. Perhaps he was remembering the first abortive sessions for the song, held many months earlier, when the band were considering it for their second single and got told by producer Michael Barkley it wasn't good enough? The song was re-issued on the CD-only edition of 'More Hot Rocks' in 2002.
[ ] 'Bye Bye Johnnie' is perhaps the closest yet to the Stones' signature sound and not at all coincidentally their second Chuck Berry cover. A sequel to 'Johnny B Goode' taken at a fast lick and with a great guitar riff at its heart, it's a much more suitable choice of cover than the faintly depressing 'Come On' and the band seem to instinctively understand how to mould this song to their own ends. Tellingly, it's a song about longing for stardom and going through short term heartbreak (as Johnny waves his mum goodbye at the train station) for long term gain (he comes back a rock star millionaire, repaying the cost of his first guitar - and buying a mansion for his family in the process. The first 'normal' guitar break on a Stones record is also a thing of beauty, Keith utterly on target for aping his hero while adding a little something extra of his own swagger. Shame Mick has such a creaky voice (had he just had a cold?) but even that adds to the theatricality of the performance. Included on the 1972 compilation 'More Hot Rocks'.
Finally, the performance of Barrett Strong's [ ] 'Money' is interesting, slowed down into a blues song without the blunt rock edges of either the original or The Beatles' better known cover. Though the song should suit the Stones like a glove (especially in Andrew Loog Oldham's era of publicity overdrive), this is the one track of the EP where the Stones sound a little bit lost, playing at the song without really meaning it. Certainly Mick's tongue-in-cheek delivery is no match for John Lennon's, while the inclusion of gravelly backing vocals and a repetitive tambourine part soften the blow of the song's urgency and obsession. It's a real shame the Stones never went back to this song actually - it would have suited the 'Satisfaction' era Stones well, but frankly the band at this early stage haven't quite grasped what an important and multi-edged sword this song is yet, treating it as a cute song about pocket money rather than life or death. Also included on 'More Hot Rocks' in 1972.
"Rolling Stones - England's Newest Hitmakers"
(London Records, May 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/Walkin' The Dog
"I try not to bear a grudge, 'cause a girl's got to hitch a ride..."
Almost all the British 1960s bands, from The Beatles down, had their music re-assembled and messed around with for the American market and the Stones were no exception. This first American release is effectively the first British album 'The Rolling Stones' and came impressively hot on the heels of the UK version though (after only a month gap, which is quick off the mark by 1960s standards). Apart from the title, the big differences come from the album cover (which prints the band and album name over the same picture as the wordless English album cover) and the inclusion of their most recent American hit 'Not Fade Away', which replaced 'Mona' on the original UK release (that track will appear on the third US album 'Now!') Given the band's swift rise through the charts across the next year, this remains the only Stones album of new material in the States to never make the top five of the American charts, with a peak of #11. The band were already popular enough to send the UK equivalent of this album to #1 at home.
"5 x 5" (E.P.)
(Decca, June 1964)
If You Need Me/Empty Heart//2120 South Michigan Avenue/Confessin' The Blues/Around and Around
"Reeling and a rocking, what a crazy sound, and they never stopped rocking till the moon went down"
Five Stones recording five songs in the 'home' of those recordings (Chess Records in Chicago) fresh from the debut album sessions - five stars are surely guaranteed! Nearly, anyway, with the band clearly in confident form as they make the most of the speed of their success and their chance to record in the American land they'd been hearing about for so long. The Stones probably made the EP as much to have as souvenir of a crazy time that would surely never come round again as much as a career move and there is a slight sense of standing still compared to the first LP, with three fairly safe cover songs and two even safer original compositions. The band do sound as if they've got to grasp with their sound and what to do with it a little bit more though, appearing on the cover in an interesting array of styles9with Keith's pink check shirt in the front for once). This release also sets a number of other 'traditions' - the American market, not sure what to do with EPs, titled the band's second album around it (losing the whole point of the title pun in the process), while Andrew Loog Oldham got carried away with the sleevenotes ('The band's debut has spent 30 weeks at #1' - actually it had only been 30 weeks since it was released and it was actually more like twelve), not for the last time.
In retrospect the EP is less essential to the Stones' growth as the first, but it's remarkable as an audio document of the band's time in America, bravely taking their own adapted American sound back to the country that inspired them. This is arguably the point where the Stones become a 'brand' and a 'global' phenomenon rather than high flying Brits and they've had to adopt these changes at high speed - higher even than The Beatles who had some eighteen months of success at home before breaking it big in the States. Recorded in two days, in the middle of a year when the Stones never stopped performing in concerts and on TV and radio shows, it's the sound of a band who can suddenly do no wrong and wants to keep the momentum running. Sadly it's also the band's last EP of all-new studio material (though there's a curious live EP to go), the sales of the albums having largely made these EPs redundant by 1965. The Stones' year in training is now over and they're ready to mix it with the big boys from their next release on. Alas this EP is harder to get hold of even than the first one, included complete in the digital age only on the 'Complete Singles 1963-1965' box, though you can buy the '12 x 5' American album containing all five songs since its release on CD in 2003.
The soulful [ ] 'If You Need Me' is a Wilson Pickett song the Stones may well have learnt from Solomon's Burke cover - their cover is certainly closer to his soulful growly feel. A million miles away from the band's usual image, this is a sweet song of support, Mick vowing to be available at any time day or night when his girl needs him. He's having a good day, owning the middle eight patter that like most spoken word passages feels very corny on the original, twisting the words with a mixture of sincerity and a sneer. Brian is the next most comfortable Stone, turning in some lovely guitar work over Keith's more rhythmical playing and adding some gruff vocal harmonies that add a touch of 'realness' in contrast to Mick's showmanship lead. Stu gets his most audible part on a Stones track yet too on the organ, though it's not much of a replacement for the horns of the original.
The best song on the EP is surely [ ] 'Empty Heart', the best Stones original yet and still early enough to be credited to band pseudonym 'Nanker/Phelge' rather than 'Jagger/Richards'. A great ragged Chuck Berry riff from Keith is the perfect platform for Mick to stretch out on a song that lyrically comes off like a Motown track but musically is pure aggressive rock and roll. Mick's narrator is heartbroken, having - unusually - been dumped and he despairs that both his heart and his mind are empty. It's an early lesson in Stones contrasts, though, because Mick's confidence/arrogance and the gritty, rough performance is anything but empty, the sound of a man doing everything in his power to keep the darkness at bay.
Over on side two '2210 South Michigan Avenue' is another band original, an instrumental homage to the address of Chess Studios. It's surely unique in the Stones canon for being an R and B groove song, closer to the feel of Booker T and the MGs than the band's previous slurred blurred take on the blues as heard on 'Stoned'. It's also the only entirely instrumental song in the band's oeuvre - surprising, really, for a band who styled themselves so much on instrumental acts. If in truth it loses its way long before the two minutes are up, it's fun to hear Stu as the lead instrument for once and Keith's desperate attempts to keep up with him on some stabbing guitar, while Mick randomly attacks a tambourine and Brian plays some sublime harmonica. You're kind of glad this is only a one-off but at the same time it's sad that this is as close as we ever really got to Brian's original idea of the band as R and B performers.
[ ] 'Confessin' The Blues' is an old war number that started life as a piano honky tonk blues before Chuck Berry saw the worth in the song and rocked it up for a 1960 single release. It was one of his smaller hits but the Stones clearly found a lot to admire in it, with a gritty Jagger lead and more on-the-money piano playing from Stu up against an early example of the Stones 'art of guitar weaving', with Brian playing a chunky lead and Keith playing some weird fills over the top. A little too slow to truly come off, it's probably the weakest of the five songs here but played with such ear-catching confidence the performance nearly makes up for the arrangement.
The EP ends with its most famous moment, the concert regular [ ] 'Around and Around'. The most overt rock and roll song of the sessions, you wonder what the Chess engineers made of this so English rendition of an American classic, with Keith having clearly spent far too many hours working out how to play the song just so. It's Stu, though, who adds something a little extra to the song, vamping away in a style closer to future pianist Nicky Hopkins than his usual honky tonk style, adding momentum to a song that just keeps coming back for more. Charlie is the quiet star of the song, though, piling in faster and louder with every verse and causing even Mick to give his all to keep up by the end of the song. One of the band's better covers, certainly from this early period. This is also significant as the first Stones song to break the 'three minute barrier', supposedly the longest length that anyone could listen to rock and roll without getting bored, or so said traditionalists anyway; The Beatles were the first to break this with 'You Really Got A Hold On Me' at the end of the year before, but 'Around and Around' is more of a pure rock and roll track.
"12 x 5"
(London Records, October 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/Susie Q
"You've grown up all wrong, you came on too strong...but you've grown up on me"
The second American Stones album is , if you hadn't guessed from the title, an extension of the British '5 x 5' LP, which without the joke of the five Stones singing five songs seems rather pointless in its new form but there you go. The American market never understood the early 60s obsession with EPs: their teenagers didn't have the same problem with lack of funds that meant they could only afford full albums at Christmas or Birthdays (which was a problem back in the days when bands released three albums a year and you loved more than one band) and often changed them into full LPs - The Beatles' 'Magical Mystery Tour' being the most famous example. To fill out space American Decca added both sides of the singles 'It's All Over Now' and the American only 'Time Is On My Side' and also offered three songs that were hot off the press and will later be included on the 'No 2' LP a full three months later: 'Under The Boardwalk' 'Grown Up Wrong' and 'Suzie Q'. Just to confuse matters, the front cover is the same as the British 'no 2' album, while the American album featuring the bulk of the 'no 2' album sports a unique cover, a fact which has confused fans then and now. As you'd expect, this album was eagerly sought after by European fans from their pen friends when new got it, though the album became rather redundant once 'no 2' was out officially. The result is an album that hangs together rather better than might be expected given the various sources, with most Stones releases of the period sounding roughly the same and fitting together rather well. It does seem odd, though, that America - who were late to the Stones party by nearly two full years - should be ahead of their UK counterpart in terms of full albums.
"Got LIVE! If You Want It" (E.P.)
(Decca, June 1965)
We Want The Stones/Everybody Needs Somebody To Love/Pain In My Heart/Route 66//I'm Moving On/I'm Alright
"If you ever plan to travel West, Liverpool and Manchester they're the best, get your kicks on the M6!"
A concert so badly recorded only an EP's worth of music could be salvaged (with plenty more still left in the vaults, apparently), named for an excruciating pun based on the name of a song that isn't even on the EP (Slim Harpo's 'Got Love Is You Want It', a track the Stones did play live but were beaten to putting down on record by The Kinks) and almost impossible to hear for longer than thirty seconds at a time, the band's first go at 'Got LIVE! If You Want It' is every bit as tacky as the name suggests. It was the last of the Stones' EPs made up of original material and comes along curiously late for the period - most bands had given up on the idea by Christmas 1964 and this feels very much like a bonus stocking filler/'thanks for the holiday money granny I'll spend it wisely, honest I will' type release more suited to mid-summer. The Americans, who never understood the concept of EPs but liked the idea anyway, decided to commission their own full-length LP using the same name but a completely different set of shows. This is where it gets confusing, so bear with us: this EP is taken from concerts in Liverpool on March 5th 1965 and Manchester on March 7th 1965; the LP comes from later shows taped either in September or October 1966; only 'I'm Alright' is played at both gigs and the two performances are very different. The LP version has been released on CD a couple of times, though frustratingly nobody's done the obvious thing and tacked the EP on the end as a 'bonus' - instead the only way of buying the EP in the digital era is to track down the pricey 'Complete Singles 1963-1966' box which also contains all the band's EPs. Beware though - you may not want to.
You see, rock and roll live recording was in its infancy - there won't be a decent sounding live LP until the Stones' own 'Get Yer Ya Yas Out!' breaks the mould in 1970 and until this EP the closest thing to a bona fide live rock and roll record had been 'The Beach Boys' Concert', which back in the days when the band were still newbies didn't feature quite as much screaming. Infamously this EP was said to be recorded by engineer Glyn Johns as simply as possible, by slinging one microphone over the walls to the front left of the auditorium and one to the front right - evidence doesn't quite bear this out ('I'm Moving On' features a harmonica overdub, which would have been impossible to place so well) but it's close enough to the truth it seems - this is one hell of a rowdy concert. To be honest if this was a bootleg you'd take it back over issues with the sound quality and the release of this record at peak 'Rolling Stones bad boy' time must have really added to their image, with panicked parents everywhere wondering what all the screams were.
In a sign of how seriously this set was being taken the opening 'track' (which is all of fifteen seconds long) doesn't even feature the Stones but the crowd chanting [ ] 'We Want The Stones' -the band, in a sign of things to come, credit themselves with the 'song' anyway under the group name 'Nanker Phelge' and pocket the ensuing royalties. Given that this EP sold well by EP standards, it's probably not exaggerating much to say that Mick and Keith got a swimming pool or perhaps a small car each simply because a crowd of scousers chanted 'We want the Stones' twice near to a microphone, while Bill probably bought a new suit, Charlie a new set of jazz records and Brian a month's worth of hair products. This, I'm sorry to say, is how rock and roll works sometimes.
After that opening chant we get a bare minute of a slowed down buzz-saw groove version of [ ] 'Everybody Got Somebody To Love' before the song segues unconvincingly into [ ] 'Pain In My Heart', with Mick full of his best pleas as he gets down on his bended knees and no doubt skis and has fleas in his attempts to woo every pretty girl in the front row. The band play noisily and unconvincingly for such a pretty ballad, but then so probably would I if faced with all that noise! [ ] 'Route 66' is scrappier but the song suits the feel of this chaotic listening experience rather better. Keith is just gone, man, gone on the Chuck Berry groove as he twists and turns, the rest of the band trying to keep up with the little bit of the song they can hear.
After four songs in various degrees of completeness, side two features two tracks complete, both of which are exclusive to this set (or at any rate the 'Got LIVE If You Want It!' franchise). Hank Snow's [ ] 'I'm Moving On' is particularly interesting. The backbeat is similar to 'Route 66' but Brian's virtuoso bottleneck and Mick's harmonica playing means the band sound more like they would have done back in their early days. Mick drops his yelled pop voice to a low growl that seem to have an even wilder effect on the crowd and this 1950 country rocker really suits the cat-and-mouse rock game the Stones are playing with the audience. Though the song suits the manic circumstances, it's a shame they didn't record this in the studio as well as it sounds like one of their better 1965 rockers - from the little you can hear at least.
There isn't even a pause before Keith is strumming the bow-legged Bo Diddley riff from [ ] 'It's Alright!', a song born for the stage. Had the band recorded this one for a record it would have sounded silly: 'It's alright all night long and all day too!' is about the total of the lyrics, while like many Diddley songs the track never moves off past that opening hypnotic waddle. With Brian's rhythm and Charlie's drums slashing all over the place, though, this song builds up to a nicely intense groove that has the crowd in hysterics. You had to be there maybe, but a little of the magic of the early 1960s package tours comes over in this time capsule of a recording.
"Out Of Our Heads" (American Edition)
(London Records, July 1965)
Mercy Mercy/Hitch-Hike/The Last Time/That's How Strong My Love Is/Good Times/I'm Alright//(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction/Cry To Me/The Under Assistant West Coast Promotions Man/Play With Fire/The Spider and The Fly/One More Try
"I'm the necessary talent behind every rock and roll band!"
Bear with us because this gets complicated. The American edition of 'Out Of Our Heads' was released two months before the European version. It features the cover of the British 'Rolling Stones No 2', while the cover for 'Out Of Our Heads' will be held back for next US-only record 'December's Children', which features almost as many songs from this album anyway. Only six songs - half the album - are taken from the same album, the rest coming from both sides of the band's first two 1965 singles 'The Last Time' and 'Satisfaction', plus the live EP track 'I'm Alright!' and an oddity in 'One More Try' that won't be released in the rest of the world until 1971 and the 'Stone Age' compilation. It's all a bit of a jumble to be honest, though an endearing jumble with the Stones caught on the cusp between skilled cover merchants and the even more glorious creators of original songs that will one day replace them. The record became the biggest seller the Stones had Stateside in the 1960s, thanks almost certainly to the success of 'Satisfaction'. Though it's messy and scrappy and inconsistent, you can kind of see why this record did so well.
"December's Children (And Everybody's)"
(London Records, December 1965)
She Said Yeah!/Talkin' 'Bout You/You Better Move On/Look What You've Done/The Singer Not The Song/Route 66//Get Off My Cloud/I'm Free/As Tears Go By/Gotta Get Away/Blue Turns To Grey/I'm Moving On
"The same old places, the same old songs, we've been going there for much too long"
There have, to date, been several dozen American-made versions of British AAA albums from the 1960s in our books. The majority of them simply name play around with the originals a bit, swap a few singles around or miss tracks out, while most of the others come with typical record marketing names like 'Now!' or 'Hear!' Or 'It's!' 'December's Children', though, is in a whole new league of bonkers. The Stones had nothing to do with the name - which is Andrew Loog Oldham's idea of hip poetry (to be fair it's a better name than 'Out Of Our Heads') - or the track listing, which takes songs from three separate years. The States are now on their fifth album, while British fans have only just got their third, and London Records (the American Decca) have got a bit of a problem. They've only got four new songs - only enough for an EP - but if they wait any longer fans will get cross that European fans have something they don't and, hey, rock and roll is ephemeral so the Stones won't be here next year anyway right? (An argument that was looking more flimsy with every passing year, but people said it anyway). Even adding both sides of the 'Get Off My Cloud' and the US-only 'As Tears Go By' singles is only two-thirds of the way there. Decca have, however, passed over a few early songs as not fit for purpose: tracks like 'You Better Move On' (from the Stones' eponymous first LP), the live versions of 'Route 66' and 'I'm Moving on' (from the UK-only EP version of 'Got LIVE! If You Want It'), a demo of 'Blue Turns To Grey' which was given away to Dick and Dee Dee and The Mighty Avengers (both acts had flops with it) and won't be released in Europe until the 'Stone Age' set in 1971 and an outtake not released in Europe until the American albums started appearing over here on CD: Muddy Waters' 'Look What You've Done' (odd it wasn't on 'Metamorphosis' too).This makes 'December's Children' a deeply uneven, though entertaining, listen and the two 'exclusive' tracks made this record much sought after by European fans who usually gave the American Stones albums short shrift. Songs you know backwards, songs you barely know at all, typical Stones tracks from 1963, 1964 and 1965, that hip poetry title...'December's Children' is a candidate for the American market's weirdest Stones set, or in fact everybody's.
"Big Hits (High Tide, Green Grass)"
(London Records/Abkco, March 1966 USA, November 1966 UK)
(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction/The Last Time/As Tears Go By/Time Is On My Side/It's All Over Now/Tell Me//19th Nervous Breakdown/Heart Of Stone/Get Off My Cloud/Not Fade Away/Good Times Bad Times/Play With Fire
The European edition substitutes 'Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing In The Shadow?' 'Paint It, Black' and 'Lady Jane' for 'Tell Me' 'Good Times, Bad Times' and 'Play With Fire'
"Remember the good times we had together? Don't you want them back again?"
Three albums in seems a bit early for a best-of, but then back in the mid-1960s most record companies couldn't believe their luck that rock and roll was still a 'thing'. To give credit to Decca, though, their Stones compilations - certainly while the band were still an active part of their label - were rather good. The first version, out in America in March, recycles the cover originally intended for 'Out Of Our Heads' back when it was titled 'Could YOU Walk On Water?' and features three fairly rare flipsides to go with a complete run of singles from 'Not Fade Away' up to the present day (with the curious exception of 'Little Red Rooster', forever doomed to be shunned by compilations despite being of the band's biggest sellers). The European version, released in November to go toe-to-toe with EMI's Beatles set 'A Collection Of Oldies But Mouldies' (not it's real name, but that's what everyone - band included - has always called it), is less of a boon for collectors but does offer the three extra classic singles released across 1966. For some reason this album cover is different, with a fish-eye lens view of a rather dapper looking be-suited Stones which also happens to be the only official merchandise-wise shot of the band with Bill at the front rather than the back (perhaps because he's the one who looks most comfortable being smartly dressed - Brian's scowl suggests he can't wait till the photo session is over and he can rip the thing off). Both editions also feature a nice gatefold sleeve full of many pictures of the Stones at work and play back in the days when they were naturally photogenic and could make a shot work just by frowning (in fact, am I right in thinking this is rock and roll's first ever gatefold sleeve? I can't find an earlier one. It's good practice for Decca who'll be doing this sort of thing all the time once The Moody Blues get going circa 1968). It's a shame both records aren't longer, that 'C'mon' and 'I Wanna Be Your Man' aren't here (the two singles hardest to track down if you were a collector back in 1966) and that this set really is about 'Big Hits' not the best album tracks. Even so, this compilation has more class than might be expected if you've come to the Stones through one of Decca's later cash-ins and from the clever poetic title (probably Andrew Loog Oldham's suggestion) down to the generous packaging has more class than most 1960s compilations too.
"Aftermath" (American Edition)
(London Records, June 1966)
Paint It, Black/Stupid Girl/Lady Jane/Under My Thumb/Doncha Bother Me/Think//Flight 505/High and Dry/It's Not Easy/I Am Waiting/Goin' Home
"It's down to me! The West Coast Under Assistant Promotions Man! The way the album is dressed, though I haven't a clue what I've done - this band are under my thumb!"
Two months after 'Aftermath' in Britain we get the American 'Aftermath' (no jokes about world wars please) with the usual array of changes made by the American branch of Decca. Several of the album songs had already been premiered on 'December's Children' anyway, which cut the track listing down to just ten of the British album's fourteen songs. London then added period single 'Paint It, Black' at the beginning - a rather uncomfortable addition given that the song's twinges of psychedelia owe little similarities to the rest of this rock and pop and sometimes folk rock set of songs. As usual though there are some slight improvements more because of luck than skill: 'Goin' Home' works better at the end of side two than it did at the end of side one and the absence of some of the weaker songs like 'Take It And Leave It' make the second side much more palatable. The album cover is a unique shot of the band dressed in suits and shot in colour, but with the camera given a 'blurred' effect suggesting movement, To be honest it's probably the after-effects of American record-buyers using the set as a frisbee when they discover how badly their favourite band have been messed around with yet again.
"Got LIVE! If You Want It" (L.P.)
(Decca, December 1966)
Under My Thumb/Get Off My Cloud/Lady Jane/Not Fade Away/I've Been Loving You Too Long/Fortune Teller//The Last Time/19th Nervous Breakdown/Time Is On My Side/I'm Alright/Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing In The Shadow?/(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction
"Paint It Black You Devils!"
The Brits release an EP as a cash-in; the American go the whole hog and commission a full LP of screams with a few snatches of the Stones playing somewhere in there, honest. ‘Got Live If You Want It’ is one of those LPs like The Beatles’ ‘Hollywood Bowl’, The Beach Boys’ ‘Concert’ and The Kinks’ ‘Kelvin Hall’ that’s of huge interest to the collector but will sound like absolute rubbish to everybody else. The recording techniques to record this album were primitive in the extreme, with the audience far louder than the band and the whole album smacks of money-making desperation. This one more than most: the band played such a short set that even the American market would have complained so infamously, this album also features two outtakes dubbed with crowd ‘noise’ to sound like they are live. Sadly 'Fortune Teller' (the band's aborted second single back in 1963, reviewed earlier now that we can hear it without the screams) and yet another Mick does Otis Redding outtake 'I've Been Loving You Too Long' are all too clearly studio tracks recorded on a different day surrounded by the same screams you've heard barely minutes earlier if you're paying enough attention (would it really have been so bad to just have two studio outtakes added to the end?) Decca also physically mangle the tape at the start of 'Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby?', in an attempt to replicate that song's weird sonic chanting - but which just ends up sounding nothing like that track and more like someone slowing a tape down. The Rolling Stones, who weren't even consulted the gig was being recorded (we're not even sure which one by the way - some sources say The Royal Albert Hall on September 23rd 1966; others that it's two gigs played in Newcastle Upon Tyne on October 1st and Bristol on October 7th that year) were furious and disowned this album as quickly as possible. Absent from the first run of Stones album re-issues on CD, it was half-heartedly added to the second group in the late 1990s - it's first mainstream release in Europe - though the re-mastering improves the sound a lot, more so than the other records released in the same series.
Yet despite everything working against it, this album is probably my favourite live Stones LP with a charisma and attitude missing from the later sets and some fine, rare material with Brian Jones back to his proper place as the semi-leader of the Stones. A year on from the LP the microphones have improved a tiny bit, Mick has grown into his role as the swaggering voice of debauchery for a generation and Bill and Charlie have learnt to give up on subtle and simply nail a heavy groove. 'Under My Thumb' has a menacing leer that the 'Aftermath' cut was missing (though no marimbas), 'Get Off My Cloud' sounds properly angry rather than playful with Keith's guitar solo-ing nearly punk, 'Not Fade Away' hits a fine hypnotic groove, '19th Nervous Breakdown' is primal anguish, 'I'm Alright' is fatter and fuller than the EP take, 'Satisfaction' is suitably aggressive and angsty with one of the best drum breaks of Watts' career and most surprisingly of all 'Lady Jane' still manages to be hauntingly beautiful. In truth only a slightly wonky 'The Last Time' and the two mangled studio-now-live tracks don't gain a new dimension from being treated with the sheer power and spectacle of a Stones concert. Yes you wish the crowd would shut up from time to time and the Stones lose a lot of the subtleties they'd been working so hard on across 1965 and 1966. But the band's one live album from the 1960s, when they were named the greatest rock and roll band in the world, is more 'real' than any of the successive going-through-the-motions live records with audience and band caring with a passion and screaming their lungs out (even when it's manufactured, weirdly). Rather sweetly the audience cry of 'paint it black you devils!' heard on this record - and sadly not reciprocated - will reappear on many a future live Stones set as a 'homage'. Suddenly this crude and tacky cash-in, again named for an excruciatingly bad pun over s dong that isn't even on the record, seems more essential than anyone working on it at the time would have guessed.
A quick run down through the only song that's currently unavailable in any other form. [ ] 'I've Been Loving You Too Long' is the third in a trilogy of Otis Redding soul covers, a better song than either 'Pain In My Heart' or even 'That's How Strong My Love Is' but not really given justice here. Mick sounds more like a soul wannabe than ever, though to be fair he'd have probably had another go at this vocal had he known it was being considered for release, while for some reason the fake crowd noises are more off-putting here than they were on 'Fortune Teller'. An odd organ sound, not a patch on Booker T's part on the original, is a new sound for the Stones but not a particularly good one.
"Between The Buttons" (American Edition)
(London Records, February 1967)
Let's Spend The Night Together/Yesterday's Papers/Ruby Tuesday/Connection/She Smiled Sweetly/Cool Calm and Collected//All Sold Out/My Obsession/Whose Been Sleeping Here?/Complicated/Miss Amanda Jones/Something Happened To Me Yesterday
"You can't dodge it, simple logic, though it's not my cup of tea and I wanted you to be mine - exclusively"
The last of the Americanised Stones albums (which will fall in line with European editions from 'satanic Majesties' onwards), 'Between The Button' also features the simplest and most obvious alterations. Period single 'Let's Spend The Night Together' and 'Ruby Tuesday' were substituted for album tracks 'Backstreet Girl' and 'Please Go Home', both of which appear on the final American set 'Flowers' released a mere four months later. The 'newcomers' arrive at the beginning which shunts the tracks down so that 'My Obsession' now appears ion side two. The packaging is otherwise the same as the standard British version, complete with demented Charlie Watts poem. As with the earlier American Stones sets, the American market got 'their' edition of the album on CD in 2003, though without the 'missing' tracks as bonus selections this time.
"Get Yer Ya-Yas Out!"
(Decca, September 1970)
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
Deluxe Edition Bonus Tracks (2009): Prodigal Son/You Gotta Move/Under My Thumb/I'm Free/(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction
"Charlie's good tonight inne?"
Given that the Stones had been touring under the moniker 'the greatest rock and roll band in the world' for years by 1970, there felt like there was a lot resting on the band's second live album - and their first from the days when concerts could actually be turned into listenable records. 'Get Yer Ya Yas Out!' is regularly trotted out on 'best live albums...ever!' polls if for no other reason than it was one of the first to sound like this, with power and grunt and Ya Ya's greatest claim is that it's pretty much the first rock and roll concert that feels like you're there, while still able to hear everything. Gloriously messy, with new boy Mick Taylor barely given any rehearsal time, it's a completely different experience to the studio records and back in 1970 when the messy-for-other-reasons 'Got LIVE! If You Want It' was the norm not the exception must have blown minds. Taken from the best of three similar gigs played at Madison Square Gardens in New York across November 1969, it's a snapshot in time featuring the early days of the line-up many consider the Stones' best.
However, I've never really bought the claim that 'Ya Yas' is still the ultimate rock and roll powerhouse album. By future and - from some bootlegs - past standards, The Stones are having a rough night, with a combination of their new band member and their own three year touring hiatus leading to stiff fingers, never mind sticky ones. Even using a mobile recording unit amongst the very best money could buy, the record features the same Decca muddy sound as the studio albums which sounds wretched when played back to back with, say, The Who's 'Live At Leeds' from the same period which beats it in every way. The Rolling Stones don't really sound like the world's greatest rock and roll band here - not least because the only real rock and roll they play is the most scatterbrained of all their 'Jumpin' Jack Flashes' down the years and two Chuck Berry covers (one of them, 'Little Queenie', exclusive to this set and fun but hardly essential listening). Instead the band mess around with achingly slow country ('Love In Vain'), purring blues ('Stray Cat Blues') and honky tonk ('Women') none of which quite feel as if they suit the stage. Only an energetic 'Live With Me' that knocks spots off the 'Let It Bleed' version and the over-rated rapist tale 'Midnight Rambler' (which works better in concert but still seems woefully misconceived) come close to matching this record's reputation.
Containing all the Stones' most controversial and dated songs in one handy place ('Midnight Rambler' 'Stray Cat Blues' which is about sex with an underage groupie; a so-so noisy 'Street Fighting Man' was still under a daft radio ban for 'inciting violence' and a woeful too-slow and primitive 'Sympathy For The Devil') you can see why this album got the reputation it did for danger and darkness. But the Stones often sound as if they're going through the motions or holding on grimly to songs that are trying to buck and get away from them, most notable in the end for their newest and inexperienced member finding new ways to make solos from old songs shine. Had we never been given access to other later, greater Stones live sets (the run of official archive sets from the 1970s, the bootleg set from this same 1969 tour 'Liver Than You'll Ever Be', even the infamous 'Altamont' gig from December where the Stones play better whatever's going on off-stage) 'Ya Yas' may well have held it's crown. But that's the problem with billing yourself as 'the greatest rock and roll band in the world': that's too good a claim for people not to break and the Stones are here too new and unrehearsed to live up to that billing. It remains, however, a most important set musically, the first live album ever to make the UK #1 albums spot (James Brown's 'Apollo' set having beaten the Stones in the States by eight years). Though Charlie, of all people, does his best to look 'excited' in a cover specially shot for the album in February 1970 (after an aborted period shoot went wrong), the fed-up donkey over-laden with instruments has an expression probably closer to the truth (apparently the band were thinking of Dylan's song 'Visions Of Johanna' and the line 'Jewels and binoculars hang from the head of her mule but these visions make it all seem so cruel'). As for the weird album title, it's a song by Blind Boy Fuller ('Get Yer Ya Yas Out The Door!') which oddly the Stones never covered - it would have fitted their early 60s set lists well - and full of just the right cheeky subversive double-entendres for a live Stones set.
The 40th anniversary set is slightly more palatable featuring as it does five extra songs that really should have been on the original album. This is one of the better 'Satisfaction' s, turned into a demented rave-up singalong that just keeps on going , while 'I'm Free' rocks with a lot more certainty than it ever did in the studio as a B-side. The Rev Gary Davis' 'You Gotta Move' is still near-unlistenable, however. Oddly all five songs ended up on the 'Guitar Hero' game as a bit of cross-over promotion (though none of the original album songs were), while the live 'Under My Thumb' appears on 'Band Hero', Nintendo's copycat version. A tie-in release of the 'Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus' (complete with hats) would have been much more fun! An additional CD contained the sets by support acts B B King and Ike and Tina Turner - both are worthy of release for collectors of these acts (and Tina sounds strong on 'Son Of A Preacher Man', which suits her more than it ever did Dusty Springfield), but both seemed odd choices for supporting the world's greatest rock and roll band anyway. Better is to follow.
(Decca, March 1971)
Look What You've Done/It's All Over Now/Confessin' The Blues/One More Try/As Tears Go By/The Spider and The Fly//My Girl/Paint It, Black/If You Need Me/The Last Time/Blue Turns To Grey/Around and Around
"I saw you last night, moving around your new turf...but now it's gone so see what I've done"
The Rolling Stones' fallout with their old record label Decca was quite spectacular and full of bluff and double bluff on both sides. The Stones, their contract at an end by the start of 1971, simply refused to release anything in 1970 except the hastily made 'Ya Yas' concert album, though most of 'Sticky Fingers' was recorded in Decca's studios using their time and money in 'secret'. The band had partly made their own record label to escape the clutches of new and hated manager Allen Klien, who even before he was making The Beatles' life a misery was taking extra percentages and profits from deals cut for the Rolling Stones (Mick reportedly tried to warn Lennon off from signing with him in 1968, but got 'leaned on' and gave up in the face of John's enthusiasm). However Klein realised that the Stones were his biggest money spinners during his new life at the Decca subsidiary company Abcko and effectively conned the band into signing away the rights to their old mastertapes which weren't technically the label's to give away. The end result was a stalemate, with both sides glaring at each other, but the Stones were hopeful that once they'd escaped they'd be alright. They were wrong.
Under Klein's guidance, Decca prepared to release a new compilation every time the Stones had a new album out, something that will run until 'Black and Blue' and will rear its head again when the band's mega-publicity drive for their 'Steel Wheels' comeback in 1989. Though most of the compilations are cheap and shoddy, thrown together at speed, the music of course is excellent and remained a useful way for fans to pick up sons that had never appeared on a full-length album, traditionally hardier than the 45 rpm singles that tended to get scratched or wear out more easily. 'Stone Age' is the first of these and probably the worst, a clever title off-set by a pretty awful front cover (which, to add insult to injury, borrowed the 'graffiti' idea the Stones had had rejected for 'Beggar's Banquet') and a most peculiar jumble of A sides, B sides and album tracks. Most of these cover the early years and the Jagger-Richards songwriting team's first stuttering attempts at pop singles - hence the compilation name - and must have been hugely embarrassing for a band currently promoting themselves as 'the world's great rock and roll band'. Then again for collectors in Europe it was a useful way of getting hold of some of the songs that had only ever appeared in the States before: songs like the charming 'Blue Turns To Grey' and the bluesy 'Look What You've Done' )(both taken from the American-only album 'December's Children').
The Stones hated this compilation so much that they even took the unprecedented step of taking out a full page advert in both the Record Mirror and the NME, pleading with their fans not to buy it ('in our opinion it is below the standard we try to keep up, both in choice of content and cover design' - a bit rich from the band who'll release 'Black and Blue' in another five years but there you go). However not many fans listened and the album sold enough copies to reach #4 in the UK charts, not that many places away in the charts from the #1 of 'Sticky Fingers' (which, if my calculations are right, marks the first time the band had had two albums in the top ten at the same time since 1965). Perhaps understandably, it's currently missing on CD though all the tracks are available on different albums now - buy the 'London Singles Collection' and 'December's Children' and they cover all the songs between them - but there's a fondness from this set by the fans who spent their pocket money discovering their heroes' past that just won't go away. A regular at record fairs, 'Stone Age' it seems will never become extinct no matter how much the Stones try to make us forget about it.