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"Can't you hear me knockin' down your dirty street?"

Class A

Main Category: Rhythm & Blues
Also applicable: Pop Rock, Psychedelia, Roots Rock, Hard Rock
Starting Period: The Early Years
Also active in: The Psychedelic Years, The Artsy/Rootsy Years,

The Interim Years, The Punk/New Wave Years,

The Divided Eighties, From Grunge To The Present Day




APPENDIX A: My Review Of The Stones' Moscow Concert




Disclaimer: this page is not written from the point of view of a Rolling Stones fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Rolling Stones fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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The Rolling Stones are the second greatest rock band to have ever existed. Naturally, this is not objective truth. In reality, maybe Paul Butterfield's Blues Band is. (And maybe They Might Be Giants are the first, then). But it's an opinion shared by many, not something I made up here on the spot because Keith Richards happened to give me an autograph or something (he didn't). One might successfully argue that this has a lot to do with the Stones' image, their actively promoted yin side to the Beatles' yang. Yes, that is true. But they were not alone in the competitive market - even in the early Sixties, quite a few dirty, scruffy, rebellious bands vied for the title of Baddest Boys of Rock as opposed to the Beatles' "Cleanest".

The Rolling Stones came out the first (second) due to a huge mass of factors. Dissect their music, their style, their image, their ambitiousness into small pieces and, as it happens with the Beatles, you'll see that in many of these areas they probably wouldn't receive 100 out of 100 from even an exceptionally biased jury. But then put it all back together, screw the bolts tightly, and the final construction will loom like a friggin' Sears Tower over most of their peers and competitors. First of all, they were pioneers. Prior to their debut album, rock'n'roll in Britain was hardly "dangerous"; even the wildest tracks off the wildest albums by the wildest bands had a drunken, carnivalesque attitude to them rather than carried any hidden menace. The Stones changed all of that, performing music that maybe wasn't as loud as you'd expect, but somehow managed to combine the creepy mystique of their blues idols with true assholish snottiness of middle-class UK teenagers.

Second, they were professionals. Today, it is a little hard to give our real dues to the technical level of the Stones around 1964-65, but it only takes a few superficial comparisons of their style with all that other music to see what is meant. The band's rhythm section with its serious jazz pedigree gave the band the kind of secure, unnerving stability that you could just die for; and when multiplied by the skilful, one-of-a-kind blues stylizations of Brian Jones and that unbridled, passionate love for rock'n'roll on the part of Keith Richards, a love which arguably turned him into the best Chuck Berry impersonator in the universe, you truly had an unstoppable musical monster that could take the dullest blues original imaginable and transform it into something entirely their own.

Third, they were amazing songwriters. Only beaten by the Beatles and maybe Bob Dylan when it comes to the quantity of pop/rock melodies forever etched into the public consciousness. Too many bands never really get the chance to grow beyond their idols - the Rolling Stones have, becoming idols themselves, in their turn, and influencing thousands and thousands of lesser bands in the process.

Fourth... well, wait a minute. Here's this little rebuttal I wrote some time earlier; today I think it would work better if it were actually included into the main body of the introduction. It's essentially an attempt to debunk several "myths" put forward by those infected by the Rolling Stones backlash (see, for instance, the reader comments page on this very site - in particular, I used the remarks of Palash Ghosh, a gentleman whose opinions I usually hold in high esteem but who, on this particular occasion, seems way off the mark to me). I think it summarizes everything that's best about the band to a tee.

Myth # 1: "The Stones hit their peak between 1968 and 1972 (roughly between Beggars Banquet and Exile on Main St.) -- but the material before and after this golden period was generally sub-par". Was a song like 'Satisfaction' written in 1968? Nope, 1965, if I'm not mistaken. '19th Nervous Breakdown'? 'The Last Time'? 'Play With Fire'? 'Ruby Tuesday'? 'Let's Spend The Night Together'? 'Under My Thumb'? 'Mother's Little Helper'? 'Heart Of Stone'? 'Ride On Baby'? 'Who's Been Sleeping Here'? 'She's A Rainbow?' I could name twice, thrice, ten times as many songs as that, and I haven't even begun to mention the band's post-Sixties period. I don't hear this material called "generally sub-par".

The myth that Beggar's Banquet is the first Stones' album worth listening to is one of the vilest things that the General Critical Opinion has ever done to mar the reputation of the Rolling Stones - the one that got them forever branded with the "ROOTSY" tag. The albums in between 1968 and 1972 are great, no doubt, but they only represent several of the many sides of the rich complex of personalities and approaches that is in fact the Rolling Stones. The true golden period of the Stones began at least in 1966, maybe even before that: they stood on the cutting edge of musical industry from 1964 to 1971 or 1972, which is just as long and maybe even longer than the Beatles; and throughout that period, it's hard to find a genre, apart from maybe "progressive rock", that the Stones hadn't tackled successfully. From psychedelia to disco, from heavy metal to trip-hop, the Stones have been almost everywhere.

Myth # 2: "While The Beatles were true innovators and lyrical geniuses and The Who (despite some later bombastic pretentiousness) were genuine hard-core working-class London rockers -- The Stones were, in a sense, 'fake'. That is, their whole act was an 'act' -- totally derivative and imitative". Well, if anybody can explain me why Pete Townshend smashing a guitar in a London club is 'genuine' and Mick Jagger strutting his stuff in another London club several miles away is 'fake', I'd be happy to listen. Okay, forget Mick Jagger. Keith Richards was a hard-core working-class Dartford rocker. That's a fact. An objective one. In his early days, he may have been copping Chuck Berry indeed; but it was sincere copping - brought on by this guy's burning love for rock'n'roll. Mick Jagger was probably more 'fake', from a certain point of view - but not any more fake than, say, Paul McCartney.

Myth # 3: "Aside from 'Satisfaction' and maybe 'Jumping Jack Flash,' what did The Stones ever do that was truly and uniquely original?" Let's just say that without the Rolling Stones' debut album, rock'n'roll as we know it wouldn't have existed. AT ALL. Okay, so if there hadn't been a Rolling Stones' debut album, somebody would have eventually produced something like that, but the fact remains that the Stones did it first. And what was it? It was heavy, pull-no-punches, back-to-the-wall gritty and 'evil' approach to rock'n'roll music, coupled with immaculate rock'n'roll chops that only added to the eerie impact. It wasn't esoteric, inaccessible 'evil' music of the black bluesmen which the white population couldn't get used to, nor was it the have-a-good-time atmosphere of most Fifties' rock'n'rollers. It was 'burn the house down!', and that's what they did better than Muddy Waters and Jerry Lee Lewis combined together.

Listen to the way they tear through 'Carol' or 'Route '66' on that record. That sound, at the time, was something totally unheard of, unimaginable, awesome, mind-blowing. Perhaps it is not 'truly and uniquely original', but then again, Mozart didn't invent the harpsichord either. Simply put: no Rolling Stones - no Kinks - no Who - no rock'n'roll. True, the Stones were never responsible for any other musical revolutions, but this was perhaps the greatest musical revolution of them all. It's a bit hard to understand now, what with the discussed subject taking place as far back as 1964, but only this helps explain why the Stones' first record was such an immediate and absolute smash in its time. People knew they were getting something historical there.

Besides, if we think of 'innovative' in the terms of "who was the first to use instrument so-and-so in rock music" and "who was the first to produce a concept album", I'm afraid the Fab Four have some real harsh competition going there. Apart from maybe George Harrison hauling in the sitar on 'Norwegian Wood', I'm not sure how much the Beatles have really 'innovated' in that respect. It's not the technical innovation that counts - it's the innovation in public consciousness. And the Stones have that in spades.

Myth # 4: " So many Beatle songs have their inferior 'Stones doppel-ganger' that it's amazing!" I beg to differ. Yes, the Stones did release records that superficially seemed to be following the Beatles' every step - and without serious analysis, the "Stones copping the Beatles" myth is easy to believe. But apart from times of releases and record sleeves, what proof do we have? Yes, the album sleeve of Satanic is certainly lifted off of Pepper. But since when do we rate albums based on their sleeves? The music on Satanic is dark, druggy, jammy and 'astral' - far more reminiscent of Pink Floyd's Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, only more restrained and, IMHO, featuring better melodies. It's not any more a rip-off of Pepper than, say, Frank Zappa's We're Only In It For The Money.

Yes, the plain white sleeve of Beggar's Banquet is similar to the White Album: but it was really a coincidence, as the original sleeve had to feature a bathroom cover; Decca never wanted it, so the album was delayed - had it not been delayed solely because of that reason, it would have actually come out before the White Album and saved the guys unfair accusations of plagiarism. But even so, is the Stones' 'back-to-basics' approach really comparable with the Beatles' one? The White Album is essentially pop, whereas Banquet is essentially R'n'B. There's nothing like 'No Expectations' or 'Sympathy For The Devil' or 'Prodigal Son' or 'Parachute Woman' or 'Jig-Saw Puzzle' on White Album, just as there's nothing like 'Obladi Oblada' or 'Dear Prudence' or 'Sexy Sadie' on Banquet.

It's simply ridiculous to imagine the Stones' working process as if all they did was group round the latest Beatles record, take their inspiration directly from there and then proceed to make their own clone of it. It never happened that way. And by the way, as far as similarities go, the Who's The Who Sell Out is infinitely closer in mood and style to Sgt Pepper than Satanic.

Myth # 5: "For the last 22 years or so, they've been such a grotesque dinosaur act that it's embarrassing and I have little if any respect for them at all." This is the most unpleasant and nagging myth - the myth that revolves around the band name. Okay. The Beatles have disbanded, but did that prevent the Beatles from recording solo records? No, they went ahead and all four of them put out loads of records over the years. Some of these were great; some merely good; some of them sucked. Likewise, the Rolling Stones after 1970 put out albums that were either great (Sticky Fingers, Some Girls, Tattoo You), good (Black And Blue, Voodoo Lounge) or sucked (Dirty Work). Would it be more acceptable if they put out the records that sucked as disguised solo albums? Who really cares? Musicians are musicians; they go on working regardless of their age or the epoch they're working in. It's just that some musicians stay together and some musicians work separately.

Truly, I don't give a damn what name do they put out their music under - 'Rolling Stones' or 'Mick Jagger and friends'. Too much fluff has been thrown on onto that 'band' notion. A 'band' is a group of individual people. That's all. And actually, the fact that the Stones stayed together resulted in their putting out less crappy albums than the four ex-Beatles who went their separate ways and put out crappy albums on their own. For one crappy Stones album you get one crappy John Lennon album, one crappy McCartney album, one crappy Harrison album (and ten crappy Ringo albums, I guess!). Perhaps this statistical method will be satisfying for somebody.

Oh, and one last thing: anybody who says 'the Stones are stupid for staying together for so long' is advised to visit a Stones' live show the next time they go on tour (if they ever will). I seriously doubt that anybody who's ever left an actual Stones' concert could hold on to that statement for long.

Myth # 6: "I think that Brian Jones had lived (and didn't get seduced by drugs) and maintained leadership of The Stones...." It's nice that people still remember Brian Jones, but first of all, history knows no "ifs", and second, Brian never had any kind of leadership over the Stones - he tried to present the Stones as his band in the early days, but that's about it. How did he get acclaimed as 'early leader' if he's never had a single songwriting credit of his own? In the early days, he was a blues purist, actually holding the Stones back. Then he did get involved in drugs and played a very important role in the Stones' 'pop' period of 1966-67, but it was the role of a session player with a lot of things to say, essentially. Who knows how things would have turned if he'd stayed sober? I'd be the last to know... and certainly the last to put out any embarrassing hypotheses.

I hope scepticists will consider these points and realize that the Stones haven't earned their 'second best' place in history for nothing - just because some braindead critics called them that and now we're oh so clever discovering the horrible truth about these guys ("duuuuh the Stones are overrated!"). The unfortunate thing is that all of these myths are very widespread, and the critics themselves, those critics that praise Beggar's Banquet, have dealt the Stones their fatal blow by dismissing albums like Satanic and Goats' Head Soup as 'something unfit for the Stones'. The lads were pigeonholed, pigeonholed in a tremendously discriminating and unjust way, and of course, until we all open our minds and realize that there's more to these guys than just "well-played rootsy sounds", these myths will go on roaming the Earth forever.

Lineup, as we know it:

Mick Jagger - vocals, harmonica, occasional guitar, dancing, urinating against garage walls, you name it. The face of the Stones, and one of the many faces of the Sixties. Surprisingly enough, not the heart of the Stones. He is the dominus on stage, and most of the lyrics and at least a certain share of the melodies do belong to him, but there were frequently periods during which he was clearly disinterested in the band; and with his chameleonic nature (no wonder he got along so fine with David Bowie) and vanity a-plenty, many have suspected him of putting image first and music second. A valid accusation, but, fortunately, hardly ever affecting the band's greatness, due to the consolidating efforts of...

Keith Richard(s) - rhythm guitar, lead guitar, occasional keyboards, occasional singing (God save us!). Yes, that's the man who wrote the riff to "Satisfaction" in his sleep, and, although I must admit his playing, particularly live, has worsened a bit over the years, his musical sense is as strong as ever. The Riffmeister they call him, and he certainly is one: few people have cranked out more fantastic riffs in their lives than ole Keith. Not to mention that few people had a more fantastic life than ole Keith, who, in his sixties, is looking like Mephistopheles after a hangover, but that doesn't prevent him from enjoying life in its entirety. You know what might be the most amazing thing about Keith Richards, by the way? His eyes, particularly in those moments when he's speaking about something he deeply loves, like Chuck Berry, for instance, in the documentary dedicated to the man that Keith directed himself. There, under all these layers and layers of wrinkles, lies a pair of eyes that betrays the most innocent, the most enthusiastic, the happiest inner child I've ever seen. It's amazing.

Charlie Watts - drums. Probably not the best drummer in the world, as hardcore fans proclaim him to be, yet he is still a professional, with an unmistakable, steady trademark beat, and he's also revered as the "glue" that held the rest of the Stones together through the years.

Bill Wyman - bass guitar. For decades he'd been as loyal to the Glimmer Twins as Charlie was, then he suddenly quit in 1993, just before the Voodoo Lounge sessions. Seeing as how the Stones only get together pretty rarely these days, I certainly do not support this decision, nor Bill's subsequent sceptical interviews in which he actually scorned the guys for still sticking together. Particularly since his own solo career since 1993 had been of a rather dubious character - some seem to seriously appreciate his newly-discovered passion for "ol' timey music", but in my case, it leaves me cold more often than not. Well, to each his own. Hope he's happy and all that. Today the Stones don't even have a bass player; Darryl Jones has been their sidekick since 1993, but never an official member.

The most "fluent" vacation, however, was always that of the second guitar player. Brian Jones was a huge driving force for the Stones in the early years, when they were playing pure R&B, and especially in the mid-sixties, when he drove them into artistic rock and psychedelia. However, he was suffering from the same problems as Syd Barrett, eventually got completely stoned out of his head, quit the band and drowned (1969). His replacement - Mick Taylor - embellished the Stones' sound with elaborate bluesy guitar solos a la Clapton/Page, hugely increasing the degree of professionalism in an era when it was desperately needed by everybody (late sixties - early seventies). He quit in 1975, and was replaced by Ron Wood - a very nice guy and an excellent player in his own rights, although his sound does not always fit in well with what is known as "the Stones' sound", and overall, I still think that the Stones will always be remembered for Brian Jones, not for Ronnie.

A note concerning the reviews: I am following the American catalog, which, until recently, was the only one to be found on CD. It is generally blamed as being totally derivative of the British one, piecing songs together almost at will, but I think it's OK, especially since if you stick to the American catalog you'll be able to get more songs on original albums than with the British catalog. Still, there are some problems: some of the songs get duplicated (especially if you take Flowers), and some songs are still unavailable - unless you purchase the Singles Collection which is three CDs out of which you probably need only about a fifth part or so. Well, a hardcore fan and his money are soon parted, anyway.

P.S. Since the Stones page is one of the largest on this site, it has been cut into two more or less equal parts; all the regular studio and live albums up to 1974 (i.e. the Jones and Taylor periods) are reviewed here ("stones.htm"), and the albums 1975-98 (the Wood period), videos, concert reviews and reviews of solo projects and guest appearances have been transferred to another page ("stones1.htm"). You can easily access it if you follow the links to any of the albums or videos from the 'table of contents', or from the link at the bottom of this page.



Year Of Release: 1964
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 13

These guys mean business. BAAAAD business.

Best song: I'M A KING BEE

Track listing: 1) Not Fade Away; 2) (Get Your Kicks On) Route 66; 3) I Just Want To Make Love To You; 4) Honest I Do; 5) Now I've Got A Witness; 6) Little By Little; 7) I'm A King Bee; 8) Carol; 9) Tell Me (You're Coming Back); 10) Can I Get A Witness; 11) You Can Make It If You Try; 12) Walking The Dog.

A fantastic debut. A TREMENDOUSLY fantastic debut - but only if you're willing to place yourself in the context of early 1964. The Stones did not need much practice or winding-up to put the "bad boys of R'n'B" image in vogue, and while future records might have made them dirtier, sleazier, and raunchier, none made them more 'unsettling' and 'thrilling'. Most of the songs are covers, of course - the Glimmer Twins didn't have their songwriting schtick worked out yet, but who can tell? Most of these tracks are primarily associated with the Stones today anyway, despite coming from all kinds of Big Masters, from Rufus Thomas to Willie Dixon to Chuck Berry.

Funny enough, the only complete original, apparently expressly written by Mick and Keith on orders from early manager Andrew Loog Oldham , is POP! A modestly catchy ballad called 'Tell Me'; a fairly good one, with a charming arpeggiated guitar melody that certainly hints at their later successes but not much more. Rumours have it that Oldham locked them up in the kitchen and told them not to come out until they'd written something as good as the Beatles did, so they wrote 'Tell Me'. Later rumours, though, told that it was 'As Tears Go By'. Even later rumours said that it was something more forgettable, which is where I lost interest in rumours and just decided to concentrate on music listening. Nothing else to say about 'Tell Me', though, except that it runs for 3:50, which is fairly impressive length for a pop song in 1964. (Even if the last fifty seconds are quite expendable).

Most of the other tracks are crude, hard, and uncompromising. From the very beginning, the Stones had a pretty unique style of production; almost all of the songs, and particularly the slow bluesy ones, sound as if they were recorded inside a cave, with the sonic waves extending to you from somewhere underground. Obviously, this was reasonably easy to achieve by abusing the echo effect, I guess; but when taken together with the actual playing and singing, the effect just screams PRIMAL at you. Try 'I'm A King Bee' on for size. Copped from the Slim Harpo version, yes, but also very much different. There's one major thing, I think, that works for the advantage of the 'white boy singing the blues' approach: these white boys, when singing the blues, could allow themselves far more freedom than the authentic black masters of the form. Classic blues is humble; it's never stuck in your face, with arrogance and swagger and I'm-on-top-of-the-world attitude, no matter how lustful, boastful, or roastful the lyrics are. The Rolling Stones could allow themselves to act from a position of impunity, and hence the difference. Blues purists can deride these covers as much as they want, but that's hardly because they are inferior - it's just because they are different. Less subtle - more powerful.

Returning to 'I'm A King Bee'; the song wasn't a hit single, but it's my favourite on the album nevertheless because it perfectly summarizes the Stones at this point - as a collective unit and all the band members taken separately. There's Mick, soooo cool behind his mike, seemingly pleading to the lady but in fact letting us know that the results of his pleading are well known beforehand because there's just no way any female can resist his 'buzz'. There's Charlie, never making one extra kick, never missing one beat, either. There's Bill, putting forward these wonderful zoops, confirming his reputation as one of Britain's most expressive bass players. And there's Brian, whose "stinging" part is my favourite moment on the album.

I think only Keith Richards is downplayed a bit on that number - but Keith Richards had always been a rock'n'roller at heart, and in those early days he mostly left generic blues numbers in the hands of Mick and Brian. He more than redeems himself on the fast tunes, like Bobby Troup's 'Route '66' and Chuck Berry's 'Carol', though. Again, one careful listen to each, and then one careful listen to similar material in the hands of any other British band of the time, be it the Beatles or the Hollies or whoever, is enough, I think, to make one understand the roots of the Stones legend. I have yet to hear anybody beat out good ole Keith concerning the guitar breaks on these songs. There isn't a single misplaced note - a miracle considering that the playing speed is indeed impressive. There isn't a single superfluous note, either; and most of all, there's the ability to make his guitar utter colourful speeches rather than simply repeat the same riff over and over. Listen to the call-and-response game between Mick and Keith as they tear through the verses of 'Carol' - for every line of Mick's, Keith got a different guitar phrase fleshed out, and they all fit in.

On the other hand, even when the song in question is fast and furious, but is nevertheless reworked from a blues original, Keith steps into the shadows, as he does on 'I Just Want To Make Love To You' - content with hammering out the rhythm and calmly allowing Mick and Brian to steal the show. Then again, it's more of a collective band workout, really; during the instrumental break, all four players seem so bent on making as much "controlled noise" as possible that it's hard to tell the instruments apart. And yet they all have their roles fully fleshed out.

This amazing efficiency helps save the day even when the band succumbs to one of the main curses of the epoch, The Obligatory Filler Instrumental. Here, it is a short jam loosely based on the theme for Marvin Gaye's 'Can I Get A Witness' (also on this record and actually one of its relative lowlights), jokingly titled 'Now I've Got A Witness'. With Ian Stewart, the 'sixth Stone', sitting behind the Hammond organ, the sextet locks into a tightass groove, in turn letting out Jones (on harmonica), Richards (guitar), and Wyman (bass) to flash their talents. Naturally, everybody tries to outshine the others, meaning that you're in for one hell of a joyful ride. Keith gets his wildest break on here - and it's fairly well recommendable to play the track at full volume in order to savour that unforgettable moment when Jones steadily "loses his grip" on the harmonica and the guitar comes tearing through, so much louder than everything else.

I'd be cheating the government if I said each and every one of these twelve tracks is fully adequate. In 1964, the Stones had a blues soul, in the incarnation of Brian, and a rock'n'roll soul, in the incarnation of Keith; and they had a sleazy, aggressive frontman, whose snappy delivery was great for both. What they didn't have was a "soul soul", for lack of a better term. The band could play it tight but it was far less experienced at cutting it loose, if you know what I mean; and when it came to delivering sentiments other than angst or anger, Mick was still feeling mighty insecure. This is why stuff like Gene Allison's 'You Can Make It If You Try' sort of gets lost in translation, and the already mentioned 'Can I Get A Witness' sort of just loses the point from the start. It's a good thing they didn't end the album in these two songs, which would make for a rather anticlimactic coda; instead, spirits are raised one more time with their angry rendition of 'Walking The Dog', together with hilarious whistling and a quite serious guitar break from Keith. A suitably dangerous conclusion to a suitably dangerous album.

The US-UK controversy: the original UK name of the album was simply The Rolling Stones, whereas for American audiences it was probably deemed suitable that said audiences actually get informed that yes, believe it or not, these assholish-looking guys are producing hits in England. Not that they really were at that point - their only high achievement was their aggressive cover of Buddy Holly's 'Not Fade Away', which on the American album naturally replaced one of the songs, namely Bo Diddley's 'I Need You (Mona)', which later made it onto the Rolling Stones, Now! album. A rather clumsy decision, actually, since it severely alters the flow of the original album, which opened with the snarling 'Route '66', yet in the States had to open with the somewhat more 'cheerful' 'Not Fade Away'. Well, this couldn't be the last time, you know.


12 * 5

Year Of Release: 1964
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 12

A bit smoothed with some pop songs, but even the pop songs are rhythm-n-bluesically-tight.

Best song: IT'S ALL OVER NOW

Track listing: 1) Around And Around; 2) Confessin' The Blues; 3) Empty Heart; 4) Time Is On My Side; 5) Good Times Bad Times; 6) It's All Over Now; 7) 2120 South Michigan Avenue; 8) Under The Boardwalk; 9) Congratulations; 10) Grown Up Wrong; 11) If You Need Me; 12) Suzie Q.

The main change from the first album is that this one is a bit more "mainstreamish". Maybe the band was just trying to find its way into the heart of the teenager's mother as well as the teenager himself - a hard feat indeed, as it takes just one look at Andrew Loog Oldham's 'fuck-you' brand of liner notes composition to realize that no mother would come within a mile's distance of early Rolling Stones albums. Besides, the band photo is even scarier than first time around - at least on that one they seemed to be a little distant, turning their murky profiles at you - now they're staring you right in the eye, with dark thoughts of rape and murder and arson and anti-patriotic behaviour on their minds, no doubt. Even Charlie Watts, the "clean one" of the band, looks like the prototype for a Martin Scorsese gangster saga or something like that. These guys selling out to the pop market? No way!

Nevertheless, there is quite a bit of pop on this record, and you can't really get away from the fact. Thus, for instance, the Drifters' "Under The Boardwalk", a cute little love ballad, would probably have never made it onto Hitmakers. I do like it, though, if only for the catchiness, the tightness, and the weird guitar sound during the instrumental break. If it's the vocals you're after, you're well advised to search out the original instead, but me, I'm attracted by the obligatory "darker" aureole that the Stones are able to give it. The "under the boardwalk, under the boardwalk" harmonies are so ominous that you almost get the feeling there's something more than pure 'fun' that Mick Jagger is going to have with his baby in that particular place.

Still, the nature of the song is still mild, and it certainly doesn't fit in quite right with such jagged, savage tracks as "Confessin' The Blues", one of the most uncompromised blues covers the Stones have ever put out, featuring one of my favourite early-period Jagger vocal deliveries with each word cutting through the rhythm section like a shard of fresh-broken glass. That's the way I like my blues to be sung. In terms of straightforward rock'n'roll, you have yourself the furious, primal energy-filled album closer "Suzie Q"; unfortunately, it's just too short for everybody's tastes, but even at its less-than-two-minute length it is still quite a worthy competitor for the classic "epic" version of Creedence, not to mention the original, of course.

But arguably the best rock'n'roll cover on the album is still Chuck Berry's "Around And Around", with Keith popping out the most generic, the most simplistic of his Berry-licks like mad and enjoying every nanosecond of it. "Around And Around", in fact, is the archetypal Stones' rocker: maybe Keith doesn't add anything particularly Keith-ian to the song, but he makes these chords so... so refined, if you know what I mean, that there's basically nothing to add or subtract here: it's perfect. Perfect in a 'Louie Louie' kind of way, although probably the stark minimalism of Keith's approach wouldn't have worked nearly as well without the inflammatory keyboard sound in the background, provided by Stu. (That Jagger does a fine job as well is, of course, understood).

The one most important song on here - the one that became the band's first # 1 single in Britain and consequently convinced the country that these guys are there to stay - is the cover of Bobby & Shirley Womacks' "It's All Over Now". It displays ambition - 3:30 and an unexpected crescendo-style coda that gives it quite an unusual kind of power (considering that the "instrumental coda" as an artistic gimmick was rarely used in the early Sixties).Then right in the middle comes an unexpected change of key and a frantic, almost proto-punkish, guitar break that has probably driven many a teenager half insane. Quite sorrowful, actually, that Keith can't play like that any more - yep, there once was a period when he wasn't just one of the best rhythm guitarists in the world, but was also a derivative but amazingly professional soloist with a great feel for every lead guitar lick. Today, if you check out the live version they did on their 1994 tour, for instance (available on the corresponding video), you'll find out that the primal excitement is simply all gone, replaced by something far more perfunctory because Keith's heart isn't in that side of playing any more. But in 1964, it was all there. In fact, the song was so impressive at the time that it even led to the Kinks ripping it off for 'So Mystifying'. (And if you allow me to press on, I think that Dave Davies' famous "rabid" guitar break in the middle of 'You Really Got Me' could have been directly inspired by Keith's performance as well, although this is just a matter of opinion).

Next, this is the best place to encounter the truly timeless ballad "Time Is On My Side" (yes it sure is). Another cover (Meade & Norman), but who cares? In 1964, there was no way of knowing the number would eventually lose the status of a generic love ballad status and move on to almost anthemic heights - last time they performed it was in 1998, I think, and the longer they manage to carry on with it, the more power to them, I say.

Have I been slobbering too long? Let me apologize and point out the reasons why the album is rated lower than the debut. Oh, there's nothing catastrophic about these reasons, but some relative filler is still detected. 'Empty Heart', for instance. It's not really even a song, just an excuse for a couple minutes of so-so R'n'B jamming, and "jamming" is the word here: instead of letting everybody showcase their talents one by one, like they did on 'Now I've Got A Witness', for instance, they just glue everything together, which means that Jagger's harmonica comes out on top and the guitars are nothing but humble supporting pillars. And Mick isn't even at his best here. (Not when compared to the goofy "jump up" effect on the 'Michigan Avenue' instrumental, for instance, when the organ-led band eventually quiets down and the first 'WAAAAAAAAH' of the harmonica comes out of nowhere and makes you drop your pants). And then, towards the end, you're forced to sit through yet another obligatory Motown "soulful" bit, 'If You Need Me', every bit as unconvincing as 'You Can Make It...' and even more so.

There's also too few signs of maturation as songwriters. Out of the three "originals", only 'Congratulations', in my humble opinion, counts as something to be mildly proud of - another ballad, in the way of sonic texture somewhat similar to 'Tell Me', but already converting the latter's formulaic starry-eyedness into quintessential Stones-like misogyny. But 'Good Times Bad Times' is little more than a primitive reworking of a standard blues tune, sung and played in a very insecure manner (as if they spent the entire session trembling with fear that a police officer would break into the studio at any moment and shout "HOLD! You're arrested for copyright infringement!"), with a crappy mix, too, that keeps the harmonica coming out and going in seemingly at random; and 'Grown Up Wrong', a cutesy little rocker with a cutesy little guitar line backing up cutesy attempts at social comment, is just way too inoffensive, too quiet, and too short for anybody to notice, especially when set next to the roaring onslaught of 'Susie Q' or 'It's All Over Now', you know. Then again, it's, like, what, the first original riff from the hands of Keith Richards? That calls for a toast.

The US-UK controversy: the American office of Decca was now hanging tight onto these guys, which means that their second American album actually preceded their second British one instead of following it, and thus was filled out, for the most part, from contemporary British singles ("It's All Over Now/Good Times Bad Times") as well as a British EP named Five By Five ("Around And Around", "Confessin' The Blues", "2120...", "If You Need Me", "Empty Heart"). The rest of the material was scrambled from various in-between-touring recording sessions both in the States and in Britain; one of these songs remained exclusively American ("Congratulations"), while the rest of the tracks ("Time Is On My Side" - with a slightly modified arrangement, "Under The Boardwalk", "Grown Up Wrong", "Suzie Q") made it onto the British The Rolling Stones No. 2 album a couple months later.



Year Of Release: 1965
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 13

Snap back into dark mode, for just one last shot of completely unoriginal genius.


Track listing: 1) Everybody Needs Somebody To Love; 2) Down Home Girl; 3) You Can't Catch Me; 4) Heart Of Stone; 5) What A Shame; 6) Mona (I Need You Baby); 7) Down The Road Apiece; 8) Off The Hook; 9) Pain In My Heart; 10) Oh Baby (We Got A Good Thing Goin'); 11) Little Red Rooster; 12) Surprise Surprise.

This American-only release, with no direct equivalent on the British market at all, is nevertheless important. It sort of rectifies the poppy mistakes of 12x5 and reverts us to the hard, uncompromising style of the first LP. Reverts? I'll boldly say "improves", because one year into their recording careers, the Stones are choosing their covers with far more experience. Maybe you happen to like 'Under The Boardwalk' (I know I like it, meself!) or even 'If You Need Me' (spare me this one), but that still doesn't mean it's the kind of material ideally suited for the Stones - on Now!, virtually every song is ideally suited for the Stones, or they make it so. I'll be the first to admit there's very little forward movement here - and how could there be, given the album's origins? - but in a way, it's the culmination of their early, "dependent" period, and their most consistently enjoyable release of these first two years.

Little forward movement, yes; however, the number of original compositions slowly starts going up, and, what's even more important, the Mick-Keith team gets more and more self-assured. Out Of Our Heads would be the first album on which it would become obvious that the band's future would be inevitably connected with the songwriting of these two; but it's on Now! that they're inventing and testing the formula for all the immortal hits of the future. The testing isn't always fully successful. 'Off The Hook' is a cool song, using the potentially annoying repetitive chorus 'it's off the hook... it's off the hook... it's of the hook...' as a metaphor for a real disconnected phone in what is seemingly the first attention-catching "gimmick" courtesy of Mr Jagger's rich fantasy. The riff, however, is a rather generic R'n'B-ish figure, not unlike something that the Yardbirds or all those Yardbirds-imitating garage bands played in their early years, and doesn't do Keith much justice. Same thing with 'What A Shame': this bluesy romper emits a delightful scary atmosphere, mainly through the magic of Wyman's dancing bassline and Brian Jones' enigmatic echoey guitar fills, but there's not too much composing going on, if you get my drift. Lyrically, it's cool, though - 'you might wake up in the morning, find your poor selves dead' sure is an unexpected twist on the classic blues line.

On the other hand, 'Surprise, Surprise' shows that the Stones have matured enough to be writing songs at least on the average Chuck Berry level: it's a rather complicated rocker for early 1965, certainly up a notch in structure and "technique" from 'Grown Up Wrong', for instance, although produced a bit too feebly to be my favourite. And 'Heart Of Stone' shows they have matured enough to be writing songs that could rank up there with all the Motown masters - easily the first Stones song that is truly timeless, opening their golden row of perennial favorites. Few Motown masters, however, were that well specialized in misogyny as the Stones were; 'Heart Of Stone' is their most vicious attack on the opposite sex so far (although it certainly would be beaten in the future), and hey, that's the Stones the way we know them and like (or hate, if you stick to PC and stuff) them. None of that 'tell me you're coming back to me' bullshit - what's the use of that anyway? With so many bitches in the world still untamed, Mick Jagger isn't going to waste any more time on trivialities. Oh, but wait, I almost forgot to tell you that 'Heart Of Stone' is such a great song. The guitar solo alone is worth a million. And the 'never break never break never break' chorus is worth a second one.

Still, let's not pull the wool over anybody's eyes: the four originals on Now! are nevertheless drowned out by the eight covers, which means that it's too early to expect the floating genius - but if you like Chuck Berry as done by the Rolling Stones better than Chuck Berry in person (and I do, and I'm not a racist, although Yoko Ono might think otherwise), Now! is indeed now and not a minute then. On 'Down The Road Apiece', Keith is clearly outchucking Chuck, playing all these trademark licks with a guitar tone rougher and thicker than your average 50s Gibson, and working in tandem with the great Ian Stewart on piano as well. Plus, they speed up the song just a little bit, and it makes all the difference. Not really menacing or aggressive the way 'Carol' or 'Route 66' could be; this is one of those feel-good anthems, after all, like 'Back In The USA' or something, so there's just a wild, wild, wild sense of joy overflooding everything. The Stones wouldn't really get that reckless and fun again until 1972, when they'd try to take this sentiment to the next level with 'Rip This Joint'. Legend has it that Chuck himself watched them record the song and is quoted as saying 'wow, you guys are really getting it on'. Maybe Jagger just thought it up, of course, but I'm not sure.

For 'You Can't Catch Me', the boys add a deliciously experimental touch - the song is recorded in their usual "echoey" style, with the wild rock'n'roll drive "tamed" in the background - Mick gets the spotlight and behind his vocal flurry you can hardly feel just how much the guitars are doing, but they're there all right, with Keith choppin' out an unnerving, un-syncopated rhythm track, and once Mick shuts his trap for in-between verse pauses or the instrumental break, the guitars get out of control and speed up like they were a couple of slumbering drivers who caught themselves napping at the last moment and now have to crank up those motors in order to catch up. And what's with the "dripping faucet" effect? Where did that come from?

With all this rock'n'roll swirling around, there's less space for classic blues than usual, but they sure don't waste the little there remains with 'Little Red Rooster' - a great example of their adoration for Southern blues, this time featuring Brian with his slide guitar as the main hero. You thought these guys couldn't convey a shade of swampy atmosphere? You got another thing coming, as Rob Halford would say. In fact, 'Rooster' was such a great recording success for them that it was even released as a single - one of their last 'cover singles', actually. But it deserved to be one, although it wasn't a big hit. (Songs about cocks really didn't get that high on the charts until along came arena-rock, I guess). But the one tune that gets to me even more than that is 'Downhome Girl', another cool showcase for Mick's growing misogyny. Pretty spooky, too, given that it contains the first direct lyrical threats of personal abuse ever to be spoken from Mick's mouth, and Brian's classy descending guitar riff plays in perfect unison with the lyrical message. The original couldn't have been that grim - but the Stones ain't playing for laughs!

Another first is that Now! contains the first attempt at capturing the Stones' already famous live sound in the studio, with the five-minute jam that they turn Solomon Burke's 'Everybody Needs Somebody To Love' into. It's not very successful, but the length itself is definitely a novel factor - although, to be fair, the Animals beat them to it by releasing their own seven-minute long rave-up 'Talkin' 'bout You' several months earlier. The thing is, one of the Stones' main live gimmicks at the time was whipping audiences into a frenzy with half-improvised R'n'B rave-ups that could last for twenty minutes if necessary, and this had to get some equivalent in the studio. And this is a decent equivalent - somewhat tame, of course, but Jagger makes it entertaining all the way through. (Note: the original issue of Now! contained a three minute demo of the track instead of the full version; on the current CD edition this mistake has been corrected. Not that the demo wasn't interesting, either).

Next to these tracks, the few remaining bits of filler are pretty harmless and mostly just make the good stuff look even better. 'Pain In My Heart' is yet another of those so-so soul ballads that Mick seems to have a serious fetish for despite all the odds (like not really having the capacity of singing them). Bo Diddley's 'Mona' is loved by some of the fans, but I find it dull, long-winded, and repetitive - granted, that's sort of a trivial complaint when you're dealing with Bo "Pom Po-Bom-Pom - Pom-Pom!" Diddley, but I just don't like Bo Diddley material unless it's done with extra punkish abandon or something. And talking about 'Oh Baby (We Got A Good Thing Goin')' is sort of pointless, unless you just want to namedrop all the songs on the album, which I just did.

The UK-US controversy: this American "bastard" is the rough equivalent of the British No. 2 album, both having been released at about the same time. Since quite a few of the No. 2 songs, however, had already "jumped the gun" aboard the 12 x 5 release, they hastily filled up the empty space with singles ('Little Red Rooster/Off The Hook'), American-only recordings ('Surprise Surprise'), a track that had earlier been inexplicably left off their debut LP ('Mona'), and two new songs ('Heart Of Stone', 'Oh Baby') that, in Britain, wouldn't appear until the British edition of Out Of Our Heads. Whew, this sure beats nuclear physics.



Year Of Release: 1965
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 12

The more originals they give out, the less happy you're starting to feel about the covers.


Track listing: 1) Mercy Mercy; 2) Hitch Hike; 3) The Last Time; 4) That's How Strong My Love Is; 5) Good Times; 6) I'm Alright; 7) (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction; 8) Cry To Me; 9) The Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man; 10) Play With Fire; 11) The Spider And The Fly; 12) One More Try.

Usually overrated, I think - but then its British counterpart was even worse (of course, by now you should well understand that "worse", when referring to Rolling Stones material, basically means 'not nearly awesome enough to be included into the obligatorily-own-it list of records that is currently on the verge of being ratified by UNESCO'). This American version kicks up the rating because it happens to include some of the band's prime singles of that era - 'Satisfaction', which even rock haters probably know by heart these days, and 'The Last Time', whose popularity is somewhat more limited, but that don't stop it from classic status either.

It's a little weird, of course, just how come 'Satisfaction' managed to become pretty much THE rock song of the decade, if not THE rock song of all time. By "rocking" standards, it's pretty tame - not too fast on the move, not too loud, and not too revolutionary; certainly the Yardbirds, in purely musical terms, were blowing people's minds much more effectively by that time. On the other hand, that might have been the very key to its overwhelming success. Going to "extremes", regardless of the time period, may get you a hit but is hardly guaranteed to make you the coolest thing on earth for everybody. '(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction' gets first prize by being marvelously balanced - it rocks, and rocks hard, without too much compromise, but it is also restrained and collected, without the over-the-top ardour of mid-Sixties garage rock. Jagger and Co. really sound like nascent 'rock sages' on the tracks rather than an ordinary, rag-taggy bunch of smelly teenage kids spitting out incoherent bits of anger, pissed off at something but unable to explain what exactly it is they're so pissed off at.

Another thing is, of course, the lyrics - anti-consumerist lyrics that are about ten times as actual today as they had been in 1965, and probably bound to be fifty times as actual by the next decade or so. It is friggin' amazing, come to think of it, that with this total commercialisation of every side of life that is happening right now, I have yet to hear a song that would even begin to try to match the venomousness of 'Satisfaction' when it comes to effectively putting down the consumer culture. Oh sure, there's also the sexual aspect of the thing right there in the third verse, but in my opinion, that aspect of 'Satisfaction' has been seriously overplayed. The irony is, of course, that the more the years went by and Jagger slowly metamorphosed from anti-establishment icon into its complete opposite - let's face it, today Mick is one of the most visible symbols of the same commercialised, corporate, consumer culture he used to denounce earlier - the more he himself sort of slouched away from the social message and contributed to the song's transformation into an anthem of repressed, frustrated sexuality. Still a great anthem, but essentially toothless. Maybe that is why, despite the fact that the Stones usually improve on their songs in a live setting, I have never truly cared for any live versions of 'Satisfaction' - sped up, lyrics chewed through, rat-tat-tatted at machine-gun speed, and the obligatory coda about how Mick needs to find a good woman to give him satisfaction. Not the thing I'm looking for.

That said, let us not forget that this is also a song, not a spoken piece of propaganda, and in that respect it is still owned by Keith and his 'miraculously-dreamt' fuzz riff to end all fuzz riffs. It would take a much bigger brain than mine to explain the charm and effects of that riff, but off the top of my head, I'd say it's the combination of catchiness, tone, and especially the 'cyclic' character of it that produces the feeling of awesomeness. Before 'Satisfaction', hard rock was essentially limited to 'You Really Got Me'-like "primitive" punkish rhythm work; the melody of 'Satisfaction' offered something a bit more complex, and in that way became the quintessential hard rock riff, opening up the doors for everybody, from the Who to Led Zeppelin to Black Sabbath. Certainly Bob Dylan was lying through his teeth - and probably knowing it - when, asked about his opinion, he replied that he could easily write something like 'Satisfaction', whereas the Stones would never be able to write 'Like A Rolling Stone'. He may have been right about the latter part, of course, but it had to take 'divine intervention', in the form of Keith's dream, to come up with that kind of sound, and, although I'm sure that Mr Zimmerman has his own channels of communication with the supernatural as well, he's always been the head of an entirely different department.

The 'cyclic riff' concept makes yet another appearance on 'The Last Time', a song far less biting and far more playful, but impossible to neglect either; the Rolling Stones' deservedly deserved first No. 1 single of their own complete making. These are the songs that mark the 'great transition' - the Stones finally maturing into fully competent songwriters; no, actually, aim a little higher - somewhere along the way they managed to make that giant step that brought them, if not necessarily right onto Beatles level, then at least light years away from all of their rhythm-and-blues-playin' colleagues like the Animals and the Pretty Things. And the highest of praises here go not even so much to Mick, who was, and still is, always ready to try something new, but rather to his colleagues. For all we know, Keith Richards could have remained stuck in the same Chuck Berry-recycling rut for decades, while Brian Jones might have been happy to do his Elmore James impersonations until blues' dying day. To their credit, this did not happen, and the Rolling Stones successfully evaded the danger of not becoming the greatest rock'n'roll band in the world.

The band's ambitions were already not limited to basic rock'n'roll, either; also among the highlights is the former B-side to 'Last Time', 'Play With Fire', notorious for pairing a gloomy folksy acoustic guitar part with Jack Nietzsche's ominous harpsichord and Jagger's oh-so-English social-commentary lyrics on top. Actually, returning to the Dylan comparison, this is Jagger's lyrical equivalent of 'Like A Rolling Stone' - timid, yes, compared to Bob's exuberant wordgames, but effective nevertheless; and it even predated the Dylan song by a couple of months! In a way, 'Play With Fire' was an even more unprecedented discovery than 'Satisfaction'. The Kinks certainly took more than a hint from it; and the Beatles hadn't done anything like that yet, although a couple Lennon originals on Beatles For Sale might have vaguely pointed to similar depths of gloominess. This is almost proto-goth rock; okay, even if not, the song still unquestionably represents a major step in pop music's gradual transformation into a 'high art' form.

The rest of the original compositions are harmless fun pieces of filler. 'The Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man' is Mick's excourse into the nature of show business set to a little nagging riff making it really 'sharp' - some suggest it to have been a thinly veiled mockery of Andrew Oldham and his ambitions, but certainly the message may have been much broader; essentially, however, the song is little more than a warm-up type of blues-rock jam and probably began life as such. 'The Spider And The Fly' is Mick's excourse into the nature of some funny things on the brinks of show business, praising sexual freedom and infidelity in a mockingly sarcastic, almost carnivalesque, sort of manner. (I'd give ten bucks at least to be able to see the grin on Mick's face in the studio while recording the 'and then I said HI, like a spider to a fly...' line). Finally, 'One More Try', recorded specially for the American release, sounds like a very hurried demo that could have been written and recorded in five minutes sharp - and well fit for inclusion onto an album as raw and inexperienced as, for instance, the Kinks' debut; even the lyrics, unusually optimistic and sickly banal for the Stones' usual level ('things'll get better if you really try, so don't you panick, don't you panick, give it one more try' - indeed!), drag this thing down. Fortunately, it's less than two minutes long.

Despite all the leaps in songwriting, however, Out Of Our Heads still represents the Stones in transition. Half of these songs are still covers, most of them far from raw, rawkish R'n'B: in fact, they're closely moving on on Motown territory, and for the Stones, this may not be such a hot idea. It almost seems as if they were running out of first-rate material: these covers can still be professional and exciting, like Sam Cooke's 'Good Times', for instance - short, poppy, charming vocals - but they sorely lack inspiration and are tremendously lightweight, as if the band were in a mad rush to finish the sessions and ready to grab anything that came along as long as it was formerly sung by a black singer. A far cry from 'Confessin' The Blues', don't you think?

The professionalism and the hot desire to make it all sound interesting at least does salvage most of the material. Marvin Gaye's 'Hitch Hike' has its superb riff emphasized to good measure throughout. Mick gives the performance of a lifetime on 'That's How Strong My Love Is' - so he's technically unable to sing like a true black dude, so friggin' what; his modulation techniques are in a class of their own. Keith and Brian rip it up with barrages of electro-wailing on Solomon Burke's 'Cry To Me'. And Don Covay's 'Mercy Mercy' is further energised by adding extra fuzz to the melody, which, in combination with Mick's usual sharp overtones, provides the song with the necessary grittiness.

And yet it is on this album, now that the Stones have established themselves as original songwriters, that one really starts noticing for the first time just how much the Stones' own vision differs from that of their R'n'B idols - and with this difference in sight, we are certainly tempted to leave the idols' vision to the idols themselves and concentrate on Jagger and Richards as songwriters rather than interpreters. On their previous albums, they made lots of older classics their own - today, stuff like 'It's All Over Now', 'Time Is On My Side', and 'Route '66' are primarily associated with the Stones rather than anybody else. On Out Of Our Heads, they are truly interpreting others' tunes, and not one of these versions managed to enter the "golden fund". Coincidence? Far from it.

The UK-US controversy: the US version of Out Of Our Heads came out two months earlier than its British counterpart and only had six songs in common with it. As has already been said, most of the rest of the album was comprised of singles ('The Last Time/Play With Fire', 'Satisfaction/Spider And The Fly'); the exciting live version of 'I'm Alright' was snatched from the earlier British EP Got Live If You Want It! (not to be confused with the 1966 US-only live LP of the same name); and 'One More Try' was recorded specifically for the American market. In contrast, the British LP Out Of Our Heads filled the remaining space with songs that had either already made their appearance on the US-only Now!, or would make their appearance several months later on the US-only December's Children. Hey, I told you it was gonna get more and more embarrassing as time went by.



Year Of Release: 1965
Record rating = 5
Overall rating = 10

Well, maybe it is logical to scrape the proverbial bottom before moving on to the next level. Sure don't excite me, though.


Track listing: 1) She Said Yeah; 2) Talkin' About You; 3) You Better Move On; 4) Look What You've Done; 5) The Singer Not The Song; 6) (Get Your Kicks On) Route '66; 7) Get Off Of My Cloud; 8) I'm Free; 9) As Tears Go By; 10) Gotta Get Away; 11) Blue Turns To Grey; 12) I'm Moving On.

"December's Children". What a weird name, sounds like something out of a Brothers Grimm fairytale rather than rock'n'roll-related. But then the association is clear enough. "December" = "Christmas". "Christmas" = "People Going Shopping". "People Going Shopping" = "People Are Gonna Buy A New Stones Record Even If It Is Way Below Par". Cynical logic, yes, but it has always worked. And even if the Christmas of '65 is long gone, the album, for some reason, still remains. Predictably, it is the weakest of all early Stones releases, and the most easily expendable one if you can get most of the good stuff on compilations. And, as if in mockery of British audiences, it shamelessly steals the cover off the redcoat release of Out Of Our Heads.

However, if you're just one inch higher than the "average" fan of the band, you will still need to own this, as much as it pains me to give out that information. Two of these tracks are taken from the same dissected live EP that had already yielded the 'I'm Alright' performance on the American Out Of Our Heads, and are as faithful and as impressive a representation of the earliest brand of the Stones Live Sound as possible. An occasionally circulating myth is that the Stones had only developed their Big Sonic Onslaught around 1969, with the disfunctional Jones out of the band and Mick Taylor developing his own chemistry with Keith; these two tracks effectively demonstrate that the band was a true sonic monster onstage even back in early '65, at least judging by the standards of the times. And it's not just Jagger screaming and it's not just the guitar guys. Listen to the opening bars of 'I'm Moving On': that's Bill Wyman's bass out there, and it's every bit as aggressively metallic as whatever we have since learnt to associate with heavy metal. It sounds like the blueprint for half of the Hawkwind songs ever written. And later, once Brian starts weaving in his slide, Keith starts garage-winding his guitar, Jagger starts blowing his harmonica without taking a break, and Charlie hits all the cymbals, they are kicking up so much dust that - with all due respect - the Yardbirds, and they were the only serious competition around, look like blind kittens in comparison.

As for 'Route '66', this live version is worth it if only for the opening notes of Keith's solo - yes, the sound quality is abysmal, yes, Jagger gets out of tune a couple of times, but the devilish energy is still enough to dwarf the studio recording. Ah, weren't these guys living this kind of music rather than merely playing it. All of them. The only thing I pity is that there are no official recordings of their legendary lengthy crowd-revving jams; these two songs look almost offensively short to me.

When it comes to the studio section, however, there are really only two tracks that stand out when first called; unsurprisingly, both were British singles (one A- and one B-side). 'Get Off Of My Cloud' does not really need that much more description from me than 'Satisfaction' - a stonedead classic it is - but I would nevertheless want to draw attention to the fact that it's just as entertaining musically as it is lyrically. Sure you practically can't hear that riff, but it is deep down there, and it's a good one, cyclic like the one in 'Satisfaction' but much more upbeat and cockily cheerful. And for some reason, nobody ever pays much attention to Charlie's work, which is a doggone shame: the complex rhythmic pattern he had thought up for the verses of the song is quite unique, so much so that (I think) he rarely even dared re-use it in concert. And the lyrics? Well, the message is simple and effective - "two's a crowd on my cloud" - provided, of course, that you can make out even one word of what's being sung. I've always secretly hoped that the line about the guy "dressed up like a Union Jack" was a subtle jab at Pete Townshend, but I'm not even sure Pete Townshend actually wore a Union Jack in late '65, much less why Jagger would have felt a need to take a jab at him. Nah, could have been anybody. Maybe it's basically just the same guy who tells Mick how wide his shirts can be in that other song.

In contrast to the ragged'n'ballsy scent of 'Cloud', the string-driven 'As Tears Go By' is often said to be the Stones' 'Yesterday', and them that say that might be right, too, but as far as I'm concerned, only in the "let's pile up some strings here in a novel way" department. Because the way the strings "soar" in the instrumental section sounds clumsy to me, as if the players were improvising the arrangement on the spot (either that or Brian Jones was playing all the violins and cellos himself!), and overall there's far less personality here than on the Beatles song. But I'm not really comparing. The fact is that the song was really written by Jagger much earlier, to be donated to Marianne Faithful, and his troubadour skills at the time left something to be desired. But it does foreshadow some of that Tudorian magnificence of later compositions like 'Lady Jane'.

The only other song that people might easily be familiar with - partly because it has been captured for eternity on the video of the band's 1969 Hyde Park performance - is 'I'm Free', which is both the title and, of course, the message of the song. The 'hold me, love me' part is only too familiar from the Fab Four's 'Eight Days A Week', although it might have been a common cliche of the times, I have not been informed. The melody is, well, frankly, not all that exciting after you've already witnessed that kind of sound on 'Hitch Hike' and other songs. But surely sometime, somewhere, somehow, the Stones had to satisfy their urge to tell the world that they're free without reverting to metaphors and insinuations. Or to cynicism, either.

But the rest of the album (well, with the possible exception of 'She Said Yeah', saved by metal monster riffs, blazing solos, and punk adrenaline a-plenty)... well, it's rather curious to hear the rest of the album, now that I think of it. It gets the distinction, for instance, of featuring what many fans often agree upon as the worst ever Jagger-Richards composition: 'The Singer Not The Song'. The idea, I suppose, was to try something in the Merseybeat vein, something not particularly scary and menacing, completely dependent on vocal hooks and "positive emotion", and in addition Keith threw in a strange "jangly" guitar part, maybe tipping his hat to the newly-born folk-rock movement. The result, unsurprisingly, is a five-legged corndog of a song that effectively demonstrates the limits of the Stones' talent - at least, in mid-'65 terms. When they reverted back to Britpop a little later, they had to start it all over again. The other similar original, 'Blue Turns To Grey', is not equally disastrous, but it sounds damn close, and, again, the vibe is just incompatible with the Stones.

With the other stuff the problem is that we've heard this before, and better. 'Talkin' About You' is a rather straightforward song even for Chuck Berry himself, no secrets or peculiarities about it whatsoever, and since tackling it at mid-tempo speed kills off about half of the potential excitement, what's the big reason to listen to it when you can have 'Carol' instead? 'Look What You've Done' is slow echoey generic blues, perfunctory vocals, harmonica that has already yielded all the charm it could yield, and not even half of the dark sexual menace of 'Confessin' The Blues'. 'Gotta Get Away' - already boasting all of the Sunday-afternoon laziness of the band's most charming 1966-67 ventures, but combining it with nothing beyond the usual bluesy misogyny. The chorus is particularly lame, as if they had really forgotten to write it and materialised it on the spot with the tape already going. And then, desperately searching the vaults for song number twelve, they fall back on the earliest days, including Arthur Alexander's waltzy schmaltzy 'You Better Move On'. Uh? Exactly how does that fit in with the fury of 'She Said Yeah'?

The UK-US controversy: this time, there is absolutely no British equivalent, and for good reason. 'I'm Free', 'Gotta Get Away', 'She Said Yeah', and 'Talkin' About You' were carried over from the British Out Of Our Heads; 'Look What You've Done' and 'Blue Turns To Grey' recorded specially for the American release (the latter as early as January 1965, actually); 'Get Off Of My Cloud', backed with 'The Singer Not The Song', was a single from October of the same year; 'As Tears Go By' wouldn't see the light of day in Britain until February '66 as the B-side to '19th Nervous Breakdown'; the two live tracks, as has already been mentioned, were taken off the Got Live If You Want It EP (June '65); and 'You Better Move On' - yep, The Rolling Stones EP - a whoppin' January '64. (The remaining three songs off that EP, by the way - covers of Chuck Berry's 'Bye Bye Johnny', Gordy/Bradford's 'Money' and Leiber-Stoller's 'Poison Ivy' - are among some of the hardest-to-find Stones songs on the market today. Not that there's much reason for looking, mind you.)



Year Of Release: 1966
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 14

Where you never know when the blues ends and the pop begins.


Track listing: 1) Paint It Black; 2) Stupid Girl; 3) Lady Jane; 4) Under My Thumb; 5) Doncha Bother Me; 6) Think; 7) Flight 505; 8) High And Dry; 9) It's Not Easy; 10) I Am Waiting; 11) Going Home.

Up until now, the Stones were too scared to write songs. I mean, it's all right for us to sit back and sneer at all those uninventive British invasion bands, covering one professional songwriter after another until they'd run out of professionalism and have to resort to songs with titles like 'Sha La La La La'. But many of them weren't merely unable of writing: they were afraid. Afraid their material would inevitably pale next to the originals (and it often did), afraid of getting mounts of flack for being too trivial and derivative (and they often were), afraid of shouldering new, unknown responsibilities. And in the Stones' case, they also had Brian Jones, who didn't give a damn about creating - he just wanted to play the black man's blues and be done with it.

However, by the time 1966 and the great cultural revolution rolled on, even Brian Jones was getting tired of playing the black man's blues. And so along comes Aftermath - the greatest jump ever for the band, if you ask me. Let 'em rot in their cobwebbed sarcophagi, the pretentious clowns who insist that the Stones never really hit their stride until Beggar's Banquet! Yes, it may be true that Beggar's Banquet gives the impression of the Stones doing the thing they were really born to do, whereas their "pop period" of 1966-67 does not necessarily convey that impression. But that's just because for "pop" we have all those icons like the Beatles and the Kinks and... well, can the Stones do a 'We Can Work It Out'? Or an 'Eleanor Rigby'? C'mon now, you know they can't. Now if you're talking 'Midnight Rambler', now that's different. But pop hooks, nah. Too rough, too dirty, and the guitars aren't tuned worth a crap.

And that's exactly what makes Aftermath so unique. It's a bunch of non-professionals that happen to have a good - nay, great - nose for pop hooks, but are way too soaked in the blues to adorn them with sitars and dulcimers, and have to resort to the good ol' fuzzbox, the trusty ol' blues harmonica and crappy guitar tuning instead. The hooks on Aftermath are, indeed, exceedingly strong, but it is their combination with the regular Stonesy grittiness that gives the album its outstanding flavour. At least, that's how I view it. Too many people have complained that from 1966 to 1967 the Stones were nothing but a pallid imitation of the Beatles; I certainly prefer the "original evil twin" description instead.

Granted, Brian Jones seemed to be aware of these limitations. His transformation on this record - even though he's never credited for any of the songs - is perhaps even more stunning, as it was he who'd been the original blues purist in the band. Keith was the rocker, Mick the PR guy, and Brian the spiritual guru. On Aftermath, though, it is Brian who's responsible for dragging in both the sitar and the dulcimer (probably while the others weren't looking), in addition to marimbas and whatever else he's having out there - as if he just woke up one morning with the idea of "blues just won't cut it anymore" stuck in his head and proceeded from there. Unfortunately, Brian seems to have been working in gusts and torrents: his presence ranges from essential to barely felt, and by the time Side 2 of the album rolls along, he's barely there, although, of course, this isn't quite the same "barely there" as it'd be in a matter of just two years' time.

Still, it's a goddamn shame Brian has never been given credit for 'Paint It, Black' at least. You only have to listen once to any of the live versions of the song available and compare it with the studio original to understand just how much it loses without the sitar. Because, in fact, it's a very simple song, isn't it? It's essentially just one line, over and over again. The sitar is what gives it meaning: it's a mantra, and what is a mantra but a trance-inducing repetition? But then at the very heart of it is lodged a stunning hook, when they change keys midway through each verse and oops! the mantra suddenly becomes a furious pop-rocker. And then, oops, a mantra once again. And so on and on, until, towards the coda, it is finally and firmly stabilized as a mantra. Omit the sitar - never mind that the playing is amateurish and sloppy, Brian Jones could never hope to get to be an instantaneous Ravi Shankar - and you just have the rocker. A pretty awesome rocker, but no subtlety involved. Brian, for one, knew this, which is why he probably insisted upon bringing the sitar to the Ed Sullivan show (which might just have been the very first time millions of people saw the instrument in question).

The story is seriously different with 'Lady Jane'. Courteous romantic ballads have always been a problem for the Stones, partially because of Jagger's range limitations, partially, because, well, courteous romance just doesn't fit in that decently between songs with titles like 'Stupid Girl' and 'Under My Thumb'. And you have to be pretty thick to mistake 'Lady Jane' for "the real thing". But even without the training, even without the sincerity, even though simply driven by a fad-like lust to try anything new rather than fulfil the dream of their life, the Stones have managed to hit upon a gorgeous, emotional, and highly memorable melody. Forget about Jagger's 'oh my sweet Marie, I wait at your ease' bullshit; the bell really strikes when he drops the mike and we're left alone with Brian and his dulcimer for a spell. And that's the Rolling Stones, too. The dulcimer. Unsuitable? Nah. We're just slowly roasting the stereotype.

The only other song on the album that has endured as a crowd favourite is, of course, 'Under My Thumb', which may just be the most misogynistic statement ever committed to tape by Mick - barely rivalled by 'Some Girls' twelve years later, but then 'Some Girls' was sheer clownish vaudeville, whereas 'Under My Thumb' is said to have been directly inspired by Mick's ex-girlfriend Chrissie Shrimpton. Which, of course, makes it pretty disgusting - upon first sight; but upon second sight, there's more to be amused by at than to get offended at, because what is 'Under My Thumb' but a pitiful, laughable compensation for being unable to have it that way? I mean, let's get serious about it, has a guy like Mick Jagger ever had anybody "under his thumb"? In his pants, yes, many times over, but that's not quite the same thing. Now if Mike Love started singing the song, that might have been a different matter, perhaps. In any case, the bottomline is that we all love 'Under My Thumb' because of the riff, and maybe because of the marimbas, and because of the fuzz, and because it's a great pop song, and not because we all dream of taming 'squirming dogs' ourselves. Although, of course, I can't speak for everyone. Heck, I know I can't even speak for sure for myself. There may be these deep dark corners in the subconscious I'd rather not even start thinking about. Gimme those marimbas instead!

And then, for some reason, people just don't talk too much about the rest. How? Why? The band themselves regularly downplays these songs, never resurrecting them from their 60s shell onstage, as if that whole period never existed. Oh, I know, the easy answer will be "cuz it's not too good, dude". Bollocks. 'Stupid Girl' is not too good? Maybe it doesn't have a riff as cleverly constructed as the one in 'Satisfaction', but in every other respect it's perfectly comparable. The desperate bridge alone is worth first prize. 'Flight 505' is not too good? What about the jaw-dropping piano intro from Stu that drops down on you from the sky and takes you through a little bit of everything, right down to a funny variation on the aforementioned 'Satisfaction' riff? And the lyrics, which are inaudible, I'll admit that, but might just be the funniest take on aviophobia I've ever heard in a rock song.

There sure are a few 'minor' songs, reminiscent of the band's previous semi-lame attempts at roots rock, but even these are now written with enough consideration for the poor listener. Again, it's advisable to compare, say, 'One More Time' and 'Think' to see the big difference. 'Think' has the fuzzbox, the clever alterations in dynamics, the three-part structure, enough vocal variation to make it count, even if it doesn't make a very good impression. The former just had one musical phrase, plus a nice fast tempo and a well-revved harmonica solo. 'It's Not Easy' is even better - maybe they can't do harmonies, but it was a nice trick to play upon the 'it's not easy - and it's HAAAARD - it's not easy - and it's HAAAAARD' opposition. And both 'Doncha Bother Me' and 'High And Dry' are excellent examples of tongue in cheek country-blues; perhaps they don't sound quite so authentic as some of the numbers on Exile, but melodically they're every bit as refined.

Still, I do acknowledge that the Stones have indeed written much better material than 'Think' and 'High And Dry' over much of their long-winded career. What makes the pot boil over, then, is the eleven minute monster of 'Going Home', and I will go on record saying that it is a much more effective "free-form flight" than the critically adored 'Sister Ray' from the Velvet Underground's second album. It starts out so quietly and inobtrusively that, had they simply faded the song out at a "reasonable" point, it would never have made any impression. But they haven't, and after four relaxed minutes of Mick singing about how he's bom-bom-bom-goin' home, enter jam mode. And oh what a mode it is.

I mean, of course, normally I dislike that kind of thing. But not here. Jagger sets the lead, trying pretty much every R'n'B verbal cliche in existence - from 'wanna make sweet sweet love' to 'she'll make me feel so good' to a couple of sha-la-la-las. And then everything that he does is, in some way or other, picked up and toyed with by either Keith, twiddling around with a freakily tuned guitar, Brian, switching to harmonica and sounding like he must have had it permanently implanted in the larynx, and Jack Nitzsche, playing a particularly frightening sort of thing on his piano. I may not always be in the mood for it, but when I am, there's nothing more delightful than tracking their progress, so unpredictable in places and yet so natural. After all, natural is what it is - it's all "going home", see? It's just Mick going home, humming under his nose like some kinky relative of Winnie-the-Pooh, and "it's all in the mind", if you know what I mean. Of particular interest, too, is that weird semi-psychedelic effect Keith has placed on his guitar. How does he make it sound like that? Beats me every time. See, "open tuning" is not everything the man is (was) capable of.

The very fact of the Stones jamming in that manner certainly wasn't new; they used to jam like monsters in the early club days already, extending their R'n'B covers for as long as the crowd could stand them. But putting such a thing on an album was definitely unprecedented; long songs were more or less a know-how reserved for the likes of Bob Dylan, and even then they were long songs, not improvised jam sessions. However, I still must insist that the main virtues of 'Going Home' are quite independent of the who-came-first battle. It's got its own mystique that I can't find anywhere else. Maybe Roxy Music and their 'Bogus Man' capture a bit of the same feeling, but even there it's different, what with Eno's technophilic perversion all in the front row and everything. And it's even more amazing that such a huge chunk of the album is eaten by the monster jam and there's still so much space for other first-rate stuff left, too.

The UK-US controversy: This is where things start getting a little nasty. Obviously, with Aftermath, the Stones finally began thinking in album rather than single terms; unfortunately, the US distributors couldn't care less, and it took the in-yer-face conceptualism of Satanic Majesties to finally cure the gap. This American edition is shorter than the UK original, throwing out prime stuff like 'Mother's Little Helper' and 'Out Of Time' to make way for... different prime stuff like 'Paint It, Black', originally a single backed with 'Long Long While'. The UK version also included 'Take It Or Leave It' and 'What To Do'. Out of these four songs, three have later made it onto the US-only Flowers (see below); the only tune that has so far remained unaccounted for (unless you specifically buy the UK version of the album on CD) is 'What To Do', which I seem to remember as somewhat, er, fillerish. Oh, well. At least the record industry guys have given the bored ones a great subject for discussion - which one's the more smashing opener: 'Paint It, Black' or 'Mother's Little Helper'?



Year Of Release: 1966
Record rating = 5
Overall rating = 10

Historically important, but this is not the kind of live album you'll want on your turntable too often...


Track listing: 1) Under My Thumb; 2) Get Off Of My Cloud; 3) Lady Jane; 4) Not Fade Away; 5) I've Been Loving You Too Long; 6) Fortune Teller; 7) The Last Time; 8) 19th Nervous Breakdown; 9) Time Is On My Side; 10) I'm Alright; 11) Have You Seen Your Mother Baby Standing In The Shadow; 12) (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction.

Warning! Don't confound this album with the earlier EP of the same name. That one was a document of their 1965 British tour, this one is a document of their 1966 British tour, although, perversely, it was originally released only in America.

I used to love this album for some unknown reason. Maybe I'm a jerk, or I'm just too passionately in love with that early period. But I confess it's really lousy, more of a historical interest. The sound is poorly captured and completely obscured by screaming girls - a real pain in the neck. The actual performances do not strain too far from the originals, and such great songs as 'Lady Jane', 'Time Is On My Side' and 'The Last Time' do not really seem to work any better live than on the original studio releases - at least, not here. Not to mention that selecting 'Lady Jane' for a live cut is plain strange - and how they could ever manage this quiet, gentle number on stage among the general chaos and hoopla is a mystery to me. Plus, I kinda miss the dulcimer, and Mick's bizarre scat singing during the instrumental passage is plain ridiculous! Stick to the studio version, please. But you gotta appreciate how the second side of this album begins with a snippet of 'Satisfaction', and then they suddenly break it off and go crashing into 'The Last Time'; doubtless, this was a result of studio mixing, but an interesting result at that.

And, after all, if it's energy and headbanging you're after, not quality, you won't regret buying the album. I mean, you'll be able to appreciate its vibe right from the very first track - this version of 'Under My Thumb' is certainly different from the studio one. They start it off with Charlie pounding out a ferocious beat, and then the guitars and Mick step in without warning, at a much faster speed than the original. The playing is sloppy, the singing ain't worth a damn (I guess it all has something to do with Mick having to constantly fight chicks off the stage), but who cares? It's the friggin' Rolling Stones, by gum! And if, no matter how hard you try, you're still unable to catch the moment where they break off 'Under My Thumb' and charge into 'Get Off Of My Cloud', why should you bother? This is just your standard punkish energy on display! By the way, this here version of 'Get Off' rules - Mick's singing is even more ununderstandable than in the studio, and the guitars, on the contrary, are much more audible. And, for those who are unwilling to invest into compilations (like me), the live version of their single hit '19th Nervous Breakdown' will be a real treat, as it is one of the highlights.

The absolute highlights on this record, however, are relative oldies. 'Not Fade Away' has somewhat improved by 1966, as it seems: it's faster, and kicks tons more butt than on their third single, with Keith punching out an almost grungey riff, and Charlie again demonstrating his fascinating 'swing'. And then there's the regular stage favourite 'I'm Alright' that was always famous for driving the audience wild. You gotta appreciate that cute little Brian Jones riff, and Keith has quite a lot of fun with his six-string, too. And Mick sings up a storm! Maybe by today's norms this all sounds kinda 'cute' and feeble, but one can only imagine the level of adrenaline in these poor chicks' blood when Mick roared up his 'come on, come on, come on...'

And the concert closes on a high note, too: there's a blistering version of 'Have You Seen Your Mother Baby Standing In The Shadow?', unfortunately, somewhat spoiled by the slowing down of tapes at the very beginning (probably done to achieve a special 'chaotic' sound, but instead resulting in an obviously artificial and unnecessary mess), and 'Satisfaction' is 'Satisfaction', nothing else. Fast, raunchy and, well, satisfying.

As a special 'bonus', the track listing includes two studio recordings set to crowd noises as if they were live, both of them covers: Benny Spellman's 'Fortune Teller' (a great, fast and tight version; could have been outmatched by The Who on their Live At Leeds version, if only they hadn't taken the foolish decision to slow it down in the beginning) and Otis Redding's 'I've Been Loving You Too Long' (a waste of tape, although Jagger does a good vocal job). Either the band just didn't have enough 'quality' live material, or they wanted to play a little mystification on their fans. I think that some old collections have 'Fortune Teller' without the audience noises on it, so if you're interested, you might want to track it down.

Ah, but anyway, who needs such hogwash? Well - I certainly do, because it's catchy hogwash; but all you readers of these reviews, think about it before buying it. I mean, for fine quality playing, you'd better be off with Ya-Ya's; for fine quality sound, Flashpoint is your bet; for the raw 'punkish' energy, check out Love You Live; for speed, speed and speed check out Still Life; for nostalgia, check out No Security. This one's more of a 'document' than anything else. But I'll be the last to admit that, with a little care and a little patience, this couldn't some day become your favourite live Stones' album.



Year Of Release: 1967
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 14

English to the core, and it's so weird they rejected it. They shouldn't - it's really timeless.


Track listing: 1) Let's Spend The Night Together; 2) Yesterday's Papers; 3) Ruby Tuesday; 4) Connection; 5) She Smiled Sweetly; 6) Cool Calm And Collected; 7) All Sold Out; 8) My Obsession; 9) Who's Been Sleeping Here; 10) Complicated; 11) Miss Amanda Jones; 12) Something Happened To Me Yesterday.

Unjustly forgotten. Even The Stones themselves rarely play any songs from this album (except for 'Let's Spend The Night Together', of course, but let us not forget that the original British release did not feature this one. Also, Keith did 'Connection' while playing solo, but that's another matter). No greatest hits here, no timeless classics. And yet - it's as good as anything, and next to Satanic, holds its right place as one of the most underrated Stones' albums ever. Even more underrated than Satanic, in fact: where Satanic is something of a 'cult' album and a major point of controversy for Stones' fans, Buttons is simply never mentioned at all, as if it never existed. But no, ladies and gentlemen, it's useless to pretend that this album is a throwaway! It's great!

This is the most British of their albums, with two major influences pounding on both the melodies and the lyrics: The Kinks and Dylan. The first influence is seen in such tracks as 'Cool, Calm And Collected', a hot piano boogie with a great 'race-towards-the-end' finale and 'Miss Amanda Jones', just a good rockin' piece with some amazingly 'ard 'n' Keith-ian riffing: both depict English female characters. The only difference is that Ray Davies used to idolize English ways while Mick Jagger ridicules them: in 'Cool, Calm & Collected', the character gets sneered upon for her high-class snub-nosedness, and 'Miss Amanda Jones' is Jagger's personal projection of 'Sweet Little Sixteen' on, once again, a high-class society 'outcast'. Add to this the fact that 'CCC' bears a strong influence of Music Hall tunes, and the portrait of Jagger as a sneering little British gentleman is complete.

The second influence, as everybody already said a million times before, is seen in 'Who's Been Sleeping Here', a groovy character-full song closely inspired by Bob's ravings. In fact, I can almost imagine the song done by Bob in his gruff, wheezy tone: 'The noseless old newsboy, the old British brigadier... you'll tell me now, who's been sleeping here...' Hmm. A bit too many sexual overtones for old Zimmerman, but then again, not that many. You gotta love the melody, anyway.

But, besides that, there's still lots and lots of good things: the single 'Let's Spend The Night Together/Ruby Tuesday', which the Americans baffled on onto the first side of the album, is as mighty as anything, with great piano on the first song and a really catchy Mellotron on the second one (which, by the way, is a fine candidate for the Stones' best ballad ever). In fact, the single, for me, is sorta the culmination of the entire Stones' 'pop' period: the melodies are so immaculate, so wonderfully catchy, so breathtakingly groovy, that it's a plain fact - they had nearly caught up with the Beatles and were far, far ahead of any other competition at the time. I love Brian Wilson, but even Brian Wilson never wrote such a perfect pop song as 'Let's Spend The Night Together'. Rumour has it that while they were recording the song, two policemen came along to see what the whole noise was about, and ended up banging their truncheons on the rhythm track. A legend, put forth by Andrew Oldham, nothing more, but hey, if I had the luck to be one of those policemen...

And, damn the Mellotron, they keep experimenting with everything! The spooky organ underlying Mick's unnaturally soft, but dark singing on 'She Smiled Sweetly' is really something else. Did you know that it was Keith who played it? Now there's multi-instrumentalism for you! Add the weird drum line in the somewhat more hard-rockin' 'My Obsession', the now-that-I-can-believe lyrics of 'Yesterday's Papers' ('Seems very hard to have just one girl/When there's a million in the world'), the word-games on 'Complicated' and the wonderfully put together 'All Sold Out', and you have yourself a near-perfect record. The closing 'Something Happened To Me Yesterday' sums up everything with its series of drug-induced situations the choruses to which are sung by Keith, thus marking his start as a vocalist. (Oh wait, he gets to sing on 'Connection', too. Silly me). For some reason, people usually dislike the song, but I can't see that at all. It has a simple, charming Music Hall melody. Maybe these are the same people that hate Sergeant Pepper?

By the way: notice how they like these little Latin words on here? 'Connection', 'complicated', 'obsession', 'calm and collected'. This, actually, is the only thing that lets the album a bit down for me: when they got to 'Complicated', I was already inclined to think: 'Oh God, not again!' Apparently, Mick listened to too much Zimmerman around 1967. (Hey, did you know that when the police busted Keith for drugs the whole company started to tease the cops by singing 'Rainy Day Women'? And that was way back in 1967, too!) Anyway, all of these songs are cute little gems, and the deed of throwing them out of the stage catalogue is yet another dark spot on the band's reputation. Sure, they ain't no 'Jumpin' Jack Flash', but, then again, what is?



Year Of Release: 1967
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 14

An American bastard, but if you want more Stones' pop, there you have it!

Best song: OUT OF TIME

Track listing: 1) Ruby Tuesday; 2) Have You Seen Your Mother Baby Standing In The Shadow; 3) Let's Spend The Night Together; 4) Lady Jane; 5) Out Of Time; 6) My Girl; 7) Backstreet Girl; 8) Please Go Home; 9) Mother's Little Helper; 10) Take It Or Leave It; 11) Ride On Baby; 12) Sittin' On A Fence.

This is a weird album, not exactly a compilation, but rather an interesting effort to introduce the Americans to those particular tracks that were left off the original British releases, namely, Aftermath and Between The Buttons. Of course, these weren't enough for a complete album, so the greedy manager bastards dumped on some outtakes (most of them rather entertaining, I'll admit) and - shame on 'em! - three more tracks previously available on LPs: 'Lady Jane' from Aftermath and 'Let's Spend The Night Together/Ruby Tuesday' from Buttons. But overall this is a magnificent pop album. Not the least trippy, Beach Boyish, Beatlish, Kinkish and utterly delicious, it is still great. I give it a 9 exclusively on the basis of the songs that are on here, NOT taking in consideration the album's general superfluity, as most fans do.

The British-Aftermath tracks, in particular, are very strong: 'Mother's Little Helper' features one of their most vicious satyric lyrics (directed against middle class housewives taking pills, if you know what I mean) and a great stinging riff in between the verses, courtesy of Mr Brian, and it's fast and rockin', anyway. Then there's 'Out Of Time', possibly the most stupendous pop track ever recorded by the band. Unfortunately, it comes in a shortened version - the original was, like, a minute or two longer, and it seems to be unavailable on CD, what a shame! Check Metamorphosis (or the Singles Collection) to see how easy it is to ruin such a perfect pop number with a banal strings arrangement; but don't forget to return here in order to learn what a truly great pop song really is. 'Baby, baby, baby, you're out of time...' And, hey, 'Take It Or Leave It', contrary to what lots of people say, does not blow AT ALL! Why should it? It's just one more strong, a bit retroish, pop song! Yeah, I'll be the first to say that if you're in a sneery mood, it's easy to dismiss the endless 'O la la la ta ta ta ta la la la la' as cheesy, repetitive and annoying, not to mention silly; but somehow they fit in perfectly with the main melody, which, by the way, is quite complicated and witty, if you haven't noticed already.

Oh, but then again, the British-Buttons tracks are even stronger! Need proof? Let me tell you! There's 'Backstreet Girl' - a sly, sleazy accordion-embellished ode to adultery, with cunning French-influenced overtones and a fascinating tongue-in-cheek vocal - 'jesch' oo be mine backstreet guuuuuuuurrrl...' And there's 'Please Go Home' - a gruff, sloppy distortion-embellished ode to... Bo Diddley? I mean, that beat sure dates back to Bo Diddley and songs like 'Mona', but what's the deal with the whole wild bunch of studio experimentation? And the megalithic, booming chorus? A quasi-metallic beat? A hard rock excourse? A pre-Hendrix display of monstruosity? Gee...

And plus, you have your 'Haveyouseenyourmotherbabystandingintheshadow' which is their longest song title, even though it only consists of one word. At least, that's how I put it. Anyway, you shouldn't bother - you won't be able to understand a single word out of the lyrics anyway. Rumours have it that the record-buying public were afraid of those lyrics that were too scary and dark for them and that's why the single didn't chart too high - but that's a damn lie! How could they make out a single word apart from the track name? The melody, though, is much more than decent, if you can get past the muddy, probably intentionally sloppy production that immerges the song into a sea of fuzz and feedback.

And then there's those silly American-only tracks: 'My Girl', the Smokey Robinson cover, is quite interesting pop - again, often hated by fans, but I find Jagger's vocal efforts on that one completely adequate and strangely moving; 'Ride On Baby' is yet another gorgeous, but bitter-tasting ode to... hmmm.... the general sadness and vanity of this 'ere world of pain, and 'Sitting On A Fence' is an acoustic-only charming piece o' moosik about.... errr... the general sadness and vanity of this 'ere world of pain. Hmm. I guess I already mentioned this phrase somewhere above. But that's just it - it's a very uniform album. Like Aftermath. Don't expect lots of different moods and things. Just expect a pretty bunch of over-the-hill melodies. Of course I AGREE this album should have been minced up and the songs attached as bonus tracks to Aftermath and Buttons. But then again, to do so you would have to bypass Allen Klein. And I guess you can't do that yet. In the meantime - you'll just have to overcome yourself and buy this album, because I simply can't picture the happy, self-content life of a Rolling Stones fan who hasn't heard 'Mother's Little Helper' or 'Ride On Baby'..



Year Of Release: 1967
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 13

The Stones' psychedelic joke. Shows that whatever they played at, they couldn't be beat.

Best song: THE LANTERN

Track listing: 1) Sing This All Together; 2) Citadel; 3) In Another Land; 4) 2,000 Man; 5) Sing This All Together (See What Happens); 6) She's A Rainbow; 7) The Lantern; 8) Gomper; 9) 2,000 Light Years From Home; 10) On With The Show.

This one is probably the most understated rock record in history. Issued right after the Stones' infamous drug bust and in the midst of the Summer of Love and all, it's psychedelic, and has been regularly thrashed for being a rip-off of Sergeant Pepper. This is true, but only partly. Actually, it's not more a rip-off of Sergeant Pepper than it is of any other trippy album of the epoch - like Disraeli Gears, for instance, or whatever Jefferson Airplane or The Doors were doing at the moment. It's just that nobody was expecting a psychedelic album from The Rolling Stones; but, on the other hand, what else was one expected to do in 1967? Everybody was tripping - if you weren't tripping, you were probably recovering from a motorcycle accident! Hell, even the Monkees were tripping (at least, they were pretending to!) And, come to think of it, this record's similarity to Sgt Pepper doesn't extend much beyond the cover art and the fact that there's a song with a reprise and a 'band-within-a-band' song ('On With The Show'). Actually, I'd say that musically Between The Buttons was much closer to Pepper, with its music hall atmosphere and an immaculate collection of pop ditties. Satanic is a truly tripped out album with layers of 'cosmic conscience' - more reminiscent of early Pink Floyd than of the Beatles.

So scram all that hokey-pokey talk and think about the actual musical value, instead. Actual musical value? Why, it's right here, goddamn! The opening 'Sing This All Together' is eventually the same pop stuff they've been doing earlier, only set to a bizarre instrumentation and punctuated with silly 'underwater' noises. Weird, silly 'underwater' noises that I just love hearing. And the main melody is wonderful, as catchy as ever. The rip-roaring 'Citadel' is eventually the same rocking stuff they'd be off a-doin' since Beggar's Banquet, only set to some bizarre lyrics and punctuated with an ear-bursting 'ting' sound from the Mellotron (was it Mellotron or something even weirder, I wonder?) A sci-fi tale, for sure, but why not pay attention to the fact that it is set to an absolutely distinctive, hard rocking and, believe it or not, classic Richards riff? Above all, it's just a strong hard rock tune, embellished by different gimmicks and gadgets. They could be missing for all I care - which does not mean I don't like 'em. There's substance!

Then again, we have something completely unusual in 'In Another Land', which is the only composition by Bill Wyman he's ever contributed to the Stones. It's romantic and gentle, and much better than all his disco albums. The vocals are let through some tremolo effect, since Wyman wasn't too sure about the idea of him singing, but one can get used to that. And you also get to hear him snoring in the end!

Besides all these ditties, you also can enjoy 'She's A Rainbow', a timeless Mozart-like piano classic, and the only true 'classic' from this album ('classic' in the meaning 'played on the radio'); with its strings arrangement, conducted by future Zepster J. P. Jones, it's the most pompous tune they'd done to that day - and it works, unlike all the bland Moody Blues orchestration. Another more or less known tune is '2000 Light Years From Home', a great astro-theme which I would prefer over the entire 60's Pink Floyd catalogue any time of the day (and hey, I don't have anything in particular against 60's Pink Floyd, but they sure lacked the Stones' songwriting talents). The song's scary! And all the astral noises, that are used moderately, but effectively, they really make you feel lost in space, 100, 600, 2000 light years from home... In my humble opinion, this song still stands as proof irresistible to the fact that the Stones were the only band in the world, besides the Beatles, that could try their hand at every genre and come out with a winner. '2000 Man' might not be that good, although I really like the acoustic sound in the beginning; I do admit, though, that it would be a far more interesting choice for the upcoming 'song of the millenium' than the stupidly chosen 'It's Only Rock'n'Roll' (have you heard that one yet? it's gonna be performed by a cast of thousands on New Year's Eve! and they'll do their best to sound like a bunch of talentless idiots, you bet your life). That line about 'having an affair with a random computer' is a good one... is Mick really planning on that any time soon?

The record's main stinker is usually considered an eight-minute reprise of 'Sing This All Together' reinterpreted as a psychedelic sound collage which you may like or may not like, but I sure say it's better than 'Revolution 9', anyway. It has rhythm - it's actually more a jam than a collage, and maybe it takes time to assimilate it, but I love almost every second. The nasty screaming in the middle, when the rhythm disappears, does bug me sometimes even now, though.

My choice for best song, however, might surprise some persons quite a bit - while '2000 Light Years' might be as good a choice as can be, I still place it second to 'The Lantern' with its mystical, Eastern flavour. I know it sounds strange, but I simply adore Mick's tone on that one. The way he intones the verses ('you'll LEAVE a light... to LET me know... TELL me so...') has always fascinated me, from the very start. The lyrics are rather banal, of course, but who cares? In comparison to, say, Led Zeppelin's flat-foot, gruff take on mysticism, this one is gentle, exotic and totally non-generic. And it sounds so sincere that you could really easily believe Jagger was sprung from an Aladdin lamp.

For me, the misfire is the closing bar-room joke 'On With The Show' which just does not belong here (now this is a real Pepper rip-off), and the overlong 'Gomper' makes me a little uncomfortable with the extended jam part, although I've got used to it already. But these are just occasional, slight misfires, like on any other record 'cept the very best. In fact, this record would deserve a 9, but I've lowered the rating just a small bit - anyway, psychedelia is not the Stones' blue plate special, isn't it? Also, you just may not enjoy that eight-minute thing that much.



Year Of Release: 1968
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 15

One of the first hard rock albums. The first country blues album. The classic of the classics. Buy it today.


Track listing: 1) Sympathy For The Devil; 2) No Expectations; 3) Dear Doctor; 4) Parachute Woman; 5) Jig-Saw Puzzle; 6) Street Fighting Man; 7) Prodigal Son; 8) Stray Cat Blues; 9) Factory Girl; 10) Salt Of The Earth.

Forget the pop and the psychedelia, here comes Ole Man Rocker! Pulling themselves out of a financial, psychologic and creative stagnation (not that Satanic was bad - they just needed something more uptight to bring them to life), and also ignoring Brian Jones as best they could, The Glimmer Twins (oh, OK, I know they weren't called Glimmer Twins until later, but I just put that in for good effect) responded with this album. It's even better than Aftermath, and for many people represents the beginning of the real Rolling Stones. Half of it is soft, but bitter and dark acoustic 'country-western', and the other half is ferocious electric rockers. A return to 'roots rock' it is, though it's hardly as formulaic as people sometimes dub it. For one, it's pretty diverse: maybe not as diverse as The White Album, but there's enough moods and different grooves here to suit any tastes. A bit of blues, a bit of rock, a bit of samba, a bit of folk, a bit of country. Very tasty.

Hey, there's 'Sympathy For The Devil' here - what better praise can there be? And if you're ignorant enough not to know what kind of a hellish trick this is, it's just a very very long devilish song set to a Latin rhythm, with bongos and congos and dongos and maracas and 'hoo-hoo's and everything, and also an excellent Keith solo, and some of the best lyrics Jagger ever came up with. Inspired by Bulgakoff and filmed by Jean-Luc Godard in his 'One Plus One' movie. Period. And for many, this is the Stones' song number one, while for others, this was the definite proof that the Stones were Satanists. Silly happy people.

What else? The rockers are tight, very very tight, tighter than they ever were before. The bluesy 'Parachute Woman' kicks with all possible might - you might regard it as a projection of the Stones' early blues numbers onto a more modern era with more tricky production values. Rumour has it that Keith recorded the basic parts of this on a rough-sounding cassette, and that's why the guitars sound so cool - almost rasping. And Mick's harmonica solo brings him to a new height - when that blast comes in near the end, doesn't it wanna make you jump up in fright? Then there's 'Stray Cat Blues', the most vicious and obscene rocker up-to-date: it's still full of metaphors (Jagger didn't start using obscene lexicon until Sticky Fingers), but lines like 'you see another friend, now she's wilder than you/why don't you bring her upstairs?/if she's so wild she can join in two' set the picture as clear as possible. It's not the lyrics, though, but rather the terrific melody and especially the arrangement that gives exclusive depth to this one: the fade-out in the end resembles The Beatles' fade-out on 'Helter Skelter' but is actually superior. I especially like the way they construct the crescendo, with guitar after guitar after guitar rising up in the mix (love that bassline! -du-DOO-ddu-do-ddo-do-ddo-do du-DOO ddu-do-ddo-do-ddo-do... ...sorry...) In fact, this is the only song whose rearrangement on the live Ya-Ya's is a lot inferior to the original.

And one more excellent rocker is 'Jig-Saw Puzzle' which closes Side A. A six-minute epic in the best tradition of Dylan's ballads, it is accompanied by crystal clear acoustic and superb slide guitar (the only Jones contribution?) Maybe it does get a little bit boring towards the end (Jagger is no Dylan, and the endless lyrics about queens and armies and twenty thousand grandmas, but overall it's pretty good. And everybody knows the mighty revolutionary anthem (or was it antirevolutionary?) 'Street Fighting Man' which was (and still is) a stage favourite.

The softer songs are softer, sure enough, but probably even more gorgeous than the rockers. The beautiful ballad 'No Expectations' is especially memorable for the incredibly sincere tenderness in Jagger's voice; the country groove 'Dear Doctor' is pretty amusing (and it's a waltz!); yet another country groove 'Prodigal Son' is even more amusing (it's so great to hear Mick singing a popularisation of this New Testament fable in his mocking style); and yet another country groove 'Factory Girl' has an incredibly simple but charming melody, plus some hilarious fiddle by Rick Grech. The only letdown is the closing 'Salt Of The Earth' - Mick's first attempt at a universal hymn to people is clumsy and features too many verses and repetitions of verses for a very simple melody. However, it is sped up near the end and turned into a piano boogie ruled by Nicky Hopkins, so that the final notes of the album do not feel inferior to the beginning ones. I just feel a little stupid when listening to this anthem of the working class.

I'm also proud to announce that I possess the old LP version in the plain white cover, which will probably soon become a rarity. See, the guys wanted to put a lavatory wall on the cover, but them at Decca said no. So the old cover's been reinstated only recently, and, frankly speaking, it's not that inspiring. Even the zipper's much more cool, although it's Let It Bleed that holds gold for the best album cover. But have you seen the inner sleeve photo? Now that's one great decadent image for you!



Year Of Release: 1996
Record rating = 2
Overall rating = 7

Allen Klein wanted to make money. If you buy it you're just giving money to that big fat gangster.

Best song: how should I know? They're all average!

Track listing: 1) Mick Jagger's Introduction Of The Rock'n'Roll Circus; 2) Entry Of The Gladiators; 3) Mick Jagger's Introduction Of Jethro Tull; 4) A Song For Jeffrey (Jethro Tull); 5) Keith Richard's Introduction Of The Who; 6) A Quick One While He's Away (The Who); 7) Over The Waves; 8) Ain't That A Lot Of Love (Taj Mahal); 9) Charlie Watts' Introduction Of Marianne Faithfull; 10) Something Better (Marianne Faithfull); 11) Mick Jagger's And John Lennon's Introduction Of The Dirty Mac; 12) Yer Blues (Dirty Mac); 13) Whole Lotta Yoko (Dirty Mac); 14) Jumpin' Jack Flash; 15) Parachute Woman; 16) No Expectations; 17) You Can't Always Get What You Want; 18) Sympathy For The Devil; 19) Salt Of The Earth.

An idiotic and fairly obvious cash-in. The video of this truly historical event is great (see the review below), but the CD, outside of the video row, is nothing but history. First of all, the guest appearances do not belong to the Stones' catalogue at all, and don't truly feel compatible with the Stones' own performances on here (proves that the original idea of releasing Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out as a double album with supporting acts could have turned out to be real hrmful). Jethro Tull do a trusty rendition of 'Song For Jeffrey', which is fairly cool but there's been much talk about the band actually lip-synching to a phonogram, all but Ian Anderson himself. Ironic, then, that the only time Tony Iommi really played with the band featured him only pretending to play? Heh heh.

The Who's 'A Quick One' is an excellent performance, to be sure, but feels better in the context of the Who's own albums like The Kids Are Alright. It is rumored that Townshend's ensemble actually outplayed the Stones themselves that evening, and that was the main reason the release of the show was postponed for thirty years. Well, it's hard for me to judge when it comes to the concept of 'X blowing Y off the stage', but one thing's for certain: the performance is truly outstanding, the best live version of 'A Quick One' you'll ever come to hear, but this is a Stones album, for Chrissake. The only good result of this is that I know several persons who have thus become acquainted with the Who through this album (actually, through the video) and even become fans.

Taj Mahal step in with 'Ain't That A Lot Of Love', and Jesse Ed Davis does a fair job on guitar for that one on the short economic guitar break; and this is also a good chance for the uninitiated to hear some completely stoned Marianne Faithful on 'Something Better'. The big surprise comes in the form of the 'Dirty Mac' - a one-ninght supergroup with Lennon and Clapton on guitars, Mitch Mitchell on drums and Keith Richards on bass. It's great while they do 'Yer Blues', but it becomes excruciating when they're joined onstage by a wailing Yoko and a violinist and do a four-and-a-half-minute screamfest. It's even worse without the video where you can at least scrutinize the happy faces of the drugged out audience that's on seventh heaven while you yourself furtively try to cover your ears. Get the video instead, and at least you'll understand what is actually happening while they play all the silly circus interludes.

As for the Stones' own performances, they're all heavily undermined by a complete lack of Brian Jones - he's physically there, but his soul is obviously somewhere else. He only briefly comes to life when it comes to playing his slide part for 'No Expectations', and it's pure delight to see him putting some real effort into something he clearly likes. But he's practically unheard on the other songs, never soloing and mainly just standing there and bleakly imitating Keith's parts.

The material itself is mostly Banquet or Banquet-era based: 'Jumpin' Jack Flash' goes off OK and 'No Expectations' and 'Parachute Woman' are the only live versions of these songs you'll ever be a-findin', plus Keith's funny lead lines on the latter should truly be appreciated. But then there's an early and seriously sucky version of 'You Can't Always Get What You Want', and the closing 'Salt Of The Earth' is just Mick's vocals overdubbed over the studio phonogram. Meanwhile, Brian looks more and more stoned as the show progresses and his role on 'Sympathy For The Devil' is relegated to shaking the maracas, and even then he can hardly keep the rhythm.

Not to mention that for every 'normal' track you get something nasty - either a stupid circus tune, or some banter which just doesn't hold it for me without the video perspective, or 'Whole Lotta Yoko'... Like I already said, the main reason for the film and the soundtrack not seeing the light of day back in 1968 was due to the fact that the Stones thought they were outplayed by the Who that night. Might well be. I'm not the type of guy who'd go comparing the Stones and the Who and their live potential: both were awesome, and both had their peaks and their downs. On this particular evening, though, I feel that the Stones' intuition did not fail them: they were clearly outplayed. One more detail: the 'extracts' you'll hear on this album were just small bits of the whole show, because the Stones re-did each of their numbers for several times IN A ROW... I don't think the audience was bored, of course (they were probably too stoned to notice that much anyway), but it just goes to show the sad state of things at the time. Who would have guessed that in less than a year's time the Stones would proudly recapture their reputation of 'best live rock'n'roll band'! Sadly, they had to dump Brian in order to do that.

But nah. Get the video, get it at all costs; but avoid this on CD. I only got it because I'm a completist, and it was cheap. Never in your life will there be a moment when you will be needing this piece of plastic on your CD player. Actually, I give it a 2 because it's totally obsolete due to the presence of the video. If you haven't got the video, feel free to up that rating a few points.



Year Of Release: 1969
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 15

Dark, dreary, but oh so beautiful. Anthems, ballads, spooky celebrations of murder - all set to an unbelievably creative set of melodies.

Best song: no, no, they're all great.

Track listing: 1) Gimme Shelter; 2) Love In Vain; 3) Country Honk; 4) Live With Me; 5) Let It Bleed; 6) Midnight Rambler; 7) You Got The Silver; 8) Monkey Man; 9) You Can't Always Get What You Want.

All right - if bleed we must, then let it bleed, guys! This album is bleeding so strong that it gets my vote for the best Stones album ever and one of the greatest rock albums ever made by mortal man. Brian Jones was already gone by that moment (he's credited for harp playing on 'Midnight Rambler', but that's an embarrassment), and Mick Taylor still hadn't quite arrived, so Mick and Keith get the praises for this album. Nine songs on here, each one a small independent world, and even if the album is structured as close to a rip-off of Beggar's Banquet as possible, it's no big problem. What I like about it especially is that everything is taken in the right proportion, every single idea is developed up to complete perfection and never overdone. The long songs are not boring, the short songs are not overlengthened, the sexy show-off and obscenity is still limited to a fairly sufficient amount (at this point they were still using metaphors to conceal the Rude and the Raunchy), and the melodies are even more well-crafted than those on Banquet!

First of all, it features two of the darkest and dreariest songs ever. 'Gimme Shelter' is a song about storms and floods (very convenient at the time, too, since everybody took it as an anti-Vietnam War protest song), set to a spooky Keith guitar line and backed up with scary vocals, plus Mick is aided by Mary Clayton whose angry, gospelish vocals on the chorus really give this song an epic feel. Indeed, the Stones aren't really known for their 'epic' renditions, but if there is one definite epic to the Stones' catalog, that would be 'Gimmie Shelter', the most ominous, dreary and shiver-sending piece of music they ever did - in fact, it might as well be the spookiest, the most dread-inducing piece of music I've ever heard. Black Sabbath can kiss my ***; compared to this, all their Satanism and darkness sports a blatantly goofy and fake character. Unfortunately, in my opinion, the Stones never mastered a truly impressive live rendition of it - because it is hardly possible to imagine the song without its storm-imitating production.

'Midnight Rambler', on the other hand, is a much more 'intimate' song: it features almost seven minutes of pure thrill, during which Mick sings some mean lyrics about a maniac killer, plays some terrifying harp lines, and leads us through a slow mid-section punctuated by acute drumbursts before speeding up again and ending up with the lines: '...I'll stick my knife in your throat baby and it HURTS!' Cute, isn't it? Just don't play this song around midnight if you're one weak-hearted person! This one, on the contrary, got several quite superior live renditions, primarily the one captured on Ya-Ya's. Here, however, it again sounds different, with a spooky 'midnight' atmosphere: the harp lines often end up sounding like a wolf howling, and the dreamy, subtle guitars are frightening! How atmospheric!

Ballads-wise this is one super album, too. 'Love In Vain' is a great old blues cover, with Ry Cooder (wasn't it?) on mandolin, and it's oh so oh so oh so beautiful. Keith unearthed it from the Robert Johnson archives, and somehow perceived the beauty of it - but, while I haven't heard the original, I may have to suppose that the true potential of the song was only unearthed by these Brit boys. The mandolin is tear-inducing, and its interaction with the gentle, soft slide guitars creates one of the most hard-hitting emotional masterpieces the Twentieth Century has seen. And if that's not enough, there's also the very first song featuring Keith on lead vocals for all its entirety: 'You Got The Silver' is a touching and nice ballad, tons better than all the weird wailing stuff he's been throwing at us since Goats' Head Soup. This one is really catchy and memorable, and not any less heartfelt or moving.

Then, just to remind you that this was still 1969, and not 1998 or anything, there is still that old psychedelic line hanging around. 'Live With Me', for instance, is a terrific rocker with simply crazy lyrics. Some say that the lines 'my best friend he shoots water rats/And feeds 'em to his geese' refers to some of Keith's habits at his Redlands residence; regardless of this, the song features a ferocious bass line and the first ever saxophone solo by Bobby Keyes whom you still can see walking around these RS fellows even now. And 'Monkey Man' lyricswise belongs to Satanic, not here; however, Keith's riffing is so mature here compared to those earlier days! Ronnie Wood is said to have admitted the riff on 'Monkey Man' is his favourite Keith riff of all time; I may not agree with him, but I sure can understand him, as it was somewhere around this time that Mr Richards really turned into that aggressive riffage machine that we all know and love him for.

Any social comments? Sure! There's the title track, which says anybody can bleed on Mick if he's not feeling right, and the closing 'You Can't Always Get What You Want' is probably a bit overlong because of the lengthy chorus section in the introduction, but it really don't matter much to me: yet another great song, 'tis all. And to top it off - we have a re-mastered 'Honky Tonk Women' presented as a country ditty (which, by the way, was the original design; as far as I know, the 'hard rockin'' version owns its existence to Mick Taylor)! And it works, even with the silly fiddle replacing the guitar: it's a pity they never tried this version onstage. Due to the lack of fiddle, perhaps?

Any further proof that this is the Stones' finest moment? Well, see, this album is so great there is no obvious classic on it, no outstanding piece overshadowing all the others. Beggar's Banquet? 'Sympathy For The Devil'! Sticky Fingers? 'Brown Sugar'! Exile? 'Tumbling Dice'! All of these tracks symbolize the entire record. While no track from Let It Bleed ever entered the Stones' 'golden stage dozen': occasionally, 'You Can't Always Get What You Want' entered their encore set, but I wouldn't call it a 'crowd-pleasing' number all the same. But that's not because they're inferior: it's just impossible to choose. Still, most of these tracks (except 'Country Honk', naturally, and, for some strange reason, 'You Got The Silver') got enough onstage play - even 'Monkey Man' was unearthed for the 1994-5 tour, and it was great! So go ahead - if you don't own this record, rush out to buy it and you'll be glad you did. This album closes off the Sixties, and still stands as one of rock music's greatest accomplishments.



Year Of Release: 1970
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 15

Mick Taylor's finest hour. His solos mixed with Keith's gruff rhythm make this sound like live rock heaven.


Track listing: 1) Jumpin' Jack Flash; 2) Carol; 3) Stray Cat Blues; 4) Love In Vain; 5) Midnight Rambler; 6) Sympathy For The Devil; 7) Live With Me; 8) Little Queenie; 9) Honky Tonk Women; 10) Street Fighting Man.

What a great idea - immediately following one of the best studio albums ever with one of the best live albums ever, and there's virtually no doubt about that. It's a far cry from later live albums, but that's just because it is probably the only Stones' live album where each and every member is much more busy with standing on the spot and actually playing their instruments ('cept for headman Mick, of course), instead of putting most of their talent into pointless showing off and standing on their heads (like on Still Life). And oh my God but could they play 'em. Keith punches out terrific hard riffs, sounding louder and gruffer than ever (in fact, the original versions never sounded that monstrous - this is just what you need for a good sweaty tight rock band!) With the improved production values and the diminished crowd noises, you can see just how much his style had changed over the years: he's matured into the kind of live Keith we know and love, the brawny, powerful Riffmeister who seems to limit himself to pretty simple phrases but whose every note is magic.

Newcomer Mick Taylor shows us he's no slouch either: his fascinating solos give this album an edge that would make it a valuable acquirement for every bluesman and lover of virtuoso guitar playing. Yup, it was Taylor indeed who was the main star of these particular sets of performances (late Sixties/early Seventies): he gave the Stones technical impeccability, a thing that Brian was far, so very far from. If not for Taylor, no way there is that the Stones might have enjoyed such tremendous live success at an age where people went to concerts to witness Jimmy Page or Ritchie Blackmore or Duane Allman, certainly not Mott The Hoople or Iggy Pop...

The setlist here is mostly drawn from the Stones' contemporary albums: most of the selections do not venture beyond 1968, but hey, that's alright by me! Major exception are two Chuck Berry covers ('Carol' and 'Little Queenie'), which are, however, turned upside down and no longer done as fast, smokin' pieces of boogie, but instead are slowed down and transformed into powerful jamming machines. They are almost 'mechanical', in fact - I simply adore how these guitars twist and turn, with Taylor and Richards both choosing to go slow, playing not more than one or two notes per bar, so that it all comes out 'jagged' and 'rough' instead of 'smooth' and 'flowing'. An excellent display of guitar technique.

Elsewhere, the formula is standard: they take the studio standards and roughen and toughen and scruffen them up until they get positively... scary, man. The live versions of 'Midnight Rambler' and 'Sympathy For The Devil' sound nothing like the originals. The former is now represented as a bloodthirsty, ferocious rocker, driven by Keith's brutal, intoxicating riff... and, of course, there's the midsection, where the interplay between Keith and Mick drives me mad every time I hear it. And 'Sympathy For The Devil' is rearranged as a somewhat more Bo Diddley-ish upbeat thingamajig, with Charlie doing a great workout on the drums. It also features Mick Taylor's best ever solo and one of my favourite, if not the favourite, guitar solo of all time. Actually, I think it's the only guitar solo that lasts more than a minute which I know by heart, just 'cause it's so smooth and perfectly thought out and immaculately played - Mick never misses a single note. Man, if only this particular song was captured on video, with Mick doing the 'devil's dance'... yeah, I know there's the Altamont bit in Gimmie Shelter, but that's not it, not it at all...

None of the other songs are bad, either. Well, I feel that slowing down 'Stray Cat Blues' in concert was some sorta bloody mistake: the song loses much of its coolness and that youthful aggression, too. On the other hand, this is more than compensated by a stunning rendition of 'Love In Vain', with more gorgeous soloing from the part of Mr T.; again, I will not say that this surpasses the studio version, which had that beautiful mandolin and all, but it's simply in a class of its own. And the other tracks are rockers - the two recent singles are both on here: 'Jumpin' Jack Flash' is forever sealed as a timeless live classic, and we finally get a taste of Keith's masterful and trademark soloing on 'Honky Tonk Women'. By the way, in the latter case I will not be afraid to say that this live version of 'Honky Tonk Women' kicks the studio original by the balls and tosses it out the window - from the very first gruff chord that Keith takes on his guitar, and down to the very last thump that Charlie gives on his drums, this is soooo addictive.

Oh yeah, 'Live With Me' is also good here (not a highlight, though), and the show ends with 'Street Fighting Man' with Taylor again the hero of the day. Forgive me, actually, if I overdid the sweety-appraisal thing for this album, but you gotta understand me, this was my favourite live album in the world for ten years - until I heard Live At Leeds, of course. Now both albums share the honour (I will never indulge in pointless discussions over which one is better - both are as dear to me as the sun and moon), but this one still holds a particular spot in my heart. This is rock and roll - this is how rock and roll was made in the late Sixties, and this is the highest possible standard for a rock'n'roll concert. Raw, powerful, immaculate and sloppy at turns, professional, young, optimistic, and hugely entertaining. If you don't own it, go and get it now. If you don't like it - well, then your soul is simply unfit for true rock and roll.



Year Of Release: 1971
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 14

A bit dirtier and gimmicker than necessary, but most of the songs are still ooby-dooby.


Track listing: 1) Brown Sugar; 2) Sway; 3) Wild Horses; 4) Can't You Hear Me Knocking; 5) You Gotta Move; 6) Bitch; 7) I Got The Blues; 8) Sister Morphine; 9) Dead Flowers; 10) Moonlight Mile.

The album that made it obvious for everybody The Rolling Stones were intent on surviving the Sixties and making the necessary impact on the Seventies, too. It featured something new, too: the good news was that Mick Taylor had finally arrived and took his cool solos from the hot atmosphere of Ya-Ya's into the more moderate studio atmosphere, where he could work on them and tighten them up until they became completely devastating. The bad news was that the new decade brought new freedom, especially with the establishment of an independent record label, and Mick was finally free to litter the lyrics with obscene lexicon, while the front cover, featuring a pair of jeans with a real zipper, was their most raunchy to date.

Now look here: I'm not a purist, and I really don't mind obscenity in rock music, but I just think that dirtying up their image was a really cheap trick for The Stones. After all, Let It Bleed was just the same as this one, but back then 'dirty' things used to hide behind metaphors, and that's what looks like true artistry to me - all these 'empty places in my parking-lot' and 'brain-bell janglers' sound oh so cool. Starting with Sticky Fingers, they began to dirty up their records more and more, until it all resulted in Undercover which was really only made for the sake of making a totally dirty record, and its musical value was not thought of. Of course, I understand they had to fuck up their image when faced with the new 'dirtiness' standards, especially later, with the punk scene and all that. But did they really have to shift their priorities in such a drastic way? Sacrifice good music for the sake of not looking like old farts? 'Tis a serious question, indeed; but nevertheless I am decreasing the rating of Sticky Fingers by a whole point as a punishment. So there! Oh well, if you want any reason - 'I Got The Blues' sucks, but that's another story.

The album is approximately divided into a 'hard' and a 'soft' side, with two exceptions: 'Wild Horses' is put on Side A and 'Bitch' is put on Side B probably to mess things up a bit. Anyway, the 'hard' side is terrifying, with the rockers threatening to beat the very life of you. The classic 'Brown Sugar' features some of my beloved Keith chords and enters the Golden Dozen of the band's favourite stage numbers. Much has been said about the song's lyrics depicting slave rape and other nasty things, but at least this time around Mick felt the need to mask the 'fruity contents' under allegories such as 'brown sugar how come you taste so good'. Never mind the lyrics, though - the opening distorted, sloppy riff has oft been called the great signature lick of the Stones, and this is probably true. 'Sway' has Jagger adopting a unique 'nasal-barking' way of singing which really emphasizes the general lazy-depressed feel of the song, plus Mick Taylor solos like a demon; it's not exactly my favourite, but the song truly has a great, unique, 'muddy' atmosphere of despair and quasi-lethargic melancholy to it. Not so with the rip-roarin' 'Can't You Hear Me Knockin'', a seven-minute groove, starting with some raunchy lyrics and turning into a powerful jam soon afterwards, with Taylor's famous Santana-like soloing. The Stones rarely jammed on their records to oblivion, and when they did, like on 'Goin' Home', it mostly put off people, but this is one rare case of a Stones jam where you'll be asking for more: the brass section and Taylor's Latino licks give the song a scary Voodoo mood that no 'Dancing With Mister D' could ever hope to capture. 'You Gotta Move' is the obligatory old blues cover set to a very weird acoustic guitar tone (I'd say it's the hardcorest blues arrangement I've ever heard). Finally, 'Bitch' has the best riff on the entire record, and Keith really takes delight in chucking out some outchucking Chuck Berry-licks, the only thing letting this number down being Jagger's silly obscene lyrics ('sometimes I'm sexy, move like a stud', really!) Throughout, the playing is so tight, the melodies are so great, the arrangements so impressive and the atmosphere so sincere and straightforward that it's just plain incredible. Incredible. In the immortal words of Dave Weigel, 'I want a written excuse why nobody's writing such songs today'.

But, after all, these guys weren't just your intelligent analogy of AC/DC. Nossiree. The 'soft side' here is not any less attractive. 'Wild Horses' is their greatest ballad they ever put out in both the 70-s and the 80-s (never mind the 90-s), with Mick turning in a great vocal performance (since this song is likely to be dedicated to Marianne Faithfull's return to life after her coma, it might as well be emotional). I still can't really guess whether the message is more optimistic or gloomy - the verses seem to be terribly depressing, while the chorus has something uplifting about it: 'wild horses couldn't drag me away, wild horses, we'll ride 'em someday'. But who cares? You might just as well take both sides of it.

On the other hand, 'Sister Morphine' is, simply put, the most frightening song they ever made - 'Gimme Shelter' might scare the pants off you, but this is one tune I'm simply afraid of listening to. It ain't heavy or devilish or anything, but the atmosphere is so dang creepy... This may be silly, but I'd highly recommend the song for junkies: no other song depicts the drug horror more vividly and convincingly than that one. And what's the effect achieved with, I ask you? Well, take just some simple, but 'well-tuned' vocals, acoustic guitar and some spooky electric lines from Ry Cooder, plus Charlie's drum part later on, and you're all set up. And don't you ever think of listening to 'Too Much Blood' after this one, you'll never want to put that silly Undercover on again. Consolation and relaxation comes up with 'Dead Flowers', a very nice country song, again combining some joyful music with lines about death and needles and graves and all that other stuff. And the closing 'Moonlight Mile' overdoes the coda a bit, but in general it's an incredible song, with Jagger rising to the kind of majestic height only The Who could master. The only real letdown is the pretentious, bombastic 'I Got The Blues', which is where Mick really overdid the matter: his 'heroic' style of singing here is really fake. If you get deceived by it, you might enjoy it, though. I don't. It evokes visions of soul singers before my eyes, and I could never picture Mick as a true soul singer. Yeah, yeah, I know it's a tribute to the Great Old Black Musicians of the days of yore, but gimme 'Rip This Joint' over this tripe any time of day.

In other words: this is a mighty solid effort. A truly great album. A record that defines its epoch and defies time. BUT... but this is also the beginning of the end. It's not an ounce better than Let It Bleed, and rather several ounces worse (I've said what ounces, already). Musically, It's still perfect, but it also shows to what extent they were dependent on Taylor's guitar. As soon as Taylor departed, music started to decline, and obscenity and mannerisms started to grow.



Year Of Release: 1972
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 13

What I say is: they sure didn't need a double album. Tons of filler mixed with some terrific songs.


Track listing: 1) Rocks Off; 2) Rip This Joint; 3) Shake Your Hips; 4) Casino Boogie; 5) Tumbling Dice; 6) Sweet Virginia; 7) Torn And Frayed; 8) Sweet Black Angel; 9) Loving Cup; 10) Happy; 11) Turd On The Run; 12) Ventilator Blues; 13) I Just Want To See His Face; 14) Let It Loose; 15) All Down The Line; 16) Stop Breaking Down; 17) Shine A Light; 18) Soul Survivor.

Underrated at the time of release, but also highly overrated at the present time. That's my definite opinion and I'm not going to change it. The main problem of this album is that it is double. Double - when it is obvious that there's hardly enough great songs here to fill out a single one! Even so, the whole album is about 60 minutes long - pretty good for a single CD, but for a double LP? Go figure... Anyway, this is usually considered to be the last great Stones' album before the slump, and although them that say that may be right, them that say that might be wrong, too. It's certainly inferior to the great whoppers of 1968-69, but in my humble opinion it's also inferior to some of the later whoppers, too. In any case, what is obvious is that there is no immeasurable precipice between this and Goats' Head Soup, as some would put it... Oh, never mind. With a little, just a little editing, this would be the equal of Sticky Fingers, but as it is, there are some real stinkers that drag the album down, and I can't quite give it a nine. Mind you, no songs here are really bad, even if 'Just Wanna See His Face' comes really close to bad; but not all of them manage to hit me right in the head. The big plus is that the sincerity and authenticity is still right here: there's not a hint at self-parody which the boys would touch with their left foot on the next two albums, and they're still riding the wave. The big minus is that the production really really sucks. Now I'm not the type, really, that always whines about production and how the guitars sound plastic and the organs are higher in the mix than the bass; but this time they really blew it with the production. The guitars somehow all manage to stick together in a lump, rather than sound polished and distinct as on the previous record, and Jagger's vocals are a disaster - always buried under the instruments and horrendously convoluted. Where Sticky Fingers and Let It Bleed really showcased each instrument and each individual member's prowess, Exile has everything in an almost cacophonic melting pot. This really makes it hard for me to enjoy even the best songs, and what can be said about the worst? Gimme a better mix, please.

But let's move on to the songs; after all, production is just production. Let's be just. I don't know whether it has something to do with the boys recording in Keith's French villa, but Jimmy Miller made an ass of himself, and let's just leave it at that. :)

In all, there are some more great rockers here. The opening 'Rocks Off' might have kicked aside 'Brown Sugar' with its relentless groove, were it not for the fact that Mick's vocals are almost inaudible; plus, the coda is overlong, which is also the trouble with a lot of the tracks on here - in order to lengthen the songs for this double LP they had to extend some of them into boring, uninspired instrumental passages, emphasized by the terrible production. This applies to the stage favourite 'All Down The Line' and the generic blues cover 'Stop Breaking Down' but, fortunately, does not apply to the totally kick-ass classic rocker 'Rip This Joint'. That one was said to be the fastest the Stones ever got before they did 'Flip The Switch' twenty five years later - but I still feel it to be their fastest song, at least, on a personal perception level. Bobby Keyes' sax intoxicates your brain on that one far more than a couple bottles of whiskey, and the song still stands after all those years as a fantastic rock'n'roll anthem. Chuck Berry must have been proud. As for these two I've mentioned earlier, they're also good - in fact, I never can get over the brilliant grumbly riff underpinning 'Stop Breaking Down'. Robert Johnson must have been proud.

Plus, we have another vocal contribution by Keith Richards - the crowdpleasing 'Happy', with a good riff and some of Keith's most revealing lyrics ('never kept a dollar past sunset... always burned a hole in my pants'. Modest, eh?). 'Tis the first time when he dared to take lead vocals on an all-out, no-brakes rocker, and he pulls it off with all the pseudo-redneck energy he puts into it. After all, it's his musical and life credo he's exposing to us - how can such a song not be epochal?

Other genres are exposed to us as well - after all, if the album is double, it's only natural to expect a curious mishmash of styles. You want country? Well, please take the pretty pretty pretty country 'Sweet Virginia' with some rude words. I don't know who was it that they ripped the tune off - I don't dare suggest that it's totally original as the melody is so simplistic (but brilliant) that it could hardly not have existed before 1972. For me, though, it'll always be associated with Sweet Virginia and 'gotta scrape that shit right off your shoes'. Always brings tears to my eyes, that one (not the line, the song!)

You want self-penned blues? 'Ventilator Blues' is your bet, with the first, if not the only, Taylor writing credit. I suppose he did most of the song bar the lyrics, as it really had to take something special to earn Mick a writing credit; in any case, that weird, twisted riff, more a heaviness-deprived Tony Iommi than Keith Richards, is a special, curious event in the Stones' catalog. You want gospel? Take the mighty, anthemic 'Shine A Light' which shows how much time indeed had passed between this one and 'Salt Of The Earth'. Billy Preston really 'shines a light' on that one with his grandiose keyboard work, and, of course, it's also Taylor's high point: it's incredibly hard to adorn an energetic gospel tune with a suitable 'heavenly' guitar solo, and Mick does his best. Please be sure to get this version first and not the bastardisation of the song on Stripped: try as hard as he would, Ronnie Wood just can't get that solo right. Leave the mastership to the master.

What did I leave out? Oh! Of course, the all-time classic - 'Tumbling Dice'. It's here, too! Ain't it fun?

So? Nine songs listed, and when put together, they could do a terrific album, quite worthy of comparison with Sticky Fingers. As it is, for almost every good tune you have to 'enjoy' a mediocre or even a downright annoying one. Some are better, some are worse, but none are highlights and this is where I step up with the word 'filler'. Don't forget that Stones' filler equals 'best-of' for many inferior bands; but it's still filler, what can I do. Everything is being determined in comparison, ain't it so? Let's just go over these shortly. Here goes:

The 'light-blues' cover of Slim Harpo's 'Shake Your Hips' is pretty lightweight - pretty soon I get tired of the monotonous twang-twang of the guitar, monotonous lyrics and Jagger's muddy performance. The political declaration 'Sweet Black Angel' is simply lame (Angela Davis was a terrific gal in that she inspired several great musicians to humiliate themselves with subpar performances). The lengthy gospely 'Let It Loose' has little melody but lots of wailing and back-up female voices - sorry, I'm just not a fan of generic gospel; give me some real, solid melody, like 'Shine A Light'. I'm simply lost in among all the confusion and the chaotic mix of the track. The casino boogie 'Casino Boogie' is, well, just a casino boogie (the sax break is nice, though). The Voodoo chant 'Just Want To See His Face' is utterly ridiculous; how this is supposed to be enjoyable actually baffles me (I do admit that some misguided fans get their kicks out of it). The Keith-dedicated ballad 'Torn And Frayed' is very average - nice and singalongish, but lightweight. The love anthem 'Loving Cup', which is one of the oldest songs on here, on the contrary is quite good - very rousing and gentle all at once. However, it's spoiled by the overlong coda and more duff mixing. Finally, the closing 'Soul Survivor' has an interesting riff for chorus(ripped off for 'It Must Be Hell' eleven years later) but no melody for the verses. Brr. Filler country.

Now I repeat: just don't think that these are bad songs (and don't condemn me, either). They're okay, I guess, and I never skip them while playing the album (except for that silly 'Wanna See His Face' embarrassment) but they're all not very catchy, and the production. Production. Production. Production which really makes everything sound the same. A very uniform sound, indeed. Very uniform. And I'm saying it again: if the only reason for releasing a double LP was the great wish to include 'Just Wanna See His Face' and 'Sweet Black Angel', well, then I must also state these guys were fairly irrational. At times.



Year Of Release: 1973
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 12

The overblown mystical album. Nevertheless, people hate it more than they should.

Best song: 100 YEARS AGO

Track listing: 1) Dancing With Mr D; 2) 100 Years Ago; 3) Coming Down Again; 4) Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker); 5) Angie; 6) Silver Train; 7) Hide Your Love; 8) Winter; 9) Can You Hear The Music; 10) Star Star.

The peak of the Stones' career ended here abruptly; for quite a bit of time, they were still selling their records like hotcakes, but Goats' Head Soup marked the end of the critics' love for the band and the alleged beginning of "slide into dinosaurism". For what reason - I don't know, because for me, this album is really not all that much worse than Exile.

In at least one respect it is even better: after the lengthy "roots-and-all" period, the band gets back on the experimenting trail, trying to find some new kind of sound - this was why the album was partly recorded in Jamaica. Not that there's a lot of reggae on here, though, but still, their Caribbean experience surely has something to do with a certain mystical/magical feel, present on many of the tracks and kinda reminiscing of Satanic. But Satanic was recorded in 1967 and smelled of little else but innocent psychedelia; here, on the other hand, they go for a certain 'black voodoo' sound. Indeed, while we're mentioning the titles, I'd state that this is their true 'voodoo album' and not Voodoo Lounge.

The opening track, 'Dancing With Mr D', I suppose, had a lot to do with the ruin of the boys' reputation. In the past years, they'd always opened their record with a blast - major one, like 'Sympathy For The Devil', 'Gimmie Shelter', 'Brown Sugar', or minor one, like 'Rocks Off'. 'Dancing With Mr D', though, is definitely not a blast. It has a good riff (as somebody noticed, it was actually the riff of 'Jumpin' Jack Flash' played backwards!), and a certain 'swamp-darky' atmosphere around it that's certainly interesting. But the cheap horror flick lyrics, drenched in skulls, poison, Satanism and all, are not any more actual than Homer's list of ships, and they don't display that sharp intelligence we'd come to expect from Mick - there's nothing but blatant self-parody on here. And all this atmosphere is so exaggerated and "overbuilt" that it hardly seems like the Stones: where is their sense of balance that always kept them from crossing the dangerous line between audacious challenge and stupid offense? This is more Alice Cooper than the Stones. No wonder the critics were so harsh on the record - considering that few critics usually get over the first song into the album, the Stones signed their own death sentence with that one. Stupid drugs, to ruin what could be yet another sterling set for the lads...

Nevertheless, one should get over 'Mr D' (and I have to admit I sometimes put it on cause I'm a closet pervert, I suppose), because the songs that follow it rule! Well, many of them, at least. For instance, '100 Years Ago' is - and I insist - a forgotten classic, a rather complex song of loss, nostalgia and deep pain and sorrow, highlighted by Mick's spiritual delivery, Billy Preston's solemn clavinet playing and excellent wah-wah workouts from Taylor. I kinda wish, though, that the wah-wah solos on the song had been longer and not overshadowed by Mick's wailings - Taylor was really getting it on, and the fact that they faded out the solo just as he picked up steam only goes to show that Mick and Keith were indeed afraid of their young brother overshadowing the Glimmer Twins.

The South American theme is reprised in the hilarious buccaneer hymn 'Silver Train' - since it's a glorious piece of boogie, old pal Stu is brought over for the piano, and the band builds up a groove that is, at the very least, not inferior to similar grooves on Exile, like 'All Down The Line'. As for the magic, well, the magic theme is reprised on 'Can You Hear The Music?': the most trippy song on here, but once again, it rather reminds one of Santa Claus than of Timothy Leary. It's dang catchy, too, and with a little bit of speeding up, it could have been worked into a sweaty little funk anthem. Meanwhile, the dreary 'Heartbreaker' with its overtly cheerful images of little girls with needles in their arms and cops shooting young boys on the street (that's a little bit of social critique there, in case somebody doesn't get it) darkens the scene even further; and the glorious culmination is seen in the pompous, epic ballad 'Winter' with Jagger sounding close to God the Father. I'm not joking: 'Winter' is the most bombastic the Stones ever got, and it's kinda funny no-one remembers the song. It's glorious, with wonderful, uplifting orchestration, Keith's inspired leads, Nicky Hopkins' refreshing piano, and Jagger's one hundred percent sincere vocals building up to a series of wall-rattling mini-climaxes. There's just something about Mick carefully and tenderly saying 'sometime I wanna wrap my coat around you' that melts m; heart... This is what every "power ballad" should sound like.

But - just to remind you that they are the Stones and not a bunch of Doctor Johns or anything, we have a couple usual trademarks and, strange enough, they are the best known songs around here (I won't really prattle too much about them because that's hardly necessary): 'Angie' is one of Mick's most popular but unsincere ballads, while 'Star Star' is a generic Berry-esque rocker with a great guitar sound and some obscene lexics about, well, fucking stars (movie stars, that is). Its original title was 'Starfucker', but they had to change it on the recording company's insistance; note that diehard Stones fans always refer to it as 'Starfucker' and nothing more.

Oh, and Keith has contributed 'Coming Down Again'. I hate this song and hope so do you. It is actually the first one of his sloppy tender ballads which tend to have very much wailing and very little melody, the father to 'All About You', 'Sleep Tonight', 'Thru And Thru', and 'Thief In The Night'. Nasty stuff. Tender, sincere, moving while we're at it (good old Keith), but I need to have some melody as well.

Which brings me to my final point: yes, this is not a groundbreaking listening experience, but it's still light years above everything if we compare it to any ordinary hard rock band of the Seventies. Ten years of professionalism, meticulous, self-demanding songwriting and self-discipline in recording, production and melody making, have produced one wonderful effect: by now, the Stones could easily be cruising on autopilot and still putting out solid, if not ultimate, records; it took them seven years more to really lose that 'inertia power'. So read on.



Year Of Release: 1974
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 11

Way too simple for a Stones album. Ballsy and all, but hey, where's the message?


Track listing: 1) If You Can't Rock Me; 2) Ain't Too Proud To Beg; 3) It's Only Rock'n'Roll; 4) Till The Next Goodbye; 5) Time Waits For No One; 6) Luxury; 7) Dance Little Sister; 8) If You Really Want To Be My Friend; 9) Short And Curlies; 10) Fingerprint File.

Sure it is only rock'n'roll, and a relatively low point at that. Relatively, because there ain't a single truly bad song on here (maybe one), but if you're looking for breathtaking experiences, you'd better stick to the earlier stuff. Basically, the Stones seem to have finally remembered they were nothing but a good ol' rock'n'roll band, sweaty and ballsy and all that. Forget the darkness, forget the social message, forget the experimentation; this is mostly a straightforward, simplistic (although not without a charm of its own) collection of three-chord rockers and primitive ballads. If we set apart Goats' Head Soup as an interesting anomaly in the Stones' catalog, then It's Only Rock'n'Roll can be said to represent a typical "inferior sequel" to its elder, wiser brother. Indeed, if Exile On Main St. had a certain epicness to it, a strange freshness and an overwhelming "roots-encyclopaedic" character, It's Only Rock'n'Roll sounds similar, but seriously forced. Putting it into the form of an understandable metaphor, one might say that on Exile the Stones were rockin' out and not givin' a damn, but on here the Stones are givin' a damn to prove us that they were still able to rock out. Hence the overemotion in Jagger's voice (he screams his head off like there was no tomorrow even in the 'softer' spots), the gruffy sound (there's more hard-rocking guitars on here than on any of their albums since Beggar's Banquet), and most importantly - the intentionally dumb lyrics, either revolving round standard barroom topics ('Dance Little Sister') or revelling in their obscenity ('Short And Curlies').

That said, the Stones are the Stones, and they had so much power and talent still juggling around in their drug-soaked veins that even this coaster turned out to be quite enjoyable - I still assert, for instance, that It's Only Rock'n'Roll is a better album than anything Aerosmith could have ever pulled off, even in their prime. Even the stupid artificial rockers are invigorating and danceable. 'If You Can't Rock Me', for instance, despite the awfully messy production (all these incessant vocal overdubs give me a real headache), has a couple excellent riffs, and is a nice spot to practice your basement riffage on, especially keeping in mind that awesome Keith passage in the instrumental break. 'Dance Little Sister' hardly induces the listener to do anything other than the title suggests, but what the heck? I love the grimey guitar interplay on that one. And, of course, there's the title track, a rightful Stones classic in its own right by now. 'It's only rock'n'roll, but I like it': at least these guys are pretty straight about what they're doing. Arguably the most sincere and hard-hitting lyrical line ever committed to a rock song.

The real highlight on here is certainly the closing 'Fingerprint File': a terrific spooky performance, saved from sounding like a parody on 'Midnight Rambler' by Taylor's efforts. (Unhappily, there was no Taylor to pull them out of the parody state on Undercover). Also, Jagger sounds fantastic on that one, really giving the impression of 'feeling followed, feeling tagged'. Also, it's a pretty rare opportunity to meet a wah-wah on a Stones' record. (I bet this was their second try since '100 Years Ago', and they didn't try it again until 'Out Of Control'!) Also, it first introduces us Bill Wyman's growing passion for disco rhythms that would blossom on the band's subsequent two albums (not to mention Wyman's solo ones) - turns out that Jagger wasn't the only experimental force in the band.

Most of the other stuff is, however, very second-rate for the Stones. The ballads mostly just refuse to lift me up ('Till The Next Goodbye' doesn't suck, per se, but it's a pale shadow of the band's former efforts; 'Time Waits For No One' is strongly derivative of 'Winter', even if it does transform into a lengthy Santanaesque solo towards the end, courtesy of Mr Taylor again; 'If You Really Want To Be My Friend' is slightly better, done in the by now traditional Stones' gospel style, but then it suffers from being overlong); the comedy number 'Short And Curlies' sucks horribly - I could pardon them the utter derivativeness of this silly country joke (similar to 'Casino Boogie', by the way), but the idiotic lyrics don't make it any more than just a corny novelty ditty; the Temptations' cover 'Ain't Too Proud To Beg' is simply nothing special - pedestrian song, pedestrian cover version; and the reggaeish 'Luxury', while not a bad number by itself, still turns into a long boring jam towards the end.

A lot of jovialty, good-time atmosphere, ass-kicking and all, but somehow it all goes nowhere in particular; I suppose that was the point - to make an album that would go nowhere - but the point is, up till now the Stones were always a band that would go somewhere and take you on their trip along the way. You'd expect something better from The Rolling Stones. Really. Here they not only try to sound dorky (like they did on Black And Blue, where it worked), they also try to convince the audience that they are dorky. And in doing so they overdid the trick. That said, I reiterate that even while cruising on autopilot, the boys still managed to churn out some excellent melodies, so that should be your consolation.



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