Artist: Album (label, release date) 1-5 stars
The Rolling Stones: Sticky Fingers (Virgin, August 30, 2005) *****
The Rolling Stones: Exile On Main Street (Virgin, August 30, 2005) *****
The Rolling Stones: Some Girls (Virgin, August 30, 2005) ****
The Rolling Stones: Tattoo You (Virgin, August 30, 2005) ****
Virgin Records, proud owners of the Rolling Stones’ 1971-2005 product (ABKCO still owns their 60′s stuff), has re-released nine Rolling Stones albums just in time to benefit from this week’s release of the Rolling Stones’ first complete studio album since 1997, A Bigger Bang and coinciding U.S. tour. The other titles re-issued this week are: Goat’s Head Soup, It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll, Black And Blue, Emotional Rescue, and Flashpoint. While none of these albums has ever been hard to find, they are sometimes absent from bins in smaller CD shops or at places like Wal-Mart or Target, so if you get all your music at such locations, here’s a chance to plug the gaps in your Stones collection. These albums cover the period from guitarist Mick Taylor’s first studio album with the band (Sticky Fingers, from 1971), to bassist Bill Wyman’s last appearance with the band (Flashpoint, from 1991). No extra goodies are included, unless the semi-tacky slipcase with the American flag on the Stones’ tongue logo counts (the real covers are underneath).
The Rolling Stones: Sticky Fingers
Sticky Fingers was released in 1971, while the band was still more-or-less at its all time peak, and remains one of their very best albums ever. It was a notable album at the time for several reasons. First, it was Mick Taylor’s first studio album with the band (Taylor first appeared on Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out in 1970, a document of the Stones’ 1969 tour). Second, it was the first studio album from the Rolling Stones after the Altamont fiasco, which gained them some negative publicity and a stain on their image, traces of which still linger to this day. Third, Keith Richards was palling around with country-rock legend Gram Parsons during these and the Exile sessions. All three factors inform this album. While Taylor had a blues-rock pedigree as impressive as Brian Jones’, his real strength was as a boogie guitarist, and this is one of the only albums from the Stones to feature room for stretching out. “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” is a steller jazzy hard rock extended number with a great jam featuring dueling Taylor/Richards guitar and sax from Bobby Keys. Altamont isn’t addressed, except for perhaps “Dead Flowers” something of an epitaph for hippidom, something the Stones never really had much use for. “Dead Flowers” and the exquisitely lovely and sad “Wild Horses” (written for Marianne Faithfull, who OD’d and almost died at the time) showcase the Gram Parsons influence (Parsons covered “Wild Horses” with the Flying Burrito Brothers a year prior to this album’s release). “Brown Sugar” and “Bitch” are classic Stones hard rockers. “Moonlight Mile” is another piece of tortured beauty, given arguably the best strings on a rock song ever by Paul Buckmaster. “Sway” is a mellow groove with plenty of Taylor guitar; instead of toning things down after Altamont, Jagger sings “It’s just that evil life has got me in its sway”. Rock ‘n’ roll, no “only” required.
The Rolling Stones: Exile On Main Street
Exile on Main Street, from 1972, is usually the benchmark every Rolling Stones album since has been compared to: “…is their best since Exile” It is a great album, although had it been made by anyone other than the Stones, it might not be as well regarded. Originally a double album (the only studio double ever from the Stones), the music sprawls, and isn’t easy listening. At the time, Richards was beginning to sink deeper into heroin addiction and Jagger was getting jaded; the music sounds weary, top-heavy, decadent, complex, submerged in murk. The casual listener will be put off by this; with the possible exception of “Tumblin’ Dice” there is no “Brown Sugar” or “Street Fighting Man” grabber on the album. However, the patient, careful listener will find much to like. Best are “Rocks Off” with its “Bitch”-style hard-rock-with-horns, the mellow and soulful “Let It Loose”, the country-rock boogie of “Torn And Frayed”, the muted gospel-blues “I Just Want To See His face”, the country-rock-cum-hard rock “Loving Cup”, and Taylor’s pristine boogie on the gospel-kissed “Shine A Light”. There isn’t a bad moment among the other cuts either and Jagger is in magnificent form; the remastered CD helps bring some contrast and relief to the sound that rescues the songs from the murk that enveloped them on the vinyl. The band’s next release, Goat’s Head Soup, would be their most decadent and wasted ever; it didn’t have the many high points this one does.
The Rolling Stones: Some Girls
By 1978, the Rolling Stones had something to prove. Their mid-70′s product was workaday and uninspiring; the new wave of punk and disco threatened to render the band obsolete, as it did almost every other 60′s superstar. To their credit, the band (now featuring Ron Wood, formerly of the Faces), rose to the challenge, and came up with an album that fell short of great, but remains very good. The band’s previous album, Black ‘n’ Blue, had featured very few rockers; the key track was a falsetto r&b workout, “Hot Stuff”. “Miss You” from Some Girls, took the r&b, tightened it up and gave it a disco beat, to the alarm of many long-time fans. However, it’s the only ‘disco’ move on the album; much of it contains their very best rockers, country-rock, and soul since…well, Exile. “When The Whip Comes Down” is one of their most brutal; “Respectable” has some manic energy their mid 70′s rockers lacked; “Far Away Eyes” is an absurdist tribute to Gram Parsons style country-rock, “Just My Imagination” a soulful cover of the Temptations’ original, and “Beast Of Burdon” a soulful original. The most poignant song comes from Keith Richards; “Before They Make Me Run” is arguably his best song ever, written while the seriously heroin-addicted Richards was in trouble for bringing heroin into Canada. While the late 70′s production hasn’t aged well in places, this album is head and shoulders above many of their post-Exile albums, and is a hair’s breadth away from being an essential 70′s album.
The Rolling Stones: Tattoo You
In between the mostly-praised Some Girls, and the mostly-praised Tattoo You, was the mostly lukewarm Emotional Rescue, which showed the Stones attempting to repeat the formula of Some Girls without having material quite as strong. Tattoo You, the last Rolling Stones album to ever reach #1, was previewed in early 1981 by the single “Start Me Up”. “Start Me Up” sent Stones fans into ecstasy; for the first time since “Brown Sugar” the Stones had an undeniably classic hard-rock single leading off an album, and it showed the Stones were still capable of effortlessly capturing the essence of rock ‘n’ roll even as they approached their 40′s. The rest of the album, which contains a number of Emotional Rescue outtakes, coheres a little better than its predecessor, and leaves a more satisfying feeling after a full listen. Still, it is patchy. “Waiting On A Friend” is one of the most adult songs the Stones ever recorded, “No Use In Crying” (a Sticky Fingers leftover) is a pretty ballad, “Hang Fire” is a classic 50′s style rocker, “Worried About You” and “Tops” good falsetto soul from Jagger, and “Little T & A” a piece of faux-Chuck Berry sleaze from Richards. The album’s weakness is a dearth of hard rockers; there’s really nothing here that even comes close to “Start Me Up”, which makes this album ultimately less engaging than Some Girls. One of the rare rockers, “Neighbors” is almost literally the exact same song as “Send It To Me” from Emotional Rescue. Tattoo You earned the Stones their first-ever Grammy award, for best album packaging. Ironically, this is probably their worst-packaged album, with an extremely unappealing cover, and no artist credits or liner notes of any kind.
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