If you didn't think it was possible to add anything to the story of the Rolling Stones historic 1969 American tour behind the album Let It Bleed, think again. You can now include this 40th Anniversary deluxe edition of Get Yer' Ya Ya's Out to the growing list of documents from the legendary trek that ended with the infamous disaster at Altamont.
Get Yer' Ya Ya's Out — which documents the Stones' shows at New York's Madison Square Garden from that tour — has been called the greatest live rock album of all time. While I don't necessarily share that view — my vote would go to The Who Live At Leeds — it is a damn great one. Top five of all time for sure.
As with so many of these deluxe remastering jobs, the question here is how do you improve upon what has already been called perfection?
In this case, the answer is by simply adding to it. Which means that in addition to the ten songs of the original album, you get two additional CDs. One featuring sets by opening acts B.B. King and Ike And Tina Turner, and another featuring five more songs from the Stones themselves (which are also included on DVD).
So let's get the DVD out of the way first. The biggest surprises here come on the extras, and in the footage that isn't advertised.
There are scenes of the reigning rock royalty of the day like the Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin hanging out with the Stones backstage and elsewhere. There's even a very intriguing — and all too brief — shot of Jimi Hendrix trading licks with Keith Richards.
This is great stuff that unfortunately also leaves you pondering what might have been left on the cutting room floor. There's also an unexpected — and quite hilarious — scene of Charlie Watts and the mule shooting bits for what eventually became the iconic cover art of this album. Priceless.
The live footage also mostly lives up to expectations, particularly when the Stones burn down the Garden with a ferocious version of "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction." When an equally fiery coupling of "Under My Thumb" and "I'm Free" turns into a tight little medley though, the results are a little more frustrating.
The band sounds amazing — especially Richards and second guitarist Mick Taylor. But the camera work suffers from a bad case of the sixties, as druggy effects like slowed-down video, and too many shots of the lights (and the hippies) detract from the actual performance. Which is too bad, because it's a great one. Thankfully, it's also captured on one of the bonus CDs.
Another cool extra is the booklet that comes inside the box. There's all kinds of previously unseen photos here.
The one that most caught my eye was a shot of what was at one point going to be the original cover. It features things like Jagger's Uncle Sam hat, his studded belt, and a joint all sitting atop a tour case. According to the accompanying story, Jagger shot it down for the cover because of the joint.
Also reproduced here is Lester Bangs' original review of Ya Ya's for Rolling Stone. Now you know where all that "greatest live album ever" talk got started, just in case you were wondering.
There's also a great story about how Janis Joplin felt she was dissed by the Stones backstage, and as a result yelled out "you haven't got the balls" from the crowd during the song "Live With Me." Since I'd never heard this before, this made me listen extra close for it on the remastered recording here. Hard as I tried, though, I just couldn't hear it.
I did however hear "paint it black, you devils" before "Sympathy For The Devil" just as clearly as I remember it. Ditto for Jagger teasing the girls up front with the whole "I think I busted the button on my trousers, hope they don't fall down" bit. It's hard to imagine today that stuff like this was once actually considered shocking.
Mostly though, I remember how great this album was, and this new remastered version stays very faithful to that original rawness. "Midnight Rambler" remains a revelation even now. Jagger milks the mid-section for all of its theatrical power, and Richards just blazes his way out of the gate to the finishing line at the end. It's every bit as great as I recall when I first heard it as a teenager.
For my money, the team of Richards and Mick Taylor remain the Stones all-time greatest duo of guitar slingers (sorry, Ronnie). The way they trade licks on "Little Queenie" and "Sympathy For The Devil" only reinforces that. The choice of "Jumping Jack Flash" and "Street Fighting Man" to open and close, respectively, also remains one of the all-time best examples of how to bookend a great rock and roll show. There's a reason the Stones were called the greatest rock and roll band in the world.
Actually, there are at least a hundred reasons.
I'm still not sure I completely understand the logic behind including the opening sets by B.B. King and Ike And Tina Turner here (and it certainly has to be a first on a live album by a rock band like the Stones). But I'm definitely glad they did.
B.B. King was said to have been disappointed by his performance that night, although I can find no evidence of why here. The five songs captured in King's set show the man for the master he is. The band — which is more like a small orchestra — is razor sharp, and if there is any flaw in King's playing, I can't hear it. I've always wanted a live B.B. King record, and now I've got one.
Ditto for Ike And Tina Turner.
As happy as I am that Tina finally got out from under his shadow — not to mention his abuse — I really miss the high-energy R&B shows she used to do with Ike. It's no secret that Tina taught Mick a few lessons in the art of stagecraft, and whether she is reinterpreting Dusty Springfield's "Son Of A Preacher Man" or blazing through "Sweet Soul Music" here, she comes damn close to upstaging the man himself. Tina's orgasmic middle-bit during "I've been Loving You Too Long" alone is enough to send you in search of something to cool down with fast.
This 40th anniversary deluxe edition makes a fine addition to other 1969 Stones tour documents like the Gimme Shelter film, and of course the original Get Yer' Ya Ya's Out.
It may not be the greatest live album of all time like they say. But it did just get a whole lot better.