Despite the fact that it boasts some of the band’s best known songs, titles like “Wild Horses,” “Dead Flowers” and “Bitch” – not to mention one of the biggest hits of their entire career in “Brown Sugar” – The Rolling Stones’ classic 1971 album Sticky Fingers still seems to get considerably less love, at least from a critical and historical perspective, than the two more celebrated albums it is sandwiched in-between.
1969’s Let It Bleed would have been a hard enough act to follow. But with what would eventually come to be regarded as the Stones masterpiece in 1972’s Exile on Main Street, it’s easy to see how Sticky Fingers might have gotten lost – at least comparatively speaking – in the not always fair (or even entirely accurate) shuffling of rock history’s playlist.
The one thing most Stones followers – both fans and critics – seem to agree on though, is that the so-called “Mick Taylor period” that produced all three of these remarkable albums is regarded as a high artistic watermark for the Stones. Many would even argue it represents their creative peak.
Two new releases out this month reexamine the legacy of Sticky Fingers from different angles, and the results are as predictably mixed as you might expect.
The 3-disc “Super Deluxe” edition of Sticky Fingers has drawn the usual howls of protest from some quarters about sound quality which are bound to occur whenever such an iconic recording is given the remaster treatment. When it comes to these types of things, pleasing everybody is near impossible and begs the question of why artists like the Stones (and the producers and engineers involved in projects like this) continue to bother repackaging this material every few years or so at all (financial considerations notwithstanding, of course). That said, to our ears, the remastered songs from the original album sound a little hot in places, but are mostly fine (or at least as fine as the MP3 versions we’ve heard can be).
But since the original Sticky Fingers only contains 10 songs, the real question becomes just how deep do you wade into those unreleased extras to fill the three discs here? And in this case, the answer is pretty deep. The problem with most of the studio outtakes here though, is that they represent the sort of incomplete, half-finished versions of songs we already have etched so deeply into our memory, that they become something only the most diehard Stones completist is going to really appreciate.
To really put this into perspective, the “extended” version of “Bitch” – clocking in at nearly six minutes – is less complete than the original, three and a half minute recording by a mile. Mick Jagger in particular seems to be writing the lyrics on the fly as he goes here. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the killer Keith Richards riff that opens “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” survives the cut for a dramatically shortened version here. But the jazzier flavored second half – which features some of Mick Taylor’s tastiest guitar work ever – gets left on the cutting room floor.
Of all the studio outtakes, an alternate version of “Brown Sugar” with Eric Clapton is probably the most interesting. But even that is bound to suffer from the inevitable temptation to make comparisons with the original that has been pounded into our collective brains for nearly a half century now.
With that said, the live material presented here fares much better. This includes two shows from the Stones 1971 “farewell tour” of England – a series of shows played just before they fled the U.K. to become tax exiles in France. A complete performance from Leeds University takes up all of disc 3, and features 13 songs total including the standards you’d expect like “Brown Sugar,” “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.”
The band is firing on all cylinders here, and Mick Taylor sounds particularly great on versions of “Stray Cat Blues” and “Midnight Rambler.” Those songs, along with “Live With Me,” “Love In Vain” and “Honky Tonk Women” are repeated on the second disc in another performance from the same tour at London’s Roundhouse. While not identical, the differences between these songs from the two shows are negligible enough that you have to wonder if their inclusion here might have been mainly intended to fill space.
But speaking of live performances from the Rolling Stones 1971 U.K. farewell tour…
The difference here is that this footage comes from a rare club performance at London’s legendary Marquee club just a month before the release of Sticky Fingers. The show was professionally filmed for US television, but most of the footage has remained unseen until now. Eagle Rock’s From The Vault: The Marquee Club Live In 1971 comes in a nice fold-out package containing both the DVD and an audio CD, along with a booklet with pictures and liner notes from Richard Havers.
Both the audio quality and the video here live up to the usual high standard of excellence that has come to be expected from this great series.
The performances are also mostly spot-on. But, being that this is the Stones captured during the height of their most notorious chemical adventures, there is also the expected amount of occasional sloppiness. At various points, nearly everyone seems to swigging away from the jugs of booze sitting atop the amps, and Keith Richards looks like he just climbed out of bed and hasn’t bathed in days. At one particularly hilarious point during one of the two alternate takes here that they apparently needed to nail “Bitch,” Bobby Keys blows the intro while drunkenly slurring something about “getting the solo right.”
But leaving this stuff in, rather than trying to sanitize it (which may also explain why this never made it to American TV) was absolutely the right call. It gives this short (eight songs total in the proper setlist), but undeniably sweet document of the Rolling Stones at their rawest, most stoned best (given the time period) an undeniable air of authenticity.
Stones fans will especially appreciate things like an early live version of the rarely played “I Got The Blues” (as well as the two alternate takes included in the extras) and especially Mick Taylor’s amazing guitar work on songs like “Dead Flowers” and “Midnight Rambler.” The latter is marred somewhat by the typically irritating “psychedelic” effects commonly used to film rock shows for TV back then, as well as some misplaced camera-work, focusing on the wrong Mick (Jagger rather than Taylor). But the close-up shots of Taylor’s playing on “Dead Flowers” more than compensates for this foolishness.
From The Vault: The Marquee Club Live In 1971 captures the Rolling Stones doing what they do better than pretty much anyone else at the time, in an intimate setting during what most would agree was their creative peak.
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