...it's all here - the legendary, and the legendarily bad. Just take your time...
Chris Jones 2002
How do you approach this 22 CD overhaul? Do you shrug nonchalantly and use it to fill the gaps in your collection? Or do you dive deep into murky history? There's no denying the confusion that surrounds the world's oldest teenagers 60s catalogue (separate labels in the UK and US with different issues of albums with the same titles etc.), yet will this massive reissue campaign ('A whole new way to get Stoned', indeed) really silence the completists? Probably not, but it's all here - the legendary, and the legendarily bad. Just take your time weighing the pros and cons.
It's already been said, but the bias towards the US versions has denied many punters of the ability to truly enjoy these nuggets as they first experienced them way back when. This reviewer's copy of Through The Past Darkly had ''You Better Move On'' on it - and it FITTED; the same goes for High Tide And Green Grass without ''Little Red Rooster''. So we're left with endless duplications and anomalies surrounding the first two or three years. The UK versions of the first two albums (Rolling Stones and Rolling Stones 2) are sacrificed for England's Newest Hit Makers and 12x5. They're still stuffed with raw R'n'B. Session men bolstered this rough little combo's racket into an peerless angry teen outburst. Whole genres and movements arose from these garage blues anthems, and there's yet to be a better version of ''Route 66'' recorded.
Following these classics, Jagger and Richards' enforced song writing partnership (which wrested control of the band away from Brian Jones) took no time at all to flourish. Unfortunately the albums don't really reflect this. A skittish search for new experiences in melody and structure leaves Out Of Our Heads and Decembers Children (admittedly made up from EPs) a little patchy. This is entirely forgivable when you remember that pop was still primarily a singles market and only John, Paul, George and Ringo were at the forefront of the move towards albums as coherent collections. But by 1966, the competition (Pet Sounds, Revolver, Freak Out etc.) ensured that Aftermath was a far cry from mere parent-baiting and untapped lust.
''Under My Thumb'', ''Out Of Time'' , ''Stupid Girl'' and ''Doncha Bother Me'' all smack of callow misogyny yet as songs they display a burgeoning sophistication that, by Between The Buttons, could include satire and social commentary (''Yesterday's Papers'') and also saw their blues roots hitting a swaggering stride (''Miss Amanda Jones'') that would bloom two years later with Beggars Banquet. In between sits the great divider, Their Satanic Majesties Request. Cod-psychedelia with its tongue firmly in its cheek, or lost masterpiece? Who cares. With ''She's A Rainbow'', ''We Love You'' and (possibly their greatest song EVER) ''2000 Light Years From Home'' it's essential to anyone remotely interested in Stones history. Where the Beatles went into detail, Mick and the boys just got weirder.
In fact too weird for poor Brian. Satanic Majesties was his swansong and by Beggars his input was minimal. Always more of a Jack Daniels than LSD band, this is the first perfect album by the boys. From the loping groove of ''Sympathy For The Devil'', to the chiming rumble of ''Street Fighting Man'' it's still gritty and in yer face. Even the toilet cover shot and Dickens-meets-Henry VIII banquet scene inside still seem like a glorious f**k you to the world. The Golden Age had begun.
1969's Let It Bleed remains a pinnacle in rock music; Full stop. By now social satire was replaced with drawling tales of lost innocence and darkness made all the scarier by the fact that you knew they weren't just sightseers at the freakshow of the decade's close. Yet the darkness is always flecked with humour (''Live With Me'') and their grasp of American styles (''Country Honk'', ''Love In Vain'') was becoming seamless. The title track's scream of ''Rape, murder, they're just a shot away...'' of course now seems spookily prescient. Insert your own theory on the inevitability of Altamont/death of the 60s dream here. But listen to the document of the tour leading up to that bleak day at the freeway - Get Yer Ya Yas Out - and you're left with an impression of a band just having fun getting their bluesy rocks off. Just listen to Jagger's cry of ''Charlie's good tonight innee?''
Along with all the compilations (High Tide, Through The Past, Flowers, Hot Rocks, More Hot Rocks and The London Years) and the much underrated outtakes collection, Metamorphosis, this is almost too much history to take in one go. However the scrubbed-up sound is remarkable (as is, presumably, the SACD sound also contained herein) and again we're reminded why, 40 years on, these guys can still sell out the local Enormodome. Their reputation is rooted here and no amount of fussing over tracklists and running orders will ever obscure this legacy. Charlie's still good tonight...
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The Who - The Ultimate Collection
Rolling Stones - Forty Licks