08 February 2007

Introduction to the Early Stones

.... I was drowned, I was washed up and left for dead.
I fell down to my feet and I saw they bled.
I frowned at the crumbs of a crust of bread.
Yeah, yeah, yeah
I was crowned with a spike right thru my head.
But it's all right now, in fact, it's a gas!
But it's all right, I'm Jumpin' Jack Flash,
It's a Gas! Gas! Gas! ...

(From Jumpin' Jack Flash, 1969, written by Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, and an uncredited Bill Wyman, (c) 1969 Abkco Music, Inc., N.Y., NY; photo: back (octagonal) cover of the vinyl LP Through the Past, Darkly, (c) 1968, 2001 by Ethan Russell

* * * * *

What I'm calling the "early Stones" ends in 1970 with the spectacular live album Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out! and the film of that tour, Albert and David MayslesGimme Shelter.

Through the Past, Darkly has taken a critical back seat to Hot Rocks 1964-1971 as the basic compilation album to learn about the early Rolling Stones. Rubbish; here's why.

Hot Rocks tracks the following songs back to back (on side 3 of the original vinyl album):
Jumpin' Jack Flash
Street Fightin' Man
Sympathy for the Devil
Honky Tonk Women
Gimme Shelter
These songs listened to in that order are just too much voltage. It blows your circuit board. These songs need to be spread out -- as they are on their original albums -- and intermixed with acoustic music.

Check out, on the other hand, the track list for Through the Past, Darkly:
1. Paint It, Black
2. Ruby Tuesday
3. She's a Rainbow
4. Jumpin' Jack Flash
5. Mother's Little Helper
6. Let's Spend the Night Together
7. Honky Tonk Woman
8. Dandelion
9. 2000 Light Years from Home
10. Have You Seen Your Mother Baby, Standing in the Shadow?
11. Street Fighting Man
First and foremost, Jumpin' Jack Flash and Honky Tonk Women -- songs that are still on the Stones' current concert set list as definitional works -- never appeared on a regular LP. Why? Two reasons: neither fit on Beggars' Banquet or Let it Bleed; and leaving these gems off the contemporaneous albums mimics an older record track-list rule (i.e. don't put your singles on your albums, your fans already bought the single).

On Through the Past, Darkly, Jumpin' Jack Flash is preceded by She's A Rainbow, a smooth psychedelic groove, rather than starting an earthquake as it does on Hot Rocks. Then after the Flash, you head straight down the barrel of Mother's Little Helper. Mother's Little Helper is perfect 60's Stones. Hot, treble-heavy guitar work by Keef, great (ironic) message song from Mick-- this baby has it all.

Also, we have here the essential Have You Seen Your Mother Baby, Standing in the Shadow? Raw, fast Keef slashing at his guitar and leaving you breathless.

Of course, the proper way to learn about the early Stones is to get copies of
Aftermath and Beggars' Banquet, but that's a good thing to do just to improve your quality of life.


whiteray said...

I agree with your comments about the sequencing of "Hot Rocks." I would tend to argue, though, that the era of Early Stones -- considering that the band has a 40-years-plus body of work -- extends through 1972's "Exile On Main Street," which to me sums up everything the Stones had been trying to say since 1963 or 1964. The stylistic gulf between "Main Street" and 1973's "Goat's Head Soup" provides a better break and puts "Main Street" and "Sticky Fingers" together with the earlier records they more resemble and better complement. (An aside: Has any other band done any five consecutive records like the Stones' "Beggar's Banquet," "Let It Bleed," "Get Your Ya-ya's Out," "Sticky Fingers" and "Exile On Main Street"? I think not.)

By the way, thanks for stopping by my blog the other day!

Paco Malo said...

First and foremost, thanks for your insightful comment.

Excellent points all. Indeed, some of the music on Sticky Fingers had been written and tucked away before the Stones' break with Decca. And the artistic break point that Goat's Head Soup represents certainly, as you point out above, demonstrates that the Beggars' Banquet to Exile on Main Street feast is over.

I choose the formation of Rolling Stones Records as the break point because it is the beginning of the Stones getting (almost) complete artistic control of their album work. And Sticky Fingers shows it. Keith and Mick pull Brown Sugar and Wild Horses out of the vault; Mick Taylor and Jagger create Sway and Moonlight Mile; and Sister Morphine -- the only top shelf opiate song with intelligible lyrics other than Lou Reed's Heroin -- makes it into the album collections of the world. Indeed, Ry Cooder's guitar fills on Sister Morphine still unnerve me to this day.

Further, I just don't think the masterpiece Exile on Main Street could have been made with the record company looking over their shoulders.

But the bottom line is that this question has no definitive answer. I learned that truth with a jolt many years ago when, tired of hearing me go on and on about the wonders of Exile, made the informed, definitive statement that, get this, "Everything after Let It Bleed is a formula album." I'm still trying to plum the depths of that one.

So let's all enjoy the music, the discussion, and keep in mind how lucky we are. As Keith put, 'Before rock n' roll there was nothing; then there was rock n' roll.'

Paco Malo said...

Errata in my comment 2 above:

Strike the word "represents" from paragraph 2.

Regarding paragraph 5, it was my ex-wife who said "Everything after Let It Bleed is a formula album."

sexy said...
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