Continuous Hit Music: The Rolling Stones – Hot Rocks 1964-1971

Continuous Hit Music – a weekly exploration of vinyl finds in 2012. Read ’em all here.

Artist: The Rolling Stones
Title: Hot Rocks 1964-1971
Original Release: 1971
Label: ABCKO
Store: Egg Records, 3 Wilson Street, Newtown, Sydney
Price: $19.99
(Original US pressing)

Egg Records in Newtown. I wrote about them before but not this year. A great place to find rare records in the hub of Newtown. Occasionally their website will announce, excitingly, that a new shipment of US records has come in.

And there they are, a bunch of boxes in the middle of the store, and a bunch of folks on their knees, going through them all. It’s usually the same old 60s and 70s American rock. They probably pick em up for under and tenner and sell them for double. There must be millions of Help! in the US.

But I finally decided to pick up Hot Rocks. It’s not an uncommon record, and you can probably find it for under $20. But this was in pretty good condition, and lately, I’ve just been loving the Rolling Stones.

Hot Rocks is the greatest. Every song on here are amongst the greatest works in popular music. It is also the best summation of the early Rolling Stones. If you for some reason feel like you only need one Rolling Stones title, this is the one. Of the dozens of Rolling Stones hit collections, this is easily the best.

It’s the story of the Rolling Stones I know best. It opens with Time Is On My Side. It’s gospel pop, and from that mid 60s baroque period they had. The first of this double album is full of them. Ruby Tuesday, As Tears Go By, Play With Fire, etc. And they start there!

Here’s the thing about the Rolling Stones. One too many shit, bluesy rock song, and people forget how great a pop band they were. Nowadays they are like AC/DC, rememberd for their big anthems that are variations of a musical theme. That It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll, Start Me Up, Love Is Strong thing. But they were capable of stunning beauty. Yet, it’s hard to imagine them writing Ruby Tuesday today.

So for me, the Rolling Stones were always the band that did those thick sounding pop records (usually produced by Andrew Loog Oldham), and then did a bunch of great records in the early 70s. How can you deny such impulsive, urgent, nasty songs like 19th Nervous Breakdown and Paint It Black? How can you say these guys are just dumb rock ‘n’ rollers?

Album 2 collects tracks from their three greatest albums – Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed and Sticky Fingers. You know the songs. Sympathy for the Devil. Gimme Shelter. Brown Sugar. Wild Horses.

Which is why I love this collection. One half is a collection fo 12 60s pop songs that are as good as any. The other is a snapshot of an band at the peak of their emotive powers. And it stops before it descends into parody and recycling.

The album cover was always odd, but makes more sense on vinyl – big and arty. The inner photos are great also, but how Mick’s face is so big on the inside cover, I don’t know. Surely Keith would have had a word?

No Expectations: The Rolling Stones C90

Jones, Jagger and Richards recording 'Sympathy For the Devil'

In the age old argument of the Beatles vs the Stones, I am a Rolling Stones man. One of the reason this seems incredulous to people is when you look at the Stones today, they are a bit of a joke.

Hence the C90 test.

No Expectations: The Rolling Stones C90 (click on the link to play in Spotify)

Taking a cue from the old 45 minutes-a-side cassette, if you were to throw my favourite 90 minutes of Stones tracks onto a tape, and did the same for the Beatles, there would be no contest at all for me.

In this digital era, I can easily recreate a C90 for the Stones on Spotify. 10 tracks a side, under 45 minutes each. It’s not like the Beatles are digital anyway.

So many great tracks missing – Angie. Brown Sugar. Honky Tonk Women. Time Is On My Side. Play With Fire. Under My Thumb. I just couldn’t fit them in. The Stones would hold up in a C180 test. Heck, I could even live without (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.

I have also avoided later era gems like Beast Of Bourbon, Waiting On A Friend, Start Me Up etc. We kept it to pre 1973 – so we are still dealing in roughly the same number of years that the Beatles worked in.

What we do have is some of the biggest and best singles. The era defining, genre trashing, mind blowing highest achievements of the Stones canon. The yet to be beaten evil of Sympathy For the Devil. The far-better-than-Satisfaction riff of Jumping Jack Flash. The psychobabble intensity of Paint It Black. The mean streets soul Gimme Shelter. Is there are more beautiful song than Wild Horses? And You Can’t Always Get What You want has become part of our every day language.

I’ve mixed that in with some lesser known tracks. Not to be clever, but these are some of my favourite songs. In fact, Moonlight Mile is my favourite Stones song. The bittersweet Dead Flowers has been covered by every country artist worth a damn. She Smiled Sweetly is pop bliss.

The breadth of which that band travels is amazing – from 7 minutes soul, 2 minute blues punk and perfect love ballads and back. It’s a pity since 1974 they have been rewriting It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (not included here) – both musically and in sentiment. They played the dumb rockers card and are still playing it. But there is so much more to the Rolling Stones

The tracklist (and tracknotes) for those without Spotify. And if you don’t have Spotify and you live in a country that has it, you’re an idiot.

Side A.

1. Sympathy For the Devil

It could open with no other song. Their greatest achievement – their Day In the Life. But instead of peace and love, they rip it all up. The percussion track is fantastically devilish, Keith Richards is tearing it up on bass and Jagger is at his vocal and lyrical best. Best to avoid the strange Jean Luc Goddard movie that captures the recording of this song.

2. Bitch

Before it became a joke, the Stones mastered the blues rocker. With it’s frantic riff, it rocks the place.

3. Ruby Tuesday

It’s forgotten how great songwriters the Jaggers/Richards team were – and it was this song that first proved it for many.

4. No Expectations

One of their very, very best songs. The romance of things never returning, a beautiful country guitar – the Beatles could never get this direct and emotional.

5. Paint It Black

Whole books have been written about this song. Anti-war? Depression? Drugs? Who knows. But how many 1st year guitar players have learnt that riff?

6. Sway

Stones at their bluesy, sexy best. A ballad of sorts, it’s sweet and enveloping. One of many highlights they hid away on album tracks.

7. Gimme Shelter

Thanks to Scorsese, this song just sounds like violence. And rightly so. I feel like ducking behind a car when the intro starts.

8. Rip This Joint

Exile is a great album, but hardly the place to start with the Stones. But this side of them, the bar-room honky tonk punk, is something they do better than anyone else.

9. Get Off Of My Cloud

A product of the times, but still a clear sign they were more dangerous than any of the other bands in the era, with their naff matching suits and dated old men producers.

10. Moonlight Mile

One of the best songs I’ve ever heard, full stop. As cinematic as Springsteen, as deep as Dylan but still Stones all the way. Ending with a string section climax that proves the Stones are far, far more than a good bar band.

Side B

1. Street Fighting Man

One of the greatest side two, track ones ever. If a knife fight in a phone booth was a song, it’d be this one.

2. Let’s Spend the Night Together

The Stones invent glam rock. That chunky, chunky guitars and urgency propelled it 6 years into the future for Bowie to take it to the net. An early song, it was when the stones really hit their stride.

3. She Smiled Sweetly

A lovely folk rock number, showing a tenderness not usually thought of as very Rolling Stones.

4. Love In Vain

An update of an old blues song, this is a showcase for the guitarists – Richards and Jones, just riffing like mad, as Jagger sings the blues as soulfully as a white man can.

5. 19th Nervous Breakdown

They spent the mid 60s being the brats of the UK “pop” scene. And put-down songs like this was what made the working kids love them. A shimmering riff as good as anything by the jangling 60s.

6. Jumpin’ Jack Flash

If you look up the word ‘riff’ in the dictionary, it would just be the tablature for this song.

7. Wild Horses

Used in a million movies and touched a million hearts, this is not just their best love song, but one of the best love songs ever. Without resorting to wussbag sentimentality or flowery sentiments either.

8. Live With Me

Manager Andrew Loog Oldham creating a media storm with the headline “Would You Let Your Daughter Date A Rolling Stone?”. It’s songs like this, playing up the careless, useless, rock n roller image that helped cement the fear – and excitement – in young girls.

9. Dead Flowers

For a song about death, it’s surprisingly upbeat and positive. Used in a million weddings, and played for a million musicians passing away. And yet another hidden away track.

10. You Can’t Always Get What You Want

Alright! The full blooded, seven and a half minute version. Rock ‘n’ roll gospel, a hymn for the hipster, a bit of warm relief in a cold. It’s been covered to death and the phrase is now clichéd. But the original version is still a knock out.