Keith Richards and the Rolling Stones were some of my earliest influences because I was a total 70s kid! So not only does that mean I’m incredibly old, but I’m also an expert on pretty much everything! At one time or another I was in possession of many of the Stones’ albums through the early 80s…if “in possession of” translates to “buying a record and storing it in a footlocker”…’cause that’s totally what we did back in the day!
I started buying records when I was a wee lad in the early 70s and over the years amassed a whole lot. During the first seven years (through high school) I shopped at a local flea market that had both new and second-hand discs, so sometimes I would go home with 3-4 albums for $10-$15. This is how I ended up hearing a lot of stuff I never saw in anyone else’s collection.
The early Stones were a GREAT rhythm and blues band and could play the heck out of Chuck Berry/early style rock and roll too. But it took them a while to get the writing together, especially a really good and consistent album. I don’t think their early efforts were that great and tend to be overrated by critics today. So some may disagree with my assessments but I believe that if Exile on Main Street is a 5 star album because of it’s great material, playing execution, sound, band vision, lyrical content, sales and influence, discs that don’t measure up in those qualities should get a lower rating. This seems obvious but I don’t think that is how mainstream critics think…or rate.
The Rolling Stones Now! ***1/2 An early album that is really solid and consistent! Even though it is mostly covers, the songs and performances are really super! Mona (I Need You Baby), Down Home Girl, You Can’t Catch Me, Little Red Rooster, and Everybody Needs Somebody to Love play with all of the style and enthusiasm of a great live roadhouse band. The fact that even at a very young age the band could pull this material off with such natural aplomb is what makes the pop material so lame because if nothing else it sounds like they’re trying too hard. There are a couple of originals, Heart of Stone, Surprise, Surprise, and What a Shame and they are written in the same r n’b vein, which means they sound pretty cool.
12 X 5 ***1/2 I never had this album…It has a bunch of okay covers I heard later and a few originals. Allmusic gives this a five-star rating. Hilarious.
December’s Children *** I had this album, bought it in 1977. Cool cover art…the early Stones albums were pretty noir-looking. This has Get Off Of My Cloud and I’m Free plus some cool covers like She Said Yeah and I’m Movin’ On. But it also has As Tears Go By, You Better Move On, Blue Turns to Grey, and The Singer Not the Song, which aren’t very good especially for a band that’s trying to image itself as a bunch of delinquents. Allmusic gives this 5 stars, yet December’s Children was released at the same time as Rubber Soul and doesn’t come close.
Aftermath ***1/2 Had it; never knew anyone else who did. The American version, which is what I had, was a step up from the previous record, but it was still not the great record everyone makes it out to be. It gets major points because it was the first record with all Jagger/Richards originals and some connect: Paint it Black, Under My Thumb and I always liked Doncha Bother Me (especially Brian Jones’ bottleneck guitar). The instrumentation (once again Brian playing Appalachian dulcimer) for Lady Jane was cool but the song was dumb; Stupid Girl is okay, but the rest of it, including the much too long and “doesn’t go anywhere” Goin’ Home (a record-breaker at 11:13 but who cares?) is pretty ho-hum. I never played this album and for all their talk about being way “harder” and “cooler” (then and now), the Stones sure tried hard to sound like the Beatles. I don’t even think this is better than Jeff Beck-era Yardbirds stuff from the same period.
Big Hits (High Tide and Green Grass) ***** For my money, this is really the best album to buy prior to 1967 unless you buy one of the other compilations like Hot Rocks or, uh, More Hot Rocks. This album has all of the hits, covers and originals without any of the lame filler songs. Yes it does have As Tears Go By and it also has Tell Me, which also isn’t very good, but you can’t have everything in life! What it does have is all of the hot guitar-driven early days rhythm and blues meets rock and roll that the band was good at: 19th Nervous Breakdown, The Last Time, Satisfaction, Get Off Of My Cloud, Heart of Stone, It’s All Over Now, Time is On My Side, plus the amazing acoustic guitar-driven Not Fade Away, and the somewhat interesting Play With Fire. Lyrically the song is clunky, but the sound of the tune, which was recorded with Phil Spector, is spooky good and along with the very understated, yet impressive original, K. Richards 12-string acoustic blues, Good Times, Bad Times, serves as a foreshadowing of great things to come.
Between the Buttons *** This is a very weird, experimental album; almost as if the Stones were channeling the Velvet Underground’s first album, which would be released a few months later. While they still haven’t found their flow and don’t manage the consistency that is necessary for greatness, there are some interesting tracks and some great guitar rock. This album and the next show Brian Jones at his absolute best; he plays no less than 11 instruments on this album, including all of the horns on Something Happened To Me Yesterday.
The pop styles are still not very interesting; the Stones doing 60s pop is like buying a Cartier watch in Chinatown; you could, but seriously, why? The tremelo-guitar churning, Bo Diddley-influenced Please Go Home is tremendous and Brian plays an oscillator giving it a very weird psychedelic sound. Connection is a cool little number with an interesting chord progression, Chuck Berry guitar, and heavy percussion. Brian Jones makes a banjo sound psychedelic(!!) against the chorus of Cool Calm Collected; the verses imitate Paul McCartney olde English singalong and I have no idea why. All Sold Out is just great straight-ahead rock which they should have written more of and Complicated sounds too much like My Obssesson to be taken seriously, but it proves that they’ve either taken LSD or been to San Francisco, which wasn’t saying much for 1967. Yesterday’s Papers has some very great instrumentation, including Brian Jones on vibraphone, but the lyrics are a great big pile of sucko. She Smiled Sweetly is a superb number, driven by Charlie Watts, Keith Richards on organ, and a very good Jagger vocal/set of lyrics. The American version of this album had Ruby Tuesday and Let’s Spend the Night Together, which are both really tight tunes, so while things weren’t great yet…they would be soon!
Flowers *** In the United States Flowers was released as a package with the hot singles of the period Ruby Tuesday,
Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby Standing in the Shadow?, Let’s Spend the Night Together, Mother’s Little Helper, with tracks that had been left off the American version of Between the Buttons — Please Go Home and Backstreet Girl, and okay songs Out of Time and the quick-picked country number Sittin’ on a Fence that features Brian on lead guitar. It also contained crap tunes like Ride On Baby, Take it Or Leave it, Lady Jane, and a terrible version of Smokey and the Miracles My Girl. So it was a real mish-mash of material that I don’t think I would recommend to anyone.
Their Satanic Majesties Request ** The popular notion over the years is that the Rolling Stones completely failed the psychedelic era because they couldn’t do the music well, but the truth is, they made this crappy album trying to copy the Beatles. 1967 yielded some absolutely great psychedelic tunes from the Stones. If album cuts She’s A Rainbow, 2000 Man, 2000 Light Years From Home, Citadel, The Lantern, and Gomper had been combined with the single We Love You, and Dandelion, along with the soon-to-be released b-side Child of the Moon that would have been an awesome album! They should’ve called me for advice! Mick’s lyrics took a major leap forward, the production is crisp and bright, and once again, Brian Jones played the multi-instrumentalist superstar, employing 13 different instruments on the recording. I have always enjoyed these songs much more than most of the “Aftermath” period.
Sadly this was the end of the line for Brian’s contributions to pop music. After 1967 he would start to deteriorate and be hounded by drug busts and personal problems. This would lead to band problems, his firing and, soon after, he was no more. I’m sure that he was a pain in the ass at times because people with Brian’s abilities and temperament usually are, however most of what the Stones were able to do during this period, without using session musicians, was because of Brian’s various talents. So, in addition to being the early drive to get the band going, coming up with the name, and believing in the whole thing, Brian really should get more credit than he does for the whole first era of the band.
Beggars Banquet ***** Along with the release of the Jumping Jack Flash single, Beggars Banquet and 1968 were the beginning of the Rolling Stones golden era. This is the first album that is solidly consistent because the sound is original, the songs are tight and the performances are solid. This is also the first album produced by Jimmy Miller and he helped give the Stones a modern hi-fi sound (Between the Buttons is very lo-fi). While the often-related canard is that in 1968 the Stones “returned to their roots” that is completely not true. While they were a natural fit for the blues resurgence that happened in the late 60s and early 70s since they had always been steeped in those influences anyhow, they embraced the bigness of the coming rock era. Mick Jagger also achieved an effective voice and much higher level of lyrics: Sympathy for the Devil, Stray Cat Blues, Street Fighting Man, and No Expectations are miles beyond what he was writing just a year earlier, and even the weaker tunes like Dear Doctor, Parachute Woman, and Salt of the Earth have solid lyrics and are performed well.
On the guitar front, Keith Richards stepped up and completely reinvented American roots music and acoustic guitar playing with his riffing, production ideas, use of open tunings, and studio experimentation. All of these exciting developments would give even ostensibly acoustic numbers such as Street Fighting Man, a huge and modern sound and the Stones a whole new identity. Keith’s picking on Factory Girl and Dear Doctor is great, and his stinging lead guitar on Sympathy for the Devil is compact lead playing par excellence! Brian’s slide guitar on No Expectations is magnificent and his slide and mellotron on Jigsaw Puzzle are the best parts of a too long and (for the Stones) too Dylan-esque song.
Let It Bleed ****1/2 Great, but it could’ve been better. Gimme Shelter and Midnight Rambler are really cool, and the playing and sound throughout the album is really good. The tone of the guitars, the various parts, and breakdown of “Rambler” makes the song a real milestone recording. At this point Jagger/Richards had completely reinvented the blues in spectacular fashion. Let it Bleed, Love in Vain and You Got the Silver are all nasty acoustic blues played with all of the swagger and effortless mastery that the genre demands. The atmosphere of these tunes is very good and really that’s the shame of the Stones playing pop…they did this type of blues music better than anyone. Big electric riffing courtesy of Mick Taylor, horns, and lascivious debauchery highlight Live with Me, and the guitar, slide guitar, and keys workout of Monkey Man foreshadows the next few years of Stones music.
I’ve personally never liked the choir on You Can’t Always Get What You Want…If they were gonna do that, it should have been a gospel choir to keep everything in line with the BLOOZE feel of the album, but they had used one on Beggars Banquet‘s Salt of the Earth. I think the tune certainly sounds dated when heard today, which is a shame, because it’s one of Mick’s most philosophical moments and once it kicks in the acoustic/electric guitars are really good. One track that appeared on the throwaway album Metamorphosis in the mid-70s, a cover of Stevie Wonder’s I Don’t Know Why, which was recorded in sessions for Let it Bleed, would’ve made a great addition.
Through the Past Darkly ***** This late-60s compilation was the first Rolling Stones record I bought. I got it at the flea market I mentioned in the introduction for a couple of bucks. This album was a great introduction to the Stones and I played it a lot. Great mix of the hits from Mother’s Little Helper through Honky Tonk Women. There really isn’t a slow song on the disc and it has She’s a Rainbow and Dandelion, which is why I’ve always liked those tunes. They have a great sound and are played with great energy and when placed in the context of other Stones’ rockers, don’t necessarily have the association of “failed psychedelia”. I had the octagon version of the album, so…another cool cover!
Get Yer Ya Yas Out! ****1/2 A really good live guitar album comprised of recordings from the band’s 1969 tour that were then “adjusted” in the studio. While there was certainly a lot of studio sweetening, the performances and the energy levels of the evenings were definitely tip-top. Mick Taylor’s addition to the band gave it a much bigger, fuller and more professional sound. His lead guitar work on Stray Cat Blues and Sympathy for the Devil plus his combo playing with Richards on Midnight Rambler, Street Fighting Man, Live with Me, and Jumpin’ Jack Flash is hot stuff for sure!
Sticky Fingers ***** A perfect album and a bunch of the best Rolling Stones guitar ever put to tape. Every song here is great; even though I’ve never liked Sister Morphine, it has Ry Cooder playing an absolutely stingin’ slide guitar. Open guitar tunings and funky rhythm riffs abound: Brown Sugar, Can’t You Hear Me Knocking?, and You Got To Move. Wild Horses, recorded at Muscle Shoals is probably their best ballad ever and a real statement for the 60s/70s. A whole lot of other bands would take that sound and style and run with it throughout the course of the rest of the decade. (See Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Tuesday’s Gone).
Keith Richards and Mick Taylor were at the top of their game with each making a different section of the same song interesting: “Knocking?”, “Move”, Dead Flowers, and the synthesis/divergence is really interesting. It’s a shame it didn’t work out guys! Taylor alone shines on Sway and Moonlight Mile and performances such as these proved that it was MT who made the Stones a ROCK band. His “alleged” help in writing with MJ made for some interesting material he never got credit for. Richards’ Chuck Berry meets the 1970s stoker Bitch might be his best riff ever and it showed the band at their nasty, firing-on-all-cylinders best.
Hot Rocks ***** Pound for pound the best comp of the first Stones decade. It’s a double record set so it has EVERYTHING from Time is On My Side through Wild Horses with all of the hits and the live version of Midnight Rambler from Get Yer Ya-Yas Out! It has been certified 12X Platinum and is the Stones best-selling release, believe it or not. Whoever put this together was a genius, because if you buy this, and are only a casual Stones listener, you would only need maybe 1-3 other albums (Exile, or Shade, Some Girls) to have it all! This underscores what I said about the high ratings for all of the pre-Beggars albums; the ratings have no relation at all to what the public bought.
Exile on Main Street ***** Released in 1972 Exile on Main Street is often referred to as The Rolling Stones’ greatest album and one of the best albums ever made. It certainly wasn’t recorded or produced with “masterpiece” in mind and maybe that’s why it succeeded. The other reason is that it is the definitive and final roots music release from the band and they put ten years of experience and roadwork into the sound and songs of the album. And it totally sounds like it.
Exile has a great consistent and unified sound, probably no other Stones’ album comes close in this regard. It is rock and roll (and all of it’s many derivatives) personified. The guitars on the album are used to drive and color the songs. Acoustics, electrics, pedal steel are mixed and layered into an ungodly dense and beautiful mix. A rainbow swamp of treacly tar. Listening just to Tumbling Dice or Rocks Off illustrates perfectly Keith Richards approach to making music. The same can be said for acoustic workouts like Sweet Virginia or Sweet Black Angel. He’s a master of rhythm, understatement and subtlety. Every tune has great feel and ambience. It’s been said many times this is Keith’s album and it is a real playing, execution and production statement.
While Jagger has always distanced himself from Exile, he wrote some absolutely slammin’ lyrics that not only worked with the music but perfectly described the USA’s post-60s landscape. He also sang with enough conviction and style to avoid any of this material from descending into parody (which would certainly happen later in the decade). The one criticism I’ve always had is that there is too much of Bobby Keyes saxophone and not enough Mick Taylor. But that is a minor quibble and the songs where Taylor is really cooking: All Down the Line, Stop Breaking Down, Ventilator Blues, Casino Boogie and Let it Loose are awesome!
More Hot Rocks (Big Hits & Fazed Cookies) ** This was the follow-up to Hot Rocks and it’s a pretty crappy affair. The song choice is hit or miss, the running order is weird, and really none of this material qualified as a “hit”. I had this on cassette because Side 4 was okay: She’s a Rainbow, 2000 Light Years from Home, Child of the Moon (mmk), No Expectations and Let it Bleed. But the rest was really early r n’ b or the mid-period crapola cuts like Out of Time and Lady Jane.
Live Boot ’73 ** Found this in the previously-mentioned outside bin of the flea market for $3. It’s a close approximation of the cover; I haven’t had it for years and can’t find the exact cover online. The set list was awesome; the hot stuff from the ’73 tour and the band was definitely captured on a pretty high-energy night. But the sound was simply too muffled and lacking in any kind of real fidelity for me to listen to it except as a curio. Was a shame, because that is certainly the period I love, but I was only out a couple so…
Goats Head Soup **/It’s Only Rock and Roll *** After the run the Stones had from ’68 through 1972, they should’ve maybe taken a year off. Or concentrated on touring, adding more locations to the 1973 European roadshow. The band was playing well, but the ideas weren’t there and the team of Richards/Taylor hadn’t gelled like it was theoretically supposed to. However, there were some bright spots and if the best of these two albums had been released on 1 album that would’ve yielded another 4-5 star album. 100 Years Ago, Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker), Silver Train, Winter, Star Star, If You Can’t Rock Me, It’s Only Rock and Roll, Time Waits for No One, Luxury, Dance Little Sister and Fingerprint File are all great tunes. All the rest aren’t very good and yes that includes Angie and the the completely boring Richards’ ballad Coming Down Again. Two tracks, “Time Waits” and “Fingerprint” are among the best of the Stones 70s work and were made possible by Mick Taylor. The band would never have this level of playing virtuosity again and that’s too bad because I’m not the only person who thought it suited them better than a lot of what would follow.
Black and Blue ** This album rates 4-5 stars on Amazon and that’s pretty sad considering that at the time of it’s release this album was universally regarded with derision. I didn’t even buy mine, someone gave it to me in disgust! The only thing remotely interesting from a guitar perspective was Wayne Perkins guitar solo on Hand of Fate; the solo was better than the song!
Metamorphosis * A terrible Allen Klein record that tries to maximize profits even thoughthe songs suck. It does have the previously-mentioned version of Stevie Wonder’s I Don’t Know Why that is amazingly great. Why this tune wasn’t “finished” and released in 1969, nobody really knows. Memo from Turner kind of rocks; it’s the fast version, not the one from the Performance movie. And that’s about it, really. Buy this only if you want to hear some of the worst pop performances the Stones ever recorded.
Made in the Shade *** This album was released before the 1975 America tour because the band hadn’t recorded a new album. I traded something for this in high school before I had Exile and Sticky Fingers. I always liked the cover. This wasn’t as good a compilation as it could’ve been because it could’ve drawn from the better tunes I listed from “Goats” and “It’s Only”. Still it rocks pretty good and has some of the best early 70s stuff.
Some Girls **** Some Girls was the big comeback album. Keith cleaned up, Ron Wood was totally in the band and they appeared to be excited to be playing music. A lot of this album is pretty exciting and it certainly covers all of the bases as far as styles go…maybe too many bases. While I don’t think Faraway Eyes is a bad song, I’m not sure it belongs on this album. It doesn’t really blend well with the disco and all of the proto-punk New York F-train rock of 1978 they be playin’ on this bish. Also, Just My Imagination …really…another Motown cover?
Miss You is funny and kind of bluesy. When they do it well they do it well. Thank God for Charlie Watts. Shattered, Respectable, When the Whip Comes Down and Lies are PUNKRAWK awesome, but also troubling. There is a grinding away that the two guitars are doing that lacks definition. It doesn’t matter on this album ’cause it’s 1978 and they’re still under 40. However, this became “the blueprint” for how Richards/Wood play together; the is oft-mentioned “guitar weaving” where nobody plays rhythm, nobody plays lead, both guitars just… do stuff. This works great on a song like Beast of Burden, a totally killer tune. But the power and hugeness of the Mick Taylor era and the interesting sounds of the Brian Jones era are gone for good and the next era would be, I dunno, Adult Contemporary anyone? By the time the band gets to Four Flicks, which I couldn’t even watch all the way through, bass player Darryl Jones seems to be the only one playing riffs and Richards/Wood just noodle. So…it’s all downhill from here.
Emotional Rescue ** I bought this because Some Girls had been so good, but this album was confusing, even at the time. Was it trying to be Some Girls II? Son of Some Girls? I don’t know. The title track was another “dance chart” success, but the rest of the album is totally the bad side of the guitar sound I talk about just above. They use some Neo-Rockabilly Cheeseball amp setting. Maybe they were Carvins®. Whoopee!
Tattoo You **** A bunch of old tracks, even some that feature Mick Taylor parts! Side 1 has a few really good songs, but it sounds like maybe they are running out of ideas. While the Stones would always attempt any variation of traditionally black music and not fail miserably, that doesn’t mean they always succeeded spectacularly. When you’re young, you can pull that shit off. When you’re old, you start to resemble a bunch of tossers from the Bottom Line. Start Me Up is a classic, Little T & A is fun and most of side 2 is nicely atmospheric even if there isn’t a lot of cool guitar and Waiting on a Friend has a great New York sound and Sonny Rollins. Slave is boring, Hang Fire was also recorded on a Carvin® Neighbors is a rewrite of Send it to Me from the previous album (a fact that was remarked upon at the time) and Black Limousine is eh, who cares?
Undercover ** Back in the late 60s the Stones played the blues and wrote songs about nasty stuff like the devil, 15 year old sexual encounters, rape, murder, midnight ramblers and junkies. Lots of junkies. They even played a concert where there was blood. Lots of blood. Fast forward to middle age, a different era, and the trappings of superstar success and you have an album that tries to be bloody, but is about as scary as a flaming bag of dog poop on your front stoop. At this point younger bands and writers were doing what the Stones attempt here way better. The Clash’s Combat Rock, released the year before is a much better record and paints a much better picture of “the decline” of whatever these songs are supposed to be describing.
Dirty Work ** No better than the last one. Didn’t actually own it, a guy I was playing music with had it and we listened to it. Totally crappy Big 80s production. The videos and interviews where the Stones pretend to be mad at each other are hysteric and the over-40 aggression thing in the media and videos just comes across as uber-gay. Not that there is anything wrong with that.
Talk is Cheap *** A lot of people say great things about this disc and I certainly wanted to like it at the time. I tried, but I never played it very much and don’t think the songs are that good or that it was recorded very well. Most reviews talk about the various “grooves” which means something if it’s James Brown lighting up an auditorium. If it’s a guitar legend and a bunch of guys who aren’t as good as the band he plays with wandering through approximations of songs “grooves,” equals “Mick was the guy who finished the tunes”. But speaking of Mick, I never bought any of his solo albums and at least I paid whatever.99 for this so I guess that means an three stars or something.
Blue and Lonesome ** I hadn’t bought or heard a Stones album in 25 years! Did I miss anything? Probably not. Even though every media outlet in the world fell over themselves gushing on this album, I didn’t really hear that much to get excited about, except that Mick played some nasty, tasty harp. I didn’t even like the song selection very much and now Richards and Wood don’t play guitar so much as just make various noises with string instruments. When the Rolling Stones used to play the blues, they did it effortlessly, yet they created so much excitement and atmosphere doing it. On this album they’re all earnest and stuff and most reviews remark on how they still sound like they used to. Uh…they don’t, and all of the marketing and spin in the world is not going to change that. It’s kind of sad, this circle-jerk of approval. These guys are multimillionaires. If I had that kind of wealth, their legacy, and was 73 years old I would never leave my estate. But these guys say, “No that’s not us…we’re totally gonna leave our estates”…to make a half-assed album of blues covers. Whatevs…