Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 25, 2005)
More than 40 years after they first debuted, many of us still love the Rolling Stones. God knows their back catalog has been reworked many times to take advantage of that continuing passion, as we’ve seen multiple issues of the same songs. An unusual effort started in 2004 with a series of boxed sets that included all of the Stones’ singles through 1971. The first package presented the 45s from 1963 to 1965, while the second release covered 1965 to 1967.
For the final box, we get the singles from 1968 to 1971, which is why the package earns the not-too-creative title of The Rolling Stones: Singles 1968-1971. It includes nine separate CDs, most of which feature two songs apiece. 1968’s “Street Fighting Man” presents a total of four songs to replicate two different releases. The original US single paired “Man” with “No Expectations”, while a 1971 UK disc featured “Man” with 1964’s “Surprise Surprise” - a song not previously available in that territory - and 1965’s “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love”.
As demonstrated by the package’s other disc with more than two songs, the set’s title applies to the period in which each “A”-side was recorded but it doesn’t mean that each single came out between 1968 and 1971. The most recent release offers remixes of “Sympathy for the Devil” from 2003. It presents the original 1968 rendition along with three modern reworkings of the classic.
In addition, two other singles came out in 1975 to promote the much-maligned rarities collection called Metamorphosis. The first presented 1969's "I Don't Know Why" backed with 1964's "Try a Little Harder" while the second offered 1966's demo of "Out of Time" with 1969's "Jiving Sister Fanny".
The other five CDs replicate standard singles that indeed came out between 1968 and 1971. These include 1968’s “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”/”Child of the Moon”, 1969’s “Honky Tonk Women”/”You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, 1970’s “Memo From Turner/Natural Magic”, and 1971’s “Brown Sugar”/”Bitch” and “Wild Horses”/”Sway”.
At this point, you might wonder why I’m discussing all of this music on a DVD site. I decided to cover Singles because it also tosses in a bonus DVD with some Stones footage. That platter will encompass the majority of this review, but I think I should offer some discussion of the CDs.
While this set is aimed at the hard-core Stones collector, they won’t find much that they probably don’t already own. As far as I can tell, the only new material comes from the DVD. So what do we get on the nine CDs themselves?
Jumpin’ Jack Flash/Child of the Moon (both monaural): arguably the Stones’ most iconic – and greatest – song, “Flash” hasn’t aged a day in the last 37 years. I may have heard it thousands of times over the years, but it still gets me moving. “Moon” does sound welded to its era somewhat, as its psychedelic tone keeps it mired in the Sixties. Don’t interpret that as a slam, for “Moon” is really a minor gem of a mid-tempo number. This is a great single.
Street Fighting Man/No Expectations/Surprise Surprise/Everybody Needs Somebody to Love (all monaural): One of the Stones’ quirkier recordings, it’s easy to forget how incendiary “Street” was in 1968. You can still feel the menace, though, and this once-rare alternate mix is an interesting change of pace from the better-known album version. “Expectations” is a heart-breaking track, largely due to Brian Jones’ aching steel guitar. This was one of his last contributions to a Stones album, and listening to it really makes you feel like he knew he wasn’t long for this earth.
The other two tracks dig into the past. “Surprise” is a peppy put-down track in the same spirit as later, stronger tunes like “Stupid Girl”. It’s not a classic, but it chugs nicely. The cover of Solomon Burke’s “Somebody” is less effective, as it seems like wannabe R&B without much spirit. The Stones hadn’t come into their own at that point. The song also feels like it goes on forever; it only lasts five minutes, but it seems much longer.
Honky Tonk Women/You Can’t Always Get What You Want (stereo “Tonk”, mono “Want”): A killer single to rival “Flash” as the best in this box, this one loses point mainly due to the edited version of “Want”. One of the Stones’ greatest numbers, it manages to sound ethereal and gritty at the same time, ambitious but not pompous or pretentious. Unfortunately, the single chops down the original from 7:28 to a mere 4:47. It still soars, but not as gloriously.
”Tonk” offers the Stones at their basic best. With its simple but memorable opening riff and more of the band’s trademark gleefully smutty lyrics, it stands up well after three and a half decades. It’s not quite on the level of “Flash”, but it’s close.
Memo from Turner/Natural Magic (both stereo): Technically, I suppose neither song should be in this set, as neither is from the Stones. Both recorded for the Jagger-starring movie Performance, “Memo” is a solo track from Mick. And quite a good one, with gritty lyrics and a dirty blues feel. Ry Cooder turns in some nice slide work for “Memo”, and it’s a memorable number. “Magic” is a Cooder instrumental, and a totally forgettable one at that.
Brown Sugar/Bitch (stereo): Two more killer tracks. Another truly iconic anthem, “Brown Sugar” doesn’t match up with “Flash” or “Tonk”, but it’s still a gleefully nasty little party, complete with lyrics so politically correct I don’t think the band could get away with them if they made the song today. Another Sticky Fingers track, “Bitch” is arguably the superior song. Fueled by chugging guitars and punchy horns, “Bitch” is a semi-hidden classic.
Wild Horses/Sway (stereo): Possible heresy: I can’t say I like “Horses” a whole lot. I guess it’s a good tune, but it feels like a sappier take on the much more powerful “No Expectations”. It also comes across like a warm-up for the dreadful 1973 hit “Angie”; “Horses” is infinitely better than that groaner, but there’s too much of a connection. On the other hand, “Sway” walks the line between ballad and rocker and does so brilliantly. Tired but sweeping, it brings in strings yet still remains rough and forceful. It’s another Sticky Fingers gem.
I Don’t Know Why/Try a Little Harder (stereo): Did “Why” deserve to make it onto Let It Bleed? Probably not, as that album was almost perfect as is. But then again, might not “Why” have been a stronger track than “Country Honk”? Definitely, so the jury’s out on whether it was an appropriate omission or a tragic lost number.
All I do know is that “Why” is arguably the best song on Metamorphosis. Recorded the night of Brian Jones’ death, it’s soulful and memorable. 1964’s “Try” is less impressive, as it shows the Stones in transition from blues cover band to creative force. It’s a decent number but nothing anything more than that.
Out of Time/Jiving Sister Fanny (stereo): Is this rendition of “Out of Time” superior to the one found on Aftermath? No, but it’s a compelling alternate; apparently a demo for Chris Farlowe’s single of the track, it sounds radically different, and not at all bad. Like “Why”, “Fanny” comes from the Let It Bleed sessions. Unlike “Why”, I wouldn’t argue it should have made that album – at least not in the state found here. It’s a good little rocker with some nice guitar work, but it sounds unfinished. I get the feeling Jagger’s making up the lyrics on the spot, and parts of the rest seem improvised. A little more work might have “Fanny” stronger, but as it stands, the song’s an above-average outtake.
Sympathy for the Devil (original recording/Neptunes remix/Fatboy Slim remix/Full Phatt remix (stereo): Such is the scary power of “Devil” that most people think it’s the song the Stones played at Altamont when the Hell’s Angels snuffed Meredith Hunter. It’s not – he died to the strains of “Under My Thumb”. However, the tune is still eerie and powerful, and it remains one of the Stones’ best.
On this single, we get three additional modern remixes of “Devil”. Some fans took these rejiggerings as a personal affront, but they don’t bother me. None of them improves on the original, but none desecrate it either. They’re a nice alternative if you want to hear something a little different.
For the DVD’s one true performance clip, we find Time Is On My Side (two minutes, 48 seconds) from a 1964 appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Indeed, the Stones play the tune live, which makes this a nice piece of unique material. It’s a decent rendition of the song, though not the most animated. Jagger hadn’t turned into an active stage presence yet, so he mostly remained stationary. Nonetheless, it’s fun to see some live Stones from the early days, and I’d love to get a more extensive set of their Sullivan appearances.
Although the press releases tout Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing In the Shadow? (2:49) as a live clip, that’s only half true. Indeed, the visuals come from a skdhsakj Stones concert, but the audio simply offers the usual studio recording of “Mother”. Actually, this is a montage. It starts with the Stones in their dressing room and then shows a variety of images from the show. Some of these indeed come from a performance of “Mother” - Jagger’s vocals occasionally match the lyrics - but I get the feeling most emanate from random parts of the concert.
Were Stones shows of the era really this chaotic? The majority of the action shows girls who leap on stage and pounce on the band members. This then inspires the nattily-dressed security goons to toss the girls back into the crowd. I was startled to see how roughly they treated the girls, as they really did fling them back from whence they came. However, when I watched how aggressively the girls went after the Stones - particularly Mick - I couldn’t really fault the violence. At times, it seems like a miracle Jagger wasn’t seriously injured.
All of this makes “Mother” moderately interesting, but it’s a disappointment since it’s not really a live clip. It’d be great to see true performance snippets from this era. How about Charlie Is My Darling?
Many will argue about who “invented” the conceptual music video. For certain, the Beatles stake a claim to that with their films for songs like “Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields Forever”. (Earlier numbers “Paperback Writer” and “Rain” also appeared in promotional clips, but they were standard performance lip-synchs and lacked the grandiose ambition of “Lane” and “Fields”.)
1968’s Jumpin’ Jack Flash (4:06) was the Stones’ initial foray into the genre. Actually, it’d be a mistake to lump this into the “conceptual” category, as it’s really just a simple performance piece. Sure, Jagger wears war paint and all the others don make-up, but it doesn’t show anything other than a run-through of the tune. It’s closer to the Beatles’ “Revolution” video than the more ambitious ones I mentioned.
You’ll notice that I didn’t call this a lip-synch version. Although the band mime the instrumental parts, Jagger provides an alternate vocal that is live half the time. This video obviously comes from at least two different takes, as sometimes we hear Jagger sing but don’t see his mouth move. It’s definitely not the original studio vocal, though, and I’m pretty sure all the singing emanates from one film take of the song. In addition, the backing track runs for about 13 seconds longer than the original single. This means it fades later and we get 13 additional seconds of music not heard elsewhere. Great!
Despite - or perhaps because of - its simplicity, “Flash” is a gas, gas, gas. It’s hard to believe the writhing creature onscreen is the same Jagger who was welded to his mic stand only a few years earlier on Sullivan. He wiggles and gyrates through the clip and is a veritable force of nature. The other Stones just stand around and look cool, which is enough. “Flash” offers a very intriguing video.
Created to accompany the Neptunes’ remix of the song, Sympathy for the Devil (4:50) is the only modern clip in this set. That also means it doesn’t really feature the Stones. We see a little of Jagger from the Rock and Roll Circus show in the background at a strip club, but otherwise no band member appears.
Instead, we get a conceptual clip in which we watch an apparently satanic dude who looks like Ashton Kutcher if he were a Blues Brother. He drives through the desert and occasionally changes form to tempt people into sin. We also see a few incongruous shots of Neptunes Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo as they try to look cool for the camera. It’s not a bad video, and the remix remains acceptably tasteful and true to the original song. Nonetheless, I doubt I’ll ever watch it again.