Tag Archives: Bill Wyman

Rocks In The Attic’s buyer’s guide to…The Rolling Stones (Part 1 – The Decca Years)

– 3 essential albums, an overlooked gem, a wildcard, one to avoid, and the best of the rest –

A 1962 advertisement in Jazz News by a young guitarist named Brian Jones had consequences the blues purist could never have imagined. Jones’ ad, searching for similarly-minded musicians to play with, led to the formation of undoubtedly the world’s biggest rock band, and twenty two studio albums later they’re still going strong.

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Twenty two studio albums is quite a body of work – there’s a lot of gold amongst those records, but there’s a decent amount of average (and even sub-par) material too. Given there’s just so much to get through, I’ve split this buyer’s guide into two parts – firstly the years between 1964 and 1969, when the Stones’ albums were released on Decca Records (or London Records in the USA), and the second era from 1971 to present, where releases appeared first on their own label, Rolling Stones Records, and then much later on Virgin.

A handy marker to distinguish releases between the two eras is the famous tongue and lips logo, designed by John Pasche. This was introduced in 1971 and appears on the sleeve of Sticky Fingers, their first Rolling Stones Records release, and onwards.

But first, here’s a guide to the first decade of the band – one that started innocently with a group of like-minded individuals paying homage to their Chicago blues heroes, and ended in a double-dose of tragedy.

Start off with: Beggar’s Banquet (1968, Decca)

Stones2Beggar’s Banquet marks the band’s first confident steps away from their former leader, Brian Jones. Up to this point, it was very much Brian’s band. He put the band together, he named the band (after a Muddy Waters song), and he was the driving force behind a lot of their early covers. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards had other ideas though. This album represents a return to what they do best, compared to Their Satanic Majesties Request a year earlier. On that departure of a record they were still very much Beatles copyists, but with Beggar’s Banquet they were setting up their own stall, becoming a rock group rather than a ‘60s beat group. If there’s one Stones album that sets the template for every Stones record to come, it’s this one.

Follow that with: Let It Bleed (1969, Decca)

Stones3It’s a major understatement to say that the ‘60s ended badly for the Stones. First, the ousted Brian Jones is found face-down, floating in his swimming pool. Then Jagger watches from the stage at the Altamont festival as a fan is stabbed and beaten to death by the Hells Angels. Let It Bleed was released in between those two events, and the smell of death hangs over the record like a black cloud. ‘Rape, murder, it’s just a shot away’ sings backing vocalist Merry Clayton on Gimme Shelter (the L.A. Times reported that after recording that track, Clayton suffered a miscarriage upon returning home – yet another bad event surrounding this record). Their last record of the ‘60s, the Stones end the decade with the seven and a half minute long You Can’t Always Get What You Want. Taken at face value, it feels like a song about the death of the ‘60s dream, but it’s covered in hope – ‘if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.’

Then get: Aftermath (1966, Decca)

Stones4To the Stones what A Hard Day’s Night was to the Beatles, Aftermath was the first studio album consisting solely of Jagger / Richards compositions. It’s not their best record, by a long shot, but it shows that they could write a body of work without needing to go digging in the well of Chicago blues songs. The important thing here is that its Mick Jagger and Keith Richards writing the material, not Brian Jones – the first nail in his coffin, perhaps? Amongst the stand-out tracks are Mother’s Little Helper, Lady Jane and Out Of Time (a UK #1 for Chris Farlowe) – but the centre-piece is Under My Thumb, the song that the band was playing when Meredith Hunter was killed at Altamont (the common misconception is that they were playing Sympathy For The Devil at the time).

Criminally overlooked: The Rolling Stones (1964, Decca)

Stones5Their debut record marks out their territory well – edgy, energetic and respectful to their R&B and blues heroes. A cover of Chuck Berry’s Route 66 kicks things off, with Mick spitting out the American towns in Bobby Troup’s lyrics. Thirty three (and a third!) minutes later, a cover of Rufus Thomas’ Walking The Dog closes the album by what the American release would call ‘England’s Newest Hitmakers’. They only managed one original composition – they’d work at this over subsequent releases – but the eleven covers they chose showed which road they were going down.

The long-shot: Their Satanic Majesties Request (1967, Decca)

Stones6Terrible cover. Supposedly the Stones’ worst album. A psychedelic cash-in. Believe what you will, but I don’t think it’s that bad. There are definitely worse Stones albums from this period (more on that in a minute). If you ignore the shameful lack of originality on the cover, and maybe sweep a few of the lengthier trying-too-hard-to-sound-psychedelic-and-out-there songs out of the way, it’s a decent listen. The obvious comparison – due to the cover – would be Sgt. Pepper’s but the Stones sound more like Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd. Plus you get She’s A Rainbow – a celebration of squirting girls everywhere, with a string arrangement by Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones – and 2,000 Light Years From Home, driven by one of Bill Wyman’s best bass riffs. Thankfully they would leave the joss sticks and kaftans behind for their next release – Beggar’s Banquet.

Avoid like the plague: Between The Buttons (1967, Decca)

Stones7Between The Buttons is odd in that each and every Stones album up to this point was a little better than the one before it. Each subsequent Stones album would have more Jagger / Richards compositions on it, culminating on the fully self-written Aftermath in 1966. But with Between The Buttons, their second attempt at this feat, they overreached and produced a boring, snoozefest of an album. Connection is the album’s only glimmer of hope, and even that is just two short minutes of schoolyard rhymes. If anything, it sounds like it was ghost written by the Gimme Some Money-era David St. Hubbins and Nigel Tufnel. Speaking of buttons and schoolyards, I once ingested a button up my nose when I was at infant school. It was a more enjoyable experience than listening to this record.

Best compilation: Through the Past, Darkly (Big Hits Vol. 2) (1969, Decca)

Stones8At the last count, there are about three hundred and nineteen Rolling Stones compilations commercially available, all of varying quality. The band’s second hits collection, with a great octagonal cover, is arguably the better of the two released during the ‘60s. Dedicated to the recently departed Brian Jones, the album contains four white hot Stones singles – Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Let’s Spend The Night Together, Ruby Tuesday and Honky Tonk Women – all available only on 7” up to that point. In fact, it doesn’t matter what the meat of the sandwich is, the very fact that the record opens with Jumpin’ Jack Flash and closes with Honky Tonk Women makes it one of the greatest records ever.

Best live album: Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! The Rolling Stones in Concert (1970, Decca)

Stones9Great between-song banter – “I think I bust a button on me trousers, hope they don’t fall down…you don’t want my trousers to fall down now, do you?” – and audience chatter – “Paint It Black, you devil!” – make this a great listen. Those moments are so good, you could almost forgive them for sounding like the sloppiest live band ever to grace a stage. Because that’s the truth of the situation – they might produce the occasional lightning bolt in the studio, but on stage they sound resolutely awful. The very fact that most people don’t notice this is a testament to how good some of their classic material is. Who cares what they sound like, as long as they’re playing Jumpin’ Jack Flash?

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Rocks In The Attic #270: The Rolling Stones – ‘Some Girls’ (1978)

RITA#270There’s something eternally embarrassing about the Rolling Stones from this album and onwards. They had started as the young rebels, turning into world-conquering rock stars as the ‘60s blended into the ‘70s. From this point on, the band started to struggle to appeal to younger audiences again. A whole new generation had come along, and they weren’t interested in Jumping Jack Flash. The new breed were interested in disco, punk and (very soon) new wave.

I saw the Stones’ concert Some Girls Live In Texas the other day (which pronounced incorrectly sounds like a line from the song Some Girls itself – ‘Some girls live in Texas / Some girls live in France…’). It was pretty hard to watch. Jagger strutting around in a garish yellow jacket, and trying his damndest to appeal to a much younger – and from the looks of the crowd, a much more female – audience. You could try and pin all of this on Ronnie Wood – this album is his first as a full-time member of the group – but that theory doesn’t stack up. He’d been on the fringes of the band for a while now, and while the energy of having somebody new along for the ride would revitalise the group, it seems more likely that the change in direction was down to external influences.

While their stage show to support the album looks like a band struggling to change direction, the album itself manages to do this far more effectively. The guitar-work on the album is not as accomplished as the Mick Taylor years (obviously!), but the biggest difference is that now you get Ronnie Wood running around the stage with Jagger and Richards, with Wyman remaining the only on-stage statue with Taylor out of the picture). Wood’s style of guitar playing does sound more like Richards’ much more than Taylor’s ever did, but it’s far too similar and so that crucial element of complimenting styles is now missing, and always will be.

Hit: Miss You

Hidden Gem: Before They Make Me Run

Rocks In The Attic #193: The Rolling Stones – ‘Voodoo Lounge’ (1994)

RITA#193As a late-career album (their 20th British studio album, and 22nd American studio album), this should be pretty bad. In fact, it’s relatively inoffensive.

Voodoo Lounge came out when I used to watch MTV religiously, so the lead single from the album, Love Is Strong, really makes me think of the great video where the band – now minus Bill Wyman – are slow-mo giants playing their instruments whilst walking through a cityscape. Looking back, the video just reminds me of The Goodies’ giant cats roving through a miniature London.

I’m not sure where the fashion for overly long albums started. I guess somewhere along the way somebody decided that more content on an album is better for the fans, or a bigger selling point perhaps. Voodoo Lounge clocks in at just over an hour, which is far too long for what is considered a single album.

I never got to see the Stones play live, and it looks increasingly unlikely given their age, and my location in the world, that I’ll get to see them. I really regret this, but I seem to remember ticket prices on this tour and the following Bridges To Babylon tour were astronomical. I should have paid to see them in Germany, supported by AC/DC no less, on the A Bigger Bang tour.

Despite it being unlikely to see them play in New Zealand, there is one thing that might make them come here. Keith Richards’ brain surgery (after falling out of a coconut tree in 2006) was performed in Auckland, so maybe he’ll come back to thank the doctors and surgeons who saved his life. Hopefully he’ll avoid climbing coconut trees in the future, as the band will cease to exist without him.

Perhaps it’s a good thing I never got to see them. I recently saw them on TV playing their 50th anniversary concerts and they sounded terrible. I think they can hit magic from time to time in the studio, but they don’t seem to be able to cut it live.

Hit: Love Is Strong

Hidden Gem: Brand New Car