[7 February 2007]
Maybe the Rolling Stones weren’t kidding when they sang lyrics like “Yesterday don’t matter if it’s gone” and “Who wants yesterday’s papers?” Unlike virtually every other musical act that came of age in the ‘60s, the Stones have never taken the time to look back at their past, never dug through their vaults of unreleased material to give fans the Stones equivalent to the Who’s Who’s Missing, Bob Dylan’s Bootleg Series, or the Beatles’ Anthology. This is a shame, since anyone with more than a cursory knowledge of the Stones has probably heard (or heard about) the many bootleg discs that feature fantastic, vital material from their earliest days. But besides the three rarities added to the More Hot Rocks collection, none of the 2004 ABKCO reissues of the Stones’ ‘60s catalog contains any extra material. The band’s 2005 release Rarities 1971-2003 contained a grand total of zero unreleased studio cuts. So why are the Stones still sitting on this stuff?
One reason for the Stones’ lack of enthusiasm for the reissue game is likely because their recordings from the ‘60s belong to ABKCO and Allen Klein rather than the Stones themselves and they would see minimal money from anything released that was recorded before 1972. Metamorphosis, the first (and only) collection of Stones outtakes, surfaced in 1975, and that release, made against the band’s wishes by ABKCO, earned the Stones their only zero rating in The Rolling Stone Record Guide. It sold poorly, eventually ending up in the cutout bins, but the problem with Metamorphosis was less a matter of music than timing. True, some of the songs were substandard demos and oddball productions by their former manager Andrew Loog Oldham, but in 1975 the rock audience didn’t yet view archival material as important artifacts. Instead such material was seen as a rip-off by fans who clamored for more new material. After the critical drubbing Metamorphosis received, The Black Box, a Stones multidisc rarities set readied by bassist Bill Wyman, fell by the wayside.
But by the ‘90s, lost ‘60s material by almost every artist became more a matter of history than musicality. So songs that were half-finished, uninspired, or in badly-recorded demo form were greeted with enthusiasm because they gave us insight into our favorite artists’ inspiration (or lack thereof). And since John Fogerty was able to reach a détente with his old nemeses at Fantasy Records, maybe one day Mick and company will be able to make peace with Klein. In case they do, we’ve built a 22-song collection of unreleased Stones tracks from 1963 to 1972 from such bootlegs as The Black Box, Bright Lights, Big City, and Beggars Banquet (Alternate Version) that the world’s greatest rock band should put together should it ever decide to get all historical on us. (If it doesn’t, a clever collector could probably put these songs together via some creative Internet searching.)
The Stones’ recording session in March 1963 saw the band basically covering its favorite songs. This one is a cheeky Bo Diddley number that sounds less menacing than the original. But it’s more rocking and contains some neat slide-guitar breaks courtesy of Brian Jones.
2. “Diddley Daddy”
From the same session, another Diddley classic and another way for the group to proselytize about the blues for an English audience then still immersed in jazz. While Diddley forcefully shouted the number, Jagger is seductive in his delivery. As a bonus, pianist Ian Stewart pounds out some great boogie-woogie.
3. “Bright Lights, Big City”
This third cut from the session is a staple of Chicago bluesman Jimmy Reed. While Mick Jagger isn’t necessarily a better singer than Reed, he’s definitely much more nuanced. Just listen to how sultry he sounds here.
4. “Andrew’s Blues”
This fabled scatological blues track features American pop singer Gene Pitney singing lyrics about the, um, alleged sexual inclinations of then-Stones manager Oldham. Anyone who thinks of the late Pitney as an angelic ballad singer should get an earful of the crooner intoning lyrics like “Fuck it, Andrew!” And the backing blues vamp totally rocks.
5. “Not Fade Away (Alternate Version)”
What a difference a take makes. This version of the Stones’ third British single is similar to the released one but without some of its aggression. Instead it offers a more pop-friendly Jagger vocal and a more melodic harmonica line by Jones. Not better than the single but a fascinating alternative.
6. “High-Heeled Sneakers”
The Stones take a stab at Tommy Tucker’s 1964 hit (which reached number 11 in February in the US), done during a Chicago session that year at Chess Records. Like Tucker, the band takes a relaxed approach to this pop-blues tune. Jagger sounds sly and subtly brazen in his delivery, like he’s not exactly going to take his girl out merely for ice cream.
7. “Down in the Bottom (a.k.a., Meet Me in the Bottom)”
Another outtake from the Chess session, appropriately enough a cover of one of the label’s best-known artists, Howlin’ Wolf. In this version, Jagger doesn’t try to match the Wolf’s fiery moan, so instead we hear his bouncy voice drenched in echo. The tempo is also given a faster, chugging speed. By now, the rhythm section had found the groove that would be widely imitated.
8. “Looking Tired”
From late 1965 comes this good bluesy shuffle penned by Jagger and Richard (who nicked some licks from Robert Johnson’s “32-20 Blues”). There’s some nice Stewart piano tinkling and a crackling guitar break. And the lyrics? Well, Mick disses a girl for reading a book that name-checks Chaucer and Steinbeck. Maybe he thought it’d go over most Stones fans’ heads or get the bookworm crowd upset.
9. “As Time Goes By”
An early version of “As Tears Go By”. Like the released version, Mick’s vocal sounds like he’s an awkward schoolboy forced to sing at an assembly. Still, this electric-guitar-and-voice demo will be revelatory to Stones fans with its slightly different melody and second verse. Oldham reportedly changed the title because he didn’t want the band stealing the name of the old Casablanca standard.
10. “Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow (Alternate Take)”
Keith Richards once said the wrong take was used for the issued version of this song, accounting for the muddled sound. Here’s an alternate take with a clearer mix with no fuzz guitar intro or outro. It also sounds less threatening in the sparse setting. Drums and bass are way in the background, making room for Richards’s twangy guitar and Jagger’s relaxed singing. Technically better than the released take, if not as frantic.
11. “Get Yourself Together (a.k.a. I Can See It)”
It’s easy to see why this Between the Buttons–era track was left off the record; it sounds like a pedestrian combination of ideas that work better in other songs. Still, it rocks harder than most of the cuts on that album and kicks off with a classic-sounding Keith Richards guitar riff.
12. “Sometimes Happy, Sometimes Blue”
This is just a sketch of what would become “Dandelion,” with a lead vocal by composer Keith Richards. Granted, most of Richards’s vocal consists of syllables like “dad dad um,” but at least he sings the chorus. Sort of. This gives an idea of what the song was like before Mick ostensibly gave it lyrics. Not quite a song, but if the Beatles can release John Lennon’s demos, why not this? It has better drumming.
13. “Did Everybody Pay Their Dues?”
The original version of “Street Fighting Man,” before the lyrics and title were changed, rocks fiercely. The chorus seems to work better because it features some nice vocal harmonies. Plus, there’s a screaming Richards lead guitar that was left out of the final mix. This version, by the way, uses the familiar backing track featured on the released version.
14. “Still a Fool (a.k.a. Two Trains Running)”
This authoritative take on the Muddy Waters song is a May 1968 recording that features Jagger’s voice run through an amplifier and the rapidly fading Jones playing slide guitar. The moody ten-minute blues number entrances, making the connection between the old blues numbers they covered and the mutated blues form they would soon invent. Played live in 1995.
15. “Hamburger to Go (a.k.a. Stuck Out All Alone)”
Another sketch, but a great one. This 1968 outtake is more soulful than bluesy, which might be why it was left off rootsy Beggars Banquet. It starts with a classic open-tuned Richards riff and swaggering Bill Wyman–Charlie Watts groove. Jagger’s opening verse about a working class girl’s tribulations is surprisingly poignant. The riff and melody sound like they were recycled for “Tops” (from Tattoo You) but work better here.
16. “Blood Red Wine”
This 1968 acoustic track is incorrectly rumored to be from the Exile on Main Street sessions. It contains the soft-loud, verse-chorus structure the Stones would later use to greater effect on “Moonlight Mile.” The melody is a little bland, but the band’s playing gels wonderfully. And the (makeshift?) lyrics are pretty damn funny: “You say that every man you ever had has been obsessed with you / I wanna prove an exception.”
17. “Gimme Shelter (Keith Vocal)”
Anyone who enjoys Richards’s drawl will enjoy his take on the Stones’ rock classic. Mick’s aggressive growl is missing, but the backing track is the same and boasts a roomier, more stereo-friendly mix. Not definitive, but a nice alternative.
18. “You Got the Silver (Mick Vocal)”
The opposite of the above: Here, Keith’s raspy whine is replaced with more assured blues singing by Mick. This is not necessarily better than the released version, since Mick comes across as less sincere, but it is fun to hear nonetheless.
19. “All Down the Line (Acoustic Version)”
This one is a mellow, unplugged version of the Exile track, featuring only acoustic guitar, drums, slide guitar and a vocal (guess Wyman was busy that day).
20. “Honky Tonk Women (Early Version)
With no echo on the lead vocal and no lead guitar, this early version (which features the familiar backing track) sounds kind of tame. But it’s essential for Stones collectors because of the alternate second verse which begins: “I’m strolling on the boulevard in Paris / As naked as the day that I will die.”
21. “Loving Cup (Original 1969 Version)”
This is a totally different version than the familiar Exile rendition, and maybe a better performance, because the slower tempo gives Jagger’s lyrics more room to resonate. Unlike the released version, Richards’s guitar takes center stage, relegating Nicky Hopkins’s piano to the sidelines. Nitty-gritty and all the better for it.
22. “Good Time Women”
This early version of “Tumbling Dice” (recorded for Sticky Fingers in October 1970) is not only the best outtake of the Stones’ career, it’s one of their best tunes, period. This is “Dice” with a faster beat and its Chuck Berry influence worn on its sleeve. Completely different lyrics sound like Jagger was making them up on the spot. Nonetheless, the band pounds this one out with Mick Taylor contributing stinging slide parts and someone chiming in with finger-busting barrelhouse piano. A great party number.