Reviews

Rolling Stones: In the 1960s

This two-disc set is a decent attempt at encapsulating the group's early career -- a formidable task given the complexities of both the band and the era.


Rolling Stones: In the 1960s

Distributors: MVD
Label: Pride
Release Date: 2009-11-17

The career of The Rolling Stones in the '60s began and ended with events which serve to foreground the band's knack for fortuitous timing and their willingness to mingle with the darker undercurrents of the times, qualities which would help define them. In October 1960, Keith Richards spied former schoolmate Mike Jagger on the platform of Dartford Station in Kent. Jagger was carrying an armful of import rock and blues albums, and the two teens shared their mutual admiration for this music. Richards was invited to jam with Jagger's then informal combo, and this chance encounter began an association which would identify itself as the Rolling Stones by the summer of 1962.

Nine years later, in December 1969, the Stones performed an ill-fated free concert at the Altamont Speedway, finishing an otherwise massively successful return to the tour circuit with an event that has since been commonly regarded as the watershed end of an era. The years between had seen the musical enthusiasms of Jagger and Richards -- joined with Charlie Watts, Bill Wyman, and original group leader Brian Jones -- coalesce as a rock band which would not only enjoy a remarkable run of classic singles and albums, but also, along with The Beatles and Bob Dylan, be at the forefront of the cultural arm of a multi-faceted youth movement, contributing in important ways to massive social and political upheavals which assumed a world-historical character.

Pretty heady stuff. So to see the tag "Complete Review" applied to a less than three-hour documentary set about the Rolling Stones and the '60s, a subject which has produced a library's worth of material without yet exhausting the subject, seems a tall order. There is, however, another way to understand the claim -- one that makes the presentation a little more modest in its intent. This two-disc package is in fact a reissue of separate releases which appeared as part of an ongoing series of rock documentaries known loosely as "Under Review" (for the record, these titles are The Rolling Stones: Under Review 1962-1966 and The Rolling Stones: Under Review 1967-1969).

So these are the complete "Under Review" productions covering the eventful '60s portion of the Stones' ridiculously long and storied career; a set which is also, as noted on the back cover, "not authorized by the Rolling Stones, their management or record label". While this may appear to promise a hard-hitting critical appraisal – true to a limited degree – it also serves as warning that direct access to band members and close associates (not to mention extensive audio and visual archives) are not part of the package.

The first disc features the program covering years 1962-1966. It is a rather straightforward chronological account, highlighting key recordings and supplemented with contextual information about important influences such as Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and Howling Wolf. The interview subjects, original bassist Dick Taylor and journalist Nigel Williamson among them, manage to set the scene in which the Stones worked and emphasize the musical development from distinct covers to outstanding original songs. Strong points include an explanation of how the blues influenced their direction, the unique qualities of their sound, and the importance to their career of the intuitive decision making of manager Andrew Loog Oldham.

The second program comes off as a bit slicker, and the focus shifts to more emphasis on the social dynamics of the period and its affect on the band's work. In place of individual recordings, the documentary's structure is shaped by analysis of the four albums released between 1967 and 1969. Their Satanic Majesties Request, as an example, rather than the rote dismissal, is championed in the context of other psychedelic albums of the period. Other strong points include the re-emergence of American roots music influencing Keith Richards' songwriting, and the importance of producer Jimmy Miller to the band's new sound in 1968. The many facets of the decline of Brian Jones, both as a Rolling Stone and as a person, is also well handled.

There's understandably a lot to the story that is left out. The band's determined recruitment of Charlie Watts, which played out over some months in 1963, was maybe the savviest move they ever made (his drumming is integral to their sound). The Stones were road warriors through their first three or four years, playing a staggering amount of shows including four US tours and trips to the Far East. The shift in management from Loog Oldham to Allen Klein is never mentioned, though the eventual fallout from that would have a profound influence on the band's outlook and direction for the rest of their career.

The productions in general have a coherent narrative line, concentrating on the music, with plenty of room for interesting digressions. There are a few editorial slipups. The first album is described as creating "a new attitude…an album could be something in its own right", but shortly thereafter we are informed that the Stones were essentially a singles band in their early days. On the first disc, Brian Jones' multi-instrumental contributions on the album Aftermath are lauded as a last great contribution before his rapid decline, but on the second disc his contributions to Their Satanic Majesties Request takes on the role of final creative burst before his personal implosion. Some information, such as a thematic comparison of the compositions of Ray Davies and Jagger/Richards, gets repeated in the two programs.

Overall, though the slipcase is well-designed, there's a sort of budget feel to the productions. The menus, for example, look like an unmodified DVD Studio Pro template – and the simplest one at that. While the interviews never fall below professional standards, some on the first disc are set in a black studio environment with unfortunate colored orbs spinning in the background. The sound design, while serviceable, is basic. The visuals, except for a few shots on the second disc, are limited to interview talking heads, archival photos, and archival television and motion picture footage (with the licensing information superimposed on the screen).

That said, independent productions cannot be expected to have unlimited resources, and the rights to audio-visual materials can be insanely expensive. With that in mind, it appears the producers spent the budget available to them wisely. The archival materials, if from relatively limited sources and sometimes overly familiar, appear often enough and are integrated dynamically into the body of the work. The promise of rare and previously unseen footage is fulfilled. The interview subjects are mostly well chosen and generally have something useful to contribute.

The extras are a little sparse. The "extended interviews" run less than six minutes, the "special feature" is two minutes, and the contributor biographies – while useful – are really just a few sentences placed beside a photograph. And one would have to have a lot of free time on one's hand to bother with the "interactive Stones quiz".

Remarkably, while there has been any number of performance-based Rolling Stones films over the years, there's a dearth of this type of chronological documentary (25X5: The Continuing Adventures of The Rolling Stones, an officially sanctioned production released in 1989, is all that comes to mind). On the other hand, it could be argued that the Rolling Stones have always best been captured in the two famous direct cinema documents, the Maysles' Gimme Shelter and Robert Frank's Cocksucker Blues. Regardless, the Stones are such a complex entity on many levels –- musical, cultural, as personalities and celebrities –- that the array of books, films, recordings. articles, interviews and so on will likely expand on into the future.

This DVD then, while certainly not definitive, holds its own in support of other materials (like Bill Wyman's excellent memoir, or Stephen Davis' book, or the contemporary commentary of music writers such as Robert Christgau and Greil Marcus). Enthusiasts will appreciate particular insights and archival finds, while those less versed in the Rolling Stones, who perhaps understand them only as grizzled stadium performers with a string of classic rock hits, will likely be surprised by the vitality present in these early years.

6
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Books

Political Cartoonist Art Young Was an Aficionado of all Things Infernal

Fantagraphics' new edition of Inferno takes Art Young's original Depression-era critique to the Trump Whitehouse -- and then drags it all to Hell.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

OK Go's Emotional New Ballad, "All Together Now", Inspired by Singer's Bout with COVID-19

Damian Kulash, lead singer for OK Go discusses his recent bout with COVID-19, how it impacted his family, and the band's latest pop delight, "All Together Now", as part of our Love in the Time of Coronavirus series.

Books

The Rules Don't Apply to These Nonconformist Novelists

Ian Haydn Smith's succinct biographies in Cult Writers: 50 Nonconformist Novelists You Need to Know entice even seasoned bibliophiles.

Music

Siren Songs' Merideth Kaye Clark and Jenn Grinels Debut As a Folk Duo (album stream + interview)

Best friends and longtime musical collaborators Merideth Kaye Clark and Jenn Grinels team up as Siren Songs for the uplifting folk of their eponymous LP.

Music

Buzzcocks' 1993 Comeback 'Trade Test Transmissions' Showed Punk's Great Survivors' Consistency

PopMatters' appraisal of Buzzcocks continues with the band's proper comeback LP, Trade Test Transmissions, now reissued on Cherry Red Records' new box-set, Sell You Everything.

Music

Archie Shepp, Raw Poetic, and Damu the Fudgemunk Enlighten and Enliven with 'Ocean Bridges'

Ocean Bridges is proof that genre crossovers can sound organic, and that the term "crossover" doesn't have to come loaded with gimmicky connotations. Maybe we're headed for a world in which genres are so fluid that the term is dropped altogether from the cultural lexicon.

Books

Claude McKay's 'Romance in Marseille' Is Ahead of Its Time

Claude McKay's Romance in Marseille -- only recently published -- pushes boundaries on sexuality, disability, identity -- all in gorgeous poetic prose.

Music

Christine Ott Brings the Ondes Martenot to New Heights with the Mesmerizing 'Chimères'

France's Christine Ott, known for her work as an orchestral musician and film composer, has created a unique new solo album, Chimères, that spotlights an obscure instrument.

Music

Man Alive! Is a Continued Display of the Grimy-Yet-Refined Magnetism of King Krule

Following The OOZ and its accolades, King Krule crafts a similarly hazy gem with Man Alive! that digs into his distinct aesthetic rather than forges new ground.

Books

The Kinks and Their Bad-Mannered English Decency

Mark Doyles biography of the Kinks might complement a seminar in British culture. Its tone and research prove its intent to articulate social critique through music for the masses.

Music

ONO Confronts American Racial Oppression with the Incendiary 'Red Summer'

Decades after their initial formation, legendary experimentalists ONO have made an album that's topical, vital, uncomfortable, and cathartic. Red Summer is an essential documentation of the ugliness and oppression of the United States.

Film

Silent Women Filmmakers No Longer So Silent: Alice Guy Blaché and Julia Crawford Ivers

The works of silent filmmakers Alice Guy Blaché and Julia Crawford Ivers were at risk of being forever lost. Kino Lorber offers their works on Blu-Ray. Three cheers for film historians and film restoration.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.