Graham Reid | | 4 min read
There are two glaring problems with this release of these Stones' songs recorded live for British radio from 1963-65.
The first is they are unnecessarily non-chronological: a version of their first single, Chuck Berry's Come On, followed by the mature Satisfaction of two years later then it's back to Berry's crowd-pleasing Roll Over Beethoven. That's just stupid.
And that also – unlike the Beatles whose similar sessions were collected on the Live at the BBC sets – the Stones only played live a few songs they didn't commit to vinyl.
Of course at this time bands wanted, and were expected, to play their songs as close to the album version as possible.
Bootlegs of early Beatles live albums show the same drive to be just like the record.
So while it is terrific to hear the raw young Stones – Jagger in excellent sneering form in places, the astonishingly gifted Brian Jones holding down sui generis guitar solos and harmonica parts, Richards doggedly embedded in the blues – there are remarkably few surprises across the 32 songs on the DeLuxe Edition.
The eight rarities and ones they never recorded include Cops and Robbers (it's fine but was done so much better and desperate by the Downliner Sect), Berry's sentimental Memphis Tennessee which here sounds workmanlike and faithful, the bluesy and swinging r'n'b of Oh Baby, the hoary Hi Heel Sneakers, Walking the Dog and Fannie May (with excellent harmonica), Beautiful Delilah which becomes just another Chuck workout . . .
The Stones at this time became, despite the Beatles' offset comparison, the more acceptable face of worse, like the Pretty Things.
But here also and one not easy to find in the Stones' reissue catalogue – they seem to wish it sidelined – is their second single: their terrific and bruising cover of Lennon-McCartney's I Want to be Your Man which was such a throwaway the Beatles tossed it to Ringo as a jolly singalong . . . but the Stones took in to rapaciously sexual innuendo.
Of the rest here On Air . . .
Elsewhere is on record saying that as a teenager their It's All Over Now was the LOUDEST thing these ears had been bled by at that time (yep, remember exactly the time and place I first heard it) and although here those power chords before the chorus don't come through with quite the same falling-sky resonance, its message of estranged love still stings like it should.
And that damn fine guitar solo (Keith? Brian?) is so thrilling you can't help but wonder what those 13 and 14-year olds at the Joe Loss Pop Show (where this was played live) thought when the Stones appeared.
And also what 55-year old band leader Joe (whose singer at the time was Elvis Costello's father) thought about these young upstarts with their hair and attitude and clothes and rubbed-raw black American blues . . .
What comes through here with remastered clarity however is just how confident the Rolling Stones were when live-in-the-studio: All those nights turning into months spent playing these songs in clubs and concert halls meant that they – again like the Beatles – could just get in front of microphones. And do IT.
And on the excellent Crackin' Up – with slightly off-key Keith off-mike – they get alarmingly close to a black music tradition beyond the blues and toward the Caribbean than any other British band at the time . . . and although it seems to stumble to a halt, their point had been made.
It is among the enjoyable revelations here.
Brian Jones' work on their instrumental salute to Chess in Chicago on 2120 South Michigan Avenue – with that astonishingly accomplished but discreet rhythm section of bassist Bill Wyman and drummer Charlie Watts – is quite extraordinary. Hard to believe these are the white post-war children of London's city and suburbs thousands of miles from the source of this inner-city black blues sound.
2120 South Michigan Avenue
And it happens again on I Can't Be Satisfied where Jones sounds like his strings are thin piano wires wound tight beyond belief.
While many post-colonial people might wish to characterise the BBC as some stuffy relic of Empire, this collection – along with with so many other songs by emerging British r'n'b, pop and rock bands – went out on the BBC World Service.
And the “white” colonies heard a version of black music . . . and in this country many Maori artists adopted these sounds.
That said, at other times while enjoying this – and many will – you'd default to the Stones' studio versions of these songs: Especially Everybody Needs Somebody to Love, Route 66, Down the Road Apiece, the parent-baiting and wonderfully annoying The Last Time et al, all of which are serviceable here but not revelatory in the way they were on the albums at the time.
Yet the young Stones – average age about 22? – could also step back from the pop-rock treatment of the blues/r'n'b in their spirits and get seriously soulful (Cry To Me, If You Need Me, Arthur Alexanders' lovely You Better Move On, Ain't That Lovin' You Baby) and still deliver it in pop form (Little By Little).
They knew Motown and Otis and Chess . . .
Despite his middle-class upbringing, Mick Jagger did seem to be able to tap into some deep spirit of black r'n'b (Down the Road Apiece, I Just Can't Be Satisfied, Mona) in a way very few others of his British generation could. Regrettably their exceptional Empty Heart is not here.
(Compare these sessions with the young Kinks' and even Yardbirds efforts in a similar idiom at the time, they were weak and seriously thin white bread slices).
On Air – especially in its more edit back version – isn't quite as exciting as you might hope if you've heard all those early Decca albums.
But if you have them, then the expanded DeLuxe Edition allows you to compare, be engaged by the “new” songs and . . .
Anyone under 50 who has read this far might consider they've just found a much appreciated Christmas present for parent or grandparents. (Over 50? Tell the juniors that you don't want socks or a Bunnings' token.)
But if you are young be prepared for old people doing crazy dancing, great stories of mad youth and such . . .
Perfect present, in other words?