The Rolling Stones – Hot Rocks 1964-1971 – London Records (1971)/ Abkco Records 018771966715 180-gram audiophile stereo vinyl, 84:56 ****1/2:
(Mick Jagger – harmonica vocals; Keith Richards – guitars, bass, vocals; Brian Jones – guitars, percussion vocals, Charlie Watts – drums; Bill Wyman – bass; Mick Taylor – guitars; featuring many guest musicians)
Many greatest hits albums are released without the approval of the artists. Usually, it is a collection of commercial singles that reinforces the success of the band’s catalogue. In 1971, The Rolling Stones’ Hot Rocks 1964–1971 hit the record stores. For the most part, this compilation reflects the label and management’s perspective (At the time The Stones were embroiled in a dispute with their manager). The good news is the songs are vintage Rolling Stones, and very good. The album (unauthorized of course) captures a good deal of the material associated with the original lineup.
The opening track is a bluesy rendition of “Time Is On My Side”. Originally recorded by Kai Winding in 1963, both New Orleans singer Irma Thomas and The Rolling Stones (to a greater degree) brought a popular accessibility to it. This is pure British ‘60s music, featuring the earlier band (with Ian Stewart on organ). As the album progresses, the evolution of the group is interesting to observe. The menacing eminence comes across on “Play With Fire”. A mixture of social commentary and ‘60s experimentation is highlighted by an unusual arrangement that includes harpsichord riffs (and this decade saw plenty of these) and trendy cultural pretense. Of course, the mega-hit “Satisfaction” is included. The catchy electric guitar chords (Richards, who would become synonymous with rock grooves) and propulsive rhythm mesh perfectly, and The Rolling Stones celebrated their first No. 1 U.S. single. The sexual anti-establishment imagery lends an air of rebellion (they certainly “freaked out” Ed Sulliivan). It stands the test of time. The band’s version of “As Tears Go By” (which was a huge hit by Marianne Faithful) has a string accompaniment, but no bite. But their other muscular 1965 single, “Get Off Of My Cloud” displays the tough attitude that has been a staple of their sound. Charlie Watts’ drum opening and accented chorus creates a jump/swing rock classic.
This is a notable guitar-based collection. “Mother’s Little Helper” has Richards on twelve-string and electric, while Brian Jones rips on a Vox mando-guitar. Both Richard and Jones play hard electric grooves on “19th Nervous Breakdown”. Jones was a versatile musician and invigorates “Paint It Black” with his sitar work. At the core of the music is Jagger’s go-for-broke singing. He can handle blues, pop r & b, even a country twang. There are unique instrumental touches on songs like the ill-fated (from Altamont) “Under My Thumb”. Wyman’s fuzz bass and Jones’ marimba sound fresh and colorful. Rounding out this era are two tracks that successfully maneuvered The Stones out of the pop mainstream. “Let’s Spend The Night Together” was raucous and alarmed the parents of nearly every teenager. But, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” is a song for the ages. Richards utilizes a variety of open tuning and slack key adjustments that frame the evocative, at times disturbing, lyrics. It is hypnotic.
The next group of songs represents the first significant transitional phase, and possibly the greatest. Recorded between 1967- and 1974, most of the selections feature Mick Taylor on guitars. Two seminal cuts, “Sympathy For The Devil” and “Gimme Shelter” are preeminent in rock annals. Combining high voltage rock hooks and rambunctious lyrics, this pair of musical cautionary tales symbolizes the dysfunctional end of the tumultuous decade. The Rolling Stones were a phenomenal live act. A live take of “Midnight Rambler” (with Taylor on lead and slide guitar) is energetic and reflects the group’s performance reputation. “Brown Sugar” (from Sticky Fingers) was the first single released on Rolling Stones Records, but appears here because of the previous licensing contract with their manager. Finally “Wild Horses”, the last country blues opus to chart ends this on a mellower note.
Even though the selection is predictable, the acoustics shimmer on audiophile vinyl. Low-end mixing shines a light (no pun intended) on overlooked members Wyman and Watts. The guitars are crisp, but still maintain that trademark, relaxed band dynamic. For any fans that have unplayable vinyl Stones music, this is a quick fix. And for anyone who ponders why these guys are still out there at their ages…Hot Rocks 1964–1974 will set them straight!
Side One: Time Is On My Side; Heart Of Stone; Play With Fire; (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction; As Tears Go By; Get Off Of My Cloud
Side Two: Mother’s Little Helper; 19th Nervous Breakdown; Paint It Black; Under My Thumb; Ruby Tuesday; Let’s Spend The Night Together
Side Three: Jumpin’ Jack Flash; Street Fighting Man; Sympathy For The Devil; Honky Tonk Women; Gimme Shelter
Side Four: Midnight Rambler (Live); You Can’t Always Get What You Want; Brown Sugar; Wild Horses