The cover of The Mammoth Book of The Rolling Stones announces the book as “An anthology of the best writing about the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band in the world” and Sean Egan as editor. This isn’t really accurate. In fact, half of this book’s mammoth 500-plus pages are filled with Egan’s newly written record-by-record critique/history of The Rolling Stones, making him far more than a mere editor and his book far more than an anthology of previously published pieces. There is an entire book authored by Sean Egan alone shuffled in with the magazine articles he culled from 50 years of Stones history. It’s a cool format telling a very linear tale lacking any obvious holes. We get Egan as our tour guide through every phase of the band’s career, and the various articles as authentic period perspectives of those phases. As will always be the case with this sort of thing, I did not agree with a lot of the author/editor’s assessments (he’s particularly hard on Rolling Stones No. 2, Between the Buttons, “Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow?” and Let It Bleed), but I appreciated his appreciation of the Stones’ pop and psych periods, which most critics tend to dismiss outright. He even caused me to reevaluate Out of Our Heads, which I usually think of as a lesser effort.
Egan is as thorough with his article selections as he is with his own look at the Stones’ long career. There are management-sanctioned hype pieces from the band’s early days, interviews both enlightening and rambling, concert reviews, portraits of each Stone whose name is neither Jagger nor Richards, career retrospectives, and a fluffy blog piece that brings the band into the twenty-first century. There’s even an uncomfortably insightful hoax from a journalist who happens to be named Bill Wyman but presumably never touched a bass guitar.
The one problem is that much like the Stones’ deathless career, The Mammoth Book is a bit too mammoth. There are a few too many reminders of the band’s decline after the seventies, both in Egan’s sneering criticisms of every album after Some Girls (he has a point with most of them, though we do disagree on the best and worst tracks from this later period) and the abundance of articles that backload his book. But there’s a lot to dig before the long, slow depressing downfall starts setting in around page 350, and if nothing else, The Mammoth Book of The Rolling Stones would be worth the cover price for an 80-page—80-page!— interview with Keith that appeared in abridged form in Rolling Stone magazine in 1971. Now that’s mammoth.
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