Thursday, December 21, 2017

Review: 'The Rolling Stones On Air'


Until very recently, ABKCO/Universal has kept a pretty tight lid on the Stones’ 1960s vault. This began to change in 2016 with the release of the long anticipated Rolling Stones in Mono box set, and more recently with the unanticipated-by-everyone-but-me deluxe edition of Their Satanic Majesties Request. This new access continues with Rolling Stones On Air, a double disc collection of BBC recordings the guys made from 1963 to 1965.

This is the first taste of real rarities yet as we get to hear renditions of eight songs that never made it onto the Stones’ proper LPs or singles and versions of popular faves with more pronounced differences than a mere shift from the familiar to stereo to the slightly less familiar mono. The chance to hear the Stones’ takes on gems such as Buster Brown’s “Fannie Mae” (which they’d later rip for “their own” “Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man”), Tommy Tucker’s “High Heel Sneakers”, Bo Diddley’s “Cops and Robbers” and “Crackin’ Up”, Jimmy Reed’s “Ain’t That Lovin’ You Baby”, and a whole mess of Chuck Berry tunes will probably provoke the most purchases. The other stuff may not be quite as valuable, but it’s still very cool to hear things like “Cry to Me” and “I’m Moving On” with greater clarity than the more familiar versions.

Sometimes the greater clarity is not really an asset as it demystifies the murky alchemy of “Satisfaction”, “Mercy Mercy” (complete with way out-front falsetto by, I believe, Bill Wyman, who was no John Entwistle in the falsetto-singing bassist department), and “The Last Time”, but it’s always fun and interesting to hear such well-worn material in any different light. In at least one instance, hearing a lack of difference is actually fascinating. I’ve always marveled at the fluid, effortlessness of Keith Richards’ playing on “Down the Road Apiece” and surmised it was something our sloppy hero could never recreate. The fiery rendition of that number recorded he recorded for the Top Gear program proves me wrong in the most wonderful way.
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