Thursday, February 22, 2024

Review: 'The Rolling Stones Singles 1966 - 1971'

*It's been twenty months since the release of The Rolling Stones Singles 1963 - 1966, and though that set's press release promised the inevitable sequel would arrive in 2023, vinyl reissues of the Stones' U.S. LPs were apparently ABKCO's main concern that year. In 2024, the label has wasted little time in finally making good on that 2022 promise. 

So, now The Rolling Stones Singles 1966 - 1971 has finally arrived to compile eighteen singles representing the time period that I, for one, insist was the Stones' most creatively fertile. While they are usually lauded for sticking to their rudimentary rock and blues guns, I will forever insist that they were at their most exciting and vibrant when grooving with sitars, Mellotrons, dulcimers, synthesizers, John Paul Jones, and John and Paul. 

The Stones produced their finest albums between '66 and '71, but their singles were no less extraordinary, and for our European friends, owning many of those seven-inch pieces of plastic was downright essential. After all, "Paint It Black" was nowhere to be found on their edition of Aftermath, nor were "Ruby Tuesday" or "Let's Spend the Night Together" between their buttons. Several of the Stones' singles of the period included remarkable songs — the freaky blues "Who's Driving Your Plane?",  the cosmic rocker "Child of the Moon", the double-sided psych gem "We Love You" b/w "Dandelion" that were unavailable on LP on either side of the Atlantic.

Of course, all of these tracks would eventually find homes on one compilation or another, so The Rolling Stones Singles 1966 - 1971 is no longer as essential as it might have been had it been released half-a-century ago, but it is essential for anyone with fond memories of playing home-DJ and spinning singles pulled from eye-catching little sleeves. 

Indeed, this set reproduces those sleeves pretty accurately, as it does the music within. There are some relatively recent remixes of "Sympathy for the Devil" on a dedicated single, but the classic mix is still on the B-side of a reproduction of 1976's stereo edition of "Honky Tonk Women". Yes, the 1969 mono edition of that song is here too, and all of the discs originally released in mono do appear that way on 1966 - 1971. There is also a rare stereo appearance by "Everybody Needs Somebody to Love" on a 33 1/3 EP starring "Street Fighting Man" that was originally released in the UK in 1971. While this new version maintains that number of revolutions per minute, it smartly replaces the fake-stereo mix of "Surprise Surprise" with the true mono mix.

As the inclusion of that number from 1964 suggests, 1966 - 1971 boogies beyond the limited timeline of its title from time to time. It includes the two singles pulled from the 1975 compilation Metamorphosis. That means there are a few songs in this set that actually aren't proper Stones recordings, since the Metamorphosis singles include the demo "Try a Little Harder" (another remnant from '64) and the version of "Out of Time" Mick Jagger cut for Chris Farlowe, both of which feature studio musicians instead of Charlie, Bill, and Brian. There's also the Stones-adjacent but awesome "Memo From Turner", Mick Jagger's solo side he sang in his debut starring role in Donald Cammell's Performance. The totally Stones-less "Natural Magic" by Ry Cooder is on the flip; its very much like an instrumental version of the A-side, which also features Cooder's inimitable slide work. We also get the rare "In Another Land" single credited to Bill Wyman, though that one is a legit Stones recording through and through. So are "Brown Sugar" and "Wild Horses", but since their original B-sides don't fall under the ABKCO umbrella, these two A-sides are slapped on either side of the same record for this new box set.

Each disc is a UK-style small-hole single, even the reproductions of U.S. records. Some of the vinyl isn't as flat as I'd like, and there is a bit of debris from the sleeves, but none of this caused any playing issues. 

As for the sound, this is by far the LOUDEST the Stones have sounded since ABKCO began dropping them back on vinyl in the twenty-first century. The label's Rolling Stones in Mono box set from 2016 was certainly cut sufficiently loud, but these singles are way louder... and way, way louder than the more recent LP reissues, which tend to be on the quiet side. I played the new 45s against my original London ones, and they can go toe-to-toe in volume. Charlie's bass drum on "Honky Tonk Women" is a sonic boom.

Comparative sound quality is tougher to judge, since my old singles are pretty well worn. The new ones are certainly smoother than those, but they can distort a bit during volume peaks if you don't have a mono switch on your system. With my mono switch activated, most of the mono singles in 1966 - 1971 sound wonderfully smooth (I use a custom one I purchased here for an absurdly low $31.50...if you love mono vinyl and don't have a mono switch on your amplifier, you really should invest in a dedicated one. It's a life changer). 

The Rolling Stones Singles 1966 - 1971 also includes a booklet with essay by Nigel Williamson, track notes, and photos; a fold-out poster; and a bonus packet of photo postcards. Most of the images on the cards, as well as the one on the poster, depict the Mick Taylor line up, although there's one wonderfully atmospheric shot from '67 that includes Brian Jones, the guy responsible for most of the weird sounds that make this music the Stones' best. 

*This review was updated on March 13, 2024.

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