Friday, November 6, 2009

40th Anniversary Boxed Set: Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out! ... A Real Treat for Diehard Stones Fans

...Not for the Casual Listener

ABKDO records released a 3 CD, 1 DVD boxed set commemorating the 40th anniversary of the historic November, 1969 Rolling Stones concerts at New York’s Madison Square Gardens, though it is widely documented a couple of the original tracks on the album were actually recorded in Baltimore a day earlier. Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! is by far the Rolling Stones best live albums and surely one of the best live recordings of all-time adding to the bewilderment that how a band so famous for its live exploits has been such a failure capturing their magic on recordings.

The raw power of their music, the showmanship of Mick Jagger, and the guitar virtuosity of Keith Richards and Mick Taylor shine brightly with just enough audience noise to help give the recording a true sense of atmosphere. From the opening blasts of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” to the final guitar riffs of “Street Fighting Man,” this historic album shows the Stones on top of their game performing material from the Beggar’s Banquet/Let it Bleed period with a couple of superb Chuck Berry covers thrown in just for fun. The Stones deliver their brand of rock n roll with “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” “Live With Me,” and “Honky Tonk Woman.” They honor their great influence Chuck Berry with energized performances of “Carol” and “Little Queenie” augmented with some excellent boogie-woogie piano from their devoted sidekick Ian Stewart. The real highlights of the album are their recordings of “Midnight Rambler” and “Sympathy for the Devil.”

“Midnight Rambler” right from the lead up to the first notes of the song creates a manic sense of pure energy that the band carries through out the extended play of the entire song from Jagger’s back and forth between vocal and harmonica to the booming guitar interplay between Richards and Taylor. The song in all its theatrics comes through loud and clear, the louder the better.

“Sympathy for the Devil” is a much more curious presentation. First, what makes this listen so special in light of numerous live versions recorded since then is that they make no cheesy attempts to imitate the original studio recording. It’s just the five Stones playing their regular rolls. No attempt to add keyboard has ever been successful as Nicky Hopkins’ original work is simply too nuanced to make the transition to a booming rock concert arena presentation. Further, there’s no way the Stones could create the intricate percussion effects of the original and do the attempts to do so with synthesized and sampled artificial ingredients work? Hardly. Instead, back in 1969, they stripped the song down to something that could be performed with two guitars, bass, and drums taking a highly complex rock-you-drama to pure hard hitting rock. The results are astonishing led by absolutely evil lead guitar as only Keith Richards could accomplish. Meanwhile, Charlie Watts, famous for his straight forward drumming, lays down a wicked rhythm that is marvelous for its simplicity but supplies all the attitude of the layers of percussion of the original in very minimalist form. Ironically, the real beauty of this presentation is its lack of perfection. The song takes a break for an extended guitar solo by Keith Richards and then some licks from Mick Taylor. Right where Jagger’s supposed to come in with the verse beginning, “Just as every cop is a criminal and all the sinners saints…;” however, the Mickster forgets the lyrics tries to find himself with a few “Get on down’s” while the band covers his back, suddenly out of nowhere, Mick Taylor comes to the rescue with one of the boldest, finest guitar solos improvised right on the spot as Keith, Bill, and Charley follow along leading to a powerful finish. It’s a few minutes of the most exciting live rock n roll ever made more fascinating that none of it was according to plan.

The album sequence blasts right into a pumped up, paired down version of “Live With Me” setting down styling that could be the prototype for so much punk or big hair guitar rock that would come later.

Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! would be impossible for any incarnation of the Rolling Stones that followed though the 1972 tour, never captured on album, adding Nicky Hopkins on piano, Bobby Keys on sax, and Jim Price on trumpet, had a sleazy madness all its own that one hopes there are some good tapes somewhere that could be converted into an album at some point.

Mick Taylor left the Stones in late 1974 replaced by Ronnie Wood and the makings of the modern Stones approach to touring was taking shape where the emphasis turned more to showmanship than just plain all-out rocking. As such, Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! Becomes an even more critical album as it captures a special place in time in this great band’s evolution where they could play as a completely self-contained unit unrestrained and fully energized.

As is often the case, Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out!, as an album is as much a enginee's, Glyn Johns, creation as it is a facsimile of a real Stones concert. The recordings cover all the Madison Square gigs plus the additional material from Baltimore. The song sequence is not the same as the concerts and a handful of songs have been left off.

To help rectify that situation, enter the new creation, the 40th Anniversary Boxed Set. It includes the missing songs, “Prodigal Son,” “You Gotta Move,” “Under My Thumb/I’m Free,” and “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” While these performances surely have their merits, it’s obvious to see why they weren’t included on the original album. “Prodigal Son” and “You Gotta Move” are both excellent acoustic numbers, just Mick singing and Keith strumming that are quite appealing performances, but given the high energy sustained drive of the original album, these two songs would be absolute mood killers. “Under My Thumb” is a fine live number with a solid Keith Richards guitar solo, but it’s just a little too laid back to fire up the energy of the established album; furthermore, it transitions almost as a medley into “I’m Free” which simply does not catch fire in this format although Mick Taylor launches into a wonderful guitar solo ending in a burst of feedback. While Stones fans could find plenty to like about this performance, a deejay’s sensibility would see this number as a real mood killer apart from the rest of the album. The final track from the supplemental material is an extended version of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and it’s hardly a version of the Stones most popular tune for the ages. Sure, it’s a good listen played super loud especially for anyone who has ever seen the Stones perform live. It’s full of brute force as the band rocks its collective tail off. For fans of the Rolling Stones of the Mick Taylor era, their young prodigy turns in a remarkable extended solo, his specialty. Also, as is so often the case for songs from this tour, once again, it appears Jagger blows the lyrics toward the end. All this is fun and adds authenticity for the real Stones’ fan but is probably not that appealing for the casual rock listener.

With that much in mind, the 40th Anniversary Box, is absolutely a curio for the most dedicated Stones fan and further underscores that the original album, Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! is one of the core essential albums for any rock fan who appreciates the best guitar rock has to offer.

However, for the real Stones fan, there’s even more to love on disc 3. It features music from the opening acts for the Stones, no one less than B.B. King and Ike & Tina Turner. For this reviewer, this material is reason enough to spring for this expensive boxed set.

One will never hear B.B. King play with such explosive rocking power as shown here while never being unfaithful to his status as “The King of the Blues.” His set opens with a high energy, fast paced version of “Every Day I Have the Blues” then hunkers down to a much more traditional performance of “How Blue Can You Get” which starts off with lots of extended guitar play before the singing starts. Yes, ol’ Lucille is paying her dues on that hot November night in New York. King’s set continues with ‘That’s Wrong Little Mama,” a cruisin’ shuffle, a rough cut soulful version of “Why I Sing the Blues,” and concludes with a delightful going home piece, heartfelt and all blues, “Please Accept My Love.” B.B.’s address to the crowd could surely make blues converts out of the youngest most uninitiated little rock n rollers into hard core bluesmen. Like the Stones material, King’s performance has a rough and raunchy edge not typical of the more slicker, more experienced sound of most of King’s work from the 1960’s forward.

Not to be outdone, Ike and Tina Turner command the stage for a short set of dynamite cover tunes of well known songs from the late 60’s. White boy audiences were starting to appreciate the real value of true R&B as many of them followed the great Stax records performers like Otis Redding so venerated by the Stones themselves, but Sly and the Family Stone and Ike and Tina had started to carve out their own fan base. In short order, they rock out with high energy, funky showcases of “Sweet Soul Music,” “Son of a Preacher Man,” “Proud Mary,” “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” “Come Together,” and “Land of 1000 Dances.” Tina’s ability to seduce a crowd and dominate the stage is so clearly evident on these performances. As a point of reference, “Come Together” was still a hit on the pop charts as the Beatles Abbey Road was released in late September, just a few weeks before this legendary New York concert series. Given that B.B. King and Ike and Tina served as opening acts for the Stones, they set a high bar that the Stones had to exceed with their own work as they were warming up their audiences with two of the most seasoned, accomplished live acts in all of show biz.

The DVD in this set is nothing special. It features film clips of the songs not included on the original album. The film quality is poor almost exclusively focused on Jagger with some cutaways to Keith and almost nothing for the rest of the band. The shots of the audience members is a real hoot showing what people in their late 50’s and 60’s today looked like forty years ago. There are also some scenes from a photo shoot with Mick and Charlie trying to compose the photo for the album cover. Another scene features a very stoned looking, Mr. Richards at play in the studio. The material on this DVD offers little more than some fun snapshots of the Stones at work in 1969. Again, the super fan will find this interesting but it would be just a ho-hum for the rest.

A hard covered book provides a few photos and essays about the Stones 1969 tour, another curio for the long term Stones fans and real collectors.

At $59.99, ABKCO records is really looking to fleece the Stones fan who is willing to spend big bucks in pursuit of the best their favorite band has to offer, but Amazon, for instance, put the set on sale for $49.99 then quickly dropped the price to $41.99 as advanced sales must have been below expectations and given how specialized interest in this album must be it’s obvious to see why.

As a listener who has enjoyed the Rolling Stones since “Time is On My Side” became his first real rock single that lead to an incomprehensibly large collection today, this reviewer thoroughly enjoys this special salute to the 40th anniversary of one hell of a great live album and historic concerts. Hearing Tina Turner belt out a sleazy seductive “Come Together” alone is quite a treat. The Stones unreleased material makes it possible to better feel what the original concert must have been like. It’s equally obvious, that this special collection is just that and is not for everyone not even casual Stones fans, only the very hardcore.

The recording quality is absolutely stunning. Though the Stones ABKCO material, all their recordings up to Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out!, was thoroughly and expertly remastered in 2002 even providing SACD recordings for a limited time, this release sounds liver and has more presence and definition than even that fine release.

The final note is that Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! is a truly great album, an absolute essential for any Rolling Stones, classic rock, or live guitar rock collection. Listeners who don’t own this great album should add it to their collection and crank it up. Those who haven’t heard this album for decades will be delighted that it has aged well and makes all subsequent attempts to capture the energy of a Stones concert seem so futile.

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