Rolling Stones – Grrr! (review)

Rolling Stones – GRRR! (Universal) review

Three discs of the World’s Greatest Rock n’ Roll Band

To try and sum up the career of a band that’s celebrating it’s 50th anniversary is a daunting task.  Grrr! does a pretty good job though, by giving fans a chance to choose how deep they want to go – there’s a 2-CD set with 40 tracks, a 3-CD set with 50 tracks, and even a Super Deluxe edition with 80 tracks.  We’ve picked up the one with three discs and will give you the rundown on that one.  The set contains 50 tracks, beginning with their very first single, a cover of Chuck Berry’s “Come On,” and ending with a pair of newly-recorded tunes, “Doom and Gloom” and “One More Shot.”

Disc one concentrates on their earliest material, when the band was starting out as R&B and blues enthusiasts, featuring several covers like Irma Thomas’ “Time is On My Side,” The Valentinos’ “It’s All Over Now,” Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away,” and Howlin’ Wolf’s “Little Red Rooster.”  By the middle of the disc, the band’s originals begin taking center stage, with “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction,” and “Get Off My Cloud” as early triumphs.  Both sides of probably the Stones’ greatest single are included – “Ruby Tuesday” backed with “Let’s Spend the Night Together.”  These tracks have aged particularly well and still brim with vitality.  The guys also show off their ballad side with “As Tears Go By.”  Probably the biggest surprise is the inclusion of the trippy “We Love You,” which kind of goes nowhere, but does include uncredited backing vocals from John Lennon & Paul McCartney.  The most glaring omission from this period is the biting “Mother’s Little Helper, the only Stones single to hit the Top Ten not included in this set.

Disc two opens with another one of their classic guitar riff-driven songs, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” as we get into the late Sixties/early Seventies phase, considered by many to be the peak of their career.  All the high points are here, including the ominous “Sympathy For the Devil,” the bombastic “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” the sneering “Brown Sugar,” and the anthemic “It’s Only Rock n’ Roll.” They turn in some of their finest ballads too, with “Wild Horses,” and “Angie.”  Even Keith Richards gets a turn on the mic, with the woozy “Happy.”  Lesser cuts like the underrated psychedelia of “She’s a Rainbow,” and the funky “Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker),” are some of the surprises here.  Most obviously missing from this phase is the live standard “Midnight Rambler” (featured on the original Hot Rocks LP), but Stones’ albums of this phase were loaded with great songs like “Bitch,” “Live With Me,” and “Salt of the Earth,” making it impossible to grab every great track from this period.

The Stones were the only rock band to successfully write a dance number at the height of disco, and “Miss You” still sounds fresh today, in part because it’s such a dark song, and Bill Wyman’s bass playing is stunning.  Two other cuts from their Some Girls’ album are included – “Beast of Burden” and “Respectable,” but “Shattered” is oddly absent.  “Start Me Up” showed that the group could still churn out classic riffs, while “Waiting on a Friend” was surprisingly tender.  The synth drums of “Undercover of the Night” date things a little, and disc three starts to drag about halfway through.   Latter-day songs like “Highwire” and “Don’t Stop” just aren’t particularly memorable.  The inclusion of something more rockin’ like “One Hit to the Body” or a great slow number like “Almost Hear You Sigh” would’ve helped things considerably.  Of the two new tracks, “Doom and Gloom” rocks pretty hard and has some pretty great Mick Jagger vocals.

A slight caution here – some of the songs included are the edited, shorter versions – “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” “It’s Only Rock n’ Roll,” “Miss You,” “Emotional Rescue,” “Beast of Burden,” and “Undercover of the Night” are all shorter than the original album versions – which doesn’t really make sense since disc one only runs 54 minutes.  There was certainly time enough to include the longer versions of these songs.  And, some of the shorter versions aren’t even the proper “single” lengths, which is a little confusing.  At the same time, this is a minor complaint – just about everything you need to have is here.  The booklet contains just a few photos of the band and not much more.  One could complain about the lack of an essay, but what more is there to say about the Stones that hasn’t already been said?  Oh, and the front cover photo is completely ridiculous.

For those looking to save a little money, the 2-CD, 40 cut version is cheaper, and doesn’t cut any of the really “essential” tracks, making for an excellent introduction to the band.  –Tony Peters