Review: The Rolling Stones, ‘Live At The El Mocambo’ – The Legendary Concert Finally Released

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I wish I could tell you how happy all of us down here at B&V are that the Stones have finally released an official version of the entire legendary 1977 show from Toronto’s El Mocambo Club (March 5, 1977). The album, creatively titled, Live At El Mocambo dropped a few Fridays ago – 45 years after the actual shows. In the interest of full disclosure I purchased this one on CD. The $149 price tag on the vinyl was too rich even for this avid, obsessed Stones’ fan. Hearing this live album I have to say, it ranks up there with Get Yer Ya-Yas Out as one of the Stones’ finest live LPs. The Stones have been around so long, different live albums tend to capture/conjure different eras in the band’s storied history. Ya-Yas captured them at their career peak with Mick Taylor still on lead guitar. I’ve always been fond of Live At the BBC: On Air  released only a few years ago, but that one really captures the early-Stones, Brian Jones era. Now we have Live At the El Mocambo to give us a taste of the mid-70s, Ronnie Wood-just-joined-the-band era. Of course this early Ronnie Wood era had already been documented on the Stones’ 1977 Love You Live, another Stones live album I love… maybe I just truly love Live Albums.

The Stones were at a cross roads in the mid-70s. After the tour for 1974’s It’s Only Rock n Roll Mick Taylor, lead guitarist extraordinaire, quit the band. Taylor played on what many consider to be the peak of the Stones’ career on albums that include Exile On Mainstreet and Sticky Fingers. When Taylor was in the band there seemed to be a strict division of guitar labor, Taylor played the solo’s and Keith was allowed to become the “Riffmeister,” strictly rhythm. By the time Taylor left the Stones it was largely believed that their classic period had ended and the Stones had become more decadent and less focused on the music. Critics lamented they were a spent creative force. It didn’t help that disco and punk were nipping at their heels. Supposedly, Jagger was fascinated with being a star and Keith was fascinated by, well, heroin. If you ask me Goat’s Head Soup and It’s Only Rock n Roll are still pretty “classic” Stones albums but I’m a pretty big fan. But for the Stones there was never any serious consideration given to quitting when Taylor split. Nothing can stop the Stones, man.

They were ready to record a post-Taylor album so they used those sessions to audition a new lead guitarist. They were probably thinking, “Hey, we need to jam with some new guys, let’s record it and try and get an album out of it. ” Many guitarists auditioned including Jeff Beck and Peter Frampton to name drop a few. Others included Steve Marriott, Rory Gallagher, Wayne Perkins and Harvey Mandel. Finally they decided on Ronnie Wood, who in retrospect was the perfect choice. Wood and Richards’ guitars meld together so well. There would be no more guitar division of labor, these two would practice what Keef calls “the ancient art of weaving,” where their guitars snake in and out of each other’s. Plus Ronnie was a good drinking buddy for Keith. The ensuing LP, recorded as a guitar audition, was Black And Blue. The critical reception was mixed but the album spent a whole month at number one in 1976. I love the record but when a college buddy asked me about it I just said, “It’s more for fans.” Over the years I’ve regretted that as I love the songs on that record. It’s long on grooves and jams but… what’s wrong with that? It also has two of their greatest ballads, “Fool To Cry,” and my favorite “Memory Motel.” The album includes contributions from Mandel, Perkins and Ronnie… but alas no Jeff Beck who left his audition and said, “We jammed for 2 hours and I only played three notes.” Jeff Beck, sigh.

Despite the success of Black And Blue, and the ensuing tour in support of it, critics couldn’t help but continue to decry that things “were over” for the Stones. They were still considered a spent creative force. To make matters worse Keith and his girlfriend Anita Pallenberg kept getting busted for coke and heroin possession. And of course, Keith traveled with such a large quantity of drugs – for his and Anita’s use – that he was charged with trafficking. He could have ended up doing real time. He eventually received a suspended sentence… but they were so nervous Keith and Mick took the band into a studio in Paris at the end of 1977 and recorded enough music to fill Some Girls, Emotional Rescue and Tattoo You. The Stones apparently – when you back them up against the wall – DELIVER. But, I’m losing the thread here…

The Stones made a great choice in Ronnie Wood. The guy’s enthusiasm for rocking out, evinced by his time in the Faces, is contagious. He brought a sense of fun and excitement back to the Stones who were suffering from a bad case of ennui. They were going to follow Black And Blue up with a live album and while they had stuff recorded from both the ’75 and ’76 tours, it was decided they needed to go to Toronto to record a show in a small club, the El Mocambo. Toronto has become the Stones’ home away from home over the years. The Stones now do little club shows at the beginning of almost every tour but in 1977 they hadn’t played a small club since their days the Marquee Club in Richmond 15 years prior. They’d been filling stadiums for almost a decade. It was Wood who lobbied for a club show. It was also Ronnie’s idea that the Stones go back and mix up the set list, playing old blues numbers and some of their shorter classic tracks. I still wonder how they talked Mick into this. It was just the band (Mick/Keith/Ronnie with Bill Wyman on bass and Charlie Watts on drums) with Billy Preston and Ian Stewart on keyboards and Ollie Brown on percussion. There was no horn section or back up singers (save for Keith and Ronnie). This is as straightforward as you’re going to get from the Stones at this point in their career.

Oddly, they used some of the El Mocambo stuff on the ensuing live album, Love You Live, but only 4 tracks. It was, for you vinyl cats out there, side 3 aka “The El Mocambo” side. I can’t help but think it might have been better to just release the entire El Mocambo show back then? I will admit Love You Live has a lot of great moments. They played the entire album on the Houston rock radio station the night after I saw the Stones for the first time with my buddy Brewster, who was apparently upset with the Stones’ set list that night. He said, “What album is this?” I didn’t know at the time. And he said, “At least they’re playing everything I wished they’d played tonight.” Drinking warm beer in the Astrodome parking lot in 1980 I will say, Brewster could always be incisive.

I have to say, first and foremost, Live At The El Mocambo sounds fantastic. I don’t know if its the intimate setting – it only sat 300 people but it feels like you’re there. The Stones had kept the gigs a secret. They faked a radio contest – what would you do to see the Stones? – and the winners would see April Wine live. The opening act was the Cockroaches… aka the Stones. People showed up and were surprised, the Stones were the actual headliners. Mick Jagger sounds like he’s having an absolute blast during this show. At one point he tells the small crowd that Ronnie Wood is inviting them back to his hotel room after the show… but they have to bring their own beer. The band is really tight on these performances – as if this was an escape from all the turmoil off the stage – and the tighter they play the more relaxed and fun Jagger becomes. Or maybe they’re just responding to playing in a tiny club. Keith has always said Mick could rule a stage from a stadium to a phone booth. Ronnie Wood’s lead guitar is also searing on this album. I couldn’t turn it up loud enough.

The Stones start off with a bit of a lumbering version of “Honky Tonk Woman.” It’s like they’re getting their bearings. Then they take off with “All Down The Line” one of my favorites from Exile On Mainstreet. Everything seemed to come together from there. What’s so great about this album is they not only took Ronnie’s suggestion to play older tracks and blues tunes but they play almost the entire Black And Blue album, something that you’re never gonna hear again. They played one of their earliest “Route 66” and its great but around that they play three tracks from Black And Blue. “Hand Of Fate” is a forgotten rock masterpiece as is “Crazy Mama,” but Jagger sounds IN TO IT. I love the ballad “Fool To Cry” (although I’m broken-hearted they didn’t do “Memory Motel”) but I’ve always been a sucker for ballads and sad songs… ask anybody whose dated me. I used to sing the lyric from “Fool To Cry” to this girl I used to date who lived downtown behind the old blood bank on Armour, “I gotta woman, she live in the poor part of town, I go and see her sometime, we make love so fine…” She’d always say the same thing, “This isn’t the poor part of town.”

“Mannish Boy,” and “Crackin’ Up” are two old blues covers that actually ended up on Love You Live but while I enjoyed the El Mocambo side, the songs just seem more in context here. “Dance Little Sister” and “Tumblin’ Dice” just snarl here. “Hot Stuff” from Black And Blue leads off the second disc. “Star Star” is still the most vulgar Chuck Berry-type track ever. They do a couple of blues tracks and it felt like I was back in Richmond (although I’ve never been to Richmond). “Worried Life Blues” is a track I’ve never heard the Stones do and I loved it. They did “Little Red Rooster” which also amazing… I think they took that to number 1 in England. I mean, you just don’t hear these songs at a Stones show. “It’s Only Rock N Roll” and “Rip This Joint” rock with such a ferocity you think things are going to slip the rails.

After they return to more predictable fair to end the March 5th, 1977 set with “Brown Sugar” and “Jumping Jack Flash,” they’ve tacked on three songs from the March 4th show. It may seem weird but it almost feels like an encore. If the encore was obscure songs that I would be allowed to pick. “Melody,” another great Black And Blue track and gives Billy Preston a chance to share lead with Mick. Then they play “Luxury” a reggae thing from It’s Only Rock n Roll. The final track is a very early version of “Worried About You” a song that didn’t see the light of day until Tattoo You, side 2 (and yes, I know there are Tattoo You, side 2 freaks out there…I’m one of you).

This is the sound of the Greatest Rock N Roll Band in the World discovering the joy in playing a concert again. You can hear the joy they find in the music. I do think a lot of that comes from Ronnie Wood’s almost childlike, joyful attitude. This is a treat for big Stones fans and more casual fans alike. It would be another year before the Stones emerged, defiant and triumphant with Some Girls, an album that silenced the “they’re done” talk. That album also happened to awake a rock n roll obsession in a young man living in the Kansas City suburbs…but that’s another post.

I can already tell this album is going to get a lot of airplay here at B&V this summer… Cheers!

Review: The Rolling Stones ‘Tattoo You – Super Deluxe’ – Revisiting The Landmark Album

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Oh how I love it when we get into the good stuff!

For those of us who were too young and missed the Stones’ late 60s heyday the album Tattoo You in 1981 is about as iconic a Stones disc as you can find. Hell, I was young enough I even missed the Stones in their druggy, decadent 70s and believe me, I’d have settled for that. As I have often confessed, the Rolling Stones aka “The Worlds Greatest Rock N Roll Band” are my alpha and omega when it comes to rock music. It’s where it all starts and ends for me. Actually in my case, they actually are where it started for me. They were the band that caused my entire rock n roll obsession. I remember it like it was yesterday. I was relegated to the back seat of my mother’s Oldsmobile 88…plush velvet seats in the Olds… Ever the “even-Steven” of parents, my sainted mother made my brother and I, ever the quarreling siblings, take turns sitting in the front seat. My brother was upfront, “riding shotgun” as the saying goes, and as was his habit he immediately turned on the radio and flipped to the local rock n roll station, KY102. At this stage in the game, I was not into music whatsoever. The only thing I’d ever turned on the radio for was to listen to a Royals game. Oddly these days I don’t even follow baseball… I was the only person in Kansas City who didn’t watch the Royals win the World Series a few years back, but I’m getting off topic here.

My brother flips on KY/102 and I hear this funky music come blaring out of the speakers. The guy is singing something about “we’re gonna to come around twelve, with some Puerto Rican Girls who are just dyin’ to meet you, we’re gonna bring a case of wine… lets go mess around like we used too.” Well that sounds like fun! I don’t know any Puerto Rican girls… a whole case of wine? I thought this was all fascinating and hysterical at the same time. But it was the music that hit me in the solar plexus and then moved it’s way into my groin. I was new to being a teenager, but as I recall most things that hit me had a way of moving down to my groin… I remember leaning forward into the front seat and asking my brother, “What is THIS?” He replied in his laconic way, “It’s the Stones… I think it’s called “Miss You”” I begged my parents for a stereo for Christmas. My brother had one… it was time to up the rock n roll arms race in our adjoining rooms. Admittedly however, looking back, I realize “Miss You” was pretty much a disco tune. Strangely I seem to remember kind of enjoying Rod Stewart’s “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy,” his disco “sell out” single… Gads, am I secretly a disco fan?

Later I heard “Beast of Burden” and that was it… I knew I had to buy my first album. I trudged down to the record store and with my Christmas money I bought 1978’s Some Girls, which at the time was the Stones’ latest album. I also picked up Steve Martin’s comedy LP, A Wild And Crazy Guy launching my second obsession, comedians. I wore Some Girls out. I eventually took a blank cassette into what I considered the real inner sanctum of rock n roll in our house, my brother’s room, and taped his copy of Hot Rocks. Those two albums got me through junior high school. I’d play one or the other every morning before going to catch the death wagon er I mean the bus to school. I hated school and the Stones always… I don’t know… cheered me up. I eventually started buying other LPs, Van Halen’s debut, and ZZ Top’s Deguello but I always came back to the Stones…

I was visiting my grandparents one summer a few years later. I hounded her to let me take her transistor radio that she and grandpa used to listen to, well, the Royals games on, to bed with me. The night time DJ, when the clock hit midnight announced he was playing the new Stones album Emotional Rescue in its entirety. The Stones? Have a new album? It hadn’t dawned on me bands could keep putting out new music, I was still trying to catch up on all their old music. On Emotional Rescue I didn’t really have the experience of hearing a first single, I heard it all at once. As soon as I got home and had enough money from mowing lawns I raced to the mall in my dad’s AMC Hornet (no power steering, 3-on the tree gear shift) and picked it up. To this day I’m not sure what the first single was… for me Emotional Rescue was an immersive LP experience.

It was the summer, August I think, before my senior year in high school a few years later when the KY102 DJ announced he was going to play “the new Stones’ song.” Once again I was taken by surprise… I didn’t know the Stones had recorded a new album. I was so unaware as a teenager. Anyway, they played “Start Me Up.” I have to admit, all these 40 years later, it kind of left me cold when I first heard it. For the first time I didn’t rush down and buy a Stones’ LP upon its release. True, my musical tastes had spread out – I was into Zeppelin and Sabbath but also the Who and was dabbling in the Beatles and Springsteen. I’m not sure why I felt that way, I love the song now, despite the Rock Chick insisting it’s overplayed. It wasn’t until I heard “Hang Fire” that I thought, well, I need to buy this thing. And I think “Hang Fire” was the third single… I really took my time on this one. I’d also heard everybody in my class raving about “this new Stones album” and couldn’t help but think, “Hey, I’m the Stones guy…I have been for years… I’ll be the judge of this.” 

Well, I loved the album. It didn’t have any country stuff like “Far Away Eyes” or reggae like “Send Her To Me” on the previous two albums, it was pretty much straight-up rock n roll. What we didn’t know back then was that the Stones, specifically Mick Jagger, had cobbled this thing together from “leftovers” from sessions dating back as far as 1973’s Goats Head Soup. There were a couple of tracks co-written by Mick Taylor their erstwhile lead guitarist… he had to sue for royalties. The Stones had planned to tour in 1981-82 and they wanted to do so behind a new album. Keith had kicked heroin and was starting to reassert himself in the Stones. Mick was used to sitting in the driver’s seat, he’d been driving the thing for almost a decade and resented the affront to his authority. Since they weren’t getting along, they couldn’t pull together a new album. It’s a shame my sainted mother wasn’t on the payroll to make sure things were kept even-Steven between the Glimmer Twins. Mick went back into the studio and worked with producer Chris Kimsey to overdub new vocals on old demos and outtakes. “Tops” and “Waiting On A Friend” dated from the aforementioned Goats Head Soup sessions. “Slave” and “Worried About You” dated from the Black And Blue sessions. “Black Limousine,” “Hang Fire” and “Start Me Up” were from Some Girls. “Start Me Up” actually started as a reggae track entitled “Never Stop” that’s been widely bootlegged and that I’ve never heard. All of the rest of the tracks were from the Emotional Rescue sessions.

For me, and for everyone really, “Start Me Up” is one of the Stones’ most iconic songs. But there were so many other great tracks on this album – cobbled together or not. They divided the album between a fast side (side 1) and a slow side (side 2). While critics weren’t crazy about most of the ballads on side 2, believe it or not, there are a cult of people who love Tattoo You Side 2. From the fast side, I love “Black Limousines” a bluesy rocker that ranks among the Stones best deep tracks. I love “Hang Fire” and “Slave.” “Neighbours” was a great rock song. Keith’s vocal outing, “Little T&A” is a wonderfully vulgar rocker. On the slow side, the standout track is obviously “Waiting On A Friend,” with its iconic video. The original version has a Mick Taylor guitar solo in place of the Sonny Rollins sax solo. I remember critics hailing it as a return to “classic” Stones form… of course it was, it was recorded during their classic period. “Worried About You” is another great song and I loved seeing it played live a few years back.

The Stones have revisited Tattoo You on this, it’s 40th anniversary. Let me just say, wow, it’s been 40 years? Time is a jet plane. True to the “leftovers” theme of the original LP, Mick and Ronnie Wood went into Wood’s home studio and overdubbed some new vocals and guitar on some leftovers from the leftovers? They’re from all the same sessions where the original tracks came from and I’ll denote those in parentheses after the titles. Sadly, there’s no full on reggae “Never Stop” or the original guitar driven “Waiting On A Friend” on the new Deluxe version of the LP. Supposedly there’s a 10-minute version of “Slave” out there and it’s not here either. “Living In The Heart Of Love” (It’s Only Rock N Roll) is a spirited, classic Stones rocker. “Fiji Jim” (Some Girls) is another rocker with kind of a rockabilly vibe to me. I was surprised there are three covers here. “Troubles A’ Comin'” (Emotional Rescue) was made famous by the Chi-Lites. It’s actually one of my favorite songs here. I love the guitar on that one. Their take on blues legend Jimmy Reed’s “Shame, Shame, Shame” (Some Girls) is superb. The Stones and the blues just go together. I love Mick’s harmonica on that one… I wonder if that’s newly overdubbed or on the original… either way Mick is one of the greatest blues harmonica players to ever walk the earth.

The most iconic track here – and the only one I’d ever heard on a bootleg – is the Stones covering a song written by Mentor Williams and made famous by Dobie Gray, “Drift Away” (It’s Only Rock N Roll). I love the Stones version of this song… I can’t fathom why it’s just now being released. I know Rod released a version around the same time, maybe they didn’t want to compete. There is myth around the Stones’ version of “Drift Away.” Supposedly, Keith used to like to shoot up and “drift away” while listening to this song. Or I’ve also heard that the Stones would play this song while he was doing so. Either way, it’s a great song.

“It’s A Lie” is from the Some Girls sessions and this rocker would have fit nicely on that album. It really sounds like it comes from that era of the Stones. “Come To The Ball” (Goats Head Soup) is a manic rocker. “Fast Talking Slow Walking” (Goats Head Soup) is the lone ballad here and its a classic. There is an early “reggae-ish” version of “Start Me Up” and I like it. I’ve always wanted to hear the reggae version of that song and this version gives me a taste of that. I really dig all of these “Lost & Found” tracks. Anything we can get from the Stones’ vault I tend to be thankful for. I know there is a ton of material they could have also included, much like the recent Beatles release Let It Be Super Deluxe. I can’t quibble about what’s not included, I just enjoy what is. I would have liked a Keith song here but again, its a small complaint. I’d advise everybody to get the Deluxe version of Tattoo You especially if you don’t own the original LP, which is something everyone should.

Now, if you’re a super fan, the Super Deluxe set has a previously unreleased concert from Wembley (London) in 1982. The Stones on that tour played virtually the same set every night. So if you own, say, the show from the Hampton Colesium, like I do, it’s basically the same show. The Wembley show is far superior to the weak live album they released after the tour, Still Life. Critics of that tour will tell you it wasn’t the Stones at their “best,” whatever that means. For those of us of a certain age who saw the Stones for the first time on that tour, it’s iconic. Personally I saw them three times on the tour, twice in Houston and one of the KC dates where they had Mick Taylor join them as a guest guitarist. I get chills when I hear Keith’s wobbling guitar intro to “Under My Thumb.” That giant, brightly colored stage, Mick running around in a football uniform sans shoulder pads with only Keith and Ronnie singing back up, that stuff is iconic. I love that setlist as they played a ton off of their three previous LPs – Some Girls, Emotional Rescue and the then current Tattoo You. The Stones would never play that much contemporary stuff again.

My recommendation for this one is certainly buy the Deluxe package… and if you’re of a certain age and don’t have a decent live version of the 81-82 tour, splurge for the Super Deluxe. As for me, I’ll still just be out here on the front stoop, cuz, “I’m not waiting on lady, I’m just waiting on a friend…” Maybe Mick will come along and we’ll head to bar…

Cheers to all of you waiting on friends out there! Be safe.

Surprise Single: Mick Jagger With Dave Grohl Deliver Lockdown Lament, “Easy Sleazy,” Pure Punk Energy And Humor

What a nice surprise yesterday, on a Tuesday no less…

I’m on record as hating Mondays. And Tuesday is always a bit of a “meh” day for me. Just another day punching the clock get to Friday when all the new music comes out. For most people, Friday kicks off the weekend but who am I kidding… my weekends tend to start on Thursday, “weekend-eve.”

I took a brief coffee break from “workin’ for the  man,” doing my usual corporate Tuesday stuff when I noticed on “the social media” that Mick Jagger had released a surprise song. I’ll admit my initial response was, “Wait a minute… I was hoping for a new Stones album in 2021…” After getting over that initial hissy fit, I read his statement about the song:

I wanted to share this song that I wrote about eventually coming out of lockdown, with some much needed optimism – thank you to Dave Grohl for jumping on drums, bass and guitar, it was a lot of fun working with you on this – hope you all enjoy Eazy Sleazy !

As I wondered why I wasn’t hearing a new Stones song I began to think back to Mick’s last surprise single, “Get A Grip”/”England Lost.” It seems when Mick has something topical to say, politically urgent if you will, he doesn’t wait to put a song through the Stones laborious creative process. Although I suppose “Sweet Neo-Con” is an exception. So was the Stones’ “Living In A Ghost Town.” I’ve seen some venerable rock stars releasing some songs about lockdown and the pandemic that I considered kind of… stupid (I’m talking to you Van Morrison and you Eric Clapton). But when I saw that part of Mick’s statement about “much needed optimism” I knew I had to check it out.

I don’t think I’ve heard Mick do anything this infused with humor since “Far Away Eyes.” His tongue is obviously firmly in his cheek as he makes fun of anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists in the line “Bill Gates is in my blood stream.” He literally sums up the world’s collective lockdown experience with lines about gaining weight, drinking too much, cleaning the sink and pacing in the yard. Zoom even gets a mention. This is the kind of light hearted, rocking tune we need to kick off spring. Especially this particular spring which shows us all some signs of hope.

And speaking of “rocking,” this tune does. Mick plays rhythm guitar and vocals and he’s joined by that Fighter of Foo, Dave Grohl. Grohl plays drums – exceptionally I might add – and bass and lead guitar. I’ve never dug the Foo Fighters. I had their first LP but sold it at the used record store and never really got back on the bandwagon but I’ve always liked Dave Grohl. He seems like one of the nicest guys in rock n roll. And again, he’s a phenomenal drummer. He and Mick clearly work well together.

This song has a great punk energy I haven’t heard from Mick or the Stones since Some Girls. When punk came along it challenged the established rock authorities and well, the authorities in general, but the Stones managed to absorb that punk energy. When grunge came along it merely destroyed all that came before it. Established rock bands didn’t know how to react… It shows the full circle of rock n roll that Grunge Survivor Dave Grohl is playing with Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones who managed to survive punk.

Topical songs don’t tend to have a long shelf life. But I have a feeling “Easy Sleazy” will stick with me for quite a while. Heaven knows memories of lockdown certainly will. As Mick says, “it’ll be a memory you’re trying to remember to forget.” I would urge anybody who needs a blast of punk energy and good laugh and a smile to check this tune out.

Cheers!

Review: The Rolling Stones, ‘Goats Head Soup Deluxe’ Box Set

“Can you hear the music? Can you feel the magic hangin’ in the air?” – The Rolling Stones, “Can You Hear The Music?”

It seems like only yesterday that I cajoled a friend of mine with some connections into helping me get tickets to the see the Rolling Stones’ 50th Anniversary concert at Newark’s Prudential Center in December of 2012. Springsteen jumped on stage to perform “Tumbling Dice” with the band. The Black Keys and Gary Clark, Jr each did a blues number with them. Lady Gaga even impressed me on “Gimme Shelter.” It was a truly exceptional evening. I just realized we’re creeping up on their 60th anniversary in 2022… Hopefully we’ll get an album of new stuff before then. They released a great new single during this global pandemic, New Single: The Rolling Stones’ Great Pandemic Song, “Living In A Ghost Town”, to tide us over but it only whetted my appetite for more.

When you have a career that spans six decades it gets hard for rock historians or music critics to get their arms around it. Inevitably they tend to break up the Stones career into three phases based on who was playing lead guitar. There’s the early, blues-cover centric era with Brian Jones on lead. There’s what is considered their “golden” or “classic” period when they did most of their biggest and best music with Mick Taylor (formerly of John Mayall & the Blues Brothers, Artist Lookback – John Mayall’s Blues Breakers: The Guitar Hero Trilogy 1966-1967). And finally there’s the current period with their longest tenured lead guitar player, Ronnie Wood. I love the Ronnie Wood-era of the Stones – and I’m in the minority here – but that’s who was playing for them when I first got into rock n roll. Some Girls was my gateway drug into rock and roll. I love the way Ronnie and Keith practice what Richards calls “the ancient art of basket weaving,” by intertwining the two guitars.

If we buy into this categorization, the rock intelligentsia has also made a point that the Mick Taylor era is the ultimate era of the Stones. And true, the  Stones penultimate period began as Brian Jones was drinking and drugging his way out of the band. Starting with Beggars Banquet (Jones on lead when he showed up…brilliant slide on “No Expectations) and stretching through Let It Bleed (when Taylor joined), Sticky Fingers and their magnum opus Exile On Main St, the Stones were indeed the most brilliant rock band in the world. With Taylor taking over all the exceptional lead guitar during his tenure he allowed Keith to become, again in his words, a “riff-meister.” When rock critics talk about the Stones’ golden period they actually mean these four albums.

While all these guys laud the Taylor-era of the Stones, they are all also of a mind that the Stones creativity failed them after Exile On Main St. In truth, Mick Taylor stuck around after the arduous process of recording that classic double album for two more records, Goats Head Soup (73) and It’s Only Rock N Roll (74). The common claim is that these albums, despite the presence of the guitar-wizard Mick Taylor, signal the moment when the Stones stopped being true rock artists and became arena-filling, sell-out rock stars. Mick became a jet-setter and Keith a full blown addict. We tend to build up our heroes only to tear them down on this planet. I will admit, I always thought – before the internet – that It’s Only Rock N Roll came out after Exile and before Goats Head because I always felt It’s Only was the stronger album. The more I listen to Goats Head today I’m not sure what I was thinking.

Despite all the critical haters, when Goats Head Soup came out in 1973 it hit number 1 in the U.S. The lead single, “Angie” also hit number one. It was produced by Jimmy Miller who had done all of their albums from the “classic” period. The album sold well. The Stones were continuing their “tax exile” status and were living outside the U.K. at the time. Keith Richards drug problems were increasing and there weren’t many countries where they could record so they ended up recording a lot the album in Kingston, Jamaica. It was the only place they could get in if you believe Keith. Marshall Chess who was leading Rolling Stones Records (the group’s own record label) was stunned to find out the band hadn’t played together in six months. He rented out a studio in Kingston for months at a time so the band could just jam. He said after only a few minutes they locked into that “Stones synergy” as if they’d been playing together every day.

I think the reason for the collective critical “meh” – Lester Bangs famously hated Goats Head Soup like it was a personal betrayal – was that anything the Stones did after Exile was bound to be a letdown. The sessions for Exile had drug on forever. Keith was ensconced at Nellcotte in the south of France and while Mick had as much input it was clearly Keith in control of that record. For the follow-up Mick wasn’t interested in doing that again. On Keith’s part, with his heroin problem worsening, he wasn’t capable of a leadership role with the band. Mick took over. He wanted to explore some different avenues with the band so we have a lot more ballads on Goats. Critics always laud Blood On the Tracks from Dylan as a requiem for the Sixties. It was actually an album about the end of a marriage. They like to describe The Last Waltz as the drunken (or coke-fueled if you’re Neil Young), Irish wake for the Sixties. To my ears, Goats Head Soup sounds much more like a requiem for the hippy idealism of the Sixties. It’s the come down record… like the day after the party. “Comin’ down again, where are all my friends?” as Keith sings.

There are great rockers on this album – “Dancing With Mr. D” about dancing with the Devil which may be slightly silly but it’s still a great track, “Silver Train” covered so nicely by Johnny Winter, and “Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo, Heartbreaker,” a track everybody  loves. “The police in New York City, they chased a boy right through the park, and in a case of mistaken identity, they put a bullet in his heart,” sounds like something that could have been written for today’s long, hot summer. “Star Star” (aka “Starfucker”) is a wonderfully vulgar Chuck Berry-style track. But for me, it’s the ballads on this record that shine. Keith’s vocal turn on “Coming Down Again” is one of my favorites. “Winter” is spectacular and ended up on my Stones deep tracks playlist (Playlist: B&V’s Favorite Rolling Stones Deep Tracks). “Angie” was the monster hit.

For me Goats Head Soup and that time is the iconic era of the Stones. They were the personification of and the album is about decadence and decay –  perfect for the 70s. This album is the Keith Richards, long-hair, shirt off, teeth rotting-out best. I wanna take my shirt off, grow my hair long and dance around playing air-guitar with a broom for a lot of this material. When rock bands imitate the Stones it’s this era they’re looking at. Mick may have steered them in a more down beat direction, but damn it worked. And his partner was holed up with Anita Pallenberg doing smack.

Last weekend, the Stones released a “Deluxe” version of Goats Head Soup. I wasn’t going to buy it but the Rock Chick said, “You know you want it, get it.” It’s nice to be married to a woman who encourages your decadent tendencies. The question is – is it worth it? For me it was but it has a hefty price tag. I like the hard-bound book that came with it. The concert posters in the box will be framed and hung in the B&V lab. For the first time ever on B&V, my recommendation for everyone who isn’t a Stones’ addict, is to eschew the physical box – either vinyl or CD – and definitely go the download route. The box is $150 and in these dark times that’s a lot to ask. Especially with boxes from Petty, Prince, U2 and Lou Reed coming.

From a bonus material perspective, you’re probably thinking, $150 for 3 new tracks? True there are only 3 new, unreleased tracks, but they’re all fantastic tracks. “Criss Cross” was reviewed here a few weeks ago, The Rolling Stones New Single From The ‘Goats Head Soup’ Sessions – “Criss Cross”. “Scarlett” is another groove track that obviously grew out of a jam and features Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page. I’d have loved to been a fly on the wall for those sessions. The final unreleased track, “All The Rage” has a great riff and is just classic Stones. The rest is probably for completists, but I love the piano/vocals demo of “100 Years Ago,” its more haunting that way. I like the alternative version of “Hide Your Love,” Mick Taylor’s lead is more prevalent. There’s a couple of instrumentals that are a fascinating glimpse into the creative process but the three tracks labeled “Glyn Johns 1973 Mix” add nothing to the party.

The real reason to buy the box (download), is the widely bootlegged live album The Brussels Affair. Because of Keith’s drug issues/arrests stemming from his days at Nellcote (Anita Pallenberg and Bobby Keys the Stones’ sax player had similar issues), the Stones had to play in Belgium instead of France. While many people have this album in bootleg form, I know many people don’t. And if you don’t, it is their best live album – better than Get Your Ya Ya’s Out. I played the boot for my friend Stormin’ once and he declared the version of “Gimme Shelter” as the definitive. I think the Stones released this as a download-only in their “Live Archive” series, but I’m not sure if it’s still available. For me, it’s worth the price of the download for this live LP only. The entire package is like $25 on Apple… Lots to love here at that price.

As summer winds down and beloved football begins, please be safe out there. Wear a mask, stay six feet away from each other and crank up this album… Me, I’m still out here on the edge, “down in the graveyard where we have our tryst, the air smells sweet, the air smells sick…”

Cheers!