They say you can tell someone’s age by their favourite popular music choices, so make what you will of the fact that precious few of mine originated later than 1980.
Since then there has grown a trend for artistes to release deluxe or anthology editions of their catalogues, often including in the package such items as ‘alternative takes’, off-cuts, studio-talk and rough demos.
The effect is variable. Some, like the on-going Bob Dylan Reissue Series and the Beatles Anthologies of the 1990s, are spellbinding. Others do little beyond confirm that, luckily for reputations all round, there was a compelling reason why some songs, or song versions, failed to make the original album – i.e. someone, somewhere, had possessed the gumption to apply some quality control.
As a general rule, whilst obsessive fans can find reward in complete-ism, uncommitted listeners should be wary of the genre. Too often, one senses the grubby fingerprint of money-making behind the willingness to raid the vaults in search of musical crumbs.
Which brings me to my favourite music of the past two years, the bonus disc included in the 2011 reissue of ‘SOME GIRLS’, the Rolling Stones’ 1978, disco-influenced, supposed return to form.
After that, I can stomach some of the poorly-received ‘BLACK AND BLUE’ (1976), ‘SOME GIRLS’ itself and – strangely – ‘STEEL WHEELS’ (1989), but, beyond those, for me, the remainder of the Stones’ catalogue belongs in – or close to – the bin.
‘SOME GIRLS’ itself is a minor classic, despite the fact the allure of the opening track (and hit single) ‘MISS YOU’ rather passes me by.
When I first played the reissued the album through from start to finish, I was pleased to be reminded of the Stones’ strengths, notwithstanding that (being virtually tone-deaf myself) the much-heralded ‘enhanced’ digital sound quality made zero impression.
A few days later, on a longish drive to the countryside, I slipped the ‘bonus’ disc into my car’s CD player. My expectations were low and my intention had been to press ‘eject’, and switch to something more interesting from my collection, the moment they had been vindicated.
In fact, the experience was a revelation. Far from being a series of second-rate, half-finished song try-outs, the bonus disc was a bona fide twelve-track tour de force.
(Okay, the last effort – ‘PETROL BLUES’ – is just Mick Jagger fooling around, possibly improvising, on the piano and does qualify as a curio off-cut).
In short, the bonus disc to the ‘SOME GIRLS’ reissue constitutes a worthwhile, borderline great, ‘lost’ Rolling Stones album.
At their best, the Stones welded together rhythm & blues, rockabilly and country with a panache and feel for Americana that no native US combo could match. Here – whether covering Hank Williams or Waylon Jennings, or pumping out their own compositions – they sound at the peak of their powers on offerings such as ‘DO YOU THINK I CARE’, ‘CLAUDINE’, ‘TALLAHASSEE LASSIE’ and ‘NO SPARE PARTS’.
Just as the first two parts of the Beatles Anthology induces listener-awe at the speed and intensity (never mind the quality level) at which the Fab Four composed and recorded, this bonus disc to ‘SOME GIRLS’ similarly nails any misguided impression that the Stones spent most of their halcyon days lying around in a stupor, taking their fill of wine, women and drugs.
Mind you, that’s what I was trying to do, because I’d convinced myself that is what they were doing.
It is something of a shock to appreciate just how hard Jagger, Richard and the others were working at honing their craft whilst the rest of us were trying to be hippies.