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Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Rolling Stones: Got Live If You Want It!


1) Under My Thumb; 2) Get Off Of My Cloud; 3) Lady Jane; 4) Not Fade Away; 5) I've Been Loving You Too Long; 6) Fortune Teller; 7) The Last Time; 8) 19th Nervous Breakdown; 9) Time Is On My Side; 10) I'm Alright; 11) Have You Seen Your Mother Baby, Standing In The Shadow?; 12) (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction.

Back when this live album was released, many, including the band members themselves, regar­ded it as a travesty — issued without the band's proper consent, predictably suffering from atro­cious sound quality, not always presenting the Stones in top form, and featuring a decidedly odd setlist in which they somehow managed to insert two tracks that were not played live at all (!), one of them recorded as early as 1963 at that (!!). Even today, were this in Mick's and Keith's power, the two of them would have probably preferred to delete it from the ABKCO catalog al­together. And yet, until ABKCO or somebody else manage to do something better, Got Live If You Want It! remains what it is — a priceless historical document of the authentic Rolling Stones live sound in their «first prime», with a still well-functioning Brian Jones and a self-assured Mick Jagger who'd finally shred the last scales of shyness, and entered «rock star mode», but without getting recklessly drunk on that stardom yet.

Of course, there are countless bootlegs from 1965-66, if you want to thoroughly capitalize on that «authenticity» thing — but that means having to endure an even worse sound, and ever since the record went through the proper remastering process around 2002, it's become fairly listenable. Yes, there is no way to avoid the instruments and vocals being partially swamped by the incessant screaming of British girls (most of the tracks were drawn from a couple shows in Bristol and Newcastle-upon-Tyne in October '66), but the new mix tries its best, so that after a couple of listens you might even begin to clearly discern between Keith's and Brian's guitars; and, further­more, the world needs a Rolling Stones live album drowning in wild screaming, if only to re­member that the Rolling Stones were a product of the Screaming Sixties, rather than of the com­paratively more quiet, more glammy, more decadent stadium-rock era.

In the process of remixing and remastering, I'm pretty sure that the working team introduced some major changes to the album — I faintly remember my old cassette tape version that defi­nitely had a different version of ʽUnder My Thumbʼ, as well as maybe one or two other tracks, and also less stage banter and fewer pauses between tracks. There are also sources that mention post-production studio overdubs, most of them concerning lead and backup vocals by Mick and Keith (curious that, having hated the album, they still went ahead with the doctoring), so some detective work is in order to sort out which parts of the album are truly live and which ones aren't. But since the record was never consi­dered a Holy Grail anyway, the doctoring is not a very important issue. The important point is that even with all the screaming and all the imperfections of stage work circa 1966, the Stones still manage to kick ass — loudness and energy is one thing, but they are also quite tight, and this is where we really have to thank the loyal rhythm section: with Charlie's jackhammer pounding that opens ʽUnder My Thumbʼ, there is no way the song could ever be in danger of falling apart, unless Charlie himself collapsed from exhaustion. (It is no surprise that the slightly earlier epochal documentary on the Stones on tour was titled Charlie Is My Darling).

Even more amazingly, on those songs that actually require him to do so (I'm not talking about ʽGet Off Of My Cloudʼ, evidently), Jagger does indeed sing — an ability that he would complete­ly sacrifice in the early Seventies, briefly reclaim in the Nineties, and then once again reject (quite intentionally, I'm sure, as age forced him to make a choice between singing and strutting) in the 21st century. Even on Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out!, with the Stones in all their late Sixties' in­strumental glory, Mick's vocals are already, if not an impediment, then at least more of a side ele­ment to the show — but on Got Live, he's always right in the center of things. It may be just a trick of the new mix, of course, and at least some of these lead vocals were later overdubbed in the studio, yet in all cases the results present the whole thing as Mick Jagger's show with a bunch of trusty side­kicks. (And it doesn't sound that much different if you stick to the fully authentic and put your trust in some of the better bootlegs from the era, e. g. the Honolulu show from July 28, 1966, going under the stupidly Beatlesque title of So Much Younger Than Today).

It is, of course, quite beneficial to him that Keith, at this point, still prefers to stick to grim self-discipline on stage, churning out the riffs more or like they are supposed to be churned out without going off on all sorts of tangents — and that Brian Jones was never a great live player in the first place; to make matters worse for him, the setlist largely concentrates on recent, self-penned material where there was relatively little room to show off his bluesy slide guitar playing talents. He does drag out the dulcimer in order to perform ʽLady Janeʼ, but the sound is crude and hoarse compared to the subtle studio arrangement. And he is not much favored by the new mix, either: you really have to strain your ears to catch the melodic guitar part on ʽGet Off Of My Cloudʼ, for instance.

So, essentially, this is the Mick-and-Keith show, with Charlie providing the impenetrable percus­sion wall and Wyman occasionally making himself the twinkling little star with phenomenal bass zoops (ʽI'm Alrightʼ, once again, is his stellar moment — the version here being even more in­tense and desperate than the old live arrangement on Out Of Our Heads). Riff-heavy tunes like ʽUnder My Thumbʼ, ʽThe Last Timeʼ, the classic non-album single ʽ19th Nervous Breakdownʼ, and, of course, ʽSatisfactionʼ rule the day, and they are all played a little faster, a little rougher, a little punkier than in the studio, even though ʽSatisfactionʼ was still a long way away from tur­ning into the «royal» Stones number (I would say it only acquired that status on their first sta­dium tours circa 1981). Kudos to the boys, too, for the wild feedback chaos at the beginning of the newly released single ʽHave You Seen Your Mother, Babyʼ — the new mix reveals the true bestial qualities of that sound, heavier even than The Who in mid-'66, in fact, downright Stooges-like, if only for a few seconds, out of which we then witness the miraculous birth of one of their best pop-rockers of the year.

As for the two «fake» live tracks, if you can forgive their fakeness, they are both enjoyable: the oldie ʽFortune Tellerʼ speeds up, tightens up and nastifies, Stones-wise, Benny Spellman's ori­ginal, and somehow Mick manages to do the impossible on ʽI've Been Loving Youʼ and almost steal it away from Otis Redding, turning in a very personal, painful, vulnerable rendition where his sweaty straining actually helps things — unlike Otis, who might as well have been born sin­ging this stuff, Mick here sounds like he's climbing a stiff height without a safety net, especially when he gets to the "oh, oh"'s, and I always breathe a little sigh of relief once he finally reaches the top safe and sound. That said, of course, neither of the two tracks has any legitimate place on the album — and, at the very least, on the new remaster they could have cut the pretense and just put them on as bonuses without the silly distracting crowd noises (especially for ʽI've Been Lo­ving Youʼ — slapping a wall of human noise on top of that performance is like letting a crowd of reporters into a confession booth). So seek out them bootlegs and rarities compilations.

Anyway, regardless of the band's own feelings, I still give the album a thumbs up — in addition to its historic importance, it's got these little, but important bits of coolness all over it, ranging from the inoffensively silly (such as Jagger scatting on the instrumental section of ʽLady Janeʼ) to the unpredictably curious (why do they have a few bars of ʽSatisfactionʼ as a false opening to ʽThe Last Timeʼ?) to the singularly awesome (the feedback on ʽHave You Seen Your Motherʼ, the stop-and-start coda to ʽSatisfactionʼ, the bomb-diving bass on ʽI'm Alrightʼ). Even if, as some detractors claim, it is the single worst live Stones album (but it isn't, really), it is at least a fairly unique live Stones album — and, at the very very least, it is much more casually enjoyable than Live At The Hollywood Bowl, the Beatles' equivalent from the same era.


  1. This is a swing and a miss for me. I really was surprised to watch "Charlie Is My Darling" and see how dynamic and charismatic the Stones were on stage in the mid-1960s. Going by this album, I would have thought it was more a matter of showing up and running through the hits in passable fashion.

    "I've Been Loving You" is the one first-rate track on this subpar effort, and not a legit one as you point out.

    Perhaps the band was caught in mid-1966 at an awkward crosswords, shedding as they were the blues-based focus for more of a baroque pop feel, but not quite in either camp. I can't figure out otherwise why this set leaves me flat.

  2. As I'm listening to this I'm struck by how many garage rock singers were imitating Jagger with all the sneering and "plastic soul-ness."