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Category:    Home > Reviews > Rock > Blues > Pop > Rolling Stones ABKCO SACDs (1963 - 71)

The Rolling Stones SACDs (1963 - 1971): An Overview

Music/PCM CD Stereo/DSD Stereo

The London Years/Singles Collection A/B-/A-

Beggars Banquet A-/B+/A-

Let It Bleed A-/B+/A-

Sympathy For The Devil Remix Maxi-Single DSD 5.1 Stereo B-/B/A

The ABKCO Company helped break in the Super Audio CD format commercially when it issued 22 SACDs with regular CD layers of the early years of The Rolling Stones in 2002. A year later, they have added the first-ever 5.1 Stones SACD, a remix compilation all of the song ''Sympathy for the Devil''. That is the most extensive catalog availability of any artist on SACD (or even DVD-Audio) to date, with ABKCO spending much time, money and effort to restore all their archive of the Stone's master tapes. It is fair to say it paid-off, and the fact that a remix SACD even exists testifies to the fact of just how far they made it in cleaning up and preserving some of the most important recordings ever made.

Those reissues include the expected overlap, plus cases where there are both U.S. and U.K. editions of a given release. As a way to get to the point about these releases, we got our hands on what we thought would be the best way to do an overview of this series without covering every single SACD. That logically brings us to the big hits set.

The London Years/Singles Collection is a three SACD set, covering all the hits and oddities that have previously surfaced as the Hot Rocks collections. It has been a contention of mine for years that these early recordings never did sound right. Finally, that has been corrected for the most part, but some of the oddities or edits of songs for singles release have not held up as well as their full-length counterparts. Sound quality differences are noticed between tracks on this album and the last two studios albums in the series covered here (Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed) that make no sense. The songs simply sound better on their original studio album counterparts, especially when comparing the regular CD tracks. DSD (Direct Stream Digital), the High Definition SACD digital signal, offers less of a difference when comparing the two sets.

However, London Years offers material not found elsewhere and is a solid overview of their rise as ''The Greatest Rock Band of All Time''. They were rivaled by The Who, and never could totally get ahead of The Beatles when they were still together, but The Stones ultimately endured in the long run, so it is a title they earned and deserve. The evolution from Blues-loving rockers to the distinctive, groundbreakers they became backs that up in the music presented here. SACD 1 offers ''Time Is On My Side'', a song that first showed the band as we know it coming together, an artistic breakthrough for them. Thematically, it is more to the point of how they would be seeing life throughout their history, which is to the point for starters. ''(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction'' is the full-blown Stones about to go on their Rock winning streak, proving that they were already the rough alternative to The Beatles without any compromises. ''Get Off Of My Cloud'' reinforced this, offering attitude like nothing ever heard on radio to that time. There are 25 tracks in all on this first SACD, including other hits like ''Tell Me (You're Not Coming Back)'', ''It's All Over Now'', ''Heart of Stone'', ''The Last Time'' and ''As Tears Go By''.

SACD 2 offers masterworks like ''Paint It Black'', ''Let's Spend The Night Together'', ''Ruby Tuesday'' and ''Jumpin' Jack Flash'', as well as hits like ''19th Nervous Breakdown'', ''Mother's Little Helper'', ''Lady Jane'', ''Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standin' In The Shadows'', ''Dandelion'' and ''She's A Rainbow'' among its 20 tracks. SACD three offers the great ''Street Fightin' Man'', ''Honky Tonk Woman'', the great ''You Can't Always Get What You Want'', the immortal ''Brown Sugar'', and the ever-infamous ''Sympathy For The Devil'', appropriately the thirteenth and final track. That's 58 songs in all. ''Brown Sugar'' and ''Wild Horses'' are from their Sticky Fingers album from 1971, which is NOT a part of this slate of SACDs. That is the first of the albums from the Rolling Stones Records label, though Virgin (the then-current proprietors of that label, following Atlantic and Columbia Records; now its Universal Music as of 2018) did reissue them a few years ago in updated CDs.

Beggars Banquet (1968) began the fully-fledged Stones, began their second era of recording, and is one of several studio albums in a row where they were in strongly exceptional form. ''Sympathy For The Devil'' announces this straight off the top, and ''Street Fightin' Man'' adds to that, but the album has a surprising number of Country Blues tunes on it, still very gritty and thought provoking. Surprisingly, this set yielded no major hit singles! However, its classic status in inarguable and the album went Top 5 at a time when the vinyl record album Rock trend thankfully kicked in. Thanks in part to The Beatles and Sgt. Pepper's (new Blu-ray/CD box set reviewed elsewhere on this site) albums could sell in huge numbers without the need of a big hit single, something Led Zeppelin took to the extreme.

A new 50th Anniversary Edition on SA-CD of this album has been issued with great extras, but is the same new soundmaster, now pictured above with its extras.

While that album featured graffiti plastered on a public bathroom wall, Let It Bleed (1969) has one of the most haunting of all Stones covers. It features a bizarre turntable in white space, with a record with a specialized label of the band (prior to their vanity label being formed), and above it about to drop when the record finishes is the wackiest layer cake in music history. The cake has the decorated paper at the bottom, then is topped with a metal film canister (or is that master tape reel), the front of a clock with roman numerals, a pizza, a bike tire, and a wedding cake layer with the band as human candles. The record player needle is from a Victrola. The back has a slice missing and the result of destruction before any collapse of the 'cake'. The color is also of the older Eastmancolor variety and is a classic.

The content is just as stark, beginning with the haunting and now haunted ''Gimme Shelter'', which turned into the name of their documentary about the murder of a fan by Hell's Angels (U.S.A.) security guards at Altamont. Even that film is suspicious (see the restored Criterion Blu-ray and DVD for yourself), their cover of ''Love In Vain'' still shows their grasp of the Blues. The title song is Bluesy as well. Other classics include ''Midnight Rambler''' and ''You Can't Always Get what You Want''. Despite all this, you have yet another Stones classic that had NO hit singles, but sold extremely well. Even better.

Mainstream radio was simply too sensitive with Vietnam and all the other controversies, but ''Honky Tonk Woman'' and ''Brown Sugar'' would soon change that and their singles would be mainstream henceforth. The 22 initial SACDs cover the entire Brian Jones era, before his untimely death, as well as some of the most politically and artistically relevant music ever made. They fortunately continued down that path.

That brings us to the maxi-single with several remixes of Sympathy For The Devil, cut in 1968, has been honored on its 35th Anniversary with three DJ/Turntablists offering their takes. You get a full-length and Radio edit version of each, leaving the seventh and final track the first 5.1 remix of a Stones songs in SACD. The Neptunes remix has its moments, but adds more new instruments than purists might like to hear. Fatboy Slim fares best here, going deepest into the idea of remixing the song with the most challenging results. Full Phatt offers the most disappointing take, trying to make this classic sound like ''State of Shock''', the notoriously awful Jacksons song (yes, it qualifies as a song technically) that Mick Jagger dueted on with no credit for The Jacksons' Victory album, a dark victory for those who made money on it. The album shamelessly recycled everything it could from the now played out Thriller, tour tickets were criminally high in price, Michael Jackson barely appears on the album, and then there was this goofy duet.

Referencing it for a classics' anniversary is awful. I doubt any DJ worth being a DJ will be goofy enough to match the two in a songset. That is why it is a relief that the original is here, in a nice 5.1 mix that is the best track on the set. Of course, the sound quality is going to be better than the initial reissues, as many of the sounds and instruments are brand-new. Also, the initial SACDs were only two-track, so there is another reason to get excited. Outside of Criterion's Blu-ray and/or DVD of Gimme Shelter and the Rolling Stones at the MAX DVD, nothing has been available by the Stones in 5.1 as stand-alone music (with a nod to Martin Scorsese or Stanley Kubrick using their classics with the greatest impact in film). This Maxi-Single makes for a fun novelty at best, and a sonic curio to boot.

That leaves little not covered, outside of the other albums in their entirety. Their Satanic Majesties Request (1967) is our oddest omission, as the band tries to go Psychedelic. Some of those tracks are on the London Years set, so you might try them out there before jumping in, as it remains one of their most controversial works artistically. Some love it, others feel it was a huge mistake. Otherwise, ABKCO succeeded in saving this catalog, which was sounding warped and brittle in many cases, including the initial CD releases back in 1986.

The two-channel DSD tracks are now the high watermark with which to judge playback of material from that period in 2.0 SACD (or DVD-Audio) playback. Vinyl has been inarguably challenged for good. The later recordings are only equaled so far in the SACD format by Mobile Fidelity's remarkable reissue of Isaac Hayes' Hot Buttered Soul (also reviewed on this site), but we expect more equally impressive offerings from that time soon.

These Rolling Stones' SACDs are as incredible as you have heard, and when the 1970s albums get issued in SACD and/or DVD-Audio, this is going to be a tough act to sonically follow. Since we are talking The Rolling Stones, however, nothing would surprise me.

- Nicholas Sheffo


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