Just when you start to think that Rhino is the only company that knows how to do the box set thing, along comes ABKCO Records with their entry in the definitive statement sweepstakes. In this case the statement in question is in regard to the classic live Rolling Stones album Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out from 1969.
Exactly how do you build a big fancy box set out of a single disc live album from 40 years ago? Well you start by remastering the original tracks. Then you dig up five previously unreleased tracks from the Madison Square Garden shows that didn’t make the original cut, and make them your second audio disc. The sets by the show’s stellar opening acts, B.B. King, and Ike and Tina Turner, have never been released before, so you make those Disc Three.
You’ll need a DVD, so grab that footage from the Maysles brothers (who also made the tour documentary Gimme Shelter), which includes full-length versions of the five newly released Stones tracks, and some behind the scenes stuff. The songs are great, but the opportunity to see Mr. Watts interact with the donkey with whom he’d eventually share the album’s cover is priceless, and the footage of Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin backstage at the Garden is touching. Less than a year later they would both be gone. Watching the Stones and the Dead in a parking lot in San Francisco waiting for the helicopters that would take them to Altamont is simply chilling. Finally, you’ll need a book, and ABKCO have filled their 56-pager with an essay from tour photographer Ethan Russell, and the original Rolling Stone album review by the great Lester Bangs. In between all the words, publish some interesting photos, including one of the album’s original cover.
All of the pretty pictures and pithy writing in the world aren’t going to save your box set if the music isn’t there. So what about it? Does this set deliver the goods musically? Let’s see, you’ve got what was then the world’s greatest rock and roll band at the very peak of its pre-Altamont powers, and not one, but two legendary blues/r&b acts who were perhaps best known for bringing it in a live setting. Unless someone has an off night, you can’t miss. No one did.
The Stones are to be commended for always being sure to give the artists who inspired and influenced them the opportunity to be seen by a larger audience. The problem was that these opening slots were often thankless jobs. The crowd wasn’t there to see the “warm up” acts, no matter how accomplished they were, and they were often jammed onto the front of the stage in front of the Stones gear, and didn’t get the really good sound and lights, which were reserved for the headliners. I’ve personally witnessed artists like the Foo Fighters, Counting Crows, Living Colour, and Alanis Morrisette getting short shrift as Stones opening acts. Fortunately, it’s not necessary to sit next to some impatient, unappreciative dolt while listening to this collection (unless you want to), and you can really appreciate the greatness of B.B. King, and Ike and Tina Turner. With all due respect to the Stones, their sets, although too short, are a major reason to own this.
The Stones of course acquit themselves admirably. Brian Jones had been asked to leave the band, and subsequently died earlier that year, and his replacement, Mick Taylor, returned the band to their blues roots. The stakes were high. This was the Stones first U.S. tour since 1966, and the first where the crowd would actually listen to them. There’s a reason why Lester Bangs thought that Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out was the “best rock concert ever put on record.” In those days there was a palpable sense of danger in the air (along with a lot of pot smoke) when you went to a Stones show, and that’s here in all its satanic majesty. Hopefully you’ve heard this album several hundred times and you don’t need me to explain it to you. It’s beyond explanation anyway. When you look up rock and roll in the dictionary, there should be a picture of Keith Richards at this show. I honestly can’t tell you if the remastering of the original album tracks has made a difference. This music was grungy, is grungy, and should be grungy. How’s this; it sounds good to me. Any track will do as an illustration, but “Live With Me” has that Stones swagger that we all love. Enjoy.
The first two of the previously unreleased tracks that populate Disc Two feature Mick and Keith playing the acoustic blues songs “Prodigal Son”, and “You Gotta Move.” From there the band moves quickly to the misogynist anthem “Under My Thumb,” followed by “I’m Free,” and their massive hit “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” Each is a strong performance that does nothing to detract from the glory of the original album. In fact, I find it kind of surprising that it took this long for these tracks to surface. There is nothing second-rate about them.
1969 was a strange, beautiful, and terrible year. As I said earlier, Brian Jones died that year. Man walked on the moon. The Beatles gave their last performance on that rooftop in London. The Woodstock Nation was born in August, and a little more than a week after these shows were recorded in New York City, died in the cold night air of Altamont, California. But Get Yer Ya-Ya’s out is not some dry historical document. It is living, breathing companion piece to one of rock and roll’s greatest tours, as undertaken by the form’s greatest practitioners.
[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/UE222wH5eRk" width="600" height="344" allowfullscreen="true" fvars="fs=1" /]
[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/AVNglcyqiS0" width="600" height="344" allowfullscreen="true" fvars="fs=1" /]