Summer, Time for the Rolling Stones

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Looks the same but doesn't sound the same!

In the past five years or so, as the landscape of the music business has changed, it has been interesting to see how classic artists like the Rolling Stones have responded to the new environment. The way people buy, consume and tell their friends about music has been completely overhauled since the Stones released their last studio album, “A Bigger Bang” in 2005, companies like Amazon, Live Nation and iTunes have been gathering data on their customers while creating new and more convenient ways to spend money with them, devices have become “smart” and the advent of social media is not insignificant either.

But the Rolling Stones have been utterly consistent on one note: they put albums out at the beginning of the summer usually, and as a result I associate their music with freedom, fun and rebelliousness. They don’t have a “Night Moves,” but many of their songs mention summer.

Of course, I have left out the aesthetic considerations of the band’s fans and how they perceive them. In my opinion, the second twenty years of their career have been pretty weak creatively. I have seen every tour and listened eagerly to albums for a shred of credible music (two or three songs at most per album). It’s hard not to think of the new Exile on Main Street reissue out of the context of their recent activities. They have certainly rode every wave of music marketing before finally resorting to the Deluxe Edition – this is the first time the Stones have issued any “extra tracks” after the fact (“Voodoo Lounge” and others had extra cd tracks, and “After the Storm” was an early promo download from iTunes).

We have seen them use the fan club with exclusive ticket rights, post tour photos and live recordings on their sophisticated home page, and I have probably 200 emails from them on file offering Rolling Stones wine and very ugly t shirts. I hate to say it, but their best works over the past 20 years have been the live album “Stripped” and the film Shine A Light.

It’s possible some of the hardcore fans are losing interest in seeing explosive stages and the same 8 songs to end every $200 show. I am personally right on the border – I was a fan when the Stones put out their last good studio album, Tattoo You, and saw the last tour where you could look forward to the new songs. On the last tour, the band performed a “T.O.A.S.T.” of venues (Tour of Arenas, Stadiums and Small Theatres) at country club prices. After a visit to Muddy Waters’ dilapidated home in Chicago, I remarked to a friend that the Stones should take it on tour as a t shirt shop.

In other words, the Stones bring out the fan in me, followed a few months later by the cynicism their lack of grace inspires. It really sucks not being able to get into the small theater shows. At Roseland the corpulent Frank Callari was headed in when we saw him, and at the Beacon Theater, President Clinton left his event through the front door. At least he said “I’ll try” when I asked him for some extra tickets.

Exile on Main Street Reissue continues the Rolling Stones’ relationship with their fourth record label, Universal Music Group which began with the Shine A Light soundtrack. The company has the best reissue/catalog department in the business, and this album signals that the Stones are beginning to tend to their legacy. I was particularly impressed to see Mr. Richards giving a message to Yankee fans at a recent game from the massive scoreboard between innings as part of a Best Buy campaign.

In a few recent books, such as “A Life on the Road” and “According to the Rolling Stones,” the band has started to tell their story, and we will soon be treated to Mr. Richards’ autobiography, written with the assistance of Nick Kent, who remembers parts of his life better than he does. Keith Richards is one of my heroes and I can’t wait to hear his account. He is not into lying and as opposed to Mick, still seems to have the musical/writing mojo (Mick sure has the performing mojo though). The Keith-Stones songs on the past few albums are the highlights I mentioned earlier, and their inclusion on the Sopranos was possibly the biggest creative achievement of the band in the 21st century.

So what’s the deal with Exile and its extra tracks? The improved sound quality is excellent albeit disconcerting for people who have heard the stuff a thousand times. As far as the extra tracks, the shards and jams culled from over 300 hours by Don Was are compelling but we need more. We can be sure that they digitized or archived all the material, so why only let us hear a smidgen? The net and social media create a great opportunity to pull in fans, so why not stream all of it? The Beatles “Fly on the Wall” cd that came with “Let it Be Naked” was pretty damn interesting… wouldn’t you want to hear the Stones chopping it up at Nellcote?

Mick Jagger added some vocals and trite lyrics to these old jams, the best result being “Plundered My Soul.” Has anyone else noticed the only emotional vulnerability he puts out has to do with young women and the sincerity of their interest in him? He is a Scrooge, eh? His political commentary is lacking too. And the Keith songs would sound great with him singing, but there’s the rub, eh?

Loving Cup (Alternate Version)

Please enjoy the magic of the Stones performing “Loving Cup” in this alternate version and then buy yourself a(nother) copy of the album. It’s our duty to give the Rolling Stones as much money as possible!

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