Cocaine Eyes and Speed-Freak Jive: The Sticky Fingers Reissue

The Rolling Stones are the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band ever. You could argue against this point, but you’d be wrong.

Look no further than the new super-deluxe reissue of Sticky Fingers, the penultimate album of the Beggars Banquet, Let it Bleed and Exile on Main St. quartet that pushed the Stones from rivals of the Beatles to unquestioned kings of the music world.

This was a time when the Stones were considered dangerous, drugged-out, Devil-sympathizing sexual conquistadors brazen enough to employ the Hell’s Angels as concert security.

By 1971, Brian Jones was dead and with that so was the Stones’ wandering esoteric tendencies. In his place was Mick Taylor and the world’s greatest lean, greasy blues-rock outfit.

The Sticky Fingers reissue captures the band at this moment in time, a band firing on all cylinders, building toward the creation of the band’s masterpiece, Exile. The single-disc remaster reveals nothing new and the 2-disc edition shows this a little bit, but it’s the 3-disc super deluxe (a better purchase from iTunes or Amazon MP3 for roughly $25 than the $500 box set) is where it all comes together.

For a band that’s such a successful commercial entity, the Stones really pull no punches when it comes to re-releasing material. The Exile reissue had a second disc of previously unreleased/newly recorded material. I scoffed at the Some Girls one; the band mined all its unused material from that for its next 3 albums. But somehow, it was a worthwhile endeavor and the extra disc of songs were solid,  a nice addition to the Stones’ recorded output.

There’s a dearth of unused songs for Sticky Fingers. The bulk of them were already tweaked and used for Exile, so the 5 tracks of demos/alternate takes of “Brown Sugar” and “Wild Horses” on the 2-disc aren’t really of any interest to a non-devotee. The second half of the second disc, is 5 tracks recorded live at the Roundhouse in London. It’s the sound of a band firing on all cylinders. The only problem is, 5 songs just isn’t enough.

Cue up the third disc, the previously unreleased Get Yer Lungs Out! live album recorded in Leeds in ’71. If there is one Stones recording every rock fan should own, it’s this. Mick Taylor blasting away potent leads. Keith cementing his status as the Human Riff, locked into Bill Wyman’s fleet-fingered bass playing and Charlie’s urgent, rhythmic drumming. They’re rollicking and rocking, driving forward with the type of hip-swiveling groove that only a stiff could resist. And there’s Jagger, owning the stage. From the stage banter to the vocals and leading the band, he’s the quintessential frontman, the preening, charismatic hyperactive leader of the best act on the planet.

The set is short on hits; the band had ditched the bulk of its mid-’60s material by this point in favor of newer material. But this is the Stones that mattered, the one with a 1972 tour of the U.S.A. equally known for its musical transcendence as its debauched excess. It’s also the most relevant and best material of the band’s career. The years prior were a build to the moment in time where this line-up could be the most potent rock juggernaut on the planet. The years subsequent were muddled by too much coke (Mick), too much smack (Keith) and a rejiggering into the biggest rock brand on the planet (sorry KISS).

It’s not that the Stones were bad after this. There’s really only a couple downright awful albums in the discography and most of them range from good-to-great. It’s just that after this, the Stones no longer defined the zeitgeist; they became a band following it, sometimes with great success and sometimes not.

But if you want to hear a band at its life-altering zenith, this is it. This isn’t the Stones as old legends almost dead. It’s the Rolling Stones your parents grew up with and crushed beer listening to and the one your grandparents warned them about leading to their moral decay. Do yourself a favor and give a listen to music in all its primal, carnal glory.