The Rolling Stones are back with another compilation.
In the beginning, there was "Hot Rocks," a double LP of Rolling Stones gems from 1964-1971 that over four sides collected essential hits from England’s greatest rock and roll band. It was released in 1971, and I found it at a yard sale about half a decade later in southern Illinois when I was 11, bought it for $2 and started listening to it on my older sister’s stereo when she wasn’t obsessively playing the Beatles.
"Hot Rocks" was my first spontaneous music purchase of thousands to follow, and within its 21 songs -- all but a few of which are represented on the Stones’ new 50-track hits collection, “GRRR!” -- lay the secrets of rock and roll to a brain otherwise absorbing the FM radio bands of the time such as Styx, Yes and Queen while attempting to unlock the secrets behind KISS’ masks.
“Hot Rocks” built neural paths in my brain that I still travel daily. These paths eventually gained new conduits when I discovered a second volume, “More Hot Rocks (Big Hits & Fazed Cookies).” It was weirder, more experimental and contained tripped out songs such as “Dandelion,” “She’s a Rainbow” and “Child of the Moon,” which to my still-developing ears sounded as if they had arrived from the cosmos.
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This is a roundabout way of saying that there's a reason to feel invested in yet another Rolling Stones collection. If “GRRR!” snags even one young soul from the all-consuming maw of Beatles fandom -- and yes, the old argument can be an either/or proposition -- it will have served its purpose. (But wasn’t that the mission for the 2002 package “40 Licks” as well?)
Spread over three discs and roughly categorized into what can best be described as “The Formative Years,” “The Great Years” and (in a nod to another compilation) “Sucking in the '80s, '90s and '00s,” the unfortunately named “GRRR!” compiles work memorized by much of the Western world over age 40. Offering 50 songs for the band's 50 years, the compilation includes so much that it’s probably more useful to note the oversights.
Yes, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” “Paint It Black,” “Sympathy for the Devil” and the rest of the baby boomer classics are represented. The first 25 songs, in fact, consist of all the sing-along hits.
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The missing songs from “Hot Rocks” are notable. The first, “Mother’s Little Helper,” is about pill popping moms and the children who love them. The second, the live version of “Midnight Rambler,” is about a serial killer. (Anyone coming to the Stones for the first time with "GRRR!" should download both of these, to further shine a light on the group's insidious allure.)
Compared to another notable Stones collection, “Sucking in the '70s,” the differences are stark. Released in the early '80s, around the same time as the band’s last essential studio album, “Tattoo You,” the record's title seemed a sly acknowledgement of the band’s uneven output during a debauched decade. In that time, the group released classics such as “Exile on Main St.” as well as throwaways such as “It’s Only Rock 'n Roll.”
They adapted to disco and arena rock and alienated some fans with stabs at pop. On “GRRR!,” that era is captured with a much more nuanced selection. From the late '60s country rock of “Wild Horses” through the coked-up disco sounds of “Miss You” and “Emotional Rescue” up to the sturdy rock of “Start Me Up,” the new collection makes a great case for the Stones' late-'70s and early '80s years.
Then there’s everything after that, which on “GRRR!” is confined to the last two-thirds of the third disc. Featuring “She Was Hot,” “Harlem Shuffle” and “Streets of Love,” the songs, while essential in telling the story of a band that has survived longer than most, reveal a truth about the peaks and valleys of musical creativity. Ditto the two new songs, both of which are admirable (if unmemorable) additions that ultimately are relegated to footnote status by the sheer volume of excellence that came before.
It should be noted that an 80-track “super deluxe” version of “GRRR!” is also available with more hits as well as 1963 demos and random extras. Amazon is currently selling it at $145.99, but for that price you can hit a used record store and get the group’s essential studio albums.
That route is money way better spent, for the simple reason that “GRRR!” -- as with many of the other officially sanctioned collections -- tells the popular version of the story. Tucked inside the full-length albums is an entire world of music equally fascinating.
And, sure, what the Stones have done in the last 20 years may pale in comparison to the group's prime, but that is to be expected. No band, not even one as durable as the Stones, can stop the march of time.
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