PAINT IT BLACK, YOU DEVILS The Rolling Stones

As Get Yer
Ya-Ya’s Out! and related artifacts
demonstrate, in 1969, the Stones were at the peak of their powers.

 

BY HAL BIENSTOCK AND FRED MILLS

 

In 1970, legendary rock critic Lester Bangs correctly called
The Rolling Stones’ Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out “the best rock concert ever put on record.” And although the ensuing four
decades have seen the release of scores of genuinely classic live albums, the
Stones title continues to be ranked highly among critics and fans alike. It’s
undergone several iterations over the years, including an initial appearance on
CD in ’86 and a 2002 release as part of Abkco’s remastering of much of the
band’s back catalog – there have also been bootleg editions boasting alternate
sleeve art and bonus tracks – thus ensuring its enduring appeal.

 

With Abkco’s new 40th anniversary deluxe reissue of Ya-Ya’s, Stones collectors get the
chance to open their wallets yet again. But how does a label improve upon the “best”?
How about by adding five songs, a 56-page hardcover book full of photos and
memories, and a DVD that includes not only performances but rare backstage and
offstage footage of the band and friends like Jimi Hendrix and the Grateful
Dead, all shot by Albert and David Maysles for a documentary project that would
eventually morph into the film Gimme
Shelter.
Not good enough? Maybe we’ll also throw in live sets from the
opening acts – B.B. King and Ike & Tina Turner.

 

Put simply, this beautifully packaged box sets the standard
for what a reissue should be.  It sounds
great, and the music it documents has lost none of its power. This is the
Stones at their peak, when they truly earned the title of the world’s greatest
rock ‘n’ roll band. Raw, sexy, powerful and dangerous – they were everything
rock ‘n’ roll should be.  Are there minor
quibbles? Sure. The mix on B.B. King’s set could be better. And rather than
give the Stones’ five unreleased live tracks their own disc, it’d be nice to
have them sequenced as they were in the original show.  (Plus, with only 18 minutes of music on that
disc, would it have killed Abkco to throw in a few extra songs from another gig
on the tour?) But in the end, it’s tough to complain about a new look at an
essential piece of history. It won’t come cheap (figure in the $50 range), but
the new version of Ya-Ya’s is
something every music fan should own.

 

The album and the circumstances surrounding its release are further
steeped in rock lore. It documented the Stones’ 1969 U.S. tour – yes, that tour, the one which wound its way
to the fateful Dec. 6 Altamont concert that
resulted in a homicide and was subsequently depicted in grim detail in Gimme Shelter. Eight of the ten original
Ya-Ya’s tracks were culled from concerts
at New York City’s Madison Square Garden on November 27 and 28, while two songs,
“Love in Vain” and “Street Fighting Man,” were recorded in Baltimore Nov. 26 (a
good account of the album can be found at Wikipedia). And as a summation of
where the band was at in ’69 – relying primarily, performance-wise, on Beggars Banquet- and Let It Bleed-era material, arguably the Stones’
greatest studio albums – it fully supports the Bangs assessment.

 

Ya-Ya’s, however, might never have happened had it not been for the late ’69 appearance of
a Stones bootleg titled LiveR Than You’ll
Ever Be
. Along with Bob Dylan’s Great
White Wonder
, the white-sleeved/rubber-stamped album was one of the first
rock boots, and it was notable both for its sound quality and its timing: as
outlined in Clinton Heylin’s exhaustive ’94 book Bootleg: The Secret History of the Other Recording Industry, the
Nov. 9, 1969, Oakland Coliseum Stones concert was recorded using top-notch gear
and then rush-released before Christmas in order to capitalize on the
still-lingering hoopla about the tour and Altamont. LiveR was an immediate sensation, even meriting a rave Greil Marcus
review in Rolling Stone (“the most
musically exciting record I have heard all year, fully the equal, in its own
way, of Let It Bleed“), thereby essentially forcing the hand of
the Stones’ label London/Abkco to accelerate the timetable for its own LP from
the tour (while additionally sending out a phalanx of lawyers in an attempt to
track down the bootleggers).

 

LiveR caused
such a stir, in fact, that there was
even speculation the Stones themselves were ultimately behind it, a notion that
the Heylin book firmly debunks but nevertheless still makes for a good campfire
tale. Recounts Heylin:

 

“It was
common knowledge in the industry that the Stones’ relationship with Decca (and,
in turn, London
Records) had long passed breaking point… The Stones had already decided to leave
the label after they did one final album – a live collection from their U.S. tour. What
better way to deflate the potential demand for Decca’s album than to pre-empt
it with a bootleg version? Certainly when the official version eventually hit
the racks, after overdubbing and rejigging in the studio had diminished some of
the authentic live feel,
[Ya-Ya’s] lacked some of the vitality and freshness of [LiveR].”

 

By Heylin’s estimation, LiveR went on to sell in the “tens of thousands,” no doubt making it one of the
best selling bootlegs of all time. And though not as sonically pristine as Ya-Ya’s (chief among its flaws are tape
saturation on vocal peaks, and a few dropouts), its visceral power is
undeniable – potentially, in Clinton’s
words, “a more authentic take on the Stones live in ’69 than Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out!, with its retinue
of post-production credits.” And like
Ya-Ya’s, over the years it has enjoyed
periodic revivals, including a remastered 30th Anniversary Edition
in 1999 by an underground Stones specialist label, the evocatively-named Turd
On The Run. Pressed on a gold CD as part of TOTR’s Original Master Series of
classic reissues, this 16-song LiveR was
subjected to some digital-era wizardry by legendary boot producer Cool Cool
Hand, who cleaned up the drop-outs and provided significantly better
equalization. A great bootleg summarily got better, and LiveR stands as a crucial companion piece to its officially-issued
sibling.

 

Returning to Ya-Ya’s for a moment: once the record industry entered the digital era, Stones
aficionados quickly decried the so-so sound of the 1986 Abkco reissue compared
to the original vinyl LP; as with many first-generation CDs, analog-to-digital
mastering technology was still in its infancy (check an MCA Who or Capitol Beach
Boys title from the mid/late ‘80s for some truly egregious examples of how not to make a compact disc). 2002
brought the above-mentioned, and welcome, Abkco remasters – there’s no
noticeable sonic difference between the 2002 and 2009 reissues, although of
course the 40th Anniversary edition comes with all the extras – but
in the meantime, another bootleg operation had stepped into the gap with its
own take on Ya-Ya’s. The SLK label’s version
purported to be “remastered” (in the absence of the actual master tapes, more
likely it was just some innovative deployment of software; regardless, the boot
sounded superb), and it added four bonus tracks: “Prodigal Son” and
“Satisfaction,” both from Madison Square Garden Nov. 27, and “Under My Thumb”
and “Sympathy For the Devil” from – wait for it – the Altamont concert. This Ya-Ya’s, along with other proximate high-quality
CD bootlegs such as the DVD-sourced soundtrack to Gimme Shelter and the Risk Disc label’s Queenie LA (from the Nov. 8 Los Angeles Forum concert), unquestionably
played a part in perpetuating the admittedly not-unwarranted mystique
surrounding the band and its epochal ’69 road trip. To those tape collectors, archivists,
bootleggers and entrepreneurs who over the years have had a hand in all of the
above and more, we Stones fans owe an immense debt.

 

Writes journalist John Carr in the liner notes to the LiveR 30th Anniversary
Edition, “In the winter of ’69 the Stones hit the West Coast like some far-off
English tsunami, blowing away old perceptions and minds like yesterday’s
papers. Every show was sold out in days and a Stones concert ticket was the
hottest ticket in town… This would not be the last time [the Stones toured],
but to many of us the ’69 tour was the best time.”

 

With the existence of time-proven artifacts such as LiveR and, of course, Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out!, it’s easy to
see/hear why. On the latter album, an obviously enthralled young female is
heard blurting out between songs, “Paint
it black, you devils!”
She’s obviously invoking the song “Paint It Black” – but here, it sounds like a command for all
posterity. Stoned, even.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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