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The Rolling Stones — Hyde Park Legend 1969 Complete Edition (Goldplate GP-1303CD1/2)

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Live At Hyde Park, London, July 5, 1969. CD ONE (66:08): Introduction (by Sam Cutler), Excerpt From Adonais (Eulogy For Brian Jones), I’m Yours and I’m Hers, Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Mercy Mercy, Stray Cat Blues, No Expectations, I’m Free, Down Home Girl, Love In Vain, Loving Cup, Honky Tonk Women, Midnight Rambler, (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, Street Fighting Man.

CD TWO (67:12): Sympathy For The Devil, Backstage Rehearsal (I’m Yours and I’m Hers), Introduction (Alternate Edit Version), I’m Yours and I’m Hers (Edit Version), (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction (Edit Version), Sympathy For The Devil (Edit Version), TV News Report, Stones In The Park Radio Special, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Sympathy For The Devil (Frost On Saturday TV), You Can’t Always Get What You Want (David Frost Show TV).

The Rolling Stones’ July 5, 1969 concert at Hyde Park holds a special place in my heart and head. No, I wasn’t there (I was a mere sprout discovering The Monkees an ocean away) on that sad day of soul searching 44 years ago, when the Stones swooped onto the stage to pay tribute to their fallen founder, Brian Jones, who had died scarcely 48 hours earlier. I wasn’t there to witness the Stones at their most maimed – aside, of course, from the nightmare of Altamont that was to arrive a mere five months later. I wasn’t there to hear the almost desperate grasping-for-meaning amid the stabbing, frequently out-of-tune guitars. I didn’t catch one of Mick Jagger’s dead-on-arrival butterflies from a box, and I didn’t hear his impatient call for silence from the restless crowd as he attempted to eulogize Brian by reading an excerpt from Percy Shelley’s poem, “Adonais.”

I wasn’t there, but after all these years I can still hear that show (and, with my mind’s eye, see the packed-park panorama) vividly, because the Hyde Park concert was the first Stones bootleg LP I ever bought as a teenager, more than 30 years ago. At first glance, it seemed an inauspicious totem. The LP cover consisted of nothing more than a washed-out orange-red Xerox slip sheet featuring a primitive pic of Mick Jagger working the crowd in his white frock. The LP inside was no less rudimentary – a blank label save for the hand-stamped logo of some label ludicrously called Wisconsin Cheese Records. And the sound itself? Even cruder than that cover. I was excited and enthralled, instantly in the throes of this new, strange and secret world — of both the Rolling Stones themselves, and the shadowy labels that captured the raw energy of the band as living, breathing magicians of riff and attitude.

What I didn’t fully grasp then, however, was how important a document that record was. Despite the woefully under-rehearsed performance by its headlining principals (yes, there were other bands that played that day), the Hyde Park concert was as historically momentous as the performance itself was not. The show was professionally recorded and filmed, and attended by hundreds of thousands of people – the crowd estimates kept climbing as the hype kept building –  and the event has since passed into rock & roll legend, if not myth. (So much so that tickets for the Stones return to Hyde Park this July for two shows celebrating their 50th anniversary sold out within minutes – and at slightly higher prices, we might add).

As an opening salvo that prefaced their legendary 1969 tour, Hyde Park – which had been planned weeks before Jones’s death (but after his departure from the band that June) – came at a critical juncture in the life of the group. The Stones hadn’t toured as a working unit in three years (which, back then, was an unthinkable stretch of time in the fleeting, fickle world of pop). And in the time since their 1966 U.S. tour, they had been beset by drug raids, work visa problems, and the lukewarm response to “Their Satanic Majesties Request,” an LP ridiculed as an inferior copycat of the Beatles’ magnum opus, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” right down to its psychedelic garden-party cover.

Miraculously, they had managed to not just bounce, but pounce back with what still might be their best album, “Beggars Banquet,” in the winter of 1968. A mere seven months later, they released the epochal “Let It Bleed” in the summer of ‘69. They had a lot of  new material, a new Wunderkind lead guitarist in Mick Taylor, and a new mission to show both off  to a public hungry for their return. And then Brian Jones, whose creative energy and musical acumen had been emaciated by, ironically, all manner of bloated excess, fulfilled the fatal prophesy those around him feared. On July 3, 1969, the onetime leader of the Rolling Stones was found drowned in his swimming pool at his home at Cotchford Farm, Sussex, an estate once owned by “Winnie-The-Pooh” author A.A. Milne. Shaken but stirred to action, the Stones nevertheless decided the show must go on.

And so too have the recordings of that show gone on, and on. By our accounts, nearly three dozen unofficial/semi-legit and even official versions of the concert – on LP, CD, VHS, DVD, and Blu-Ray – have surfaced and circulated among collectors and historians around the world. There have been some good audio titles by the likes of labels like Living Legend, VGP, and Swingin’ Pig, among others, that have utilized very good mono recordings, stereo soundboards taken from FM radio broadcasts,  and even a Granada television special that aired at the time.

This latest entry, entitled “Hyde Park Legend 1969 (Complete Edition),” is certainly one of the best and, yes, most complete editions of the concert ever assembled in any format. Issued by the increasingly impressive Goldplate label, which recently weighed in with “Double Door Club Gig,” a definitive CD/DVD version of the Stones’ 1997 stand at Chicago’s Double Door (which we recently reviewed for CMR), this two-disc set likewise stands as a solid upgrade to most of what’s out there. Or at least an upgrade to the dozen or so titles we’ve heard since those halcyon Wisconsin Cheese days. And its four-page booklet and tray card of color and black-and-white photographs from the show are a definite improvement over that homemade Xerox.

“Legend” offers the complete 14-song concert in very good, raw-but-clear sound with a couple of caveats (one of the few drawbacks, for example, is a multiple source matrix of “[I Can’t Get No] Satisfaction,” whose various vantage point punch-ins and splices are a bit distracting and off-putting; honestly, we’d rather have one consistently sourced, if muddy, version of the song, but to each her own). But overall, part of the rawness of this Goldplate release has less to do with the quality of the available recordings than the Stones’ own rough sound and rusty performance that day.

Jagger even apologizes, sort of, after the Stones stagger through a lurching “Loving Cup” (a song that would not be properly heard for three years until its release on 1972′s “Exile On Main St.”; here Mick introduces its title at Hyde Park as its oft-booted title, “Gimme A Little Drink” ). “We hope we get better as we go along,” Jagger says late in the set before the lads launch gamely into the then-new single, “Honky Tonk Women,” whose gin-soaked barroom queen was taking Mick upstairs while the tune climbed the charts.

In addition to containing a slew of interesting bonus cuts, disc two rounds out the complete show with the debut public performance of “Sympathy For The Devil,” a scintillating 18-minute finale that Mick introduces as a “samba” replete with Ginger Johnson’s African Drummers and percussionist Rocky Dijon (who plays on the studio track).  Given the gold Stones standards they would become, it’s exhilarating to hear nascent new material like “Sympathy,” “Midnight Rambler,” and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” – tracks that would come to define the Stones’ identity and make their live legend – played in front of an audience for the very first time. “Midnight Rambler,” especially, is a treat to behold, as Jagger introduces the song as something new “you haven’t heard before.”

Already at this early stage, we hear that “Rambler” has been radically reworked and  reconstituted, morphing from its beginnings as an insular, claustrophobic studio track into a heavier, sprawling thing of stealth and beauty. The guitars growl like crouching tigers that lunge with claws out, while Mick prances, preens, and plays cat and mouse with melody, rhythm, and his bleating stabs of harmonica. Just like that, the faux James Brown and Otis Redding microphone moves are no more.

“Didja hear about the Midnight Rambluh?” Mick queries the unsuspecting throng. Well, here I am. This track may represent the very moment (along with the “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” promotional video) that rock’s quintessential frontman first fully inhabits the stage personae he would alternately refine, dilute, and exaggerate throughout the ‘70s and beyond. Thankfully, as presented on “Legend,” the sound is quite good, full, and robust for the duration of this watershed moment.

Also interesting on “Legend” is hearing the Stones limbering up with early, Brian-era works like Don Covay’s “Mercy Mercy” and Alvin Robinson’s “Down Home Girl” with their still mint condition new guitarist, Mick Taylor (his first public appearance on stage with the band) in tow. Though Taylor, like the rest of the band, is heard still finding his footing and figuring out his role as Keith Richards’ new foil, he turns in a lovely and sure-handed slide guitar solo on the tragically underheard “No Expectations” – whose pathos takes on added dimension of poignancy given the circumstances of the previous days. We also hear the premiere of Robert Johnson’s “Love In Vain,” which would soon become a Stones tour staple and blues showpiece for Mick and “little” Mick.  Disc two includes sounds of the Stones backstage rehearsing their opening number, Johnny Winter’s “I’m Yours and I’m Hers” – reportedly one of Brian’s recent favorite tunes – as an uncredited narrator describes Taylor as their “nervous” new guitarist.

There are also a handful of alternate edit versions of songs on disc two that, to our ears, do not sound dramatically different from what we hear on the first disc (but warrant further inspection), plus we also get a vintage TV news report on the concert. The real bonus here, from an archeological standpoint, though, is the inclusion of a brief  but incisive six-segment radio special that carries commentary and interviews from the festival’s organizers and observers. Though the source of the special is uncredited, a BBC program is probably not too terrible a guess.

But wait, there’s more! A pair of David Frost television appearance selections – the aforementioned “Sympathy” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” (which the Stones were then promoting as the B-side to the new “Honky Tonk Women” single released that month) – are presented in their truncated-for-TV form. Both tracks feature live vocals from Mick and canned instrumental backing tracks, which was customary for the time. In addition to having excellent sound, these era-appropriate addendums make for nice time capsule mementos.

So too is this set from Goldplate a nice memento and valuable keepsake of a bygone time and pivotal moment in the band’s history. Although we can’t help but wonder why, given all of the video footage of Hyde Park available from both legitimate and nefarious sources, that a simple DVD of the show was not included – especially given the “complete edition” tag in the title, and Goldplate’s admirably comprehensive CD/DVD treatment of the Stones ‘97 “Double Door Gig.”  The Frost TV appearances would have been nice too. But still, given those early Wisconsin Cheese days of faded photos and muffled audio, “Legend” is akin to a fresh white frock – and has a lot more life than those poor butterflies.

 

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The Rolling Stones -- Hyde Park Legend 1969 Complete Edition (Goldplate GP-1303CD1/2), 5.0 out of 5 based on 7 ratings