The Rolling Stones — Secrets Travel Fast (Scorpio/Bad Wizard STF-1970 1)
Tracks 1-5, 7-12 Live at Palais de Sports, Paris, France, September 23, 1970; Tracks 6 & 15 Live in Malmo, Sweden, August 30, 1970 (1st show of tour, only 1970 live performance of “Gimme Shelter”); Tracks 13-14 Live in Germany; Tracks 16-18 Live at the Saville Theatre, London, England, December 14, 1969.
DISC ONE (76:35): Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Roll Over Beethoven, Sympathy For The Devil, Stray Cat Blues, Love In Vain, You Gotta Move, Dead Flowers, Midnight Rambler, Live With Me, Let It Rock, Little Queenie, Brown Sugar, Honky Tonk Women, Street Fighting Man, Gimme Shelter, Satisfaction, Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Carol
The Rolling Stones era that was ushered in at the dawn of the 1970s signified a seismic shift in what the band was about to become – and not a moment too soon for those who were trying to survive and shake off the bloody hangover of Altamont, the Stones included. If the 1969 U.S. tour marked the band’s triumphant return to stages as a potent live act with a new guitarist after the death of founding member Brian Jones, the ensuing decade would see the group expand on this premise and embrace its new identity as touring spectacle and semi-autonomous global brand.
With the just-turned-21-year-old humble hotshot guitarist Mick Taylor in tow, the Stones embarked on a 21-date European Tour in the autumn of 1970, after working on what would be the landmark “Sticky Fingers” album, which would see release the following April. Despite the adversity of having to break in a new guitarist after Jones’s demise and then cope with the fallout from the carnage and chaos of Altamont (not to mention Hell’s Angels’ leader Sonny Barger’s bounty on singer Mick Jagger’s head), all that playing had made the Stones a tough, taut unit indeed. But alas, in 1970 they were also a curiously, and unfortunately, under-documented one.
As many collectors know, there is a pitiable dearth of high – or even decent – quality concert recordings in existence or circulating of those crucial European tour dates (this holds even truer for the 1971 “Farewell To England” shows). While it’s true that both the niche and market for unofficial concert recordings was still in its infancy (with Bob Dylan’s “Great White Wonder,” the Stones’ “Live’r Than You’ll Ever Be,” and Led Zeppelin’s “Live On Blueberry Hill” being the benchmark vinyl documents of the era), the hoopla surrounding the Stones’ ‘69 return to form seemed to capture the attention of enterprising concert-goers with hidden tape recorders far more than the group’s ‘70 jaunt did.
As a result, most of the precious few 1970 tapes that exist found their way onto vinyl decades ago and center around a small sample of dates (most notably the October 7, 1970 West Germany shows that make up Dittolino Discs “In Concert” and Rubber Dubber’s and Trademark of Quality’s double and single-LP versions of “European Tour 1970″). The remainder of scattered shows have often been distant and muddy affairs; make-do recordings meant only for completists (like me) who were willing to settle for even sonically substandard documents of that pivotal 1970 tour, which, incidentally but not insignificantly, was the first to feature the horn section that would become a stage staple for the next forty-plus years.
The scarcity of available 1970 audio alone, for me, would be reason enough to rejoice in (or, at least, applaud) the release of Scorpio/Bad Wizard’s “Secrets Travel Fast,” which presents most of the band’s September 23, 1970 performance at the Palais de Sports in Paris. This makes for only the fifth release in four decades, by my count at least, that contains any or all of this particular Paris show (the second of three shows the Stones performed at the Palais de Sports). And as we’ve all found out the hard way over the years, a lack of quality as well as lack of quantity has always been a bane of the band’s unofficial 1970-71 recordings.
In strict terms of its sound quality alone, the music on “Secrets Travel Fast” doesn’t quite measure up to Scorpio’s typically tasty full-color tri-fold packaging (which even comes with — for geeks like me who notice such things — a facsimile on the silver disc label of the astrological “Leo” sign Jagger wore on his chest during the ‘69 U.S. tour). But as pure, elemental sound and essential music – not to mention a rare slice of history – this release more than deserves the finery accorded it. “Secrets” maximizes what (so far) has been available for the era, and delivers a very punchy, if somewhat blunted, mono recording of the band just starting to hit its stride in the Taylor era.
Various underground discography sites claim this to be a soundboard, but the mic echo on Jagger’s between-song banter and slight muffle of the band suggests that this is actually a high quality audience recording made from close to the front of the stage, a la “Live’r Than You’ll Ever Be.” Then again, this is the same show – purportedly from the same tape source – that had been originally aired as a French radio broadcast, so perhaps it is a soundboard source from back in the day. Either way, this is close to the best we’re likely to get unless the Stones have something better in their vaults – and are willing to open them (as they have begun to with other, long-bootlegged releases).
Overall, the listening experience here is akin to the crudely satisfying pleasure of cranking either your old “Live’r” or Rubber Dubber vinyl on the hi-fi, standing directly in front of the speakers, and enjoying the mono wallop to your solar plexus. “Secrets Travel Fast” is superior-sounding to Vinyl Gang Product’s long out of print “Some Like It Hot,” the only known release to carry the complete September 23 Paris show, albeit with “Honky Tonk Women” and “Street Fighting Man” utilized from another audience tape source in inferior quality.
On this new offering, Scorpio/Bad Wizard eschews the available iffy audience recordings of those two tracks in favor of good quality versions from the Stones’ September 18 West German date (found on both Godfather’s “West German Roll Over” and Dog ‘n’ Cat’s “Germany 1970″). In a curious move, however, “You Gotta Move” and a very muffled “Gimme Shelter” (in its only performance from the ‘70 tour), both from the first date of the tour kickoff on August 30, 1970, are sandwiched into the set, breaking up the continuity of the Paris concert. It’s a bit of editorial license (the source dates are duly noted on the back sleeve), but perhaps the intent here was to offer a composite representation of a near-complete 1970 set list, including songs that were performed elsewhere. (The band did perform “Prodigal Son” on their final night in Paris; however that song is not included here).
In this regard, “Secrets Travel Fast” works well as a snapshot and compendium of the rarely heard and sketchily documented 1970 tour, despite the occasional odd substitutions and subtractions. The performances themselves are tough, knotty, and white-knuckle powerful; the sound of a willfully old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll band forging new territory.
Although the opening cut, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” at first sounds murky and distant, with Jagger’s vocal buried under the guitars, voice and instruments (or perhaps the taper’s machine) soon sort themselves out, and come into somewhat sharper focus. By the time Chuck Berry’s classic “Roll Over Beethoven” kicks in – a rarity by Stones standards that was only previously played live in 1963 and ‘64 and then revisited on this tour before being jettisoned for good – the Stones are in full saunter and swing. It’s the sound of a band reaching back and reveling in their roots even as they stride forward and fuse new and old sensibilities.
In fact, we get no less than three Keith Richards-led Berry numbers here, including “Let It Rock” and “Little Queenie,” which sound great but quaint, as if beamed in from an earlier innocent age of sock hops, soda fountains, and repressed libidos. The teenage time warp is especially apparent when those numbers rub shoulders (and other body parts) against the decidedly more decadent lyric tableaus of then-new original material such as “Live With Me” from the apocalyptic “Let It Bleed” LP and “Brown Sugar,” the barn-burning opening salvo from “Sticky Fingers” that was still some six months away from rock radio dominance.
On “Sympathy For The Devil,” the Richards-Taylor tandem gets its ya ya’s out in a blaze through the hell of history before giving way to the salacious carnal strut of “Stray Cat Blues” which, to my mind, is one of the greatest underrated but quintessential Stones tracks of all-time. Anchoring the middle of the set, “Midnight Rambler” assumes its new and rightful place as a crimson-lit stage centerpiece; and the nascent yet full-throttle “Brown Sugar” gives the audience a teasing taste of the greatness of a new era already underway. Taylor’s sublime lead work and soloing comes through the mix prominently and is a thing of sinewy beauty throughout.
The substantially flawed final tracks, taken from a December 14, 1969 concert at the Saville Theatre in London, are compelling, if tantalizingly frustrating. Without exception, they sound like stunningly terrific, genuine soundboard sources – Jagger’s howling, prime-time vocal is crisp and full of throaty bravado; Taylor’s and Keith Richards’s electric guitars sound feral and fluid, like twin flames lapping at each other’s gasoline-fueled fire; the rhythm section of drummer Charlie Watts and bassist Bill Wyman propels and pushes everything forward. This crystal clear segment, which practically leaps from from the speakers, makes everything I’ve heard on the disc up to this point pale sonically in comparison.
But – and this is a very big but – aside from “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” whose thrilling energy easily rivals the more commonly heard New York/Baltimore/Oakland versions, both “Satisfaction” and “Carol” are maddeningly incomplete and contain jarring cuts and/or skips. In both cases, the recording jumps in after the songs have already begun, and fades out before they’ve finished. It’s a tough, bitter pill to swallow given the wondrous clarity and diamond-hard splendor of the sound — a terrible taunt, really. But out of necessity, perhaps, I take a hard gulp and remind myself of something somebody once said about diminished expectations and pragmatic compromise: You can’t always get what you want. But sometimes, you get what you need. And for those of us who need our 1970 prescription filled, “Secrets Travel Fast” is a very good fix indeed.If you liked this review, buy me a cup of joe. (Suggested: $3 a shot or $7.5 for a double)The Rolling Stones -- Secrets Travel Fast (Scorpio/Bad Wizard STF-1970 1),