Rolling Stones – Steel Wheels Monitor Mixes 1989 (RS 0806)

Steel Wheels Monitor Mixes 1989 (RS 0806)

Air Studios, Montserrat Island, West Indies – March 29th to May 5th, 1989

(80:00) Sad Sad Sad, Hearts For Sale, Almost Hear You Sigh (Keith on vocals), Call Girl Blues (aka As Break The Spell), Continental Drift, Fancyman Blues, Blinded By Love, Hold On To Your Hat, Steel Wheels (aka Between A Rock And A Hard Place), Can’t Be Seen, Mixed Emotions, Slipping Away, Ready Yourself (instrumental), Terrifying, For Your Precious Love (Jerry Butler cover version)

Although many older bands had “comback” albums released in the late eighties and early nineties, none were as successful commercially and artistically as The Rolling Stones’ Steel Wheels.  For an artistic direction they chose to emphasize the style of their greatest material.  And instead of trying to keep up with the current style as they had been doing for well over a decade, they returned to the classic Rolling Stones sound.  Jagger and Richards are shrewed enough to not simply try to rehash past glories, but remain true to their strengths in establishing music with a strong groove and crunchy guitars to produce their strongest album since Tattoo You.  (Not to say Undercover and Dirty Work are worthless however.  Both certainly have their strengths).

Writing and rehearsing for the album began a year before the album’s release to the public.  It began in mid-August, 1988 in Jagger’s castle in Loire Valley, France and in London.  Demos began to be worked on in mid-January 1989, January 29th to February 6th, and from February 13th to March 22nd in Blue Wave Studios in Barbados.  The recording of the new songs was between March 31st and May 2nd, 1989 in Air Studios, Montserrat, Virgin Islands with overdubbing and mixing done from May 15th to June 29th in Olympic Studios, London, England and June 16th and 17th at Palace of Ben Abbou, Tangiers, Morocco.   

Three tracks from these sessions, “Mixed Emotions,” “Hellhound On My Trail” and “Rock And A Hard Place” (from the unissued video footage) were included on the rare Alternatives (Outsider Bird) release.  But when this eighty-minute tape first surfaced in 2006 it contained much longer and interesting mixes in superior sound quality.  Since these are altnerate mixes of the final product, they seem to date from the Olympic Studio session where they mixed the album.  In general, the drums and guitars are mixed up higher than on the final product making it sound much more powerful and punchy.  It is no exaggeration to say these is the most significant Rolling Stones outtakes to surface in years.  Many different silver pressings exist including Steel Wheels Primitive Mixes 1989 (IMP-N-007), Steel Wheel Sessions (G.R.160), Steel Wheels Monitor Mix (Halycon), For Your Precious Love (Dog N Cat DAC-051), Monitor Mixes 1989(Rattlesnake RS 186) and Steel Wheels Outtakes (SODD-011-SS-L071-1811).  All of them are similar in sound quality.  Steel Wheels Monitor Mixes 1989 is, judging by the sequence of the tracks, a one-off duplicate of Halcyon.

Since this is a copy of the Halcyon, they chose not to alter the sequence of the tracks according to its commercial arrangement.  The major overall difference in the mix is stated above, but each individual tracks has some variations worthy of note.  “Sad, Sad, Sad” has a count-in at the beginning and lacks the exciting horn arrangements in the melody which punctuates Mick’s “sad, sad, sad.”  “Hearts For Sale” also has a count-in but lacks the awesome guitar fade-in which was added by the end of the sessions. “Almost Hear You Sigh” was originally an outtake from the Keith Richards X-pensive Winos solo sessions. The Steel Wheels version features Mick on vocals, but this outtake has Keith singing his own composition.  

“Call Girl Blues” is the working title for “Break The Spell,” the penultimate song on the album.  It is the same cut as the commercial version except has an additional forty seconds in the end with extended jamming.  “Blinded By Love” has a count-in and runs slightly slower than the commercial version.  “Between A Rock And A Hard Place” is listed under its original title “Steel Wheels” which gave the name to the album.  It is the more commercial song of the set with the late eighties synthesizers and back up singers.  “Mixed Emotions,” the album’s biggest hit, is slightly longer with extended jamming at the end.  The tape ends with two outtakes in excellent quality.  “Ready Yourself” is a mid-tempo rocking, very catchy instrumental with the full band and “For Your Precious Love” is a cover of the tune sung by Jerry Butler.  The assessment of this collection’s worth is definitely accurate and any of the mentioned titles are worth having. 

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