The Rolling Stones, ‘69RSTrax’ (No Label CD and Soundcraft LP)
Ruby Tuesday (Rock and Roll Circus Rehearsal, December 1968) / Honky Tonk Women (Alt. Lyric version,1969) / Country Honk (Inst. May 1969) / Sympathy For The Devil (Rock and Roll Circus recording, December 1968) / Stray Cat Blues (Instrumental, March 1968 / Gimme Shelter (Keith vocals, March 1969) / You Got The Silver (Mick Jagger vocals, February 1969 / Love In Vain (Blusier version, May, 1968) / Let It Bleed (Instrumental, March 1969) / Midnight Rambler (Instrumental, March 1969) / Gimme Shelter (Alternate, March 1969) / Wild Horses (W/Strings and glass harmonica, October 1970) / Sister Morphine (Longer early version, March 1969) / Brown Sugar (Alternate ‘Hot Rocks’ version (December 1969) / Wild Horses (Alternate ‘Hot Rocks’ version, December 1969) / You Can’t Always Get What You Want (Choir Sessions, March 1969) (79:54)
Right at the very end of the new teens, the afternoon of the 31st of December, 2019, the Rolling Stones launched a fantastic glut of unreleased rarities including both studio outtakes and live tracks to an unexpecting public. As the Beatles and Bob Dylan had previously, the Stones were looking to copyright tracks that had been recorded in 1969, released, in their ‘official’ forms from 1970 onwards, therefore beating suggestion from any grey area markets who might try to contest that these tracks exist somewhere and after the 50 year copyright had elapsed, they were fit for release. Quite how these tracks would be squared off from release (This Variety article goes to lengths to try answer) and what happens to the earlier takes of these tracks remains unclear.
These pieces and concerts were all uploaded to Youtube and were embellished, unfairly, by the label with a squeaking hum running through it rendering them almost unlistenable – However, Mick Jagger being a bootleg observer, if not a fan, might know that there were enough Bootleg affectionados to take the YouTube watermarks to task and to try stripping them back to normality and give them back to the community. It seemed to take until the dawn of the new decade for someone to announce that, simply by running them all through audacity, it was quite simple to scrub the tracks of this whining effect however, it’s not completely without it’s problems as stripping the whine leaves a couple of digital artefacts that are akin to listening to a slightly crinkly cassette tape. Some of these tracks are also overloaded too, very top heavy they at least SOUND like bootleg selections as opposed to polished articles which makes them possibly just that little more cherishable. Bootleg fans of a vintage should be tuned to it, younger ears might find it a little more bothersome It didn’t take that much longer for the silver disk producers and pressers to begin to announce that they were putting the captures out there for all collectors to own. The first label out of the gates were the No Label gang though Moonchild, Wonderland, Mayflower, etc to put out their CDs. Vinyl followed from ’The Holy Grail’ and ‘Soundcraft’, I have in my collection the LP from Soundcraft and the No Label CD – No doubt I’ll be adding (As I have the addiction bug) but this review covers the two versions I currently own.
Obviously being released for their 50th anniversary, the bulk of the tracks span from the album “Beggars Banquet” and their follow up, ‘Let It Bleed’, one track that sneaked through the cracks is a mysterious version of ‘Ruby Tuesday’, recorded on the 8th of December 1968, it’s non-appearance on the recent DVD / Blu-Ray deluxe set is either because – It was found on the racks after the set was pressed or it’s not actually from that time. A polished and bare bones version, Jagger is supported by acoustic guitar and bass for the first verse before being joined by drums and piano. The track wasn’t actually performed on the night, nor is there any notice of paperwork to suggest it was rehearsed later that day or the next. Was it dropped by the fact that Brian was unable to perform for the track or was it usurped by the fact that it might have seemed a little undervalued following the performances by The Dirty Mac or the Who?
‘Honky Tonk Women’ is presented in an alternate lyric version. Turning Mick’s nose blowin’ meeting with the New York divorcee to a much tamer, naked stroll through the boulevards of Paris (In hindsight, it’s a good reason as to why they were dropped). The musicianship is very close to the finished version too. You may have heard this previously on Yellow Dog’s “Black Box”
Next an early instrumental take of ‘Country Honk’ where the instrumentation is so much clearer – Though you might be more used to clutching a tin of Pabst and swooning along with Mick, this is the perfect chance to hear the backing track in motion, without the additional honking overdubs. Little nuances will reveal themselves through a couple of listens, some, such as the acoustic guitar lines and the bassier piano notes are a bit more obvious.
We go back to the “Rock n’ Roll Circus’ for a version of ’Sympathy For The Devil’. Very probably the version recorded at the Olympic studios on the 8th of December. A much more sparse rendition featuring the stumbling bass lines pushed up over Keith’s cranky, improvisational guitar. This starts with a brief scat vocal before a count in before Charlie’s drum intro. It ends with a clattering cold outro before Glyn commends their performance, Mick, in his reply, sounds a little unsure.
Back to the instrumental tracks, ’Stray Cat Blues’ features none of the controversy, more of the power. A rough warm up that features a heavy stomp of energy but still lacks a little extra push that the finished article had. There’s a repeated flourish towards the end of the track as the band look for a way to end it in a satisfactory way.
Finally, a track that has been oft’ bootlegged but never in this good a quality. A version of ‘Gimme Shelter’ but with a Keith vocal. Anyone who’s ever heard this version will have already noted that the guitarists vocals, while pushed to their extent are no match for the spar of Mick and Merry and – While the body of the piece is very much complete – this take is more likely to sate the fans who were annoyed that the Stones decided against inclusion on any deluxe version of ‘Let it Bleed’ but it’s only ever going to be as interesting for completency sake.
A return in favour is the Mick lead, ‘You Got The Silver’, much more serviceable than the previous track, can we assume that this was a trade off after Mick was chosen for ‘Gimme Shelter’. It’s a much closer call to have had this track chosen – Whether it’s familiarity, Keith’s vocal works better, however, it’s much more likely that you’ll listen to this more often than the previous track.
Even more excitingly is the bare-boned, ‘Love In Vain’. A far earlier version than the eventual CV, this “bluesier” version has much more of an air of rehearsal or “just brought to the studio that day” about it. It begins with a little studio ambience before a take call (“Six”) before a quiet count in. Leaner, more acoustically driven, the first verse begins with acoustic and steel guitar before being joined by piano and washboard (This presents itself as the sound of steps on a gravel path)
Another pair of instrumentals are early takes of ‘Let It Bleed’ and ‘Midnight Rambler’. The first, very possibly only a take or so away from the finished article, Mick is still close to the mike in the studio as he appears here in “feeling”, shouting out a couple of non-sequiturs through out the song, there’s the germ of an idea certainly, even if the lyrics weren’t entirely finished already. We begin with a strummed acoustic opener before the rest of the instrumentation drops in. The second is a very short, minute-and-a-half run through before the finished version. “Take 18”, features the body of the piece already intact, however, it’s brevity and lack of vocals means it’s just short of being that interesting in the end.
An early version of ‘Gimme Shelter’ with Mick’s vocals follows. Missing Merry again, this sounds like a slowed up rehearsal again while the band grow accustomed to it. Though it’s nice to hear an alternate vocal from Mick, it’s a shade away from full power. You will hear a few stray piano notes that would be covered up towards the coda, though that’s as close to much more interesting as you might get.
Continuing with early versions, we also have an orchestral version of ‘Wild Horses’, again, it would appear to be apparent as to why it never made the cut, as proud as it sounds, it fails to fit the feel of the album, it is far too slickly arranged, too close to weighted down under it’s own grandiosity. I speak for myself of course but there may be fractions of you who will return to this version a lot more often than I might.
Zipping back to 1969, we have an early version of ’Sister Morphine’. Beginning with the delicate dobro intro, the band slowly warm up in to a bigger, wider sound. This version had originally popped up on Scorpio’s ’Time Trip Vol. 4’ in an edited form but here, it runs for a much longer 7 minutes with a moody jam trailing out the performance.
Also added are the two famous, alternate versions of the “Hot Rocks” mixes, ‘Brown Sugar’ and ‘Wild Horses’. Referred to as the “Shelley” mixes, these tracks have appeared here and there over the years, because of their alternate values. Where ABCKO have botched this arguably is that they have drawn them from needle-drop sources – That said, they must very well have known that these tracks would either be bootlegged again and so by throwing them out there whatever their state wouldn’t matter, alternately as these tracks stood to cover the copy write debacle, the same argument could be made.
The set ends with what could have been the draw for many – a twenty plus minute version of the choral warm up for ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’. Occasionally funny, charming and astounding, it’s great to hear a multitude of things – Just how in awe the choir are of Mick Jagger who is helping the crew through the arrangement, banging on the piano, mimicking his take on the choir itself. Glyn, who’s sat in the booth giving out suggestions as and when they’re required, the technicality of the choir as they in turn rehearse their respective points and where they’re joining in the take, the male voices who are very much overlooked within the CV. Their orchestrator, a very plummy voiced character from an impeachable education feels his way around the instructions too. Ordinarily, 22 minutes of this kind of thing could be massively boring as nowhere within do we have a full take, so the musical attributes are scant. It turns out though, it’s really a rather impressive listen for a fly on the wall recording and one that you’ll find yourself returning to more than a couple of times.
The packaging of the No Label CD is simple but classy (As most of their releases tend to be) – A nice mixture of rare and classic photos (Including one of the choral rehearsal in the inner tray case), the Soundscape LP is a double LP with a very imposing, original band member, ’Through The Past’ image on the front, a colourised Keef on the back. Inside the gatefold there’s a sepia toned montage of studio images along side write-ups of the tracks on the LP – All in horribly garbled English (Guys!) – The LP is strictly limited to 300 copies – The first 100 violet marbled vinyl, the second on red marbled vinyl and the third on blue.
It seems disingenuous to tell you that you need these sets, one way or another, as they’re the best way of picking up these studio sessions (Multi disk sets are also available featuring the rest of the live downloads too, obviously) – These were my choice for collectability, both are commended.