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The Rolling Stones: The Rolling Stones in Mono (Abkco)

Sep. 6, 2016
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Phil Spector was right: mono was better, at least in rock and pop. But by the mid-1960s rock albums were being released both in mono and stereo versions despite the often-shallow sound and dubious quality of stereo separation in that era. Until the last years of the decade, most of the 60’s greatest music was originally recorded in mono with stereophonic tinkering added later.

In 2009 The Beatles in Mono gathered everything the quartet originally released in mono into a magisterial CD-box set. This year, it’s the Stones’ turn. The Rolling Stones in Mono amasses 150 tracks on 15 CDs. One of them, Stray Cats, is a collection of intriguing rarities such as “As Tears Go By” sung in Italian.

The curators of In Mono had the good sense to include separate discs for the U.S. and U.K. versions of albums such as Out of Our Heads and Aftermath, whose contents were significantly different. The transfers to CD are crisp and often more powerful and reverberant than the versions usually heard.

And that music is still worth hearing. The Stones stumbled toward their own identity on early recordings, valiantly trying to emulate their American blues and R&B heroes, knowing they could never quite recreate those sounds with full authority and realizing soon enough that they had to reach for their own sound.

The Stones began their claim to distinction with “The Last Time” (1965), featuring chiming guitars and vocals that reached for ecstasy. “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” (1965) became the Stones’ signature, a bemused protest against the artificially-induced desires of consumer society set to wiry fuzztoned lead guitars and a relentless drumbeat. Poetry came to play on “Play with Fire” (1965), a sinister Baroque masterpiece of barely restrained menace unlike anything previously heard in popular music. The anguished “Paint It, Black” (1966) fused rock and raga as Mick Jagger’s vocals shifted effortlessly between Oriental modes and a hard rock rasp.

And on it went, a remarkable sequence of great singles such as “19th Nervous Breakdown” (1966), “Mother’s Little Helper” (1966), “Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow?” (1966), “Let’s Spend the Night Together” (1967) and “Ruby Tuesday” (1967). Although frequently derided, even by the author of the booklet accompanying In Mono, Their Satanic Majesties Request (1967) was a remarkable excursion into psychedelia and marked the birth of space rock. Beggars Banquet (1968) shifted to hard rock with country and blues roots and included “Street Fighting Man” and “Sympathy for the Devil.”

Although the Stones reached new pinnacles of popularity, most of their best music was already behind them after the early ‘70s. The Rolling Stones in Mono is a great place to gather most everything you’ll ever need to hear by the group once known as “The World’s Greatest Rock’n’Roll Band.”

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