The Best Studio Album The Stones Never Released
First published February 2008
Hillside Blues – Vinyl Gang Productions VGP 214 2CD set (1999)
For the true Stones obsessive (and we are many) it is extremely frustrating that Mick Jaggers obsession with proving the Stones continued relevance appears to preclude any reappraisal of their glorious past. Their peers seem to manage it with the Beatles, Who and Led Zeppelin all exhuming their vaults to both critical acclaim and financial benefit.
Where Jagger does have a point is that few bands current output could withstand comparison to the golden era of Beggars Banquet. Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers and Exiles on Main Street. All four were released between December ‘68 and May ‘72, a period of unparalleled creativity for the band. Along the way much good studio material was recorded but not released and it is this treasure trove that VGP have investigated with Hillside Blues. The 30 tracks here are not quite definitive – an inexplicable omission is Did Everybody Pay Their Dues? (an early version of Street Fighting Man) and there are some interesting alternate versions not represented here such as the version of You Got The Silver with Jagger on lead vocals (Keith’s is better). However Hillside Blues represents the most compact and concise over-view of this era to date, and all in stunning sound quality. It certainly dwarfs authorised Rolling Stones collections as Metamorphosis and Rarities, the latter being so uninspired it could be prosecuted under the Trades Description Act.
CD1 is a re-release of the Trident Mixes collection and thus features new-boy Mick Taylor extensively and to great effect. He is all over opening track Jiving Sister Fanny and the guitar interplay on I’m Going Down and Stevie Wonder’s I Don’t Know Why is first rate. The latter has a particular place in Stones history as it is the track that the band were recording at Olympic Studios in Barnes when word came through of Brian Jones death. The other stone-classic on this disc is a 9.46 slow blues version of Two Trains (aka Still A Fool). Originally written by Muddy Waters in 1951 the band turn in a great two-guitars-one-harmonica performance along the lines of Little Red Rooster and too few others. “Essential” opines Martin Elliott in his definitive study ‘The Rolling Stones – Complete Recording Session’ (Cherry Red, 2002). The rest of the disc is largely instrumental, with occasional guide vocals from Jagger on Travellin’ Man. These tracks allow Mick Taylor to stretch out and he is excellent throughout – the track Leather Jacket later popped up again on his solo studio album.
CD2 is a collection of out-takes and alternate versions associated with the Exiles LP. Your companion to untangling the history of these tracks should be John Perry’s essential book in the Schirmer Books Classic Rock Albums series (1999). In general the versions here are simpler and less overdubbed than the tracks that were officially released. The demo for All Down the Line is just Keith Richards acoustic with an occasional guide vocal from Jagger and it totally rocks. Good Time Woman is an early version of Tumbling Dice taken at a faster pace with new lyrics. Loving Cup is a revelation – an exuberant vocal from Jagger (who actually sounds pissed) and terrific interplay between the two lead guitars and Nicky Hopkins sparkling piano. This track really swings. The previously unreleased tracks Hillside Blues, Highway Child and I Ain’t Lying do not disappoint in such illustrious company.
Stones fans should not be denied material of this calibre. We’ve all paid through the nose for records, gigs, travel and (in some cases) ludicrous baseball caps – now is the time for a sensitive re-release programme which pairs each official LP with a companion CD of out-takes and alternates. Get Rhino to do it. I’ll do it. But this stuff demands to be heard.