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The Rolling Stones

The ABKCO Reissue Series (ABKCO)

Reviewed by Kent H. Benjamin, Fri., Dec. 13, 2002

Phases and Stages

The Rolling Stones

The ABKCO Reissue Series (ABKCO)

This fall, ex-Stones manager Allen Klein and his ABKCO label reissued the first 22 Stones albums. Great pains were taken to find the master tapes for the finest possible sound (remastered regular and SACD layers on each disc), with all the fake, reprocessed stereo tracks replaced by either mono or true stereo (a dozen for the first time). Their earliest material doesn't benefit greatly from the process, as now you can hear mistakes and poorly recorded bits, but the later material and the early stuff cut in the States now sounds fantastic. Unfortunately, ABKCO chose to reissue each album in its original packaging with no extras, and these are all 30-minute CDs. As with the Beatles, the Stones' U.S. label chopped up the original British albums from 1964 to 1967, producing for the most part a substantially inferior but more numerous product in the States. Fortunately, now you can buy four of the original British versions for the first time in the States: Out of Our Heads, Aftermath, Between the Buttons, and the decade-spanning rarities collection, Metamorphosis. Out of Our Heads is the culmination of the Stones' early soul/R&B sound and sounds remarkably fresh in its original presentation. Aftermath, from 1966, is the first album composed entirely of Jagger/Richards compositions, and at over 54 minutes (the longest pop album ever at the time), it remains one of the band's finest artistic achievements, finally available in the superior British version (easy to tell by the purplish cover). The original Between the Buttons is a personal favorite, though some Americans prefer the U.S. version with two hit singles added and three fine LP tracks dropped. The cut-and-paste U.S.-only compilations Now!, 12x5, Out of Our Heads, December's Children (And Everybody's), and Flowers are not worth re-buying, although you must in order to reconstruct the brilliant second British album, The Rolling Stones No. 2, which is unavailable on CD. Hot Rocks exists purely for listeners who want only one Stones album. Big Hits: High Tide and Green Grass and Through the Past, Darkly, the two single-disc Sixties compilations, are necessary purchases to get most of the Stones' original singles in true stereo (many are still mono on these individual albums). The 3-CD Singles Collection: The London Years collects every single and B-side, but it's almost all mono mixes. Beggars Banquet, which rivals Aftermath as their Sixties masterpiece, is available for the first time ever at the correct, slightly faster playing speed. England's Newest Hitmakers, Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out, Their Satanic Majesties Request, and the half-fake live album Got Live If You Want It! sound better but may not be worth the price. Let It Bleed is banded to play with no breaks between the songs, as was originally intended. Best value is More Hot Rocks (Big Hits and Fazed Cookies), which is chock-full of stereo rarities, contains many of their finest songs, is better packaged than any of the other reissues, and contains three tracks never before issued in the U.S.: "Everybody Needs Somebody to Love" (the original five-minute version from No. 2), the mega-rare first version of "Poison Ivy," and a terrific cover of Otis Redding's "I've Been Loving You Too Long," recorded at the same session as "Satisfaction" and previously available only on the fake, overdubbed live album. Beware: Many songs are repeated on these reissues, ABKCO being intent on milking fans for the most cash possible.

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