5 Essential Rolling Stones Bootlegs
‘Get Your Leeds Lungs Out’ has finally gotten an official release, but there are still plenty of high quality unofficial live recordings to dig into
Given that the Who’s Live at Leeds is, by just about any estimation, one of the half dozen or so greatest in-concert albums in rock & roll history, it feels a bit cheeky suggesting that it might not even be the best one recorded in Leeds. But if you’re into bootlegs, you’ve known for some time that the Rolling Stones had one of their finest nights in that same place where the Who all but bodily launched themselves into the hard rock canon. That performance is captured on a bootleg called Get Your Leeds Lungs Out, one of those field documents that can inspire all sorts of arguments amongst the cognoscenti.
You might, for instance, declare that recording from March 13th, 1971 the best thing the Stones ever did – suck it, Beggars Banquet – even though they couldn’t be arsed to put out this singular document that melds grace, raw power, heartbreak, the soaring dual-guitar attacks of Messrs. Richards and Taylor, and the piss and panache of Mick Jagger in a manner quite beyond any official Stones product.
But if you’ve never wandered down the bootleg rabbit hole and were curious, the Stones’ Leeds set has finally gained its sanctioned release on the Super Deluxe Edition of Sticky Fingers, tucked away on disc number three. This is the Stones saying farewell to England – thank the taxman for that – in a club setting, minus the outright terror of 1970’s Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out, amidst a whole lot of bendy flow and slinking grooves and country nods bestride shuffling blues and torquing rhythms.
“Dead Flowers” is the kind of Stones song that no one calls an out-and-out classic, and yet it seems to rate as a favorite for many people, listeners who, doubtless, would want this killer live version. It kicks off everything here, Jagger giving voice to the pain of unrequited love in the clipped country accent of a Southern trucker, while Mick Taylor’s guitar lines flow like liquid citrine underneath.
We’ve clearly joined the gig in medias res, but that simply serves to make everything feel more lived in, more like an experience and less like a straight-up show. “Stray Cat Blues” is full-on, glorious salacity – the line about a friend with an even wider, well, orifice, has a Chaucerian vulgarity to it that Jagger clearly relishes here – whereas “Love in Vain,” has what might be the best solo Taylor ever uncorked, and comes off like something dredged up from the deepest loam of the Delta.
And then there is “Satisfaction,” a number that, back on the 1969 tour, was like some asp taking musical form on the stage, with that attacking, slithering riff, and just having at you. Here, remarkably, it’s a Slim Harpo groover, a rare blues shuffle in which every part is clearly delineated, from Charlie Watts’ backbeat to the scud of Bill Wyman’s bass, to the tandem guitars, to Jagger’s horn-like vocal, which plays off the original 1965 single’s horn-like riff. Come the closing romp through Chuck Berry’s “Let it Rock,” it is balls-on-the-table time, and a self-referential directive to basically rock harder than anyone else could. Call it a mighty, Leedsian reckoning. These are the Stones you need to hear.
On that score, here are five other stellar selections from that live bootleg basement, spanning the band’s glory run, from its early days to the Exile era.
‘Live! On the BBC’ (1963 – 1965)
The Beatles get almost all of the pub for their enormous bank of on-air BBC recordings, but the Stones were often in fine fettle themselves in the early 1960s for Auntie Beeb. The surviving material is nowhere near as copious as with the Beatles stuff, so no real need to cherry pick. Take it all in, from a cover of Arthur Alexander’s “You Better Move On” – which is both their silkiest and siltiest rhythm and blues – to a shit-stomping surge through “Hi-Heeled Sneakers,” to a neatly confident version of “The Last Time.”
‘In Action’ (1966)
1966 was a strange time for live rock: Dylan had his best ever tour, the Beatles called it quits, the Yardbirds played on incongruous teenybopper package tours and Cream and Hendrix were just getting going. And, oh yeah: the Stones rocked the hell out of Hawaii in June. The Stones’ ’66 sound was unlike any they’d feature in their career, all metallic and streamlined, a sort of futuristic blues. It’s hard to imagine them doing “Paint It Black” live, but you get just that in Honolulu, plus little blasts of otherwordliness in “Mothers Little Helper” and “19th Nervous Breakdown.” Stones set lists don’t get rarer than this one.
‘A Rolling Stone Gathers No Moss’ (1967)
Or do they? Come the next year, when everyone, Stones included, was up to all manner of high-falutin’ studio legerdemain, the Stones played Paris in the spring and attempted to recreate the horn dog bonhomie of “Goin Home” on the stage. There’s also a version of “Let’s Spend the Night Together,” another mega-rarity, and “Ruby Tuesday,” about as tricky a song from their catalog to try live. And while the Summer of Love was drawing nigh, Jagger sounds, at times, as if he’d like to punch someone in the throat.
‘San Diego ’69’ (1969)
The Stones’ 1969 tour produced both Ya-Ya’s and Live’r Than You’ll Ever Be, one of the essential early boots, recorded in Oakland, but their November 10th San Diego set is every bit as good. Yes, the sound is boxy, but nothing is going to rein in something like this version of “Sympathy for the Devil.” Richards solos first, then Taylor, and the coda that comes swaggering out of that badassery might be the most intense thing they ever did.
‘Philadelphia Special’ (1972)
Documenting two July Philly gigs from 1972, the bootleg Philadelphia Special is that other Stones recording you could put up there with the Leeds set as being of a piece with any of the band’s top records. The Stones are careening awfully close to the edge here, playing faster than they had since the pilled up days of their molten early blues experiments, but now there is dexterity, and a lot of it comes from Mick Taylor. “All Down the Line” torches the Exile version, ditto “Rip This Joint,” and “Bye Bye Johnny” is this boot’s Chuck Berry valentine to match Leeds’ “Let It Rock.” Ain’t nothing you can bring that you can bring harder than this.