If, like me, you wrote off the Rolling Stones a long, long time ago—hell, I didn’t even like Some Girls, which in effect means I think the last great Stones LP was 1972’s Exile on Main Street—you most likely consider Mick and Company as little more than a longstanding joke. You know, The Steel Wheelchairs tour and all. And you’ve probably asked yourself when they intend to finally hang it up and retire to their respective tax shelters, to spend their time getting total transfusions of young blood so they can live to be 147.
Because they’re old, goddamn it, and you’d have to be some kind of fanatic to buy any of their recent product, which leaves us with the question: The Stones—what are they good for? Absolutely nothin’, I would have said as recently as last week. Then I accidentally happened upon their 1995 live LP, Stripped, and I was shocked. Flabbergasted. Because the damn LP is good. They play the songs well and sound like they’re actually putting in an effort, and they don’t come across as a mediocre cover band playing their own material, which is what I would have predicted of any live Rolling Stones LP recorded after, say, 1985 at absolute latest.
A word of caution: when I say this is a live LP, it comes with one huge caveat. To wit, 8 of the album’s 14 songs weren’t played in front of an audience, but were recorded live in studios in Lisbon and Tokyo. To the Stones’ credit, it’s hard to tell the tracks apart, although there’s no mistaking the opening track, “Street Fighting Man,” for a studio endeavor. It’s raw and admirably raucous, with lots of great guitar and piano, and Mick’s voice is still as strong as in days of yore. No Dylan-like voice death for Jagger; he still slurs and preens and knows his way around a wry sexual innuendo, and the band is better for it.
Speaking of Dylan, they follow “Street Fighting Man” with “Like a Rolling Stone,” recorded at a London concert, and I’ll be damned if they don’t pull it off. The organ is perfect, Jagger sounds great on the verses, and the choruses are shout-alongs of the type first introduced by Dylan and the Band when they performed the tune during their live tour of 1974. The only false step is Jagger’s harmonica solo, which staggers along like Mike the Headless Chicken, who if you’re not familiar with his work I advice you to immediately look him up on Wikipedia.