Graded on a Curve:
The Rolling Stones,
7″ Singles 1963–1966

As far as reissues and archival releases are concerned, The Rolling Stones are clearly on a roll. Hot on the heels of the group’s lauded Live at the El Macombo release comes what must be considered one of the best reissue packages from the group in its entire career.

This limited-edition mono box contains 18 seven-inch discs that are either singles or EPs. The set includes both UK Decca Records releases and US London Records releases. The music was remastered by Bob Ludwig and engineered by Sean Magee at Abbey Road Studios. The music was taken from the original analog tapes that were transferred to digital files, although the digital transfer has not in any way been a deterrent. In fact, most of the UK singles and EPs, although a bit different from the original seven-inch releases, sound great and the London US discs in many instances sound better than some of the originals. Still, one wonders why the discs weren’t cut directly from the analog tapes.

The physical discs were manufactured at MPO, the legendary and long-running pressing plant in France. The discs are flat, sturdy, thick, flawless slabs of pristine plastic that will sound great and last forever with the proper care. As for a few minor quibbles, there are no inner sleeves included, and the jackets for the UK Decca releases are not laminated, and the EPs do not have flip-back packaging. In fact, although the replication of the original art of the generic Decca sleeves and picture sleeves is done well, it is not an exact duplication in many instances. All the contents are housed in a sturdy box and the package also includes five photos, a poster and a 32-page booklet.

The poster is of a photograph that became the first major break for a Town and Country magazine staffer named Linda Eastman, who would eventually marry Paul McCartney. The photos, including the one which became the poster, were taken on a boat docked off of a Manhattan boat basin in June of 1966. They launched Eastman’s esteemed career as a rock photographer, which led to her brief time as the house photographer at the Fillmore East. Unless the photo was from another photographer, which is doubtful, oddly, she is not credited in the booklet’s notes.

As most fans and collectors know, all of the group’s Decca/London recordings constitute the group’s entire recorded output from the time of its first recording through the last recording they made before Sticky Fingers in 1971, which was the group’s first album for its own Rolling Stones Records, distributed by Atlantic. Allen Klein bought the Decca/London recordings from Andrew Loog-Oldham and his Impact Sound in 1968.

The records here primarily represent three very distinct periods in the earliest primarily studio recording years of the group’s singles. There are the first recordings, which were covers of American rock ‘n’ roll, R&B, and blues; the group’s first forays into songwriting, primarily by Mick and Keith; and the first flowering of the group’s songwriting that signaled a major British force was just starting to hit its stride.

A further characteristic of this period was when the group began to take songs written by other artists and made them their own, most notably “Time Is on My Side.” It also marked the first time Jagger and Richards wrote a song that became a big hit for another artist, “As Tears Go By.” While the Stones’ version was excellent, it became a big hit for Marianne Faithfull.

Lastly, it’s interesting how this group, considered after its initial R&B period as being part of the British Invasion, recorded some of its best music of the era covered here at two American studios: Chess in Chicago and R.C.A. in Hollywood.

It’s sweet to have several singles here presented in their UK and US editions—as is the case with “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and “Get Off My Cloud.” The two editions feature different B-sides and the US version includes a picture sleeve. US fans will particularly delight in being able to own the three British EPs from the group: “The Rolling Stones,” “Five by Five,” and “Got Live If You Want It!”

This is one of the best reissues/archival/box set releases of the year and, given that it is a limited release, it would be wise to get one before they are all gone. If that isn’t enough, there will be a part two next year. That box will cover the years 1967–1971. This will start with the singles that the group recorded that benefited greatly by the maturation of Jagger and Richards as songwriters and the innovative and diverse musical colorations Brian Jones brought to the group’s music.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A

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