Thursday, 30 October 2014

10 Best Rolling Stones Live Tracks - Mick Taylor Years 1969 - 1973

The Rolling Stones in 1969

This selection of 10 (mostly unreleased) Rolling Stones recordings grew out of my last Rolling Stones at Chess Studios post. As I said there, the Rolling Stones are unique now in that unlike their contemporaries, the Beatles, Who, Byrds or Beach Boys, there are no official box sets or anthologies of unreleased gems, alternate takes or killer live material. However this doesn't stop the spread of some really classic material doing the rounds on the internet.

So, looking at what's available on Youtube, I decided to compile some of my favourite live Stones cuts recorded between 1969 and 1973 when Mick Taylor was the lead guitarist. Many, including myself, consider this period to be the band's most creative period. Taylor added a virtuosity they had previously lacked. In the 5 years he spent with the band, they recorded a string of albums which are now considered some of the band's finest - Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main Street, Goats Head Soup, and It’s Only Rock’n’Roll.

I also think that this was their peak as a live band. In the five years that Taylor was with them they went form being a band that was coming out of semi-retirement (as a touring band) and had to prove themselves to American audiences on the 1969 tour to "the greatest rock'n'roll band in the world" of the early 1970s.

Here are some recordings from the classic 69 - 73 Taylor years - mostly unreleased - which would surely gain a place on any Rolling Stones boxed set anthology.

1. Brown Sugar (with Eric Clapton on slide guitar) - December 1970
Raw and fairly rough sounding. Probably recorded on18th December 1970 at Olympic Studios in London at Keith Richards' birthday party.  It was a toss up which version to release. I think the band made the right decision as, although this version probably wins out on energy, the single version swings with a leaner, funkier feel.

2. Cocksucker Blues 1969
Not strictly live I know. Submitted as the band's last single for Decca in 1970. With a title like that the label understandably didn't want to know. Even so the band had fulfilled their contract and could therefore move on to a new deal with Atlantic which gave them their own label and greater control.There are a number of alternative versions of this knocking about including a full band version. I think this early version is superior if only for Jagger's vocal.

3. I'm Free - Live in Oakland. 1969 Tour of USA
From the "LiveR Than You'll Ever Be" bootleg - one of the first rock bootlegs ever released and still one of my favourites. Like most of the recordings from this tour, it has quite an informal feel and Jagger seems quite chatty.

After three years away the band have to work surprisingly hard to get audiences up and on their feet. A lot had changed since their last US tour in 1966 and the Stones now had to prove they really were “the Greatest Rock’n’Roll Band in the World” and could match the incendiary standards of the likes of the Who, Hendrix, Cream or San Francisco bands like the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane.

Although terminating in the disastrous Altamont festival, the tour was highly successful and put the band back on the rock royalty center-stage along with Dylan, The Who and the recently separated Beatles.

Originally released on 1965's Out Of Our Heads LP this version of is slower and has a pretty nifty Mick Taylor solo.

4. Roll Over Beethoven - Berlin 1970
Very few recordings of decent sound quality survive from the short 1970 European tour. Here is a revived and rather rough sounding Roll Over Beethoven. Keith takes the solo and the band rip through it and give it the definitive 1970s Stones raunch'n'roll

5. (I can't get no) Satisfaction - Leeds 1971
The Live at Leeds boot contains some of the best music the band have ever recorded. I have discussed its merits in more detail here  The Rolling Stones' finest hour - "Get Yer Leeds Lungs Out" This slowed down but mightily funked up version of Satisfaction is a highlight.
Sublime.The band at their peak.

6. Love In vain (Madison Square Garden, NY) - 1972
The 1972 US tour was an infamous, wild, drug-fueled ride through an America that had turned cynical and and pessimistic. The 60s dream was over. The Stones chaotic free concert at Altamont in 1969 had even, in part, helped to kill it. The band played amphetamine fueled 90 minute sets that tore through the songs and left everyone breathless, including Mick Jagger, who seems to bark out the words to many of the songs instead of singing them.

The singer may sound bored and the rhythm guitarist is starting to feel the effects of his heroin habit but new addition Mick Taylor comes into his own on this tour. His playing on the 69 tour seemed tentative but throughout the 72 tour he plays with total authority. On this version of Love In Vain he plays a stunning solo - both soulful and precise - and far superior than the one on 1969's Get Yer Ya-Yas Out.

7. Gimme Shelter - Philadelphia 1972
An absolutely breathtaking Taylor solo. A band at their live peak.
Listen to it twice. Both early and late sets. It's like having the inside of yer head tickled...

8. Bye Bye Johnny - (Madison Square Garden, NY) - 1972
More from the MSG show. Jagger introduces the band. Keith just can't wait - the band rip into it and the first one to the finish is the winner....

9. Midnight Rambler - Brussels, Oct. 17, 1973 (first show).
By the 1973 European tour the band had added Billy Preston to the touring party and were on the verge of sounding slick. Midnight Rambler is taken and breakneck speed and Mick Taylor spits fire.

10. You Can't Always Get What You Want - Brussels, Oct. 17, 1973
I have seen the band play this song with Ron Wood and, compared to this version, it just seems an overlong rambling directionless mess to me.

This, thanks to Mick Taylor and Bobby Keys' sax solo, is majestic.

More stranger than known
The Rolling Stones' finest hour - "Get Yer Leeds Lungs Out"...

Key To The Highway - The Rolling Stones at Chess Studios 1964 and 1965

The Faces BBC Sessions - 5 Guys Walk Into The BBC....

Amazing Journey - The road to "Live at Leeds". The Who Live in Philadelphia 19/10/1969


  1. Beating this to death, but Taylors' STRATOSPHERIC soloing in '71 "Love In Vain" London Roundhouse & Leeds are (both) far superior and nowhere near so "tired of it" as this sounds (by comparison). This is pretty good; those are gloriously majestic.

  2. 10. You Can't Always Get What You Want - Brussels, Oct. 17, 1973

    You're right about this one; this is about as good as it ever got for the Stones live, though Sympathy for the Devil at the time of Altamont is still about as haunting.

    It's never been said, "Taylor left because Bobby Keys OD'd after abruptly quitting the band and leaving Australia," and having been comatose for quite a while (as poignantly recollected in Bobby's own autobiography - he no longer remembered his own home address for MONTHS) "since once Keys had endured brain damage the band was forever mangled."
    This is probably truer than anything ever suggested, and Keys beautiful sax here and on Sweet Virginia especially is proof positive. Jagger for sure and Richards likely as well were specifically aiming for/achieving a "stax horns sound" for years (also according to Bobby) and with the utterly brilliant Keys we know they had achieved that - and even more.
    What would YOU do if your band was forever stripped of it's ultimate arrangement? Maybe hang on a bit longer? With Keys gone the dream was dead and never returned. One HELL of a ride nonetheless and most of us rode along with, soon as "Sympathy" struck, hanging on for dear life, all the way through Goats Head Soup.

    Richards & Taylor & Keys
    took no prisoners, and left no quarter, ever, ever again.
    True, Watts & Wyman were generally one HELL of an engine, but upon Keys eventual return he was merely a shadowy semblance of his former self; everybody knew it, including Mick Taylor, by the time of GHS.