(Pictured: the Stones rehearse in 1978.)
Some of the most interesting listening on my car travels comes when I fill up the CD bag in a hurry. On a recent trip, I carried the Rolling Stones compilation Rewind: 1971-1984. It’s a best-of that came out in 1984 as one last cash grab by Warner Brothers and EMI at the end of their distribution deals with Rolling Stones Records. Two years later, it became the first official American Rolling Stones release on CD, and I’m pretty sure it was among the first CDs I ever bought. What follows is a ranking of the tracks on the album.
13. “Undercover of the Night.” Even as I recognize that the Stones are playing the hell out of this, I can’t claim to like it.
12. “Miss You.” You’d have to go back to 1964 or 1965 to find Stones music that sounds as dated as “Miss You.”
11. “Hang Fire.” This is fine. It’s down here because I like other things more, that’s all.
10. “Beast of Burden.” I have nothing against this song either. This list is a numbers game.
9. “Emotional Rescue.” When I was writing for WNEW.com a few years ago (in a post that’s no longer available online, and I have no offline copy of it), I called this one of the world’s worst songs. The only thing I remember saying about it is that Mick sings it like he’s being squeezed through a door. I wish I could remember the rest, because when it came up in the car the other day, I didn’t mind it all that much.
8. “Angie.” This song is a mess, really. The lyrics make no damn sense at all, and the way Mick turns “Angie” into three syllables–“ah-EEN-jeh”—has grated on me since 1973. But on a gray morning recently, when I wasn’t all that thrilled with the prospects of the day, it sounded different. I had never felt the pain in it quite so vividly—pain not so much in Mick’s voice, although it’s there, but in the acoustic guitar, piano, and the aching chorus of strings that underpins it—and it knocked me sideways.
7. “Start Me Up.” If you wanted to prove to somebody that nothing else sounds like prime Rolling Stones, this might be the song to play first. And you might need only the introduction to get the point across.
6. “It’s Only Rock and Roll.” All of these songs sound great on the radio, but if we were ranking them that way, “It’s Only Rock and Roll” would be higher than #6.
5. “Waiting on a Friend.” The best and most sincere love song the Stones ever did, and it isn’t about a woman.
4. “Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker).” Maybe the most menacing thing they ever recorded apart from “Gimme Shelter.” The introduction is what it sounds like when something is chasing you in a nightmare, and the nightmare doesn’t stop until the record is over.
3. “Fool to Cry.” Rewind is sequenced effectively, rockin’ for seven tracks, then backing down with “Emotional Rescue” and “Beast of Burden” before getting to this. I could listen to that ghostly electric piano for half-an-hour, except the sadness of it would drive me away long before that.
2. “Brown Sugar.” For a long time, I have ranked “Brown Sugar” as the greatest of all Rolling Stones singles. It’s everything that makes them great in three minutes and 51 seconds—a sound nobody else could get and a lyric of unparalleled sleaze, especially for a #1 song. But listening to it in the context of Rewind, I came to a different conclusion.
1. “Tumbling Dice.” Where “Brown Sugar” is the Stones rockin’ hard at full throttle, “Tumbling Dice” is the Stones, well, stoned—we’re invited to a party that’s been underway for a while, with wine and weed and girls and gambling, four things Mama told you to stay away from. It’s a groove I could live in for days. And ever since the summer of 1972, when this first hit the radio, I have wondered: what the hell did Keef do to his guitar to get the sound of that opening riff?
Rewind is a mighty enjoyable 55 minutes, although I would have included “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” the only Top 20 Stones single from the 1971-84 period missing from the disc. (Trivia footnote: the Stones would make the Top 20 of the singles chart only twice more after 1984: with “Harlem Shuffle” in 1986 and “Mixed Emotions” in 1989.) The album has become a collector’s item, out of print and long ago replaced by other Stones compilations.