After rapidly selling out yet another UK and Europe stadium tour, now feels as good a time as any to rule the roost over the multitude of Rolling Stones live albums. In vaguely chronological order, here Piers Barber examines the band’s full range of live releases spanning their lengthy career – from exhilarating landmarks to embarrassing cash cows.
Got Live If You Want It!
Its the screaming that really sticks with you from this riotous fan favourite recording – from way back in 1965. The permanent, tinnitus-souding racket of teenage girls is occasionally grating but certainly provides definitive proof of the frenzied reaction the band provoked during their early years. Endearingly chaotic versions of tracks such as ‘The Last Time’ and ‘Have You Seen Your Mother Baby, Standing, In The Shadows?’ are great fun, delivered with a compelling energy by a band who sound ready at any moment to make a run for it as soon as their meagre stage defences are breached by desperate fans. Rating: 6/10
Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out
One of the universally accepted great rock live recordings, Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out is the ultimate document of a band at the peak of their powers sounding oh so urgent, driven and dangerous during their legendary 1969 US tour. Recorded a satisfying length of time before the days of the group’s often characterless arena tours, highlights here include bristling blues in the shape of ‘Little Queenie’ and ‘Love In Vain’, as well as the near-historic version of the ever-compelling ‘Midnight Rambler’. A recent remastered version also includes great support sets from BB King and Ike and Tina Turner. One of the great cover photos, too. Rating: 9/10
Love You Live
By all accounts, Love You Live was a traumatic release for the band, documenting an exhausting 1975-6 tour which was quickly followed by Keith Richards’ infamous drug bust. The final result, which comes complete with a beautiful Andy Warhol designed sleeve, is good fun, though. I love the frantic ‘If You Can’t Rock Me/Get Off My Cloud’ opener and a tight and funky ‘Hot Stuff’. The third side is the most interesting: a collection of four blues numbers recorded in a small Toronto theatre that contains some endearing Jagger interludes (“Everything alright in the critics section? Got plenty to drink, have you?”). Rating: 8/10
Some Girls: Live in Texas ’78
This is a great recording of an urgent, spikey-sounding Stones who with the Some Girls album were dipping their toes in disco and new wave. A hopelessly intoxicated Jagger repeatedly forgets the words to charmingly awful opener ‘Let It Rock’, but it gets increasingly impressive from there, especially on my definitive version of ‘Beast of Burden’, an energetic ‘Miss You’ and a brilliant ‘Honky Tonk Women’, the latter of which just serves to highlight how lifeless many subsequent recordings of some of these famous songs really are. Rating: 8/10
Released as a document of the Stones’ triumphant (and at the time record-setting) 1981 Tattoo You tour, Still Life is interesting enough and not too heavy on the overplayed greatest hits fare. It even includes some rarely-heard rock ‘n’ roll toe-tappers, including ‘Going To A Go Go’ and ‘Twenty Flight Rock’, as well as a lovely ‘Time Is On My Side’ and an exciting rendition of the band’s underrated early track ‘Under My Thumb’. Great cover art, too. Rating: 6/10
Taken from the Steel Wheels/Urban Jungle mega tour in 1989 and 1990, Flashpoint finds the band in good voice as they rattle through a greatest hits set punctuated by a lovely swinging version of Beggars Banquet rarity ‘Factory Girl’. It’s soured by a few contemporary duds (‘Sad Sad Sad’, anyone?) and it’s both bizarre and depressing in equal measure that studio versions of two of the worst Stones songs I’ve ever heard – ‘Highwire’ and ‘Sex Drive’ – are tactlessly stuck on at the end. None of which is made any better by the sight of the unusually lazy cover art. Rating: 3/10
This 1995 release perhaps shouldn’t strictly really qualify for this list, given that at least half of the songs were recorded acoustically in the studio. But it certainly sneaks in for unexpectedly capturing the band at perhaps the peak of their musical powers (and for being the first Stones recording I ever heard). Almost every song is a highlight: an enjoyable cover of Dylan’s ‘Like A Rolling Stone’, a bouncing and urgent ‘Not Fade Away’, an impeccable ‘Shine a Light’, and stunning versions of ‘Angie’, ‘Dead Flowers’ and ‘Wild Horses’ which are – whisper it – possibly even better than the recorded originals. Three offshoot releases of full shows from Brixton, Amsterdam and Paris released later on in 2016 are also decent stuff. Rating: 10/10
The release of 1998’s No Security came at a creative low point for the band (the tour it’s taken from was to promote the decidedly average Bridges to Babylon tour). Still, the record is notable for some interesting outings of lesser-spotted numbers, including ‘Corrina’ featuring Taj Mahal, my favourite version of the pretty ‘Waiting on a Friend’, and, in the shape of the elegant ‘Memory Motel’, an example of the lesser-spotted Jagger-Richards duet. Rating: 5/10
The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus
This is a belated 1996 release of an extremely odd 1968 show organised by the Stones which also featured The Who, Marianne Faithful, Jethro Tull and The Dirty Mac (a supergroup including John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton and Mitch Mitchell). The Stones sound tired and certainly slightly worse for wear – it is rumoured, in fact, that the show wasn’t originally released because the band were unhappy with their performance and decidedly grumpy that they’d been unexpectedly upstaged by some of their own guests. Rating: 4/10
Forty Licks may well be renowned as one of the best greatest hits collections ever released, but it’s live offshoot is a slightly depressing cash-in. It’s made up of perfectly acceptable contemporary versions of some of the band’s biggest hits but little that’s particularly interesting or new, save perhaps the rare outings of the falsetto-soaked ‘Worried About You’, ‘Everybody Needs Somebody to Love’, and BB King’s ‘Rock Me Baby’, all of which are good stuff. Rating: 4/10
Shine a Light
This record is an amalgamation of two Stones performances in New York’s Beacon Theatre in 2008 that were somewhat bizarrely filmed and released by Martin Scorcese. The band certainly sound tight, upping their game for the Hollywood cameras, but there’s little here that’s particularly innovative, and guest spots from Jack White and Christina Aguilera add little (Aguilera’s ‘Gimme Shelter’ certainly falls a long way short of the brilliant Lisa Fischer’s). Playful versions of ‘Some Girls’ and ‘Faraway Eyes’ are the highlights. Rating: 4/10
Live in Hyde Park
Another completely conventional Stones stadium show that some bean counter at Stones HQ (probably Jagger and co. themselves) successfully convinced themselves warranted release. The selling point is supposedly that the show marked almost precisely 44 years since the band’s famous and poignant free Hyde Park show held in the aftermath of Brian Jones’ death. In reality it’s little more an unspectacular run through of the band’s 20 most popular songs. Rating: 3/10
Sticky Fingers: Live at the Fonda Theatre
This 2015 theatre show served as a warm-up to the band’s latest arena tour, yet must represent one of the most interesting live shows they’ve performed in years. Committing to a full rendition of 1971’s Sticky Fingers (although with a few ‘Start Me Up’-type cheats also thrown in for good measure), the band sound great – and actively interested – as they work their way through tracks rarely performed live, including the wonderful ‘I Got The Blues’ and the strikingly visceral ‘Sister Morphine’. Closing with a fun rendition of Otis Redding’s ‘I Can’t Turn You Loose’, it’s a triumph. Rating: 7/10
Named after a Chuck Berry song, this recording of the Stones’ historic first Cuban show features some conventionally awful accent work from Jagger (a running theme – see also his excruciating American accent throughout Still Life), in which we hear him revel in the fact that “the time’s are changing” (the band’s music was once banned in Castro’s country). Over 18 tracks, the band do their best to put on a show (I do like this album’s version of the extremely melodramatic ‘Out of Control’), but really there’s nothing much to see here, apart from yet another extremely competent yet slightly characterless run down of the hits. Still, it’s a nice momento of another of the band’s characteristically historic shows. Rating: 4/10
Note: Missing from this list are the countless bootleg recordings of the band’s live gigs, the soundtrack releases of films Charlie Is My Darling and Ladies and Gentleman…The Rolling Stones, and probably one or two others that I’ve never got round to checking out.