Rolling Stones, 1969: (from left) Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, Mick Taylor, Bill Wyman, Charlie Watts

‘Charlie’s good tonight, inn’t he?’
So were the others.
By JC Costa

Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out!
The Rolling Stones In Concert

It’s hard to expect something recorded 41 years ago to stand unchallenged and undiminished as the greatest live rock and roll album ever recorded, but Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out still makes a decent case for what was always an onerous distinction at best.

Ya-Ya’s, recently reissued as both a standard deluxe three-CD + DVD set and a “Super” (as in Superfluous?) deluxe package with three virgin vinyl discs thrown in for the true audio sybarite, has been expanded to include five previously unreleased tracks from the original 1969 Stones concert at Madison Square Garden––two acoustic blues, Robert Wilkins’ “Prodigal Son” and “You Gotta Move” (Fred McDowell, Reverend Gary Davis), plus “Under My Thumb/I’m Free” and the seemingly immortal “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.”

The fact that these five (or four if you’re unforgiving about seamless transitions on stage) newly unearthed and “sonically restored” tracks are on one CD stretches believability and good will to the limits, especially since there are no undiscovered treasures lurking here. But the additional live material from opening acts B.B. King and Ike & Tina Turner at their prime and vivid but brief Maysles’ documentary footage on the bonus DVD eases the pain.

The Rolling Stones, live in ‘69: ‘Satisfaction’

Taken as a whole, all of this is a revealing cultural snapshot of the year bridging two critical decades in American culture, which from a musical standpoint alone encompassed the Stones’ Let It Bleed, The Beatles’ Abbey Road, Led Zeppelin II, Santana, Blood, Sweat and Tears and Crosby, Still & Nash, all Top Ten albums in Billboard’s December ’69 issue, plus albums released that month by Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, the Doors, and Jimi Hendrix.

The Maysles’ documentary footage has telling insights: Mick and Keith during an acoustic set plowing confidently through “Prodigal Son” and the mournful “Ya Gotta Move” with atmospherically-out-of-tune but true-grit resonator guitar and full-throated conviction, a typical British reminder to a young American audience about what really mattered in their roots music.

Then, here and on the CD, things kick into gear with the ominous descending F#m, E, D chords of “Under My Thumb,” a Stones live staple that was also being played on stage later in the tour at Altamont while Meredith Hunter was being stabbed to death by the Hell’s Angels, ostensibly there as bodyguards for the band.

The Stones, live in ’69, ‘Street Fighting Man’

Testament to increasingly popular long-form treatment of songs in live shows, “Thumb” slowly morphs into a pleasant if pointless “I’m Free,” where drummer Charlie Watts, the one true hero of all these sessions, both eases and quickens the pace while Mick Taylor (lead, slide guitars) opens it up on slide.

Taylor, the new kid in 1969 who is only remembered on Wikipedia as “a reliable technical guitarist with a preference for blues, rhythm & blues and rock and roll and a talent for slide guitar,” shines throughout Ya-Ya’s; not just for his fluid, measured lead and slide solos, but the solid rhythm play that serves as subtle but brilliantly nuanced counterpoint to Richard’s iconic, riff-based pyrotechnics.

That said, Keith had what would prove to be insurmountable problems with Mick II—officially, he’s been quoted about Taylor playing too loud in the studio, whining about getting more songs on LPs, and not being a showman on stage, all of which was probably true. But Taylor’s soaring leads on the inspired “Satisfaction” that closes off the unreleased portion makes a good case for those who believe the band was diminished when he left two albums on (Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main Street).

The Stones, live in ’69. Hyde Park, ‘Love In Vain’

The previously released material from Ya-Ya’s, restored to its analog imperfection through the miracle of digital technology, remains a masterful exercise in exactly how live rock and roll must be played to transcend its own technical and musical limitations. From the rousing, anthem-like chords of “Jumping Jack Flash” to the martial rhythms of closer “Street Fighting Man,” this album just flat out kicks ass.

How can you not love and appreciate the sleazy grunge of “Carol” with Richards’ endless reimagining of Chuck Berry’s signature three-note riffs or “blurs,” the very touchstone of rock & roll as we know it. Then a workmanlike “Stray Cat Blues” followed by a thoughtful reading of Robert Johnson’s “Love in Vain,” also distinguished by Taylor’s satin slide playing.

Next up, “Midnight Rambler,” the musical and spiritual centerpiece of the album. As Lester Bangs describes it in his epochal review of the album, included here along with the useless liner notes by photographer and professional hanger-on Ethan Russell, “and certainly this great song made to be done live, has never been recorded with more purging viciousness. Every riff in it is so pristinely simple and deliberately placed that is locomotive rushes and icy invective take on more power the closer you come to learning them by heart.”

“Rambler” was hard to follow, but subliminally taking the “paint it black, you devils!” cue from some idiot girl in the front row, they power on through “Sympathy For The Devil” (where Taylor pretty much wipes Keith’s ass in a straight-up lead guitar duel) and “Live With Me.” Another visit to Berry Land (Chuck really is the gift that keeps on giving for these guys; it’s nice they included a photo of Berry and Jagger intimately chatting backstage) produces the leering swagger of “Little Queenie,” another exercise in nasty (both in terms of guitar riff and teenage girls) that will always define the genre.

Ike and Tina Turner, live ’69, opening for the Rolling Stones

Before the solid, slab-like funk of “Honky Tonk Women,” an appropriate comment from Mick: “Charlie’s good tonight, inn’t he?” which, as mentioned, should be the postscript for this album. The closer, “Street Fighting Man,” was an inevitable choice as all of the band’s virtues coalesce around this impassioned call to arms that stands as one of the best for all times.

And that’s what this collection is all about. The additional backstage insights on the DVD (Keith and Jimi Hendrix talking guitars, Mick and Keith tuning together and separately, Janis Joplin jumping to the music offstage and an odd sequence on a rooftop with the Dead before flying to Altamont where myriad logistical problems portend that something bad this way comes), the pulse-quickening “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” by Tina Turner and righteous blues testimonials from B.B. King are useful and good to hold on to.

But listening to the Rolling Stones in peak form play the music that earned them the reputation as “the world’s greatest rock and roll band” reminds many of us who write about this why we got into the game in the first place.

The Rolling Stones, Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out, is available at

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