Steve Harnell reviews The Rolling Stones In Mono, an impressive vinyl haul with an equally impressive price tag…
When it comes to classic 60s rock and pop, the audio purist’s argument is pretty simple. If you want to hear the original albums how they were meant to sound you must listen in mono.
Back in 2009, The Beatles’ back catalogue was remastered in mono and remains the gold standard and now The Rolling Stones have joined the party. These vinyl lacquers have been cut at Abbey Road and overseen by Bob Ludwig, the Grammy Award-winning engineer who has worked on reissues for Derek and the Dominoes and Dire Straits. And with the exceptions of Sticky Fingers and Exile On Main Street there’s an argument to be made that this is all the Mick, Keef and co you’ll ever need.
For the earliest Stones albums, the onus was on capturing their gritty energy as a blues and r’n’b covers band – Andrew Loog Oldham’s productions were suitably pared-down and frill-free. On their 1964 eponymous debut, the raucous I Just Want To Make To Love To You positively jumps out of the speakers with its wheezing harmonica and buzzsaw guitars. Charlie Watts’ drums sound beefy on Honest I Do, coupled with a thick bass from Bill Wyman. Their take on Chuck Berry’s Carol is absolutely thrilling, too – they never sounded more vital. Also from 1964 came 12×5, although similar in its blues-based approach, it shows how the Jagger-Richards songwriting partnership was now beginning to gather pace and exert its influence.
Rolling with the times
Where these mono remasters really come into their own, though, is when the band expands its musical palette, starting with 1966’s Aftermath. From Wyman’s unorthodox whomping bassline for Mother’s Little Helper and the baroque experimentalism of Lady Jane, these mixes sound pristine. Under My Thumb, one of the band’s prettiest arrangements, also seems a tad funkier here.
Many of you may head straight for Their Satanic Majesties Request (1967), a rare flirtation with studio gimmickry on the Stones’ part to see how this new treatment affects the original and there are some nuggets of genius here. The remaster downplays the indulgence to keep the ideas tighter and more focused.
Elsewhere, Beggars Banquet (1968) and Let It Bleed (1969) sound remarkable, a vital first half of their four-LP run to Exile on Main Street where they were undeniably the world’s greatest rock’n’roll act. Dropping the experimentalism of Their Satanic Majesties… these back-to-basics LPs got them back on track. From the slide blues of No Expectations to the country pastiche of Dear Doctor and saucy Parachute Women, the band were overflowing with confidence on Beggars Banquet. And by 1969’s Let It Bleed the likes of Gimme Shelter and You Can’t Always Get What You Want underline the remarkable transformation they’ve undergone since their debut just five years earlier. At over £300, this vinyl haul sure ain’t cheap, but it’s a whole heap of fun.