The Super Audio CD (SACD) format, offering higher-resolution audio than the standard compact disc, receives an estimable boost with the Rolling Stones Remastered, a collection of 22 titles from ABKCO Records. The first SACD release from one of the world’s greatest rock’n’roll bands, each title in the Rolling Stones Remastered is presented on dual-layer, hybrid SACDs, which are both forward—and backward—compatible. While the discs are playable on standard CD players, playback on an SACD player allows delivery of the format’s high-resolution audio.
SACD, developed jointly by Sony and Philips, is based on the Direct Stream Digital (DSD) system, a one-bit recording process that uses a sampling rate of 2.8224 megahertz, or 2,822,400 samples per second. The result is the capture and playback of audio characterized by exquisite detail and realism. Both the standard CD and SACD layer of ABKCO’s Rolling Stones Remastered discs benefit from DSD encoding.
Taken in its entirety, the Rolling Stones Remastered is an absolute joy. The band’s evolution from youthful enthusiasts of American blues to the dominant, and bluntly decadent, rock’n’roll superstars of the late ’60s is charted on the Stones’ prodigious 1960s output of studio albums and live recordings, as well as numerous ABKCO compilations. Taken individually, each ABKCO SACD release—initially issued on CD in 1986 —delivers a pristine, nuanced, warm collection of songs, reproduced from the best-quality analog masters.
The result is the Rolling Stones as they have never been heard. A thorough search to determine the proper and purest master recording preceded the assembly of this series, with the Rolling Stones lending several first-generation masters to the project.
Especially endearing and indicative of the band’s early period are Out of Our Heads (1965) and Between the Buttons (1967). With the Mick Jagger/Keith Richards songwriting output still in a formative stage, the Stones lead off Out of Our Heads by tearing through such covers as “She Said Yeah” (in 94 seconds), “Mercy Mercy,” “Hitch Hike,” and “That’s How Strong My Love Is,” interpreting rock’n’roll, R&B, and soul with an impressive conviction and authenticity. The album closes with the Stones’ own sound emerging on such cuts as the rollicking “The Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man” and “I’m Free.”
The mellifluous Between the Buttons reveals a pensive and somewhat fatigued Rolling Stones. Nonetheless, it’s brimming with overlooked gems, the band delivering a captivating blend of folky, Beatles-esque pop and tough bluesy rockers. The pretty “Backstreet Girl,” the poppy “Connection,” the beautiful, meditative “She Smiled Sweetly,” and the vicious rocker “All Sold Out” are all indicative of the band’s extraordinary chemistry and creativity.
Even the group’s ill-advised venture into psychedelia, Their Satanic Majesties Request (1967), yields the jubilant “She’s a Rainbow” and the overlooked “2000 Light Years From Home,” the former’s trippy hodgepodge sounding especially clear and bright on SACD.
With founding guitarist Brian Jones disintegrating into addiction and often unable to perform, let alone tour, guitarist Richards took the time away from the band’s heretofore frantic schedule to learn the open tunings practiced by his Delta blues heroes. For the Stones, 1968’s Beggar’s Banquet was not just a return to the blues but perhaps the first Rolling Stones album on which the band had found its essence. Freed from the confines of standard guitar tuning, Richards began a long and fruitful period of discovery, producing a succession of meaner, tougher riff-based songs, while Jagger’s enticing, sensual lyrics and delivery increasingly turned toward politics and revolution. With manifestos like “Sympathy for the Devil” and “Street Fighting Man,” Jagger and Richards were plotting an even more ominous-but-irresistible course for the band.
The open-tuned acoustic guitars of “No Expectations,” “Parachute Woman,” “Street Fighting Man,” and “Prodigal Son” from Beggar’s Banquet are exquisitely rendered on SACD; rarely is the full tonality and resonance of the instrument conveyed on a playback format. “No Expectations,” in particular, is exhilarating, with Jones delivering a lazy, weary-yet-lovely acoustic slide guitar.
Also noteworthy is that for the first time, Beggar’s Banquet can be heard at the proper speed: Due to a faulty tape machine, the original production master was slow.
The gifted-but-doomed Jones contributed little to Beggar’s Banquet and the Stones’ 1969 masterpiece, Let It Bleed (“Gimme Shelter,” “Midnight Rambler,” “Monkey Man,” “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”), yet the band was reaching new heights with each release. Mick Taylor, who replaced Jones in 1969 just weeks before the latter was found dead in his swimming pool, played little more than his predecessor on Let It Bleed but provided searing lead and slide work to Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out!, unquestionably one of the premier live albums of the rock era. Ya-Ya’s on SACD is transcendent: At the peak of their intensity and creativity, the band, reinvigorated by Taylor’s virtuosity, roars through recent hits and a pair of Chuck Berry covers in front of a hysterical Madison Square Garden audience. With the resolution offered by SACD, listeners can very nearly experience the real thing, 33 years later. (Portions of the 1969 tour can also be seen in the Maysles Brothers’ excellent documentary Gimme Shelter, issued on DVD-Video in 2000.)
What may be most astonishing about the Rolling Stones’ 1960s oeuvre is its sheer volume. Charged with producing another two sides every 10 weeks and two albums per year, the Stones consistently delivered tough, gritty blues and sardonic, menacing rock’n’roll. ABKCO’s collections, including Big Hits: High Tide and Green Grass; Through the Past, Darkly (Big Hits, Vol. 2); Hot Rocks, 1964-1971; and More Hot Rocks (Big Hits and Fazed Cookies), succinctly chronicle the band’s many highlights. The sweeping three-disc Singles Collection: The London Years goes much further, collecting many charming and long-overlooked B-sides. Even Metamorphosis, a 1975 collection of outtakes and Jagger/ Richards-penned demos for other artists, is worthwhile.
On each of these 22 hybrid SACDs, listeners can hear a more faithful reproduction of the Rolling Stones than anything previously available. The detail and nuance of Charlie Watts’ superior drumming, the full dynamic range of Bill Wyman’s elastic bass guitar, the timbre of Richards’ brilliant guitars, and Jagger’s inimitable dynamism—it’s all here, sounding as if the listener were in the studio or concert venue with them.