The Rolling Stones - Get Your Ya-Ya's Out!
All respect due to the Stones themselves, but much of what makes this the greatest live album of all time comes down to circumstance. The Stones started out as a great live band but—like many other bands of the British invasion—they were forced to stop playing out because of the resultant chaos surrounding every gig, and they couldn’t even hear themselves over the screaming girls anyway. Right around the time they stopped, they released their first live album, 1966’s Got Live If You Want It, but this was of poor quality and a couple of the songs on it are studio recordings with screaming girls edited in (seriously).
By the time the Stones returned to live performance for their 1969 tour, they were revitalized, with boosted lead guitar firepower provided by new member Mick Taylor; better, louder equipment; and an evolved identity as a band that allowed them to dominate any venue. Meanwhile, the American touring circuit the band would conquer had improved considerably by the end of the ‘60s, with larger halls, better public address systems, and a more mature audience that would actually listen to a band instead of screaming through entire songs. Live recording facilities had also improved. All of this coalesced into the perfect time and place for the Rolling Stones to stake their claim as “the greatest rock and roll band in the world.”
It might not have happened at all, had capitalism not forced the band’s hand (the famously mercenary Mick Jagger would never need such a reminder again). As the ’69 tour proceeded, bootlegs of its various dates began hitting the market; most famously Live’r Than You’ll Ever Be. Wanting to get in on the action themselves, the Stones recorded a pair of concerts at Madison Square Garden in November 1969 and had the album on the market by the following September. Its ten songs are perfectly selected. The four hits are edgier fare; “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” “Sympathy for the Devil,” “Honky Tonk Women” and “Street Fighting Man”—no “Satisfaction” here.
They throw in two Chuck Berry covers, which was pretty much a given, but the most startling thing is what they do with the four album cuts from recent releases Beggars Banquet and Let It Bleed. “Stray Cat Blues” and “Live With Me,” already sordid on record, become so filthy they’ll make you want to take a shower. The album’s centerpiece, though, is the one-two punch of “Love In Vain” into “Midnight Rambler” at the end of the A-side. On Let It Bleed, the Stones treated “Love In Vain” as an acoustic country blues, similar to how Robert Johnson originally wrote it. On Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! this becomes something entirely different; a centerpiece for Jagger’s convincingly heartbroken vocals and Taylor’s dazzling slide leads, every note of which get permanently etched in your brain if you hear this more than once. The call-and-response between Jagger and Taylor, and the way Taylor’s guitar actually sounds like the whistle of the train described in the song, is flooring.
The picture deepens with “Midnight Rambler.” On Let It Bleed, this was a muted, moody Chicago blues; an approach to the song that has his merits. Here, the Stones thunder through the song for over nine minutes, shifting into different tempos as if they were psychically linked and, at its mid-point, stopping the song entirely for the full band to playing walloping chords as punctuation for every line as Jagger personifies the serial killer depicted in the song. This is the Stones at their scariest—and the interplay between Keith Richards and Taylor in the instrumental sections, with Jagger adding to the din on harmonica, is staggering. When the band brought Taylor back for some songs on its 2013 tour, they played this one every night. And when Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! was originally released, the famously hard-to-please critic Lester Bangs said, “I have no doubt that it’s the best rock concert ever put on record.” That this was the first Stones album to get the box set treatment in 2009, even before the revered Exile On Main St., makes total sense.