The first hits compilation of the Rolling Stones is still one of the most potent collections of singles that one can find. Listening to it in 1966 or today, one can understand how, almost prematurely for the 1960s – as most of the material here dates from 1964 or 1965 – the Stones set themselves up as the decade's most visible rock & roll rebels…
Big Hits (High Tide and Green Grass) is the first official compilation album by The Rolling Stones, released on 28 March 1966, on London Records in the US and on 4 November 1966, by Decca Records in the UK. The two releases featured different cover art and track listing. The front cover for the American release was used for the rear photo on the UK edition.
Metamorphosis is the third compilation album of The Rolling Stones music released by former manager Allen Klein's ABKCO Records (who usurped control of the band's Decca/London material in 1970) after the band's departure from Decca and Klein. An album of outtakes, demos and rarities recorded during the band’s period with Decca Records has some interesting tracks. Some of the demos only feature Mick on vocals and have session musicians, including Jimmy Page and Big Jim Sullivan on guitars. On the original UK release there were sixteen tracks, whereas the US version omitted “Some Things Just Stick in Your Mind” and “We’re Wastin’ Time”, two of the demos. ABKCO released a couple of singles at the time, including Mick’s version of “Out of Time”, sung over the original backing track for Chris Farlowe’s hit version.
Hot Rocks covers most of the monster hits from the Stones' first decade that remained in radio rotation for decades to come. More Hot Rocks goes for the somewhat smaller hits, some of the better album tracks, and a whole LP side's worth of rarities that hadn't yet been available in the United States when this compilation was released in 1972. The material isn't as famous as what's on Hot Rocks, but the music is almost as excellent, including such vital cuts as "Not Fade Away," "It's All Over Now," "The Last Time," "Lady Jane," the psychedelic "Dandelion," "She's a Rainbow," "Have You Seen Your Mother Baby, Standing in the Shadow?," "Out of Time," "Tell Me," and "We Love You." The eight rarities are pretty good as well, including their 1963 debut single "Come On," early R&B covers of "Fortune Teller" and "Bye Bye Johnnie," great slide guitar on Muddy Waters' "I Can't Be Satisfied," and the soulful 1966 U.K. B-side "Long Long While."
This two-LP/two-CD set is both a lot more and a bit less than what it seems. It is seven years' worth of mostly very high-charting – and all influential and important – songs, leaving out some singles in favor of well-known album tracks, and in the process, giving an overview not just of the Rolling Stones' hits but of their evolving image. One hears them change from loud R&B-inspired rockers covering others' songs ("Time Is on My Side") into originators in their own right ("Satisfaction"); then into tastemakers and style-setters with a particularly decadent air ("Get Off of My Cloud," "19th Nervous Breakdown"); and finally into self-actualized rebel-poets ("Jumpin' Jack Flash," "Midnight Rambler") and Shaman-like symbols of chaos.
Recorded during their American tour in late 1969, and centered around live versions of material from the Beggars Banquet-Let It Bleed era. Often acclaimed as one of the top live rock albums of all time, its appeal has dimmed a little today. The live versions are reasonably different from the studio ones, but ultimately not as good, a notable exception being the long workout of "Midnight Rambler," with extended harmonica solos and the unforgettable section where the pace slows to a bump-and-grind crawl.
This album was spawned by three coinciding events – the need to acknowledge the death of band co-founder Brian Jones (whose epitaph graces the inside cover) in July of 1969; the need to get "Honky Tonk Women," then a huge hit single, onto an LP; and to fill the ten-month gap since the release of Beggars Banquet and get an album with built-in appeal into stores ahead of the Stones' first American tour in three years. The fact that the Stones had amassed a sufficient number of hits since their last greatest-hits compilation in early 1966 (Big Hits: High Tide and Green Grass) made this a no-brainer, and its song lineup was as potent at the time as any compilation of hit singles by any artist.
The Stones forsook psychedelic experimentation to return to their blues roots on this celebrated album, which was immediately acclaimed as one of their landmark achievements. A strong acoustic Delta blues flavor colors much of the material, particularly "Salt of the Earth" and "No Expectations," which features some beautiful slide guitar work. Basic rock & roll was not forgotten, however: "Street Fighting Man," a reflection of the political turbulence of 1968, was one of their most innovative singles, and "Sympathy for the Devil," with its fire-dancing guitar licks, leering Jagger vocals, African rhythms, and explicitly satanic lyrics, was an image-defining epic.
Without a doubt, no Rolling Stones album – and, indeed, very few rock albums from any era – split critical opinion as much as the Rolling Stones' psychedelic outing. Many dismiss the record as sub-Sgt. Pepper posturing; others confess, if only in private, to a fascination with the album's inventive arrangements, which incorporated some African rhythms, Mellotrons, and full orchestration. What's clear is that never before or after did the Stones take so many chances in the studio. (Some critics and fans feel that the record has been unfairly undervalued, partly because purists expect the Stones to constantly champion a blues 'n' raunch worldview.)