With two documentaries, several high profile gigs, a decent new single and another career-spanning collection, the longest-lasting act in rock is gathering no moss.
The most intriguing item from the current batch of Rolling Stones offerings is a documentary culled from a weekend during their 1965 tour of Ireland. The film’s title is derived from a fan enamored of the drummer. Touted as the first documentary about the band, it is unclear if it has been rarely seen or ever seen since its completion 46 years ago. Director Peter Whitehead cut a 35 minute version and a 50 minute version surfaced later. Painstaking restored, Charlie is My Darling comes in a variety of formats. The basic DVD or Blu-ray releases offer the current version of the documentary, which runs a brisk 65 minutes, as well as both prior versions. The deluxe box set is perfect for the completist, as it comes with lavish packaging, both the DVD and Blu-Ray discs and extras like otherwise undeen footage, a soundtrack CD, a bonus CD with 11 unreleased live recordings from the contemporaneous English tour, and a snazzy 10” vinyl album of those 11 tracks. A poster from the Belfast gig and a randomly selected cell from the film are also included. The 40 page book is well-stocked with photos and newspaper extracts that take one back to a far different era. Shot in black and white, the documentary was restored frame by frame, rendering the image crisper and sharper than might be expected.
Seeing the band just becoming accustomed to the fame on the horizon is fascinating. Onstage, with little between the band and the fans a few feet away, the footage shows the rawness of the band and its effect on the audience. The stereo sound is full, and the 5.1 surround sound mix is equally effective. The Stones had reached #1 with “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” a few weeks before the film was shot, and the group was moving from a blues cover band to a more self-contained unit. Jagger and Richards were becoming accomplished songwriters. Their 19 year old manager Andrew Loog Oldham was sufficiently savvy to organize the filming of the Irish tour, backstage, onstage and in trains. The latter scenes, with the countryside rolling by, are some of my favorites in the film.
Some of the memorable quotes reveal a surprising prescience. The ill-fated Brian Jones mentions that his future with the band was “very uncertain.” Jagger acknowledges that in concert “you’re doing an act, it’s not really you.” And the dapper eponymous Charlie Watts seems genuinely surprised that perhaps he is a drummer of decent caliber.
Seeing the fresh faced band in Irish movie theatres performing early tracks like “The Last Time” and “Play With Fire” and then fiddling about in hotel rooms is a far cry from the more notorious Cocksucker Blues, which is only available via bootleg or rare circumscribed screenings (such as the upcoming NYC screening at MoMA).
Another Stones documentary being released is Crossfire Hurricane. It is directed by Brett Morgen (who helmed the plucky The Kid Stays in the Picture), and the film’s scope traverses the band’s history. The film, available on HBO, is culled from a thousand hours of film via outtakes from myriad Rolling Stones documentaries, including Cocksucker Blues, as well as 80 hours of new interviews with the band.
Noted directors like Godard, Ashby, Maysles and Scorsese have taken a swing at capturing the band’s essence. In no small part due to their longevity, the Rolling Stones are clearly the most documented band in history. These two latest film releases cement that stature.
As of this writing, the band has announced four live dates. The shows will take place on November 25 and 29 at London’s O2 Arena, followed by gigs on December 13 and 15 at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, just outside of New York. Given that the band has spent a million dollars on its stage set (that will supposedly reach out to the crowd), one would expect more dates to be announced. As one who matriculated at the London School of Economics, Jagger certainly understands the concept of amortization.
As with most bands of a certain vintage, the Stones are issuing yet another compilation. Entitled Grrr! the set’s dual hooks are two new tracks: “Doom and Gloom” and “One More Shot,” recorded recently in Paris, which comprise the first new recordings since 2005’s A Bigger Bang.
“Doom and Gloom” is standard fare Stones, with crunching guitars and a sinewy vocal. It is far from an embarrassment. Observations of the world’s woes are reminiscent of 1983’s “Too Much Blood.” “One More Shot” was written by Richards, and could be discerned as a wry take on his lifelong forays into drugs and alcohol. The collection is available in two formats: a 3CD set with 50 tracks or the full monty 5CD collection with 80 tracks (including 5 unreleased demos, postcards and books). Vinyl fetishists will want to wait until next month to feed their habit.
What to make of all this activity? Certain bands that were contemporaries of the Stones continue to make waves without any new material (most notably The Beatles). Other bands like The Who soldier on despite promises of prior farewell tours. Regardless, very few people expected a half century of activity from the Rolling Stones. That longevity is indeed remarkable.