The Rolling Stones

Got Live If You Want It!

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A live document of the Brian Jones-era Rolling Stones sounds enticing, but the actual product is a letdown, owing to a mixture of factors, some beyond the producers' control and other very much their doing. The sound on the original LP was lousy, and for that matter not all of it's live; a couple of old studio R&B covers were augmented by screaming fans that had obviously been overdubbed. Still, the album has its virtues as a historical document, with some extremely important caveats for anyone not old enough to recognize the inherent limitations in a live album of this vintage. The first concerns the history of this release -- the Got Live if You Want It! album (not to be confused with the superior sounding but much shorter, U.K.-only extended-play single, issued in England in mid-1965) was a U.S.-only release in late 1966, intended to feed a seemingly insatiable American market. As a best-of album had been issued in March 1966 and Aftermath in June of the same year, and the Stones had just come off of a major U.S. tour (which proved to be their last for over three years), another album was needed to bridge the gap in America between the those earlier LPs, the two most recent singles -- "Paint It, Black" and "Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow?" -- and the Between the Buttons album, which was not going to make it out in time for the Christmas season.

The result was Got Live If You Want It!, which was intended to be recorded at a concert at Royal Albert Hall on September 23, 1966, the Stones' first live appearance in England in over a year. The problem was, as was memorably stated by a writer in Rolling Stone magazine a few years later, the Stones in those days didn't play concerts -- they played riots, and that was precisely what happened at Royal Albert Hall, as several hundred fans charged the stage, overwhelming the band before they'd gotten through the opening number "Paint It, Black." The scene was captured in the footage later used in the promotional film for "Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow?" What was left of the show, once order was restored, was taped, along with at least two other shows on that tour over the next week or so; and it should also be remembered that in those days the group seldom played for more than 30 to 40 minutes, and sometimes less than that, much like the Beatles in concert. And the audience noise, much as it was with the Beatles, was overwhelming in the days before stacks of Marshall amps became routine in a band's equipment; indeed, at some shows, at certain moments, only the tempo of Charlie Watts' drumming could tell you which song the group was playing, and the bandmembers couldn't hear much more than the crowd -- matters such as tuning instruments and precise playing, even down to the most routine changes, became exercises in futility. Add to that the limitations of live recording, and the inevitable sound leakages and other problems, and one can see how this album was easier to conceive than to actually bring off successfully. When all of the tapes were assembled, the producers were left with about 28 minutes of material that was usable to varying degrees, and even that was somewhat wishful thinking by the standards of the day. (Apart from the Kinks' Live at Kelvin Hall [aka The Live Kinks], few groups or record labels in 1967 had the courage to release a concert album that sounded like the real article.) And here, someone -- the Stones' producer, London Records, whoever -- started fiddling around, twirling knobs, changing balances, and making the stuff supposedly sound "better," and bringing in a couple of studio tracks, "I've Been Loving You Too Long" and "Fortune Teller," and laying on some crowd noise to bring the show up to an acceptable length for an LP.

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