The Rolling Stones

Sucking in the Seventies

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There's a certain smarmy charm in the Rolling Stones titling a compilation of their work from the second half of the '70s Sucking in the Seventies -- it seems a tacit admission that neither the decade nor the music they made in that decade was all that good, something that many critics and fans dismayed by the group's infatuation with glitzy disco and tabloid grime would no doubt argue. It is indeed true that the Stones, led by the ever-fashionable Mick Jagger, descended into a world of sleaze, one seemingly far removed from the dangerous blues-rockers of the '60s, who were concerned enough about their blues credibility that they brought Howlin' Wolf on to a teen-oriented British TV program. That incarnation of the Rolling Stones was a distant memory at the end of the '70s, when the group was freely dabbling with disco, reggae, and never-ending elastic grooves, and pumping up their sound with punchy horns and slick backing vocalists. Sometimes this resulted in great music, as in the terrific 1978 masterwork Some Girls, which took on disco, punk, and new wave in equal measure, while retaining the signature Stones feel. Sometimes, the group would stumble, as they did on the uneven but intermittently entertaining 1976 LP Black and Blue (heavy on reggae and jams) and 1980's Emotional Rescue (heavy on disco and dance). Those three albums are more or less covered on Sucking in the Seventies, an unwieldy collection of hits, outtakes, live cuts, and album tracks that plays fast and loose with the time line (it reaches back to 1974 for "Time Waits for No One," a year that was covered on their previous comp, Made in the Shade), while not including anything but outtakes from Emotional Rescue, and managing to overlook their biggest hit of the second half of the '70s -- 1978's "Miss You," the biggest and best disco track they ever did. This doesn't come close to compiling all their best songs from the second half of the '70s -- for instance, the monumental "Hand of Fate," easily the greatest song on Black and Blue, isn't here -- but the amazing thing is that Sucking in the Seventies captures the garish decadence and ennui of the band better than the proper albums from this period. Not that this is a better record than Some Girls, which had the same sense of trash but also a true sense of hunger and menace underpinning the restless music, but it is better than either Black and Blue or Emotional Rescue, since it gleefully emphasizes their tawdry disco moves while illustrating that the band could either be deliciously tacky in concert (the version of "Mannish Boy" pulsating on a gaudy clavinet shows how bloated the Stones were in the mid-'70s, but the passage of time has made that rather ingratiating) or as muscular and mean as they were at their peak (a previously unreleased version of "When the Whip Comes Down," which tears by at a vicious pace). On the surface, the studio outtakes of "Everything Is Turning to Gold" and "If I Was a Dancer" (which is merely the second part of Emotional Rescue's opening cut, "Dance, Pt. 1") aren't all that remarkable, but they're good, stylish grooves, and when placed in the context of other disco-rock, slick ballads, and overblown blooze, they help make Sucking in the Seventies into a kind of definitive document. If you want to know what the Stones sounded like at the end of the '70s, why they earned scorn from longtime fans while continuing to rule the charts, this is the record you need. It may not give casual fans all the hits they want, and for some hardcore fans, this will remind them of why they stopped listening to the Stones, but for a few others, this is a wonderful celebration of all the group's '70s sleaze, an LP that was designed to be a shoddy cash-in compilation, but wound up revealing more than the group ever realized.

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