The Rolling Stones' 1960s catalog has been treated with little respect over the years. Take ABKCO's abysmal Stones CD series issued back in 1986. Some tracks were mastered on the wrong speed. Worse yet, ABKCO used the Stones' inferior U.S. catalog as the basis of the collection, rather than the original British albums. (It was a common practice in the U.S. to replace U.K. album tracks with non-LP singles and jumble track listings, resulting in watered-down and confusing compilations.) Thankfully, ABKCO has now released newly mastered CDs on cutting-edge SACD/CD hybrid discs (playable in both Super Audio and normal CD players) and including both the British and American versions of the albums. Problem solved, right?
First and foremost, these records sound amazing. There is an astounding clarity and presence to the music here; these are easily the best-sounding '60s remasters ever, bar none. The revelations that this improved audio provides should greatly enhance the Stones' musical reputation. Early albums like their self-titled 1964 debut and 12X5 crackle and grind with frenetic energy, providing concrete evidence that the Stones basically invented garage rock. The U.K. versions of 1965's Out of Our Heads, 1966's Aftermath, and 1967's Between the Buttons flow much better than their disjointed U.S. counterparts. Later-period classics like Beggars Banquet and Let It Bleed sound leaner, more menacing and intense than you can imagine. This is a legacy worthy of every bit of praise that has been heaped upon it and then some.
That said, there are still some problems: The set claims to include both the U.S. and U.K. versions of the albums, yet the U.K. version of the debut album remains unavailable, as does its follow-up, Rolling Stones No. 2 and the U.K. versions of the compilation albums Big Hits and Through the Past Darkly. And there are no liner notes or bonus tracks. But these reservations hardly ruin the experience; anyone with even a passing interest in rock music should run, not walk, to buy these CDs.