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Singles 1963-1965

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Album Review

There's a certain part of the collectors market that has a fondness for box sets that recreate the original singles and EPs British Invasion bands released during the '60s. These, to put it mildly, are not designed for practical listening — very few listeners like to load up their multi-disc player with CDs running two tracks — but that's kind of the point of these boxes: they're archival releases, targeted at collectors who relish recreations of these singles and EPs, as exercises in both history and nostalgia. In other words, these are replicas of artifacts, not the genuine thing, but since these singles and EPs are hard to come by (and often too expensive for fans on a budget), this is the next best thing to the actual item. So, to complain that it's easier to listen to the music on these box sets in other compilations — of course it's easier to listen to 33 songs on one disc instead of over the course of 12 CDs, but these box sets are as much about the visual impact as the musical impact. Collectors know this, and are happy with it, but the general public usually is unaware of these releases — frankly, they wouldn't be all that interested in them — so, when the Rolling Stones were finally given the singles and EP box set treatment in 2004, it was a bit of a surprise that was released with great fanfare, just as the SACD hybrid reissue series was in 2002. Consequently, some general audiences might wonder what the purpose of this 12-disc, 33-track set is, especially since almost all of the tracks are on the triple-disc set The Singles Collection: The London Years, which is far easier to digest. And for most audiences, who simply want to hear this music, that indeed is a more logical place to turn, but as an archival release The Singles 1963-1965 — the first installment of a three-box set series containing all of their American and British singles and EPs until 1971 — is both excellent and instructive. As a production, this is splendid. Each disc is given its own separate sleeve that recreates the original artwork (when there was no picture sleeve, a paper sleeve is recreated), there are inserts of classic promo photos, there's an excellent book with rare photos and liner notes by Nigel Williamson, and in perhaps the neatest touch, each CD is black, so it looks a bit like a mini-45. Strictly speaking, there aren't many rarities aside from some hard-to-find mono mixes and the "we want the Stones" intro to Got Live if You Want It!, which has never been released on CD — the semirarities "Money," "Poison Ivy," and "Bye Bye Johnny" only appeared on More Hot Rocks, but not The Singles Collection, but what is different is the context. By having these songs split into their original single and EP running order, forcing a disc change after every two (sometimes four or five) songs, listeners wind up experiencing each single as its own entity, gaining an appreciation for the Stones' consistency in their early days and also their growth. At first, these singles are bracing blasts of blues-rock energy, but by the end of the set, the Stones are deepening — they start to write songs, they try different styles, their blues becomes tougher. Of these, the most impressive are the first two EPs, The Rolling Stones and 5 X 5. Both later were spun out into albums, but these EPs are lean and sinewy, hitting the listener with strength and precision, and stunning brevity; the full-length LPs are classics in their own right, but the shorter format in a strange way captures the primal power of the early Stones. Of course, this is the kind of distinction that only hardcore collectors and geeks care about, but it is a palpable, noteworthy distinction that can't be heard anywhere else, and that makes The Singles 1963-1965 something more than simply a cool archival release.


Formed: April, 1962 in London, England

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

By the time the Rolling Stones began calling themselves the World's Greatest Rock & Roll Band in the late '60s, they had already staked out an impressive claim on the title. As the self-consciously dangerous alternative to the bouncy Merseybeat of the Beatles in the British Invasion, the Stones had pioneered the gritty, hard-driving blues-based rock & roll that came to define hard rock. With his preening machismo and latent maliciousness, Mick Jagger became the prototypical rock frontman, tempering...
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