Subtitled The Rolling Stones In Concert, for many years this would remain the best live album by the group (1977’s Love You Live had its moments, but is nowhere near as good). The tapes were sourced from their 1969 American tour, their first since 1967, and so when the LP came out in 1970, it was considered to be a pretty big deal, and an important document of the day. Ya-Ya’s was also the first long player featuring the band’s new guitarist, Mick Taylor, who really does shine throughout, and was someone who gave Keith Richards the freedom to concentrate on what he does best, play the riffs. And with the departure of Brian Jones earlier that year, his young replacement not only amplified the group’s overall sound, he inadvertently helped in ushering in the beginning of what would arguably turn out to be the Stones most creative and productive period.
As one would expect, the majority of the songs selected come from Beggars Banquet and Let It Bleed, and they’re all choice cuts. On opener “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” the Stones make it immediately clear that they are no longer the band they once were only a few short years before. Because the moment Richards launches into the main riff, and Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman (on drums and bass respectively – but you knew that already) fall in behind him, you know that they meant business. Unlike the original single version, there’s no acoustic guitar to augment the arrangement. Here it’s all gritty, dirty playing, just the way rock and roll ought to be performed. At the songs conclusion, Mick Jagger, a man who clearly understood how to work a crowd, utters to the audience the now famous words “I think I busted a button on my trousers. Hope they don’t fall down. You don’t want my trousers to fall down, now do you?” And on that cheeky note the band break out into a much grubbier version of Chuck Berry’s “Carol” than the one they released in 1964. There’s a little more tension going on that’s for sure. A loose “Stray Cat Blues” follows, and it’s pretty good. Taylor was obviously fitting in nicely with Keith, with the two of them sounding quite comfortable playing alongside one another. Their interpretation of Robert Johnson’s “Love In Vain” had been recorded for the soon to be released Let It Bleed, and their version here is simply superb, especially Taylor’s yearning slide guitar.
“Midnight Rambler” is another Let It Bleed song, and an impressive excursion into some kind of rock and roll underworld of psychopathic proportions. On this night they managed to turn it inside out and made it sound even more dangerous than its studio counterpart. Taylor’s bluesy refrains really do help in opening the song up, allowing each member to extend himself in the process. We hear some chick in the audience calling out for “Paint It Black”, but instead we get the classic “Sympathy for the Devil”, a song I can’t imagine too many priests would want their children to be listening to, whether now or then. What distinguishes their performance in this instance is, you guessed it, Mick Taylor, whose guitar solo is nothing less than outstanding, and who leaves Richards in the dust. Even Jagger whoops and hollers with approval at their newest recruit.
We get a filthy and feisty “Live with Me”, along with another Berry number, a delightfully tight though sloppy “Little Queenie”, a style they would perfect on their next two albums, Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street. The same applies with “Honky Tonk Women”, the next track. For me the studio rendition is the best, and will forever remain so, but that’s not to say that this version doesn’t kick a few doors down of its own.
We end with “Street Fighting Man”, from Beggars Banquet, as if to reinforce that in no way were The Rolling Stones a bunch of hippies, content to sing about peace, love and flowers. Sure, sex, drugs and Muddy Waters, but when it came to vegetarian-led enlightenment this was one of the last lot of individuals the counter-culture could rely on to protest against the government much less stand in front of cops handing out daisies to all and sundry.
Since the Stones recently began opening their vaults, there are much better concerts from around this period (Live at the Marquee, recorded in 1971 is especially inspired), but that’s not to say that Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! isn’t an exciting and essential listen in itself. It is. And the SACD edition means that the album has never sounded this good. ABKCO certainly did an outstanding job in the remastering department. Naturally one could pay more and invest in the 40th Anniversary Box Set, which consists of a bonus disc of Stones outtakes from the same tour, as well as performances by Ike and Tina Turner and B.B. King. But since I’m not writing for any magazine, this particular review will stick with the original album. Yes, it contains some overdubs and other post-production work, but that was probably due more to Jagger than anything else (being the perfectionist that he is, even to this day). And yes, today a record such as this would be deemed almost amateurish in terms of recording quality one only has to remember that technology back then was nothing like what it is today. Imagine if Chuck Berry had of had access to 16 track in 1955? This is rock music at its most powerful and poignant, no matter what imperfections the more modern-day listener may discern. Personally I can never get enough of it.