By the mid ‘60s, Jagger and Richards’ songwriting partnership was truly beginning to blossom, seeing them gradually move away from being R&B imitators to rock ‘n’ roll super studs. Calling this compilation Big Hits might have seemed arrogant, but it was an appropriate one all the same, and one which made sense. Compiling most of their finest tunes over the last few years on the one LP was an ideal way for many cash strapped teenagers to acquire almost everything that was essential about The Stones up to that point – something which perhaps explains why this record is still in print, and in remastered form.
The party gets going with the sexual innuendo of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”, a song that was originally boycotted by US radio (which didn’t prevent it from hitting the top of the charts on both sides of the Atlantic), and one which contains the most recognisable riff in the history of rock. That Richards’ purportedly came up with the basic chord sequence in a dream is now the stuff of folklore. But no matter how it was written, “Satisfaction” meant that The Stones were now a serious force to be reckoned with.
From the rock-gospel of “The Last Time”, the melancholy string-laden “As Tears Go by”, to the Bo Diddley inspired “19th Nervous Breakdown”, they’re all here, and every one of them a winner. Their interpretation of Norman Meade’s “Time Is On My Side” almost borders on being definitive, along with the band’s cover of the Womack’s “It’s All Over Now” (and no, Richards’ guitar solo is not as bad as some people say). The only real weak link in the musical chain is “Tell Me (You’re Coming Back)”, whose chorus could nearly come across as a sort of pastiche of ‘50s rock and early ‘60s Motown.
Now I’m sure that Jagger has broken more women’s hearts than you could poke a microphone at, thus his delivery on the ballad “Heart of Stone” comes off as rather artificial and shallow. More in his element is he when he’s putting the fairer sex down as he does so confidently on “Get Off Of My Cloud”, where Charlie Watts adds an almost jazz-oriented beat despite the rest of the group’s more primitive intentions.
The band unleash their love of Bo Diddley on “Not Fade Away”, before showing the world just how sloppy and awkward they could be with the bluesy “Good Times, Bad Times”, a sloppiness Keith and Co would continue to perfect in the years to come.
“Play with Fire” is a brief and striking anomaly in The Stones’ oeuvre, featuring Jack Nitzsche on harpsichord and Phil Spector on bass guitar. Jagger intones his usual ‘don’t mess with me woman’ lyrics, albeit with a melody that is difficult to resist.
What Big Hits (High Tide And Green Grass) proved was that The Rolling Stones had finally arrived as master craftsmen, graduating from being mere apprentices to creating extraordinary music in their own right. Sadly, the UK edition doesn’t include “Paint It Black”, nor “Have You Seen Your Mother Baby (Standing In the Shadows)”, as it did on the US version, but no matter. Because there are enough terrific tunes to last any fan a lifetime.