In the very early years, that is pre-"Aftermath", the Rolling Stones were a singles band, as indeed were two of the other great bands of the period, the Kinks and the Who. They made albums, quite a few in fact, but these were filled with covers of R&B numbers - I don't intend to belittle them by this comment, they were the best interpreters of American rhythm and blues on the planet. With the totally self-penned "Aftermath", however, albums did come to the fore but for much of the time, the released singles only had a tenuous relationship to their albums - quite a few of their best singles never saw UK album release other than in best-of sets. The US was different - albums were sometimes packaged differently there, and the US producers were inclined to include current singles.
This 3 CD set is the mother lode of Stones singles, starting with their rather hesitant first efforts, Chuck Berry's "Come on" in June `63 and the Beatles "I wanna be your man" which followed it. It's easy to be critical of these from a distance but it's also only too easy to see why these numbers were selected at the time. With single number three, Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away", recreated as a thumping Diddleybeat screamer, they hit their stride, and from then on, didn't look back. Single number six, "The Last Time", signalled another gear change, since it was their first self-penned single - in the UK that is, the US release schedule varied considerably. Yup I'm well aware of the Staple singers claim to have written the original version of this number but I'm happy to stick with the Stones authorship - that massive fuzz guitar riff from Keef which Mick has to fight with all through, makes their record a totally different experience. To me this was one of the first real rock records as opposed to those which were actually just white boys playing the blues.
From that point on the Stones were in cruise mode, classic single after classic single, with each one hitting the charts and each leaving indelible memories. Some of these singles related to their albums, some didn't. Several had great B sides, and the B sides are all collected here. The last single on the album is "Wild Horses" from June `71. It's not a bad place to stop. It was followed by another goodie in the shape of "Tumbling Dice" but after that the quality control did slip as did their occupation of the charts. Decca have added a few odd'n'sods and album tracks on to the end which I don't object to because it allows them to go out on a high with "Sympathy for the Devil".
If you don't have any Stones music but are rationing yourself to one album or one set only, then I'd strongly recommend you make it this one. By and large what you have here is the Stones career in a nutshell. Even the albums get a look-in with some of the key tracks appearing. You can always go on and add some of the classic albums - "Aftermath", "Beggar's Banquet", "Let it Bleed", "Sticky Fingers" and "Exile on Main Street" - and you won't have too much duplication. And if you think I'm ignoring forty years, well yes I am, and I do have quite a lot of their output over the period but there's not much of it that matches this stuff (and that's regardless of the unequalled consistency of creation over a very long time frame).