Rolling Stones Ya-Ya’s Still Unrivaled

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“Charlie’s good tonight, in’int he?” observes Mick Jagger just before The Rolling Stones chug into “Honky Tonk Women” like a mighty locomotive hauling the country-blues tradition into the future that was rapidly unfolding on November 27-28, 1969, when they recorded (most all of) this live album at Madison Square Garden. Hell yeah he’s good. As were Mick, Keith, Bill and the newly installed other Mick (Taylor) plus original Stone turned minder/musical conscience Ian Stewart on keys here, there and about.

Sailing on the peak of their powers as a recording act in the potent wake of Beggars Banquet and with Let It Bleed in the chute to arrive the next month, onstage the Stones played it down ‘n’ dirty, a tad raw and a wee bit loose-limbed and slushy, but to effect that sounds in some ways today even more compelling than when this smoker of a disc first came out. It was the signal that they were indeed The World’s Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Band on any given night they played in this era and well into the next decade, nailing down with casually assured aplomb what the notion means. And on Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out, in the pre-professional era of rock concerts, sans any stage set (much less giant inflatable penises), they were there not to simply perform but really play.

Like a genuine band they’re locked in with one another – the Richards/Taylor six-string dynamo trading rhythm and lead like ambidextrous Siamese twins – and roaming together like a pack within the grooves, tunes and spirits of the songs. The moments with the most snap for me (most of the time) may be the two Chuck Berry numbers (“Carol” and “Little Queenie”) and “Live With Me” that deeply plow the eternally irresistible uptempo rock ‘n’ roll groove (in addition to all their other thrills and charms, such as Stewart’s Johnnie Johnson-style boogie-woogie piano counterpoints on “Queenie,” to cite one of many).

The 1969 tour poster

The ’69 tour poster

Since its September 4, 1970 release followed Let It Bleed (from which four Ya-Ya’s songs came) and the Through The Past Darkly hits collection (with hit singles “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Honky Tonk Women”), some at the time would A/B compare the live and studio versions, which kind of misses the point. And even doing so now, I remain more fond of “Midnight Rambler” and “Love In Vain” here (respectively, the former’s tempo and groove and the latter’s crackle feeling closer to the spirit of its writer Robert Johnson).

The studio majesty of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”  and its stripped-down live verve on this set is to me simply the flip-side of the same precious coin. But again, this was before many concerts tried to deliver replications of studio recordings; the Stones were instead about ass-kicking those songs live as a kick-ass band.

Related: Our review of a spectacular Stones concert in 2019

It’s a record that can change your life; I broke into a big understanding grin when I read in the book Under Their Thumb by my friend Bill German that after hearing it he became such an avid Stones follower that he founded his fanzine Beggars Banquet that later became the official Stones fan publication. From the early to mid 1970s, for my college crowd, it was the disc to slip onto the turntable when it was time to mainline some rock ‘n’ roll party hearty.

Over the last decade, I have returned to it over and over and over again; Ya-Ya’s never fails to not just satisfy but renew my love for real rock ‘n’ roll. And I still continue to hear it almost anew and finally key into yet another of the disc’s abundance of way cool moments and touches of a live rock band at their very best and realest. Decades later, it remains my all-time most-beloved concert album, and none of the live Stones albums to follow even comes close.

Listen to the full-length version of “Sympathy For the Devil” from the album

On its release, legendary critic Lester Bangs said, “I have no doubt that it’s the best rock concert ever put on record.” ‘Nuff said; that remains true today, and I imagine forever.

Oh, and Charlie’s good every night.

Listen to the Stones playing “Carol” at the Garden

Ya-Ya’s was certified Gold by the RIAA on Nov. 2, 1970, just two months after its release. Tickets for the Stones’ 2024 “Hackney Diamonds” tour are available here and here.

Related: Links for 100s of classic rock tours

Rob Patterson

32 Comments so far

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  1. mrknix
    #1 mrknix 22 September, 2016, 22:02

    OK… I’ll start. This is a good album but I like Live at Leeds a bit better. No definitive reason, just s personal choice.

    Reply this comment
    • Lgbpop
      Lgbpop 4 June, 2024, 01:46

      Everyone’s got their own favorite album of a live performnce. Ya-Yas and Live at Leeds are good, but for my money anytime I’ll take One For The Road by the Kinks (recorded at various venues 1979-1980). I was a Kinks junkie then (still am) and followed them around the better part of the USA. I think I can name where and when each song on thins album was played/recorded. Amazing, how a few lids of Panama Red can cement memories into one’s mind ~

      Reply this comment
  2. Charlie
    #2 Charlie 11 May, 2017, 14:07

    Oh, this album is the best.

    Reply this comment
  3. Norman
    #3 Norman 31 July, 2017, 18:09

    I saw all three shows at Madison Square Garden. It’s a shame there’s no full recording of the complete show, since the performances of Ike and Tina in those shows were some of their best And the real shame is that there’s no legal recording of The Rolling Stones performance in Hawaii in 1964 which is absurdly good…..

    Reply this comment
    • Les
      Les 5 September, 2021, 01:47

      The Deluxe Ya-Ya’s box included all the performances of Ike & Tina and all B.B. King

      Reply this comment
  4. MarkHasskarl
    #4 MarkHasskarl 14 September, 2017, 23:09

    Sorry, but The Who’s “Live at Leeds,” especially the deluxe CD version, is the greatest concert recording.

    Reply this comment
  5. HMitch13
    #5 HMitch13 28 July, 2018, 21:01

    Kind of surprised you didnt compare it to the bootleg of the same general shows. Some stil Hold that :Liv-r Than You’ll Ever is even better, tho, yeah, issuing the complete shows would be the best

    Reply this comment
  6. gee1403
    #6 gee1403 5 September, 2018, 05:36

    Personally, I think that The Brussels Affair from 1973 is a tighter and, therefore, better recording. The take of ‘Street Fighting Man’ at the end of that recording is manic. Best live rock album ever is The Who Live At Leeds.

    Reply this comment
  7. JJK
    #7 JJK 9 September, 2018, 18:36

    It is a great album no doubt, but I wish they would re issue the entire show in its entirety! I know it was issued back on the 40th anniv, but it still wasn’t the whole show.

    Reply this comment
  8. JCB
    #8 JCB 18 February, 2019, 08:14

    Laughable. Allman Brothers Live At Fillmore East eats any live album up, period. By far the most important live album ever, as it exposed the best live band ever to the masses.

    Reply this comment
  9. Rico41
    #9 Rico41 18 February, 2019, 09:56

    Sorry, Traffic’s “Welcome to the Canteen,” The Band’s “Rock of Ages” and Van Morrison’s “It’s Too Late to Stop Now” rate much higher with me. Better musicians, better songs.

    Reply this comment
  10. tonysam
    #10 tonysam 10 July, 2019, 12:07

    Jerry Lee Lewis’s “Live at the Star Club” is the greatest live album ever recorded, and Elvis Presley’s bootleg set “The Burbank Sessions” are right up there. However, this Stones concert certainly ranks near the top.

    Reply this comment
  11. Mark Leviton
    #11 Mark Leviton 7 May, 2020, 18:35

    The main reason this was released in the first place was because of the success of the bootleg Livr Than You’ll Ever Be, which is superior to it. I remember at the time everyone I knew was very disappointed with the “official” Decca release.

    Reply this comment
  12. rick
    #12 rick 8 May, 2020, 11:38

    Best Live Album by sales was Peter Frampton

    Reply this comment
  13. Davidt62
    #13 Davidt62 13 May, 2020, 07:57

    The version of Sympathy for the Devil on Ya Ya’s has never been surpassed. The two adjoined solos firstly by Keith and then Mick Taylor towards the end of the song are killer. Am a big Who fan but GYYYO trumps Live at Leeds

    Reply this comment
  14. Colorado Slim
    #14 Colorado Slim 5 September, 2020, 23:15

    Not to argue with the excellent choices and discussion here, but I’ve got to put a vote in for Little Feat’s “Waiting for Columbus,” especially the Mobile Fidelity vinyl pressing.

    Reply this comment
  15. 2muchscorp
    #15 2muchscorp 7 September, 2020, 00:18

    Hey guys, I read somewhere that this album was over dubbed. Is that really true? Tell me I am wrong please.

    Reply this comment
  16. Bobby Frufracker
    #16 Bobby Frufracker 14 March, 2021, 09:35

    I prefer Live at Leeds, Live! In the Air Age, and the live disc of Ummagumma by far.

    Reply this comment
  17. Tystick
    #17 Tystick 14 March, 2021, 14:04

    The Rolling Stones need to get in their archives and release all their shows from 1969-1973. The Stones were “The Greatest Rock and Roll Band’ during this time. With Mick Taylor on Lead guitar, they were unstoppable.

    Reply this comment
  18. rich
    #18 rich 6 September, 2021, 19:35

    humble pie live at the Fillmore, ABB at the Fillmore etc etc

    Reply this comment
  19. Kilowatt
    #19 Kilowatt 29 November, 2021, 10:45

    Ya Ya’s is a great album. Also epic is the Jefferson Airplane’s ‘Bless It’s Pointed Head’ and the Grateful Dead’s ‘Europe ’72’ as well as the ‘Skull and Roses’ album.

    Reply this comment
  20. Lee
    #20 Lee 24 August, 2022, 01:43

    This is my favorite live album of all time!! I remember watching the movie Gimme Shelter on the big screen in the early 70’s. I was 14 years old. Loud and the music was great!! This was my first Stones album. I bought the re-release back when it came out. Always wanted a poster of the cover. Anyway great review Rob.

    Reply this comment
  21. Da Mick
    #21 Da Mick 24 August, 2022, 19:36

    “The Stones played it down ‘n’ dirty, a tad raw and a wee bit loose-limbed and slushy” — the author acts like the band had a choice. That was, and always has been how the Stones played and sounded, especially before Chuck Leavell became their musical director and anchor for their live shows, giving them some kind of touch stone for how their songs were “supposed to” sound. As they are and always have been essentially a garage band, the Stones stripped-down live version of “Jumpin Jack Flash” is all they’ve EVER been able to muster live. That, once again, leaves this fan to wonder how they managed the “majesty” of their studio recorded version of that song, or of any their many excellently tight and polished studio hits and recordings. No matter how much you like the rawness of this LP, and other Stones shows, live and recorded, you have to acknowledge that much of their sound (with the exception of Mick Taylor) is that of players who are pretty much rudimentary musicians. If anything, this LP bears that out and is celebrated for its basicness. That leaves the question I always ask regarding the Stones recorded legacy: who’s playing on their studio LPs?

    Reply this comment
  22. Marty
    #22 Marty 27 November, 2022, 13:51

    Excellent article and comment thread. I’ll vote for the Allmans Fillmore East album. To me the Stones and The Who are heavy Pop/Rock bands. They are amazing musicians and songwriters but they’ll never have the authenticity and improvisation of the Grateful Dead or the raw power of the Allmans or Zeppelin.

    In the end, musical preferences seem to come from the oscillations of our own personal frequency within this bio-electric-magnetic field we live in. I’ve met VERY FEW people who can resonate with ALL forms of musical styles from classical to jazz to country to pop to rock to Norwegian death metal.

    Let us all appreciate the Spirit within all of the diversity. Keep UP the great work.

    Reply this comment
  23. Bobby D
    #23 Bobby D 27 November, 2022, 15:18

    Wreckless Eric’s live album At The Shop is the best live album of all time of course , but I can understand your confusion .

    Reply this comment
  24. Lgbpop
    #24 Lgbpop 5 June, 2024, 19:47

    Everyone’s got their favorites (“everybody’s got their problems, buddy, and I’ve got mine”) but, for my money, the two best live albums ever are the Allman Brothers at Fillmore East and the Kinks’ “One for the Road.” In 1975, three friends of mine and I had a never-to-be-reproduced two-week vacation trip from West Springfield to Martha’s Vineyard (before it got snooty) and North Truro out on the Cape. We had a huge tractor battery to power our eight-track player, and a dozen eight-tracks to make the travelling more pleasant. I think we only played the Allman Brothers the whole time. (We might have put in Canned Wheat by the Guess Who once in a while for a change of pace.) Sorry, the Stones are OK but they don’t hold a candle to the Guess Who or the Allmans.

    Reply this comment

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