(UPDATE: The Rolling Stones recordings described below were made private on YouTube early on the afternoon of Jan. 1, approximately 24 hours after they were posted. The brief release could extend their copyright, which otherwise would have expired at the end of 2019, although whether or not a post on YouTube constitutes a publication as defined by European Union law is unclear.)
Just hours before 2019 ended on Tuesday, at least 75 Rolling Stones studio and live outtakes dating from 1969 suddenly appeared on YouTube in an apparent move to officially release the recordings before they passed into public domain in the European Union — and thus out of the ownership of Abkco Music & Records, which administers the group’s 1960s catalog.
Such releases have become common as the rock era has reached a succession of half-century anniversaries, and Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Motown Records and others have stealthily issued similar copyright-extending outtake collections for a brief time period (or on ridiculously limited-edition CDs with minimal packaging) before quickly yanking them off the market. In the E.U., sound recordings are protected for 50 years after they are published, and can be extended to 70 years as long as they are “lawfully communicated to the public” within the first 50 years (even into the last hours of the 50th year) — hence the release of albums like the Beatles’ “Bootleg Recordings 1963” and Dylan’s even more literally titled “Copyright Collections.” The recordings are usually sub-par and of interest only to deeply committed fans, and while the artist may not want them to be part of their official catalog, they also don’t want to lose the copyright and thus allow others to reap the profits from their work. (Thanks to attorney Zvi S. Rosen for clarifying the copyright details.)
While Abkco apparently has done similar brief “copyright dumps” in the past, these recordings — which appear under the title “69RSTRAX” — are the first to be noted by anyone beyond message groups as they happened. Reps for the group and Abkco did not immediately respond to Variety’s request for comment, but if it’s a hoax, it’s an elaborate one: The YouTube recordings all bear official copyright language and are available on the Stones’ and Abkco’s official channels, although the presentation and many of the recordings are bootleg quality or worse. They had not been posted on Spotify or other major streaming services at the time of this article’s publication.
The 75 tracks include several near-complete 1969 concerts and multiple alternate studio versions of songs from the classic “Let It Bleed” and “Sticky Fingers” albums, many of which have been available for decades on bootlegs — along with many that have not.
Even for YouTube, the presentation of these recordings is bootleg-level, with often-rough sound quality and some egregious typos — although the copyright line is typographically pristine. Worst of all, the rarest recordings — i.e. the ones not previously available on bootlegs — have a dial-tone-like sound as loud as the music, presumably to prevent them from being used as source material for illicit releases. Those songs are a truly miserable listening experience, even though many of them will be fascinating to fans whose ears can stand it.
The studio outtakes provide a close look at one of the Stones’ most creative eras, and range from rough instrumental workouts to near-complete alternate versions. Highlights include a version of “You Got the Silver” sung by Mick Jagger instead of Keith Richards (along with “Gimme Shelter” sung by Richards instead of Jagger), an acoustic version of “Ruby Tuesday” (which some fan forums say actually dates from 1966), and slower, “Blusier” [sic] or alternate arrangements of songs like “Love in Vain,” “Sister Morphine,” “Wild Horses” and “Let It Bleed.” Perhaps most interesting of all, there’s apparently the complete 22-minute choir session for “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” with Jagger and vocal arranger Jack Nitzsche rehearsing the singers, who — contrary to how fans might have envisioned the ’69 Stones paired with the seemingly stodgy London Bach Choir — are enthusiastic and frequently laugh throughout. (In the days since Variety broke the news of the songs’ release, fans have speculated at length about the recording details of these tracks, and The Verge also spoke with Rosen and went into greater detail about whether uploading songs to YouTube actually constitutes a release.)
Also included are multiple live tracks from several concerts on the Stones’ legendary 1969 U.S. tour, including the disastrous Altamont festival. These vary widely in terms of quality and performance, from excellent (the Champaign, Illinois show, where Jagger greets the crowd with a preposterous Southern accent) to just awful (Richards’ guitar was apparently out of tune for the entire Florida concert). They’re nice to have, but better recordings of nearly every song are available on the expanded “Get Yer Ya-Yas Out” live album, taped during the same month-long tour.
Still, there’s more than enough exciting material here to enrage fans who for decades have been clamoring for the release of rare ’60s Stones material in a far more satisfying manner than this; the group has issued a series of quality post-1970 archival albums and videos on their website and elsewhere over the past few years. But the Stones’ relationship with Abkco — the company founded by its 1960s business manager, the late Allen Klein, one of the most successful and tenacious executives in music-business history — has been cool and at times very contentious over the past 50 years, and sources say the group are actually the ones blocking the material’s release.
And although Abkco has released a series of superb 50th anniversary reissues over the past decade, as “69RSTRAX” shows, much remains in the vault. Perhaps Jagger, who is also one of the toughest businessmen the biz has ever known, will continue to play the waiting game until he or his future heirs finally find a way to fully capture his youth’s work.