Saturday Club, Blues In Rhythm, Top Gear, and The Joe Loss Pop Show are just a few of the bevy of music shows that dominated English television a half century ago. Bands such as The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Kinks, and The Who made regular appearances. Now 32 performances, recorded between 1963-1965, by the Rolling Stones have been resurrected and officially released for the first time.
On Air is similar to opening a time capsule and exploring past history. These performances present the Stones in their formative years. The were still primarily a rhythm and blues cover band and Brian Jones was the controlling force.
Jones’ harmonica play is front and center and on a number of old blues covers substitutes for the sax sound. He also plays a mean slide guitar before the style was popular. Mick Jagger is at his gritty and sarcastic best. Keith Richards takes the lead on a number of songs and demonstrates how he established his reputation of one of rock’s best guitarists.
Many of the tracks have been bootlegged a number of times but now the sound has been scrubbed as clean as possible. While it is not perfect by the standards of today and there are still a few tracks that have problems; overall it is very presentable and provides a good listening experience.
While there are a few familiar songs including “It’s All Over Now,” “Spider And The Fly,” “The Last Time,” and a scintillating “Satisfaction;” it is the covers and rarely heard material that make the album worthwhile and a treasure trove for Stones fans.
Keith Richards puts his unique guitar stamp on Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven” and “Memphis Tennessee.” “One can almost imagine Mick Jagger strutting on stage as he grinds through “Walkin’ The Dog,” “Confessin’ The Blues,” “Mercy Mercy Mercy,” and “I Just Want To Make Love To You.”
On Air presents a raw and developing band. While they had achieved some success, the future was still uncertain, so it is a band fully committed to their performances. It is also interesting to hear Brian Jones as one of the focal points because as the band slowly became one of the best rock and roll bands in music history, his role would be diminished.
On Air fills in some big gaps in the Stones journey and is an essential look into understanding their music.