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'Rocks Off' is a book equivalent of a Rolling Stones greatest-hits compilation

"Rocks Off: 50 Tracks That Tell the Story of the Rolling Stones" by Bill Janovitz
St. Martin's Press

This review is part of a series of reviews of Rolling Stones books that have a 50th anniversary theme.

This article is part of a series of reviews of Rolling Stones books that were published in 2013.

"Rocks Off: 50 Tracks That Tell the Story of the Rolling Stones" by Bill Janovitz is just like buying a Rolling Stones greatest-hits compilation with 50 songs: If you're a die-hard Rolling Stones fan, then you're not going to discover anything new, you know there are numerous other Rolling Stones compilations that are bigger and better, and whether or not you want to buy it depends on how heavily you are into collecting Rolling Stones merchandise.

"Rocks Off" basically takes what are arguably 50 of the best-known Rolling Stones songs and devotes a chapter to each of the songs, with the story of how each song was written and recorded, what were any inspirations, and how the song was received by the public and critics.

The songs are listed in chronological order of release, and divided into "The Brian Jones Years," "The Mick Taylor Years" and "The Ronnie Wood Years" to distinguish how each guitarist represented a different musical era for the Stones.

The first song listed is "Tell Me." The last song is "Plundered My Soul," from the 2010 reissue of "Exile on Main Street."

The "Rocks Off" book was published in July 2013, so the book would have been better if it included either "Doom and Gloom" or "One More Shot," the two new studio tracks that were on the 2012 Rolling Stones greatest-hits compilation "GRRR!" ("Doom and Gloom" would be the more likely choice, since it was released as the compilation's first single.)

However, almost all of the Rolling Stones' biggest hits are included. There are some interesting choices (or omissions, depending on your perspective) for the Stones albums released in the 1980s and beyond: The book includes "All About You" from 1980's "Emotional Rescue" album but not the better-known title track. "She Was Hot" from 1983's "Undercover" album is included, but not the album's "Undercover of the Night," which many fans would argue is the better song. "Slipping Away" from 1989's "Steel Wheels" is included, not the better-known songs "Mixed Emotions" or "Rock and a Hard Place."

"Out of Tears" from 1994's "Voodoo Lounge" is included, but not "You Got Me Rocking" or "Love Is Strong." "Saint of Me" from 1997's "Bridges to Babylon" is included, but not "Anybody Seen My Baby," which was the album's lead single. "Biggest Mistake" from 2005's "A Bigger Bang" is included, but not "Streets of Love" or "Rough Justice." Of course, saying which song is "better" than another is highly subjective and debatable.

Here are the 50 songs that are included in the book:

  1. Tell Me
  2. It's All Over Now
  3. Time Is on My Side
  4. Heart of Stone
  5. The last Time
  6. Play With Fire
  7. (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction
  8. The Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man
  9. I'm Free
  10. As Tears Go By
  11. Under My Thumb
  12. Paint It Black
  13. I Am Waiting
  14. Let's Spend the Night Together
  15. Ruby Tuesday
  16. 2000 Light Years From Home
  17. Jumpin' Jack Flash
  18. Street Fighting Man
  19. Sympathy for the Devil
  20. Stray Cat Blues
  21. You Can't Always Get What You Want
  22. Honky Tonk Women
  23. Gimme Shelter
  24. Midnight Rambler
  25. Sway
  26. Brown Sugar
  27. Wild Horses
  28. Moonlight Mile
  29. Rocks Off
  30. Tumbling Dice
  31. Let It Loose
  32. Happy
  33. Coming Down Again
  34. Angie
  35. It's Only Rock'n'Roll (But I Like It)
  36. Time Waits for No One
  37. Memory Motel
  38. Fool to Cry
  39. Respectable
  40. Miss You
  41. All About You
  42. Start Me Up
  43. Waiting on a Friend
  44. She Was Hot
  45. One Hit (To the Body)
  46. Slipping Away
  47. Out of Tears
  48. Saint of Me
  49. Biggest Mistake
  50. Plundered My Soul

As a personal touch, the author adds his own memories or assessments of the song in some of the descriptions.

Keith Richards' 2010 memoir "Life" just may be the best book on how Rolling Stones songs were written and recorded. Ever since "Life" was published, many books about the Rolling Stones songs are basically using Richards' memoir as a main source of information.

A good example is how Richards set the record straight about the story behind "Angie." He said the song was not about Angela Bowie, his daughter Angela, Angela's mother Anita Pallenberg or a mysterious woman named Angie. He just thought of the name Angie, on a whim, for the song's title. And so now every Rolling Stones book (such as "Rocks Off") that talks about the "Angie" will be quoting from Richards' memoir about how he wrote the song while detoxing from heroin and how it wasn't about a specific female. Before Richards' memoir came out, books about Rolling Stones songs could only speculate about what inspired the song.

The bottom line is that the book "Rocks Off" is a good read, but it's not very original and not essential if you compare it to all the other books and articles that have already been written about Rolling Stones songs. If you have plenty of Rolling Stones compilations and you still want more, or if you're new to discovering the Rolling Stones, then "Rocks Off" is your kind of book.

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