This is where it all began for me.
I became a fan of the Rolling Stones about halfway through college, at the end of a late night viewing of Full Metal Jacket in a friend’s appartment. We were both of us familiar with the movie but had not seen it all the way through, and had some kind of odd theory that Gomer Pyle and Animal Mother were the same dude (probably my theory, given how wrong it was). I was pulled in by the perversity of the flick and smacked in the face by the end, when the survivor of Tet march lockstep through the ruins of Hue, Vietnam singing the Mickey Mouse Club theme song. And as the credits came up out of the fade, “Paint it Black”
It was perfect. I got it. I was a fan.
Several months of tenuous geekery followed. In these pre-Amazon days, finding out what song was on what album was actually a lot of work. I don’t know how many music shops I went in, seeking the album with “Paint it Black” (Aftermath, which I now own on vinyl), only to keep finding Beggars Banquet, Let it Bleed, Flowers (?), etc. Fortunately, my dad had Hot Rocks on vinyl, so I could get my fix whenever I was home. When I started to notice that Hot Rocks was available on CD in most place, I resolved that this would be it. I would immerse myself with a greatest-hits package.
Actually buying the thing required a whole other ginning up of nerve. Double-CD sets were pricey in the mid-90’s. I went to place after place, and could never find anything less than $25, which is a lot of money when your sole source of income is flipping burgers at Checkers for minimum wage during summer and winter break. Finally, near the end of the summer, when I thought my checkbook could take the hit, I rode my bike over to the Nobody Beats the Whiz across the street from work, and plunked down $26.99 for it.
Getting it home and playing it on my makeshift stereo (the CD player was a separate unit) was a moment like none other to me. Hearing the opening riff to “Time is On My Side” was a revelation. Up until this point, my music collection was largely informed by things I didn’t like (or pretended that I didn’t). I had a few odd tapes: Green Day, Tarantino soundtracks, etc. But nobody had ever made me say “Yes, I must hear more of what these guys do.” For the first time in my life, I was a real fan of a band.
I don’t think I’d ever really heard the blues, or even really heard what Rock n’Roll was all about, until I spent afternoons listening to this album, absorbing every riff. I used to get dressed to this before I went out. I used to stay in and drink with it. I became insufferable, especially to any of my friends who liked the Beatles (oh, the energy I spent disliking the Beatles).
The first disc is better: pure R&B ice, served over “Satisfaction” and “Mother’s Little Helper”. It feels more cohesive, while the second disc just sounds like they threw together all the singles from the Late 60’s. Both discs kind of fart out at the end, though. Disc 1 closes with “Let’s Spend the Night Together” which does not improve with repetition, and Disc 2 with “Wild Horses”, which I’ve always considered to be the Stones’ least interesting hit song.
In the years since, I’ve bought numerous Stones albums on CD and vinyl and don’t really listen to this terribly much. Like all greatest hits packages, its limitations became obvious the more purchases I made. But there was a time when, without irony, this was my record, and the beginning of everything I’ve ever liked about Rock or Blues. I’ll never throw it out.