Starting as the band grew out of their raw London R&B apprenticeship, Hot Rocks 'first phase gathers the early fruits of Jagger/Richards'love-hate writing partnership in combination with Brian Jones'wayward talent for shaft-of-light ideas: their mid-’60s nail-hard rock hits ("(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" the epitome), their sulkiest, meanest working-class-boy put-downs ("Under My Thumb," with Jones on marimba) and the odd rare venture in gentleness and true romance ("Ruby Tuesday," Jones tootling a recorder).
But it's the second half of Hot Rocks that turned the future upside down. From late '68, while Jones faded towards tragedy, Keith Richards found an often inspired guitar foil in Mick Taylor and took his open-tuning tutorials from Ry Cooder and Gram Parsons, while the band found their most inspired producer, Jimmy Miller.
"Jumpin'Jack Flash" announced the change — the archaic tin-shack sound set aside for good — and every subsequent Hot Rocks track is delivered on that gutbucket rifftasmagoria they'd discovered. "Street Fighting Man," "Sympathy for the Devil," "Honky Tonk Women"… sheer heart attack. The Stones entwined ecstatic sensuality with a soured world of political and spiritual ambivalence — “just a shot away” and “just a kiss away” both (in the hippie era of love and assassinations). Really, when the intergalactic visitors ask “What's rock & roll then?” just hand them this compilation and they'll get the picture.