Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts and Ronnie Wood, According to the Rolling Stones (Chronicle Books, 2003)

While Spike lounged on the couch, listening to my old Rolling Stones records on the new Crosley record player, scratching notes for his first review with an HB pencil on a sheet of foolscap, I sat behind the desk and immersed myself in the written reminiscences of the band in a stately volume entitled According to the Rolling Stones. Not quite as big as The Beatles Anthology from two years ago, not quite as colourful as Bill Wyman's scrapbook Rolling With the Stones from last year, this new volume features recent and archival interviews, spiffy design and a selection of classic photos to illustrate the various eras of the Stones' career.

Wyman's two books about his life with the Stones are masterpieces of their kind (he also wrote 1990's Stone Alone). He is an amazing pack rat, and has saved ticket stubs, posters, flyers, guitar picks, reviews — you name it, he has it. And he seems to remember everything. How much they were paid for specific early gigs. Everything. The current four Stones' collective memory is not nearly so sharp. But their easy, chatty responses to questions, and the clean page layout of According to the Rolling Stones makes Chronicle's entry an entertaining (if not definitive) review of the career of the Greatest Rock'n'Roll Band in the World!

You're not going to get much feedback from Brian Jones (a dozen mentions in the book, no quotes) these days, and Mick Taylor (a half dozen mentions, no quotes) doesn't seem to want to talk about the Stones days ... but wouldn't you like to hear Ry Cooder (no mention) ranting about how Keith stole the riff for "Honky Tonk Women" from him? Or ... how about some quotes from Blondie Chaplin about what it's like to play and tour with them (instead of the lone mention of him by Keith)? Well ... you won't find that stuff here. In fact, the Ry Cooder story isn't in Wyman's books either. But Mick, Keith, Charlie and Ron do their best to tell tales and share stories that propel themselves into legend.

Apart from the photos, there are some of Woody's paintings and drawings. He's an amateur draftsman (that means he does it because he loves doing it) and while the images are recognizable and energetic, they have a distinctly "non-professional" look about them. More power to you Woody ... keep scribbling!

The reminiscences are intriguing, but don't have the same candor Bill Wyman displayed in his two books. Mick appears more guarded and Keith ... well, let's face it ... maybe Keith just can't recall. Ron Wood's back story is included: his time with The Birds, and with Rod the Mod. I must confess that while I thought he was a perfect foil for Keith as a guitar player ... I still think of Brian Jones, and even Ian Stewart (who receives quite a nice tribute from Keith and Charlie) as Rolling Stones before I think of Woody and Mick Taylor. But that's just me. In Chronicle's Beatles Anthology, Lennon (RIP 1980) was represented with quotes from a lifetime of interviews, a technique which is not echoed here.

The interviews are sprinkled liberally with remembrances by associates. Ahmet Ertegun, Peter Wolf, Prince Rupert Lowenstein, Marshall Chess ... the usual suspects who managed, or recorded, or performed with the Stones through the years. Their quotes are presented in a different type-face, which separates the band members from the onlookers.

According to the Rolling Stones may not answer all your long-held questions about the band, but it's a classy and attractive souvenir of a group that has held the title of "World's Greatest Rock Band" longer than anyone could have imagined they would. A welcome surprise under the Christmas tree, for the rock fan who has everything.

[David Kidney]