Album cover of El Mocambo 1977 by the Rolling Stones


El Mocambo 1977
Polydor 2022

Side A:
1. Honky Tonk Women
2. All Down the Line
3. Hand of Fate
4. Route 66

Side B:
1. Fool to Cry
2. Crazy Mama
3. Mannish Boy

Side C:
1. Crackin’ Up
2. Dance Little Sister
3. Around and Around

Side D:
1. Tumbling Dice
2. Hot Stuff
3. Star Star

Side E:
1. Let’s Spend the Night Together
2. Worried Life Blues
3. Little Red Rooster

Side F:
1. It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll (But I Like It)
2. Rip This Joint
3. Brown Sugar
4. Jumpin’ Jack Flash

Side G:
1. Melody
2. Luxury
3. Worried About You


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The effortless greatness of the Rolling Stones at the El Mocambo

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There’s a certain trill, or twang, in a signature riff. And in this moment, ringing through my headphones, Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood are trading licks in an intimate venue. Mick Jagger is howling as only he ever could. Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman are thumping away, as fluid and steady a rhythm section has ever been. Even Ian Stewart is tinkling away on the ivories with, I can imagine, a kind of quiet, steady satisfaction.

All this is happening on “Crazy Mama,” of all things. It’s not necessarily a career hallmark, but in this moment, the gents are strutting with a power and ease that few could even imagine. If any other band had written this song, it’d be their high-water mark. As it is, it’s just a Saturday night for the Rolling Stones, captured for posterity’s sake as El Mocambo 1977.

As the 1970s carried on, the Rolling Stones went from being the most dangerous band in the land, to the point that they were something less than “welcome” in many of the western countries they would’ve otherwise liked to have inhabited, to just a good-time, bad-ass party on wheels. Even if the peak of Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main St. wouldn’t be reached again, they were still more than capable of cranking out some seismic recordings, with shows to match.

But that shouldn’t be a surprise. Goats Head Soup and It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll were solid records, and as they transitioned out of the Mick Taylor period into the Ronnie Wood epoch that remains today, they started jamming, turning grooves into an album on Black and Blue and cranking up the fun without sacrificing the riffs or the showmanship when they bounced back onto the stage.

And so we arrive at Toronto’s El Mocambo for two nights as the Cockroaches, turning up after April Wine’s “headlining” sets. In search of a few more good performances to pad out the live album that would become Love You Live, they backed up the mobile recording units and turned the club on its ear.

Quite simply, the results are stunning. It might be heresy to suggest that something without Taylor could be called as such, but this might well be the finest live moment of the Rolling Stones yet committed to tape.

I’ve been on the record with my adoration of Love You Live, maligned at times for not living up to the standards the band set on their previous live record, Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out!, but the hang-ups of contemporary reviews simply don’t measure up to the sheer, comforting joy I’ve found in putting that album on the turntable on some solo Saturday night, livening up whatever might not have been happening otherwise.

The most immediate side on that double album set, of course, was the “El Mocambo side” on the second LP. Rough and tumble in a Toronto club, the band flaunted it’s R&B roots, offering a reminder that they remained the nastiest blues band that had yet to appear from their side of the Atlantic. If there was any fear that those four tracks were the limit of the highlights from the El Mocambo on those two nights, this puts that to bed. One side in 1977 stretches to seven today, and anyone with ears and a hunger for that kind of raw and ragged goodness is the beneficiary.

Recorded on March 4 and 5, 1977, most of this set hails from the second night, running in sequence until the final three songs are tacked on via the first night. But in those final three, we get rare airings of “Melody,” “Luxury” and an early sketch of “Worried Life Blues,” which wouldn’t appear until 1981’s Tattoo You. With no pressure and time on their side, the Stones were happy to take chances and work on their chops.

But rarities or not, there is simply no let-up for nearly two hours. “Honky Tonk Women” kicks us off, as signature a riff as exists in Keith Richards’ bag, and the band is intent on matching or bettering that energy from there. Listeners are treated to definitive versions of “Hand of Fate,” “Crazy Mama,” “Dance Little Sister,” “Hot Stuff,” “It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll” and “Little Red Rooster,” while their cover of “Mannish Boy” remains as nasty here as it was the first time on Love You Live.

I could continue to go song-for-song in making this argument. But if you’re looking for controversy, look no farther than the notion that I’m about to put forth: “Crazy Mama” might be the coolest bit on this four-record set. It’s not the greatest Stones song ever written, emerging as it did while the band was simultaneously auditioning guitarists and recording an album. But in the midst of all that, and just as this set is really heating up, Wood puts down some of those familiar licks that made him a cult hero in the Faces and cemented his place with his new band, sitting right between all the nasty grooves that Richards and Watts were laying down in the process. By the end, the ancient art of weaving is in full gear, with both guitarists exploring all the space on the club’s cramped stage.

Most of all, I can imagine being in that room that night and actually dancing, the notorious non-dancer I am. It’s just an extremely rock and roll moment from the most rock and roll band, rolling more than anything else, laughing it up and reminding the world that it doesn’t take a stadium to prove your worth as a band. Take some unholy riffs and telepathic sense of time, and let the tape run until a night to remember has been captured. And let that be a signature in itself.

E-mail Nick Tavares at