There is no rock star greater than Mick Jagger. There are plenty other as
great, but nobody eclipses Mick in terms of art and influence, as he virtually created the modern-day rock & roll rebel. Given that, why is it that almost nobody takes his solo recordings seriously? Even his longtime partner Keith Richards is quoted on record calling Jagger's 2001 album Goddess in the Doorway
"Dogsh*t in the doorway," a tacit signal that all the dismissive reviews of Jagger's solo stuff were not only justified, but appropriate
-- a judgment that may be a bit extreme, but in a way it's understandable, because Jagger's solo recordings showcased his least lovable aspects, particularly his relentless social climbing and obsession with style. In the Rolling Stones, this trend-chasing clashed with Richards' stubborn traditionalism, a creative tension that often resulted in tremendous music, but on his own Jagger was able to indulge his taste for fleeting fashion, which gave his solo albums a brittle, dated sound that also accentuated his cold, mercenary edge, which, in turn, made them feel a bit desperate. The Very Best of Mick Jagger
, the first-ever compilation of his solo career, doesn't erase that impression, but it does illustrate some merit in it. By not relying strictly on hit singles and mixing in solo cuts from the '70s, when Jagger had yet to start his solo career in earnest, this 17-track set paints a better picture of what Jagger was attempting to achieve outside the Stones, capturing a rocker desperate to leave his status as the leader of the greatest rock & roll band ever far behind. Only "Memo from Turner," his contribution to the 1970 film Performance, truly treads close to the Stones, a cover of Sonny Boy Williamson's "Checkin' Up on My Baby," an unreleased track from his 1993 session with the L.A. blues band the Red Devils, coming in a close second. Jagger's solo career was all about running away from the Stones, but it's nice to have that reminder of his strengths here, since so much of his solo career is so carefully competent, playing to the sounds of the time, whether it's the stiff Nile Rodgers dance-rock of "Just Another Night," the tasteful classicism of the Rick Rubin-produced Wandering Spirit
, or the featureless studio sheen of Goddess in the Doorway
. More than anything, it's the productions that hurt the Jagger solo albums, as they lack the heart and muscle of the Stones, substituting it for careful craft. At least that sense of craft could still be heard in many of the songs, and many of the best are here, including his first solo hits "Lucky in Love" and "Just Another Night," but also latter-day songs like the lively "Put Me the Trash" and the terrific country tune "Evening Gown." These are solid songs; they're only weighed down by the professional polish, so determined to fit into the mainstream that it winds up being too bland. And that's why all the odd detours that are sprinkled through the album stand out so much: not just "Memo from Turner" and "Checkin' Up on My Baby," but his duet with Peter Tosh on "(You Got to Walk And) Don't Look Back," his goofy duet with David Bowie on "Dancing in the Street," and especially, the John Lennon-produced disco of "Too Many Cooks (Spoil the Soup)," heavily bootlegged but unreleased until now and easily the highlight of this collection. These are times where the music is alive and unpredictable, a perfect contrast to Mick's meticulousness -- which, of course, means they feel like the Stones, which is why Jagger never followed their path on his actual solo albums.