(Corrects Bob Ludwig's first name in paragraph 10)
Rolling Stones fans are a grumpy lot these days.
The band has not toured since August 2007, triggering a painful withdrawal period for acolytes of the death-defying rockers; a CD reissue program turned out to be an anticlimax; and now the Stones' new label has censored one of their raunchier tunes.
Universal Music has licensed the rights to the group's post-1960s albums, and released the first batch three weeks ago: remastered versions of "Sticky Fingers" (1971), "Goats Head Soup" (1973), "It's Only Rock 'N' Roll" (1975) and "Black And Blue" (1976).
Fans were initially thrilled about the prospect of the new reissue program, contemplating discs jam-packed with bonus material. That soon turned to disappointment and then outrage when it emerged that any outtakes, demos and other goodies will stay in the vaults.
The previous remastering program took place in 1994, when the band was signed to Virgin Records, and those discs remain the gold standard. (Universal has held back the reissue of 1972's "Exile on Main Street" until early 2010, promising "wider plans for this title.")
But sharp-eared fans at the Web site It's Only Rock n' Roll have noticed a difference between the Universal and Virgin versions of "Goats Head Soup," and they are not thrilled. In the groupie put-down "Star Star," a vulgar synonym for the female genitals has been obscured, as has a reference to late actor John Wayne.
Both phrases were obscured when the album first came out in 1973. In fact the album's U.S. release was delayed by several months because Atlantic Records, the group's label at the time, wanted to drop the song completely. Moreover, the Stones were forced to change the original title, which has always been heard in its full glory, chanted about 65 times during the song.
The Virgin reissue restored both the naughty word -- which begins with a "p" -- and the John Wayne reference to the couplet "Yeah, I'll make bets that you're gonna get John Wayne before he dies."
So who's to blame for the problem? No one is talking: That includes publicists for both the Rolling Stones and Universal, as well as officials at Marcussen Mastering Studios, the Hollywood firm handling the Universal reissues.
It's likely Marcussen worked from the tapes supplied by the Stones camp. At least, that's what happened with the Virgin Records program, says mastering engineer Bob Ludwig, who handled that project.
"Sometimes the clients intentionally want us to change things," Ludwig said via email, recalling that the Stones requested a "small number of ... little changes," such as restoring Sonny Rollins' extended sax solo on the "Tattoo You" track "Slave."
"When I did the re-mastering I was told that Keith (Richards) really got into it and set up a vinyl turntable, had someone re-buy all the original vinyl issues, and did lots of comparisons," Ludwig said.