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From The Heart The Rolling Stones Are Still Putting Out Great Songs And Loving Every Minute Of It

Strange as it may seem, the Rolling Stones and the Beatles are gearing for head-to-head combat once again. The British superbands will battle in record stores during these next heavy-shopping weeks in much the same way they battled some 30 years ago: for media attention, radio-video time and fans.

With the release Tuesday of their mostly acoustic “Stripped” (Virgin Records), the Stones get a one-week jump on “The Beatles Anthology” - the companion set to ABC’s much-hyped “Anthology” documentary series that starts Sunday.

Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney have, of course, been through this before. And not just in the old days, but as recently as Feb. 9, 1993, when through a fluke of scheduling both released (stiff) solo sets. (Anyone remember McCartney’s “Off the Ground?” Jagger’s “Wandering Spirit?”)

While years ago the bands’ record labels sometimes staggered their releases to avoid such retail collisions, that’s not always possible in an age when prestige albums are routinely saved for retail’s crucial “fourth-quarter crunch.”

That the Stones are still a working band and are grabbing a one-week edge on the Beatles may be of little consequence. So massive is the reported $25 million hype campaign for “The Beatles Anthology,” most analysts predict the two-disc package will obliterate all competition.

Still, the Stones have an excellent product, and it shouldn’t be ignored.

The album, like many released this time of year, is not a “new studio album” in the traditional sense. (Releasing all-new material is sometimes considered risky in a season when most consumers shop for familiarity.)

Recorded partially in clubs, “Stripped” is a live-and-studio classics set, featuring rearranged, pared-down versions of loved and little-known tunes, nearly all of them from the band’s early days. Among them: “Wild Horses,” “Let It Bleed,” “Street Fighting Man” and B-sides such as “Spider and the Fly.”

Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away,” with which Jagger opened many a night at the Voodoo Lounge, as well as Robert Johnson’s “Love in Vain,” are among the acknowledgements to career-long inspirations. They also recast (finally) Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” and songs such as “Angie,” “Dead Flowers” and “Sweet Virginia” are included.

And there’s a bonus: The disc is also an IBM and Mac-compatible CD-ROM. Pop it in and see song lyrics, backstage video, profiles of blues greats who inspired the band, and Jagger rehearsing, among other things.

“Stripped” essentially finds the Stones doing what they did so well all through the grueling Voodoo tour - and something the Beatles haven’t done in 25 years: proving that they’re still relevant, still playing from the heart, and loving it.

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