Rolling Stones – The Facts
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The Rolling Stones are an English band that rose to prominence during the British Invasion of the 1960s. Like most early British rock groups, they were influenced by a variety of American musical forms, especially electric blues and early rock ‘n’ roll. By the mid-1960s, The Stones had fused their influences into a signature, guitar-based sound that established a prototype for hard rock. The Stones affected a rebellious, bad-boy image that helped propel their rise from an energetic modern blues outfit to one of the world’s biggest and most influential bands. By the end of the ’60s, The Stones had amassed a great number of hit singles. By 1968, after a brief flirtation with psychedelia, they returned to blues-based rock, embarking the following year on the now infamous U.S. tour that saw them billed as “The Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World”. The Rolling Stones have sold 240 million albums worldwide and still continue to record and tour the world to this day.
Early Years: 1962–1967
The name “Rollin’ Stones” was used for the first time on July 12, 1962, as they played in the Marquee Club to replace Blues Incorporated.
Founding members Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are regarded as one of the greatest songwriting teams in the history of rock; the band never stopped being inspired by other genres. Reggae, funk, disco/dance, country, folk, soul, and even psychedelia have leaked into their recordings.
The band came into being in 1962 when former schoolmates Mick Jagger and Keith Richards met Brian Jones, who named the band after the title of the Muddy Waters song “Rollin’ Stone”. The original line-up included Mick Jagger (vocals), Brian Jones (guitar, harmonica, vocals), Keith Richards (guitar, vocals), Ian “Stu” Stewart (piano), Dick Taylor (bass) and various drummers such as Mick Avory (later of The Kinks) and Tony Chapman. Taylor left shortly after to return to art school, and was later to form The Pretty Things. He was replaced by Bill Wyman. Because the Stones were not too pleased with their first “official” drummer Tony Chapman, they hired some temporary replacements to play in their first gigs. One of them was the influential drummer Carlo Little, who was with Cyril Davies All Stars. Another was Mick Avory, who later joined another influential British Invasion act The Kinks. Charlie Watts, a drummer more interested in jazz than blues or rock and roll, joined the Stones in January 1963 as their new permanent drummer.
United by their shared interest in rhythm and blues music, the group rehearsed extensively, initially playing in public at the Marquee Club in London, where Cyril Davies’s rhythm and blues band was resident. They soon got their own residency at The Crawdaddy Club in Richmond, which was run by Russian emigre Giorgio Gomelsky, and began to establish themselves as London’s premier live act, even being honoured with a visit from The Beatles. At first, Brian Jones, a guitarist who also toyed with numerous other instruments, was their creative leader, despite Mick Jagger increasingly becoming the focus during live performances. The band rapidly gained a reputation for their frantic, highly energetic covers of the rhythm and blues songs of their idols and, through their recently appointed sharp young manager Andrew Loog Oldham, were signed to Decca Records (who had passed when offered The Beatles). John Lennon claimed to have recomended the band to the same man who had turned him down.
By the time of their first single release; a cover of Chuck Berry’s “Come On”, Ian Stewart was, at the insistence of Andrew Oldham, not officially listed as part of the band, though he continued to record and perform with them. Another of Oldham’s ideas was to convince Keith Richards to drop the s from his last name to become “Keith Richard”, matching the surname spelling of British pop star Cliff Richard.
The choice of material on their first, self-titled EP, reflected their live shows. Similarly, the album The Rolling Stones (England’s Newest Hitmakers), which appeared in April 1964 featured versions of such classics as “Route 66” (originally recorded by Nat King Cole), “Mona” (Bo Diddley) and “Carol” (Chuck Berry). The performances were pivotal in introducing a generation of white British youth to rhythm and blues music, and helped to fuel the “British Invasion” of America. More importantly perhaps, while The Beatles were still suited, clean-cut boys with mop-top haircuts, The Stones cultivated the opposite image: decidedly unkempt, and posing for publicity photographs like a gang of surly yobs. This made many girls go crazy for their bad boy image, and soon made them a teen idol group. The follow-up album, The Rolling Stones #2 (Now in the United States), was also composed mainly of cover tunes, only now augmented by a couple of songs written by the fledgling partnership of Jagger and Richards, having been locked in a room by their manager, who refused to let them out until they had written something they could release. Encouraged by Oldham, the band toured Europe and America continuously, playing to packed crowds of screaming teenagers in scenes reminiscent of the height of Beatlemania. While on tour, they took time to visit important locations in the history of the music that inspired them, recording the EP Five By Five at the studios of Chess Records in Chicago, Illinois.
On June 30, 1965, the Stones released the album Out of Our Heads. The US version included the song “Satisfaction”. Keith Richards apparently wrote the memorable introductory riff in his sleep. He had been recording riffs on a tape recorder and fell asleep; when he woke up, he almost erased the tape, but decided to listen to it again. He said it was, “two minutes of Satisfaction and forty seconds of me snoring”.
Back at home, these early years of success represented a rare period of stability in the personal relationship between the band members. Jagger, Richards and Jones shared a squalid London flat in Edith Grove, Chelsea, throughout much of 1963 along with friend, reprobate, and later biographer James Phelge. The three Stones became so fond of Phelge that they used his name as part of the ‘Nanker/Phelge’ pseudonym to indicate early band writing compositions. Two years later, Brian Jones began to see Anita Pallenberg, an actress and model who introduced them to the circle of society in which she moved: a group of young artists, musicians and filmmakers. Prompted by Oldham, who possessed sufficient business acumen to see where money was to be made, Jagger and Richards became more prolific songwriters and the US version of 1965’s Out of Our Heads contained seven original songs, including the classic “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” as mentioned above. The UK version, however, contained only four, of which Satisfaction was not one.
In the United States, it took the Rolling Stones longer to catch on – longer than British counterparts such as The Beatles, The Dave Clark Five and others who became famous in early 1964. Their first “big” hit came later in 1964 with “Time Is on My Side”. They continued, but it wasn’t until “Satisfaction” in the summer of 1965 that the group entered its “hit-making” stride.
It was also in this period that Tom Wolfe offered his 1965 summary that “The Beatles want to hold your hand, but The Stones want to burn your thumb”. Their burgeoning songwriting talent changed the dynamic of the band, with Jagger and Richards starting to emerge as the perceived leaders of the band. Jones, not unaware of his reduced importance, retreated into drug abuse, alienating both Richards and Pallenberg, who began a relationship that would last more than ten years. During this period, Pallenberg seemed to exert an influence on the music as somebody whose opinions the band trusted, particularly on the dark single “Paint it Black”, and the (for 1966) shockingly sexually ambiguous video for “Have You Seen Your Mother Baby (Standing in the Shadows)?” With the main songwriters maintaining their rate of production, Aftermath (1966) continued the progression, consisting entirely of Jagger/Richards compositions including “Mother’s Little Helper”, about pill abuse, and “Under My Thumb”, whereas on Between the Buttons (1967) they were the influences of their many contemporaries, including The Who and The Kinks.
It was at this point that some members of the British establishment decided it had had enough of the burgeoning youth movement that was threatening to undermine the moral fibre of society, and it was the Rolling Stones who would feel the first crack of the reactionary whip. On the weekend of 11/12 February 1967 a party was held at Redlands, Keith Richards’ Sussex home, and amongst those in attendance were Richards, Jagger, Marianne Faithful, photographer Michael Cooper and art dealer Robert Fraser. A lot of drugs had been circulating over the weekend, including LSD (apparently it was Jagger’s first experience with the drug), and at 5.30 on the Sunday afternoon 20 police officers arrived on a tip off from the newspaper The News of the World (who had just been served a writ by Jagger for alleging he had taken LSD). It is rumoured that George and Patti Harrison had been at the party earlier that day and that the police had waited until they had left before swooping.
Unfortunately for the police, they didn’t find a great deal of illegal narcotics, and the only charges they could bring against Jagger and Richards were Jagger’s possession of 4 diet pills he had bought over the counter in Italy, and Richards for allowing the consumption of controlled drugs on his property.
A few months later, in May 1967, Brian Jones was arrested for the possession of cannabis, cocaine and methamphetamine. He escaped with a fine and probation, but was told he had to seek professional help.
On June 29 at Chichester Crown Court, Jagger was sentenced to 3 months’ imprisonment, and Richards to a year’s. A hand-cuffed Jagger was famously caught on film waving to the crowd as he was driven away from the court, and they each spent a night in gaol before being granted bail as part of their appeal.
With Richards and Jagger out on bail and their sentences shortly to be commuted in Jagger’s case and quashed in Richards’, Jagger was immediately whisked off in a helicopter to appear on the Granada Television programme World in Action taking part, along with members of the British establishment, in a live debate discussing the morals of modern society. Maybe as a result of the pressure he was feeling, he looked out of his depth and his arguments cut little ice with his fellow participants.
The band quickly set about recording a new single, “We Love You”, officially as a thank you for the loyalty shown by their fans during their trial, though privately it was seen as a barbed attack on their perceived persecutors: the News of the World, the Metropolitan Police and members of the British judiciary. The record featured guest appearances on backing vocals from John Lennon and Paul McCartney, and opens with the sounds of footsteps and a cell door banging shut, which it is rumoured was taken from a secret recording from within Wormwood Scrubs, the London prison where Richards was held overnight. The promotional film for the song compared The Stones’ persecution and trial to that of Oscar Wilde, portraying Jagger as Wilde receiving sentence from Richards’ Marquis of Queensbury.
Work then commenced on a new psychedelic album, which Jagger envisioned as the group’s response to the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The record, which would eventually be released as Their Satanic Majesties Request, was recorded in difficult circumstances with various members of the band living under the threat of imprisonment; so much so that Bill Wyman was able to get one of his songs, “In Another Land”, onto the album. The resulting record received lukewarm reviews observing that the songs and arrangements did not lend themselves to the band’s natural style, though an increasingly drugged-out Jones continued an impressive display of instrumental experimentation. The front cover of the album bears a remarkable similarity to the montage of the Sgt. Pepper album, which gave ammunition to critics (including John Lennon) who accused the Stones of riding in The Beatles’ slipstream. The first 25,000 copies of the record had a 3D sleeve, argued by some as being the best bit of the album. Despite Jagger later harshly pronouncing it “complete crap”, a number of songs showcased the improving songwriting of Jagger and Richards, in particular the spacey “2000 Light Years From Home” (written by Jagger whilst he was in gaol), which showcased Brian Jones’ mellotron, and which has been revived for recent live performances.
Within the band, however, the two principal writers were continuing their wrestling of power (and in Richards’ case, the stealing of girlfriend Anita Pallenberg) from their former leader Jones, whose mental stability was steadily deteriorating.
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Last years of Brian Jones, and those soon after: 1968–1972
After the excesses of Satanic Majesties, and with personal relations between Jones and Richards increasingly frayed, the release in May 1968 of the single “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and, later that year, the album Beggars Banquet, saw the band return to their roots. Despite the tension, and aided by an excellent sound from up-and-coming producer Jimmy Miller, Jagger and Richards produced some of their most memorable work, including the distorted acoustic guitar-driven “Street Fighting Man” and the anthemic “Sympathy for the Devil”, and the Stones entered the phase that would see them billed as “The World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band”. The songs themselves were firmly rooted in the blues, but tempered by the changes that occurred in 1960s music and assimilating the imagery of Bob Dylan and the emergent heavy rock of Cream and Jimi Hendrix. In contrast to its predecessor, however, it was a clear rejection of the 1967 hippie ethos, replacing “free love” with mixed layers of sleaze and politics. Two other events contributed to the change in the Stones’ sound. Firstly, Keith Richards played extensively with Ry Cooder, and was taught his open-G guitar tuning (as used by John Lee Hooker). Cooder would relate to how, when attending the Stones’ sessions, Keith would strangely leave the room immediately upon Ry entering it, even with the tapes still rolling. After supposedly hearing himself play on Let It Bleed, he accused Richards of using his overdubs without credit or permission, which Keith denies: “He played beautifully, man. I heard those things he said (about the Stones ripping him off), I was amazed. I learned a lot of things off a lot of people…I had already been into open tuning on Beggars Banquet, “Street Fighting Man”. Just a different tuning.” The open-G tuning is used, most notably, in the riffs for the 1969 single “Honky Tonk Women”, “Brown Sugar” (Sticky Fingers) and “Start Me Up” (Tattoo You). Secondly, Jagger and Richards befriended Gram Parsons, who introduced them to country music with which he had grown up. Music was not all that The Stones and the independently wealthy Parsons had in common: “We liked drugs,” Richards said later, “and we liked the finest quality.”
An ever-increasing consumption of drugs, however, was making Brian Jones less and less reliable. The ill-fated Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus was one of his last projects with the band and increasingly he was either absent from recording sessions by choice, or simply not invited to attend. With a reduced contribution to Beggars Banquet and a minimal one to Let It Bleed, he found himself forced out of the band for good after an infamous late-night visit to his rural home from Jagger, Richards and Charlie Watts on June 8, 1969, to be replaced by the young, jazz-influenced guitarist Mick Taylor, drafted in from John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and unveiled to the media only five days later.
Jones retreated to his Cotchford Farm home in Kent, a house formerly owned by Winnie the Pooh author A. A. Milne, drinking heavily in the local pub and planning his comeback with a blues band. However, within a month of his departure, and two days before the Stones were due to play a free concert in Hyde Park, London, he was dead, found at the bottom of his swimming pool surrounded by statues of Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh. Although his death was recorded as being by misadventure, the cause of the drowning to this day remains a mystery. A recent death-bed confession to murder by Frank Thorogood, a builder employed by Jones at the time, has only served to cloud the issue further. This theory has been furthered by the 2005 Stephen Woolley film Stoned.
Despite the tragedy, the Hyde Park concert went ahead to an audience of 200,000 fans, with Jagger reading from Shelley’s Adonais and releasing hundreds of (mostly dead) butterflies by way of tribute to the late guitarist. The band’s performance, under-rehearsed and suffering from some of the remaining members’ narcotic intake, was somewhat shambolic and was captured by a Granada Television production team, later to be shown on British television as Stones in the Park. The band had released the first recording with the new line up, a single called “Honky Tonk Women”, which was recorded with Jones but had sections of his guitar part edited out and Taylor’s part dubbed in at the last minute. It was released on July 3, 1969, coinciding with the death of Jones, and remains the band’s last number 1 single in the UK Let It Bleed followed in December and was rapidly hailed as another classic, featuring the brooding “Gimme Shelter”, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, and a further nod to their roots with a cover of Robert Johnson’s “Love In Vain”. Immediately, the band set off on another U.S. tour, characterised by the hedonism that their position in rock’s aristocracy afforded them.
This was like no other tour the band had yet undertaken. Away from the stage since 1966, they found that live performing had moved on. Instead of performing in small and medium-size venues to audiences of screaming girls, they were booked into huge baseball and football stadiums with crowd sizes to match. They blazed a trail for a multitude of stadium tours by the super-bands of the 1970s, which continues to this day.
In an attempt to recreate the atmosphere of Hyde Park, and as a reaction to the Woodstock festival, the tour culminated in a free concert given at Altamont, a disused racetrack located about 40 miles east of San Francisco. Originally, The Stones’ appearance was to be a surprise for the festival in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. Jagger’s decision to announce at a press conference that The Stones would be performing at the event, possibly to ensure a sufficient audience for the concert movie, resulted in the city of San Francisco denying permits. This led to numerous problems as the event organizers had to scramble to plan the event.
The concert was a disaster. Jagger’s refusal to perform during the day, again to ensure a better film with lighting at night, resulted in an escalation of violence between the 250,000 fans and security. The Rolling Stones had hired the local chapter of the Hell’s Angels to take care of security, as The Grateful Dead had a long and successful history of using the Angels for security. However, the American Angels were rather different from the British Angels. The Angels at Altamont may have in fact been consuming more drugs than most of the concert-goers. There are also rumours that they weren’t real Angels, but just wannabes out to impress the gang with their toughness. The running battles between fans and security reached a head when Meredith Hunter, a young black man, was stabbed and beaten to death by the Angels after drawing a firearm in response to the Angels manhandling him during the band’s performance of “Under My Thumb”. The Altamont concert would be documented in Albert and David Maysles’ film Gimme Shelter. Many cultural scholars of the time opined that Altamont marked the de facto end of the 1960s.
Stanley Booth, Keith Richards’ sometime amanuensis and one of the most perceptive commentators on the band, was on the stage at Altamont and paid tribute to Richards’ bravery in standing up to Sonny Barger’s Hell’s Angels on-stage. Booth was the author of perhaps the most well regarded book on the Stones of the 1960s, The True Adventures of.
Although the majority of the rock and roll pundits claim that Altamont destroyed the hippy dream, with the benefit of nearly forty years’ hindsight, the infamous critic Lester Bangs commented that the idea that Altamont destroyed the hippy dream was “wrongo to the liver. Altamont wasn’t the death of an era, it was the facing up”. Some sources claim that on the morning following the concert, Mick Jagger turned to Keith Richards on the plane back to London and said: “Flower Power was a load of old crap really, wasn’t it?”
One critic has described the band at this period as being a “cross between Robert Johnson and Friedrich Nietzsche”. The truth was that the Rolling Stones, by actively opposing the Beatles’ clean-cut image of the early sixties, had developed a rebellious appeal, full of swaggering arrogance, yet retaining an earthy delinquency that gave them a degree of realism. This challenged many of the collective delusions of the late sixties (while occasionally pandering to them) and also the restrictions that British society placed on them.
Although the 1969 tour was forever besmirched by the chaos at Altamont it in fact saw the Stones playing at the top of their game. Unencumbered by Jones and armed to the teeth with the astonishingly fluent blues playing of twenty-one-year-old Mick Taylor, the rhythm section could put its foot down. No other band was so lascive, syncopated, scholarly and original all at the same time. They were making, as the reactionary critic Albert Goldman was forced to admit, “mighty jungle music”. Their producer, Jimmy Miller, called them ‘the greatest white rhythm section I’ve ever seen’ and you can hear this on their live recording Get Yer Ya Yas Out (1970) (named after an obscure blues record of the 1930s). Often considered the greatest live rock and roll record – Lester Bangs was firmly of that opinion – the Stones pay their dues to Chuck Berry with two cover versions (“Little Queenie” and “Carol” – staples from their pub days in south London).
1969 saw the end of the band’s existing contract with Decca Records. The intervening years since they had signed with the record company had seen them become global superstars, and despite overtures they refused to sign a new contract. They recorded a final single as a contract obligation, the bawdy, unreleaseable ballad “Cocksucker Blues”, and left to form their own record company under the financially astute eye of Mick Jagger. Sticky Fingers, released in March 1971 as the band’s first album on their own Rolling Stones Records label, continued where Let It Bleed(whose original working title was Sticky Fingers) had left off, featuring one of their best known hits, “Brown Sugar”, the country influenced “Wild Horses” (which caused a disagreement between Gram Parsons and Mick Jagger over songwriting credits), the moody “Moonlight Mile” (featuring Paul Buckmaster’s evocative string arrangement and one of Jagger’s finest vocal performances), and a version of Marianne Faithfull’s “Sister Morphine” about her own ambiguous relationship with heroin. Mick Taylor collaborated on several songs with Jagger, perhaps due in part to Richards’ escalating drug addictions. However, all the songs were credited as usual to “Jagger/Richards”, which frustrated Taylor and perhaps contributed to his eventual exit from the group.
A New Era: 1972–1981
As Keith Richards’ problems with drugs deepened, Mick Jagger began to move in more elevated social circles. He married the Nicaraguan model Bianca Perez Moreno de Macias, and the couple’s jet-set lifestyle put further distance between himself and Richards. Pressured by the UK Inland Revenue service for several years of unpaid income tax, their recently appointed business manager Prince Rupert Lowenstein, a “society” friend of Jagger’s and descendant of the Rothschild family, advised the band to move abroad to avoid bankruptcy caused by the high rates of taxation of the Labour government of Harold Wilson. They eventually decided to quit Britain for the South of France, the band members taking to this enforced change of lifestyle with varying degrees of success. Bill Wyman, in particular, soon felt at home in his new mountainside house and became friendly with French painter Claude Chagall. Richards, however, adopted a more ‘head-in-the-sand’ approach, ensconced in his London Cheyne Walk home in a state of insurrection until the very last minute.
Once in France, Richards rented a gothic chateau, Villa Nellecote, which had been used as the headquarters for the local Nazi SS during the Second World War, and sublet rooms to the band members and a multitude of assorted hangers-on. Using The Rolling Stones Mobile studio, they began recording the double album Exile on Main St. (1972) in the basement of their new home, reputedly using electricity purloined from nearby railway lines. Dismissed by some on its release as sprawling and self-indulgent, the record is now considered among the band’s (and consequently rock ‘n’ roll’s) greatest. The film Cocksucker Blues, never officially released, documents the subsequent 1972 North American (“STP”) Tour.
By the time Exile on Main St. had been completed, Jagger had made the other band members aware that he was more interested in the celebrity lifestyle than working on its follow-up, and increasingly their records were made piecemeal, with tracks and parts laid down as and when the band, Jagger and Richards in particular, could get together and remain amicable long enough to do so. When it finally arrived, Goats Head Soup (1973) was disappointing, and memorable largely for the hit single “Angie”, popularly believed to be about David Bowie’s new wife, but in reality another of Richards’ odes to Anita Pallenberg.
Interestingly, the popular ballad “Waiting on a Friend” was recorded during the Goats Head Soup sessions, but not released until Tattoo You, nearly ten years later. The making of the record was not helped by another legal battle over drugs, this one dating back to their stay in France. But the tour of Europe in the fall of 1973 showed The Rolling Stones in top form, particularly Taylor, who played extensive solos on songs like “Midnight Rambler” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” in an exciting interplay with Richards on rhythm guitar.
A live recording made in Brussels on 17 October was intended for an official release, but owing to legal problems it appeared only on bootlegs (Nasty Music, The Bedspring Symphony and Brussels Affair) and many fans and critics regard these as the best Rolling Stones concert recordings. By the time they came to the Musicland studios in Munich to record 1974’s It’s Only Rock’n Roll, there were even more problems, and regular producer Jimmy Miller was not asked to participate because of his increasing unreliability and drug abuse. The new record was generally written off as being an uninspiring piece of work from a band seen as stagnating, but both album and the single of the same name were hits, even without the customary tour to promote them. Still, It’s Only Rock’n Roll is considered one of the weaker albums from “the golden era” ’69 – ’75, as it couldn’t compare to masterpieces like Sticky Fingers or Exile on Main St. Mick Taylor’s intricate lead style lent itself well to Keith Richards’ basic, Chuck Berry-inspired rhythm work and to this day the two guitarists are seen as one of the greatest guitar duos ever. Taylor had started to get impatient because there had been no tours between Oct ’73 and Dec ’74. The band was in a stalemate situation, with bandmembers opting to spend their time abroad between recording sessions while Jagger was getting increasingly exasperated with Richards, whose behaviour had become very erratic. The rest of the band ended up paying for the fines and legal bills resulting from Richards’ convictions. which also led to the entire band being denied entry to certain countries and meant missed out income for all. Taylor spent his time helping Jagger with composing and recording songs in the studio while Richards was often “missing in action”. Jagger promised Taylor he would get recognition for his contributions in the form of official credits on tracks from Goats Head Soup and It’s Only Rock’n Roll. When this did not happen and it transpired there were still no tours in sight by the end of ’74, Taylor shocked the music world by his announcing he was leaving the band. The rest of the band started sessions for the next album, Black and Blue (1976). The band used the album’s recording sessions (again in Munich) to audition possible replacements. Guitarists as stylistically far-flung as Humble Pie lead Peter Frampton and ex-Yardbirds impresario Jeff Beck were auditioned. American session players Wayne Perkins and Harvey Mandel appeared on much of the album, but the band settled on Ron Wood. Ron Wood had asked Mick Taylor for his help when he wanted to put his first solo album together. Taylor started hanging out at The Wick (Ronnie’s house) and one day brought Keith Richards along who then also befriended Ron Wood. Taylor and Wood had known each other since they were teenagers, playing the same clubs in London with their respective bands, The Gods and The Birds. In 1974 Wood was still the guitarist with The Faces, whose singer Rod Stewart had recently gone solo.
Wood had already contributed to It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll, but his first public act with the band would be the 1975 United States tour. The shows featured a new format for The Stones with their usual act replaced by increasingly theatrical stage props and gimmicks, including a giant inflatable phallus and a cherry picker on which Jagger would soar out over the audience. This represented a further breakdown in Jagger and Richards’ relationship; the pragmatic Richards considering it entirely superfluous and distracting from the music. Once again, Jagger was, if nothing else, shrewdly interpreting market trends. The mid-1970s were the era of extravagant stage shows from the likes of Queen and Elton John, and the band’s tours were to become even more expensive and elaborate in the years to come.
Although The Rolling Stones remained hugely popular through the 1970s, music critics had grown increasingly dismissive of the band’s output until the seminal late-1970s album Some Girls. Keith Richards would have more serious concerns in 1977: Despite having spent much of the previous year undergoing a series of drug therapies to help withdraw from heroin, including (allegedly) having his blood filtered, and after a tip-off to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police from Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, Richards and Pallenberg were arrested in a Toronto hotel room and charged with possession of heroin. The case would drag on for a year, with Richards eventually receiving a suspended sentence and ordered to play two free concerts for a local charity. This sparked one of Richards’s first musical projects outside of the Stones (with more to come as Jagger’s own solo interests dawned in the 80’s), as he and Wood formed a band, The New Barbarians, to perform at the shows. This motivated a final, concerted attempt to end his drug habit, which proved largely successful. It also coincided with the end of his relationship with Anita Pallenberg, which had become increasingly strained since the tragic death of their third child (an infant son named Tara) and her own inability to curb her heroin addiction while Keith struggled to finally get clean.
While Richards was settling his legal and personal problems, Jagger continued his jet-set lifestyle. He was a regular at New York’s Studio 54 disco club, often in the company of model Jerry Hall. His marriage would end in 1977. By this time punk rock had become highly influential, and The Stones were increasingly criticized as being decadent, aging millionaires and their music considered by many to be either stagnant or irrelevant. The Clash vocalist Joe Strummer even went so far as to declare “no Elvis, Beatles or Rolling Stones” in their song “1977”. What people did not realise at the time was that many punk bands idolised The Stones, Keith Richards in particular, and this does not seem surprising given the band’s earlier rebellious image.
In 1978, the band recorded Some Girls, their most focused and successful album in years, despite the perceived misogyny of the title track. Jagger and Richards seemed to channel much of the personal turmoil surrounding them into renewed creative vitality. With the notable exception of the disco-influenced “Miss You” (a hit single and a live staple) and the droll, country ballad “Far Away Eyes”, the songs in this album were fast, basic guitar-driven rock ‘n’ roll or impeccable ballads like “Beast of Burden” (which prominently features the Richards-Wood guitar-playing style, the ancient art of weaving), and the album was widely praised as both a Stones classic and a summation of late 1970s music trends. Emotional Rescue (1980) was in a similar vein, but lacked the redeeming features of its predecessor.
Tattoo You (1981) was composed partially by using new material and by using unused songs from earlier recording outings (the ballad “Waiting on a Friend” dated back to the Goats Head Soup sessions). It also featured the hugely popular single “Start Me Up,” (first recorded but never released as a reggae number) showing that Richards was still capable of writing monster guitar parts of the same calibre as ten or fifteen years earlier. Several songs on the album (“Waiting on a Friend” and “Tops”) featured Mick Taylor’s guitar playing, while jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins played on “Slave” and did an overdub on “Waiting on a Friend”. Tattoo You and the subsequent tour were major commercial successes.
In the summer of 1981, the band rehearsed for the Tattoo You Tour at Studio Instrument Rentals at West 52nd Street and 8th Avenue in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen, at the site of the former Cheetah Club. They spent two weeks in midnight to eight a.m. jam sessions. Ian Stewart and Bobby Keys were present with the other members of the band for the rehearsals. During this time, The Stones recorded the music video “Start Me Up” at the rehearsal studio number 1. They also recorded the “Waiting On a Friend” video at the same time.
Mixed Emotions: 1981–1999
Throughout the early 1980s the Jagger/Richards partnership continued to falter, and their records would suffer because of it. 1983’s Undercover was widely seen as Jagger’s attempt to make The Rolling Stones’ sound more compatible with current musical trends. Despite initial critical enthusiasm (Rolling Stone gave the album four and a half stars), its slick production and violent political and sexual content were coolly received by fans, and it was poorly promoted; the band filmed the accompanying videos in Mexico solely to save money; worse, no tour was forthcoming. It was not without controversy (the video for “Undercover of the Night” was said to include real assassination footage from Latin America and the guilty-pleasure “Too Much Blood” was criticized for being inspired too closely by slasher films and imagery).
To make matters worse, Ron Wood was now suffering from his own growing drug habit. In 1982, Jagger had signed a major solo deal with the band’s new label, CBS Records. This angered Richards, who saw it as a lack of commitment to the band. To add to the band’s woes in 1985, road manager Ian Stewart died of a heart attack. It cannot be overstated how important the gentle, cool-headed pianist’s contribution to The Rolling Stones had been, from driving the tour van in the early days to keeping the warring band members from each other’s throats during some of their darker moments. Without his presence, the band could well have imploded countless times. They performed a tribute concert for Stewart, which was their only live appearance during this time.
Indeed, Jagger was spending a great deal of time on his solo recordings, and much of the material on 1986’s turgid Dirty Work was authored solely by Keith Richards. The album again sold poorly, and sales were probably hurt by Jagger’s decision not to tour in support of it. A bright spot that year was when The Stones were awarded a Grammy for lifetime achievement, but by this point Jagger and Richards had begun openly criticizing each other in the press and many observers assumed the band had broken up.
Neither the quality nor the sales of Jagger’s solo records (She’s the Boss (1985) and Primitive Cool (1987)) lived up to expectations, but ironically, Richards’ first solo record, Talk is Cheap (1988), which he had been reluctant to make because of his loyalty to The Stones, was well received by fans and critics.
The death of Stewart urged the band to rekindle their relationships. In 1989, after they had had time to cool off, Jagger and Richards appeared to bury the hatchet and re-focus on the recording of a new album that would eventually become 1989’s Steel Wheels and the subsequent world tour. Widely heralded as a return to form, the album even included a song called “Continental Drift,” which featured the musicians of the Morroccan mountain village of Joujouka, previously recorded by Brian Jones during the ill-fated 1967 trip to North Africa with Keith Richards and Anita Pallenberg. The Steel Wheels tour kicked off in August of 1989, at the now demolished Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 1989 also saw The Stones (including Mick Taylor and Ronnie Wood), and along with Ian Stewart (posthumously), inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
In 1991, Bill Wyman finally left the band after years of deliberation and had published Stone Alone, a frank autobiography. After his departure, the band continued as a foursome. Charlie Watts was asked to choose a bass player, and he selected the respected session musician and Miles Davis and Sting sideman Darryl Jones, who appeared on Voodoo Lounge (1994) and played on the supporting tour. Bridges to Babylon (1997) featured another prolific bassist, Doug Wimbish, a journeyman session player and solo artist. Wimbish was offered the permanent position of bass player by the band, but declined to focus on his own material, and so did not play on the ensuing tour. Jones was brought back and has remained with the band since the Bridges to Babylon Tour. Both Voodoo Lounge and Bridges to Babylon received praise from fans and critics, though they failed to achieve the acclaim or popularity of The Stones ’70s and ’80s records.
The Stones’ song “Start Me Up” was used by Microsoft to launch their Windows 95 operating system. Some critics noted that the group who epitomised the way that rock ‘n’ roll commercialised earlier rhythm and blues by delivering it to a global audience provided the soundtrack for the corporation, which did the same with software. (Critics of Windows also noted the song’s lyric “You make a grown man cry.”)
The Rolling Stones had previously never licensed their music for commercial use. According to legend, Microsoft founder Bill Gates asked Jagger how much the rights to the song would cost; rather than refuse outright, Jagger replied with $13 million, a sum that he thought would be outrageously high. However, Gates immediately agreed to the amount.
The Verve’s 1997 hit “Bittersweet Symphony” uses a small five-note sample from an orchestral version of The Rolling Stones’ “The Last Time.” After “Bittersweet Symphony” became a hit single, The Verve was sued by Allen Klein, who owns the copyrights to The Rolling Stones’ pre-1970 songs. Klein claimed The Verve broke their licence agreement when they used a larger portion than was covered in the license.
The band handed over 100 percent of their songwriting royalties. They were then sued by Andrew Loog Oldham, who claimed to possess the copyright on the sampled sound recording.
The Rolling Stones ended the nineties with their album Bridges to Babylon released in 1997 to mixed reviews. Despite its failed singles, the sales were reasonably the same as that as Stripped. However, the huge success was the Bridges to Babylon Tour which crossed Europe, North America and various other destinations.
Don’t stop: 2000–Present
In 2002, The Rolling Stones released Forty Licks, a greatest hits album that spanned their career, that contained four new songs. The same year, Q magazine named The Rolling Stones as one of the “50 Bands To See Before You Die.” On July 30, 2003, the band headlined the Molson Canadian Rocks for Toronto concert in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, to help the city recover financially and psychologically from the effects of the 2003 SARS epidemic. It was attended by an estimated 490,000 people. On November 9, 2003, the band played its first ever concert in Hong Kong as part of the Harbour Fest celebration, also for revival from SARS. In November of 2003 the band exclusively licensed the right to sell their new 4-DVD boxed set, Four Flicks, recorded on their most recent world tour, to the U.S. Best Buy chain of stores. In response, other music retail chains (including Tower Records, Virgin Megastore and HMV) pulled all Rolling Stones CDs and related merchandise from their shelves and replaced them with signs explaining the situation.
Jagger and Richards worked on a new studio album in 2004 with producer Don Was at Jagger’s residences in southern France and the Caribbean. It was said that The Stones would reconvene after the Christmas holidays and that the tracks recorded so far were significantly different to anything he had worked on with The Stones before. Charlie Watts later attended the sessions and was reported to be in excellent health after being treated for throat cancer.
On July 26, 2005, coinciding with Jagger’s birthday, the band announced the name of their new album, A Bigger Bang, which was released September 6 to typically strong reviews, including a glowing write up in Rolling Stone magazine (often noted for its consistent support of the group). The album included perhaps the most controversial song from The Stones in years, “Sweet Neo Con”, a criticism of American Neoconservatism from Jagger. The song was reportedly almost dropped from the album due to objections from Richards, who prefers to avoid music that’s overtly political or topical, because he believes that such songs rarely stand the test of time.
On May 10, 2005, The Stones announced plans for another world tour starting August 21 at Fenway Park in Boston. The A Bigger Bang Tour was expected to include dates throughout the United States and Canada before going to South America, Asia and Europe. Launching the tour at the Juilliard School in New York, Mick Jagger told reporters that it would not necessarily be their last.
In the past few years, Toronto, Ontario, has been chosen as a pre-tour venue for The Rolling Stones. They have played at smaller venues such as the Palais Royale and The Phoenix prior to the full tour. In the wake of the SARS outbreak, The Stones came to Toronto to host a relief concert. Toronto has become something of a headquarters for The Stones, and they are considered there as Toronto’s stepchild of rock ‘n’ roll.
The group kicked off their Bigger Bang Tour 2005—2006 with two shows at the historic Fenway Park. The Stones’ huge stage caused extensive damage to the outfield, so that approximately 40,000 square feet (4,000 m²) of sod had to be brought in to repair it, and a subsequent baseball game held at the park three days later had to be pushed back an hour to give the grounds crew more time to complete the repairs.
The group played during the half-time of Super Bowl XL. The show followed in the same vein as the Super Bowl XXXIX half-time show featuring Paul McCartney, with the band playing “Start Me Up,” “Rough Justice,” and “Satisfaction.” Before performing “Satisfaction,” Jagger made an uncharacteristic comment on their longevity: “This one we could’ve done for Super Bowl I.” Jagger was asked to leave out two sexually suggestive lyrics. The audio on his microphone was lowered twice for the two requested omissions, but Jagger did sing those lyrics. Contrary to many media reports, he was not censored. The Stones had earlier taken part in promotions throughout the entire NFL season using music from A Bigger Bang and footage from their supporting world tour. At the end of 2005, it was announced by tour producer Michael Cohl that The Stones’ A Bigger Bang tour had made a record-shattering $162 million since the tour opening at Fenway Park in Boston on August 21. This breaks the previous North American record, held by The Stones themselves for their 1994 Voodoo Lounge Tour, which grossed approximately $120 million. The North American leg of the A Bigger Bang Tour is still continuing and there are a number of confirmed shows remaining.
On February 1, 2006, The Stones played their first concert at the Baltimore Arena since 1969, possibly the second smallest venue they have played or will play for the entire tour. Their most intimate performance was in Radio City Music Hall on March 14, 2006, in a private concert for supporters of the Robin Hood Foundation. This benefit concert was their only performance at the venue to date.
February 18, 2006, was a historic day for The Rolling Stones: They performed to the biggest audience of their career, a free concert on Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro Brazil, where city authorities estimated attendance at 1,500,000. While the Guinness World Book of Records states the largest free concert ever was given in the same spot in 1994 by Rod Stewart, to 3.5 million people, that figure includes everyone who was on Copacabana Beach for fireworks and New Year Eve’s celebrations, not just for that concert, so The Rolling Stones could hold the title of largest rock concert of all time. For the first time in free concerts on Copacabana beach, a special overpass was constructed directly between the Copacabana Palace hotel, where they stayed, and the stage across the street, to ensure their safe passage to and from the concert. This show was recorded for exhibition on digital movie screens across the United States via Regal Cinemas and heard live on XM Radio. Additionally, the show was shown live on AOL Music in partnership with Network Live. Interestingly enough, U2 played in São Paulo two days later (ending one of their last songs with the words “I can’t get no satisfaction”).
March 31, 2006. The Rolling Stones announce their forthcoming concerts due to be played at Wembley Stadium August 20 and 22, 2006, will now take place at Twickenham Stadium instead due to the rebuilding of Wembley Stadium being behind schedule.
April 8, 2006. The Rolling Stones arrived in China for their first-ever performance in that country (performances planned in 2003 were canceled due to the SARS epidemic). The Chinese authorities required that the group not perform “Brown Sugar”, “Honky Tonk Women”, “Beast of Burden”, and “Let’s Spend the Night Together”, as they were considered to be “too suggestive.”
After their April 18, 2006 performance in Wellington New Zealand, The Rolling Stones began their one month break before they embarked on the European Leg of their A Bigger Bang Tour. Mick Jagger remained in New Zealand to film a cameo in the sitcom Let’s Rob Mick Jagger while Keith Richards and Ron Wood went to Fiji for two weeks with their wives. During the vacation it is understood Richards fell from a coconut tree while climbing it to obtain coconuts. After suffering a concussion he was rushed back to Ascot Private Hospital in Auckland New Zealand for further observation. Although reports claimed he had been released two days later, it was soon confirmed by the hospital he underwent brain surgery on May 5, 2006 to relieve a blood clot that had gathered behind his skull. Richards and his wife Patti were joined by his daughters on May 9 when The Rolling Stones announced the European Tour would be postponed for one month. The BBC reported on May 11 that Richards had now left the hospital, profusely thanking staff for his care, and had now left for an unknown location. Many issues regarding his illness and treatment remain unclear – with one report saying he had in fact fallen off a jetski.
The A Bigger Bang Tour restarted in Milan, Italy on July 11th, 2006 with Richards now having made a full recovery; however, the first fifteen dates have been postponed, and whilst some have been rescheduled for this summer, it is understood that most of the others will now take place in the summer of 2007.
Rolling Stones U.S. & Canada Tour Dates
Sep 20, 2006/Boston MA/Gillette Stadium
Sep 23, 2006/Halifax NS/Halifax Commons
Sep 27, 2006/East Rutherford NJ/Giants Stadium
Oct 02, 2006/Wichita KS/Cessna Stadium Wichita University
Oct 06, 2006/Missoula MT/Grizzly Stadium
Oct 08, 2006/Regina SK/Mosaic Stadium at Taylor Field
Oct 11, 2006/Chicago IL/Soldier Field
Oct 17, 2006/Seattle WA/Qwest Field
Oct 20, 2006/El Paso TX/Sun Bowl
Oct 22, 2006/Austin TX/Zilker Park
Oct 27, 2006/Atlantic City NJ/Boardwalk Hall
Nov 03, 2006/Vancouver BC/BC Place Stadium
Nov 05, 2006/Oakland CA/McAfee Coliseum
Nov 08, 2006/Phoenix AZ/Cardinals Stadium
Nov 11, 2006/Las Vegas NV/MGM Grand
Nov 14, 2006/Boise ID/Idaho Center
Nov 18, 2006/Los Angeles CA/Dodger Stadium
P.S. Check out Rolling Stones Tickets here.
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