These Rolling Stones have gathered a lot of mass, writes YR Anand
Honky Tonk Woman, Ruby Tuesday, Let’s Spend The Night Together, (I can’t get no) Satisfaction, Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Sympathy for the Devil; some of the songs that take us back to the 60s, when rock music was sweeping young audiences all across the world.
The band that made these songs were of course The Rolling Stones, who began their career in 1962 in England. Like many a legendary band, the genesis was two childhood friends, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, who were in the same class in Kent County in the 1950s.
Initially Mick Jagger and his friend David Taylor started a garage band singing the well-known blues music of Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry and others. A few years later during late in 1961, a chance encounter between the old friends Jagger and Richards lead to their discovering common interest in similar music. This led to the three of them meeting in Taylor’s house frequently to make some music. Finally with a few other members, they formed a band called The Blues Boys.
These friends then visited Ealing Jazz Club, where they met slide guitarist Brian Jones, keyboardist Ian Stewart and drummer Charlie Watts. Soon after Jagger, Taylor and Richards decided to join up with Jones and Stewart. They added drummer Tony Chapman and the essence of The Rolling Stones was started. Initially they called themselves Rolling Stone and were singing blues and similar music.
The Rollin’ Stones began their appearance in 1962 in London at The Marquee Club. At this time, they continued to sing their version of the blues and some hard driving music. Along the way, they changed their name to The Rolling Stones.
The first song released was a cover version of Chuck Berry’s “Come on”. This was a single. They started touring in the UK as a support cast for American artists like Bo Didley, Little Richard and Everly Brothers. Curiously, the second song that was recorded by the Stones was “I wanna be your man”. This was released as single and reached number 12 on the UK hits chart. Lennon and McCartney wrote this song for The Stones and gave it away for friendship. The Beatles of course included their version of this song in “With the Beatles” album.
During their formative years of the group, Brian Jones was the primary leader as he put the band together, named it, and drove the sound and look of the band. But once they started to get noticed, Andrew Oldham who was hired as their manager suggested moving away from the music of blues and existing types, and encouraged Jagger and Richards to write their own lyrics. Jones, who could play multiple instruments, left the band quite early to be replaced by Mick Taylor on guitar. He also left in 1974 to be replaced by Ronnie Wood.
Rocking around the world
The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were starting out their musical journeys and creating original music around the same time in England and Europe to start with. Brian Epstein, the manager of Beatles, created their goody-goody boys next door image for them, wearing suits and with the famous mop-top haircuts. Andrew Oldham, the Stones’ manager, was a brash young man who was younger than the band members and had unique ideas. He decided to position the Stones as “raunchy, wild, long-haired uncouth young men”. There was a blurb saying, “Would you let your daughter marry a Rolling Stone”? In other words, an opposite image to the Beatles. The music they created was also a big departure from Cliff Richards, The Shadows and other similar groups.
The Rolling Stones was the first album released by the group. It had mostly cover versions of others’ music and one song written by Jagger and Richards and two songs credited to Nanker Phlege. This was the name used when all members of the band contributed to the sons. This album did not gain much great recognition. But then came The Rolling Stones 2, which reached the top of the British charts.
(I can’t get no) Satisfaction was their first song to reach the No 1 in charts internationally. Aftermath was the first album to be released with all songs written by Jagger and Richards. Then followed a series of successful albums like Between the Buttons, Their Satanic Majesties Request, and songs which remain fresh to this day. And they started touring the world to roaring success.
Tapping the protest mood
In the sixties, the high energy performances of The Stones were a great hit with audiences, which also coincided with the general mood of protest against the then current wars and happenings. But the police and the authorities were not amused as they had the tough task of trying to control the unruly crowds. This was a period during which they started using recreational drugs, which got them into trouble with authorities. It also resulted in Jagger, Richards and Jones being sentenced to jail for varying periods and fighting the cases for some time.
But the music kept coming. Albums like Their Satanic Majesties and Beggar’s Banquet were released in late 60s. This contained songs like Sympathy of the Devil, No Expectations, Street Fighting Man. During this period, they also made a film The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus starring many guests like John Lennon, Yoko Ono, The Who, Jethro Tull and several others.
Jumpin’ Jack Flash was recorded around the same time, including the increasingly unreliable Brian Jones, who did contribute to this song considerably. It was released as a single in 1968. This song of the Stones perhaps has the
most number of cover versions. It is also the most performed song by the Stones themselves by all reckonings. Some of the singers who have done versions of this song are Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, Peter Frampton, Leon Russell. My favourite version is by Ananda Shankar and his band featuring the sitar as the lead instruments.
An interesting version of the Sympathy for the Devil can be found on the Blood, Sweat and Tears 3 album, with the rasping voice of David Clayton Thomas in the lead.
In 1969 guitarist Brian Jones died in his own swimming pool after battles with drug addiction. After several trials the band settled on Mick Taylor as the guitarist.
The last album of the 60s was Let It Bleed.
The first one in the 70s was Sticky Fingers. The cover design was by Andy Warhol which had an actual a zipper on a man photographed from the waist down, with very tight jeans. On opening the zip, it showed underwear with the word This is not Etc. The rest was left to the viewers’ imagination, which did not go down too well in some markets and an alternate cover has designed for those area. It was also their first album with their own label.
The album also featured a pair of lips with a lapping tongue, which became a logo for the band. This was supposedly inspired by the images of Goddess Kali and suggested by Jagger himself. Brown Sugar from this album became a smash hit of the time. The heavy influence of blues can be seen even in this album, in continuation of the earlier ones.
Albums like Exile on Main Street, Hot Rocks, Goat’s Head Soup, It’s Only Rock and Roll followed. By the time Black and Blue was recorded, Mick Taylor had left the band to pursue his own interest. After several trials, they settled on Ronnie Wood and he is still with the band. The outpouring of creative energy continued for many years. As recently as 2016, they released Blue & Lonesome.
In and out of trouble
The heavy influence of blues has been a constant influence. But they have also included R&B, folk, psychedelic, reggae, dance and music from many parts of the world. Despite the hard driving image, many of their ballads are astonishingly soft and likeable.
The band kept getting in and out of trouble due to drug abuse but always had huge and successful live performances around the world. And the band members lived colourful lives and were constantly in the news for good reasons and wrong reasons.
And numerous remixed albums, anthologies and live concert music is continuously released, keeping music lovers glued to their music. They performed as one of the prominent performers in the Global Citizen’s “One World: Together at home” online concert in 2020. This was a global event featuring dozens of artists and comedians to support frontline healthcare workers and the World Health Organization during the COVID-19 pandemic
It is a wonder that the band continues to draw big crowds despite most members being in their 70s. After numerous changes in members, Jagger and Richards continue to be together creating music and are now supported by Ronnie Wood on guitar and Charlie Watts on drums.