The Rolling Stones took their name from a Muddy Waters song. They were called the "World's Greatest Rock n' Roll Band" before they actually achieved that status and long after they'd lost it.
For the record they were the greatest from the "Beggar's Banquet" ('68) LP to the double album "Exile On Main Street" ('72). Not bad run. Remember, The Beatles, The Who, the Doors and Led Zeppelin were also around. Talk about heavy competition. In the world of Rock, four years on top means a lifetime of tours.
Incidentally, this period was bordered by two of the worst Stones' albums… "Their Satanic Majesties Request" ('67) and "Goat's Head Soup" ('73). But between those LPs is a body of work from the Stones most productive period that included the albums "Let It Bleed," "Get You Ya-Ya's Out (the front cover with Charlie Watts and the mule is priceless), and "Sticky Fingers."
By the time "Goat's Head Soup" rolled out the Stones were in decline. A lame "Heartbreaker" and the weak ballad "Angie" were the only saving graces. Though the Stones showed life with "It's Only Rock 'n' Roll," "Miss You," and "Steel Wheels" albums, they were pretty much done.
The Stones started as an R&B outfit in London. Singer Mick Jagger had a future (he was a student at the London School of Economics). Guitarist Keith Richards didn't. As for Brian Jones, he was something else. He could play Blues guitar better than anybody and could handle just about any instrument. That came in handy later on. The man had talent flying out of his fingers. Then there was Charlie Watts on drums, one of Rock's all-time greats and the relatively quiet Bill Wyman on bass. They originally had a piano player, Ian Stewart, but he became expendable becoming the group's road manager.
The Rolling Stones, though different in direction and purpose, fell under The Beatles shadow (like every other Brit group). While the bands had a healthy rivalry, the public took it further. Girls loved The Beatles and the guys liked the Rolling Stones. The Beatles were far more popular than the Stones. This caused Mick Jagger to drive hard to be as good as the Fab Four. It was a useless battle. The Stones on their best day could not match the talent, charm and confidence of The Beatles. For one, The Beatles had been together far longer than The Stones. Lennon & McCartney had started writing songs together almost from the start. Jagger and Richards, the Stones chief songwriting team, had only began writing together after manager Andrew Loog Oldham suggested they try.
Try they did. "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" was one of the two or three best songs of the decade. Jagger and Richards came up with several hits (Brian just couldn't write a song); "Let's Spend The Night Together," "19th Nervous Breakdown" and "Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby (Standing In The Shadows)." Had the Rolling Stones disbanded in the late '60s they probably would have been remembered as a singles band with an R&B leaning - much like the Animals. By '67, the Stones had played out their rebellion. Meanwhile, The Beatles released "Sgt. Pepper's." What to do, what to do? "Their Satanic Majesties Request" was the group's attempt to keep up. What a mistake. Charlie Watts' mum aptly described it as "two weeks ahead of its time." Taken in context you can understand why it sounds the way it does. Aside from being a pale Beatles imitation, there were other distractions. Mick, Keith and Brian had all been busted for drugs. Only Keith served jail time. There were stops and starts. If Keith could handle drugs, Brian could not. In the studio, the Stones were becoming a quartet.
Amid the confusion, Richards must have told Jagger that he was a Rock guitarist and not some trippy-psychedelic sideman because the Stones came out Rockin' with "Beggar's Banquet." Their success created a big problem. Mick wanted to get the band back out on the road. Brian just couldn't do it so he was either kicked out or left depending on who you listened to. Probably a bit of both. His replacement was former John Mayall guitarist Mick Taylor, who was a good ten years younger than the rest of the band. Though he didn't write songs he did inject the band with some needed energy and kept the Stones rollin'.
A few days before the group was to debut with their new guitarist at a free concert in London's Hyde Park, Jones was found dead in his swimming pool. Passed off as an unfortunate accident, there was a strong feeling he was murdered - but by whom and why, remains a mystery.
The '69 U.S. tour was a critical moment in the Stones career. After a three-year absence (and a new guitarist) were they still a viable live act? The answer was definitely 'yes' as the concert album "Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out!" so amply demonstrated. Yet, because it was the Stones there had to be controversy and trouble. It was all documented in the Maysles Brother's (Albert and David) Gimme Shelter, one of the most telling, honest and disturbing Rock films ever made. It also revealed the best (and worst) of the Rolling Stones at their peak.
Most movies open with a struggle or conflict that the hero overcomes. "Gimme Shelter" began with the Stones and especially Mick in top form before an adoring Madison Square Garden audience. Mick's performance was perfect, a confident performer delivering.
The film came to a crashing, ruinous conclusion at Altamont. The original plan was to stage a free concert, billed as Woodstock West, at San Francisco's Golden Gate State Park but the venue was moved to the Altamont speedway- dozens of miles away. Several bands (Jefferson Airplane, Santana) were booked with the Stones being the headliner.
Long before they took the stage the Hell's Angels "security" had run amok (it was a truly bad idea to hire them for that function). Jefferson Airplane singer Marty Balin got knocked out by an Angel during a scuffle near the stage. More violence erupted during Santana's set. Then, in the dark of night, the Rolling Stones took the stage. And all hell broke loose.
Dressed in a black cape (sort of Batman/Spider Man reject) Mick had no control over what was happening in front of him - fights turned into brutal free-for-alls with the Angels dishing out the punishment. The Madison Square Garden performer, the one in total control, was lost amongst Altamont's violence and stabbing death of Meredith Hunter. His threats to stop playing unless the violence stopped fell on deaf ears (happens when you get your head bashed with a pool cue).
There were some humorous bits in the film as the Stones' attorney, the late Melvin Belli, executed legal maneuvers to get the concert approved by local authorities. Too bad he succeeded.
Altamont aside, the trek did mark the return of the Stones.
Following the double set "Exile On Main Street" the Stones seemed exhausted. Mick Taylor left for a solo career and has been MIA since. Ron Wood, formerly of the Faces, who seemed to share many of Keith's drug problems, replaced Taylor. The Stones continued to crank up their act every now and then. It was still a pretty formidable show with Mick doing wind sprints before each performance to loosen up his aging bones. But there once was a time when this band Rocked like nobody else and were "The Greatest Rock n' Roll Band In The World."
Coda I: In the early '90s, Wyman retired from the band and was not officially replaced so the Stones became a quartet (Mick. Keith, Ron & Charlie) with backing musicians.
Coda II: Time waits for no one but the Stones did an excellent job of beating the clock - remaining a potent concert draw for decades. And just to prove the point, there was the '08 world premiere at Germany's Berlin International Film Festival of the Martin Scorsese-directed documentary/concert film Shine A Light. Scorsese filmed two '06 Stones shows at New York City's Beacon Theater. There was also footage from A Bigger Bang Tour, backstage and historical clips plus contemporary interviews with the band. The film's title was lifted from an "Exile On Mainstreet" ('72) track. Both Scorsese and the Stones attended the event.
Coda III: "Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out! The Rolling Stones In Concert [40th Anniversary Deluxe Box Set]" dropped in '09.
Coda IV: At the close of '09, Billboard magazine tallied the top concert draws of the previous decade (2000 - 2009). Rolling through their fifth decade, the Rolling Stones topped the list beating out younger acts like Elton John, Dave Matthews Band and Bruce Springsteen. The group grossed $869 million from 264 shows before 8.2 million people. That was $47-million more, with 24 fewer shows, than the second band on the list, U2.
Coda V: It seemed that the oldies were still goodies in '10 when the Stones' "Exile On Main Street" re-release went to #1 on the U.K. album chart. The collection contained bonus tracks including "Plundered My Soul," and "Dancing In The Light." The album, originally released in '72, was the band's first U.K. chart topping set since '94's "Voodoo Lounge."
Coda VI: Richards' autobiography, Life, was in bookstores just before Halloween in '10. "You can't imagine that this book could be any better than it is," said Rolling Stone Managing Editor Will Dana. "Keith holds nothing back. It's funny, gossipy, profane and moving and by the time you finish it you feel like you're friends with Keith Richards." To promo the book, Rolling Stone published an exclusive excerpt prior to its release.
The book publisher chimed in saying the guitarist "tells his story of life in the crossfire hurricane - unfettered, fearless, and true."
The best-seller gained instant notoriety due to well publicized digs at Jagger (Richards later apologized for his catty comments). But Richards was also quick to compliment his bandmate when warranted. He confirmed some of his and the band's more notorious moments while debunking or clarifying others. More important, the book provided a close look at the Jagger/Richards dynamic that led the group through the decades.
Then it was back to business as the Stones celebrated their 50th anniversary. First, there was a five concert run with guest appearances by Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck. During the first show at London's O2 Arena former-Stones Bill Wyman and Mick Taylor made an appearance.
It would seem the first major venue show by the Rolling Stones in five years would receive some special consideration. But no. Due to local noise ordinances the two-hour concert, which started a half-hour late, was shut down at 11:05 pm before the Stones had a chance to play "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction." They faced a stiff fine from officials for playing past 11:00.
The Stones also released yet another 'greatest hits' package titled "GRRR!" The forty track compilation (more extensive packages were also available) covered the band's entire career from early '60's Chuck Berry and Willie Dixon covers to two new songs recorded in '12, "Doom And Gloom" and "One More Shot." The album debuted at # 3 on the UK Albums Chart.
1964 The Rolling Stones (UK)
1964 England's Newest Hit Makers (US)
1964 12 X 5
1965 The Rolling Stones No. 2
1965 Out Of Our Heads
1965 December's Children (And Everybody's)
1967 Between The Buttons
1967 Their Satanic Majesties Request
1968 Beggars Banquet
1969 Let It Bleed
1971 Sticky Fingers
1972 Exile On Main Street
1973 Goats Head Soup
1974 It's Only Rock 'n' Roll
1976 Black And Blue
1978 Some Girls
1980 Emotional Rescue
1981 Tattoo You
1986 Dirty Work
1989 Steel Wheels
1994 Voodoo Lounge
1997 Bridges To Babylon
2005 A Bigger Bang
Best Live Album:
1970 Get Your Ya-Ya's Out
1966 Big Hits (High Tide and Green Grass)
1969 Through the Past, Darkly (Big Hits Vol.2)
1971 Hot Rocks 1964-1971
After more than 40 years the only unanswered question is just when did Mick and Keith make that deal with the Devil? Back in '62? After Brian's death? Or was it when "Heartbreaker" slid unimpeded off the charts?
And what were the terms and conditions that have kept the Stones viable and commercially successful all these years while their contemporaries have fallen by the wayside? A soul or two seems trite considering the Stones success (excess). Perhaps it was a generation or two. Ah well, we will probably never know.
After "Goat's Head Soup" or the notorious "Black And Blue" it looked as though the Stones were headed for the showers. But rather than blow themselves apart in the studio they became a touring band cashing in on their vast catalog. Smart move. They'd always been entertaining and were a tight unit. A live album was released after just about every tour as a concert souvenir (shades of Elvis).
As cushy as that arrangement was even the Stones had to face the music. The time for new material was long overdue - eight years since their last studio effort. It was either get to it or retire to the south of France. Most normal people, especially those in their 60s, would choose France. But not Mick, Keith, Charlie, and the baby of the group, Ron. Released in '05 (that's right), "A Bigger Bang" is their statement of purpose, to show that they still have it. Amazingly, it appears they do. Given their age, it's surprising. Given their history, it's probably not. Even in their earliest days, the Stones managed to cut a wide swath.
More rooted in the Blues and R&B than The Beatles, the Rolling Stones were far more threatening. Since Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were not songwriters of Lennon and McCartney's caliber the Stones relied on covers to fill out their initial albums. Early in their career the Stones are largely a singles band. But what singles! "Get Off My Cloud," "19th Nervous Breakdown," "Let's Spend The Night Together" and the premier song of the decade "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" with its driving riff and Jagger's in-you-face lyrics. All these songs and more show up on the "Hot Rocks 1964-1971" compilation.
Following "Their Satanic Majesty's Request," disaster, the Stones return to their Blues roots with "Beggar's Banquet." Outstanding tracks: "Sympathy For The Devil," Stray Cat Blues" and "Street Fighting Man." "Let It Bleed," "Sticky Fingers," both with Mick Taylor (who had replaced Jones), shows the Stones in top form. Also, the group turned in its best live set with "Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out." "Exile on Main Street" has its moments but like nearly all double albums, it would have made an excellent single record. By '73 the Stones were spent and it showed with the dreadful "Goat's Head Soup." A year later Taylor left and was replaced by ex-Faces/Rod Stewart guitarist Ron Wood. Stones records through the remainder of the decade and into the early '80s are hit and miss. "It's Only Rock And Roll," "Miss You" and are the best and "Black And Blue," with its offensive cover and lame music, is the worst. More recent studio albums manage a couple of interesting moments but that's about it. They also release live albums after just about every major tour.
Let It Bleed 1969
This was the first album with Mick Taylor on guitar. Brian Jones was on a couple of tracks but playing autoharp. Jones had left the band, then died, mysteriously, and Taylor was hired so the Stones could perform live again. Like The Beatles, the Stones ceased touring but due more to legal hassles than creative drives. "Honky Tonk Woman" and "Jumpin' Jack Flash" along with "Sympathy For The Devil" had re-established the Stones as a premier Rock group. The opening track "Gimme Shelter" is a slow building Rocker with Blues licks to spare. Also, guest vocalist Mary Clayton provides a spirited performance. "Live With Me" is a straight-ahead Rocker with a powerhouse bass riff. The title track and "You Can't Always Get What You Want" are Blues-Rock gems with the latter featuring the London Bach Choir.
Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out 1970
The Rolling Stones play their then-current material with a vengeance as they lay claim to "The World's Greatest Rock 'n' Roll Band" title. The band is tight and Jagger is the supreme showman he always wanted to be.
Sticky Fingers 1971
With "Brown Sugar," "Sway," "Can't You Hear Me Knocking," "You Gotta Move" and "Bitch" who could ask for more. "Brown Sugar" was probably the Stones' most "get-off" song after "Honky Tonk Woman." Biting chords at the beginning and an inescapable groove. "Can't You Hear Me Knocking" with its extended sax jam and the ferociousness of the riff-driven "Bitch" shows the group's virtuosity. Then there's the album cover. The jeans, with the real zipper, and a somewhat raunchy surprise inside. Nice touch. Can't have a Stones' album without a controversial cover.
Released in '66 "Big Hits (High Tide and Green Grass)" was the first official compilation. It does a brilliant job of documenting the group's work to that point. Around the same period "Got Live If You Want It!" was tossed out. This album has many of the same songs but it's so badly recorded that it's actually girls screaming with the Stones playing in the background. Avoid it.
"The Rolling Stones Unauthorized Biography" takes the group from its origins to the early '70s, so it covers their prime period. There are excellent photos, narrative articles and lead sheets (lyrics and melody) to the Stones songs. Nice summary.