Monolith of rock

The Rolling Stones completes 50 years as a band in an age when true musicianship is on its way out

Monolith of rock
The Rolling Stones, a name that is enough for an­yone on this planet to imagine the vigorous, macho sounds of Mick Jagger, the soaring leads of guitarist Keith Richards, the precise melody of Ronnie Wood and the technically proficient dr­u­mming of Charlie Watts. “The Beatles want to hold your hand, but the Rolling Stones want to burn down your to­wn!” an American author and journalist, Tom Wolfe, once wrote about them. The fab four have been to hell and back in the course of their existence as a band but have constantly persevered to win accolades and hearts. It is safe to say that everyone has been a Stones fan at some point of time in their lives — the reach and the very effect of the band, the charisma they encompass, is just way too big to pass in one’s lifetime! Now as they stand out on the edge of rock legacy — a moment of greatness, as they complete 50 years as a band in an age when true musicianship is on its way out, it is indeed crucial to acknowledge that here is a band that is truly bigger than the sum of its parts – never mind the fact that the ‘parts’ are legends themselves!

Sanskrita Bharadwaj, a student of Delhi University, who is a big, ever-defendant fan of the band tells us that the band is still relevant today. “Their music is still embedded in the yester year’s rock blues and soul music; it may be classic and traditional but it still rocks. For me, they represent the classic ’60s and the ’70s. The Rolling Stones have swaggered through decades, and, perhaps a few more, to surprise their fans and followers.” Asked whether it is the band’s history, attitude, or simply their rocking music that she gravitates towards, Bhara­dwaj replies, “It has to be a collection of everything. The Rolling stones were a phenomenon. They were more than just a rock and roll band.”

And she is right. The original bad boys of rock, the St­ones have been called the greatest show on earth by many. The sinners whose carnal celebrations of sex, drugs and good old rock ‘n’ roll created the layout on the landscape of rock music. And they have survived everything that circumstances of the world have thrown in their direction — drug busts, arrests, Luftwaffe blitzkrieg, steady descent into madness and even the death of a former band member (Brian Jones), to emerge as one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll bands of all time. But the pivotal point — one that keeps the Stones rolling is the relationship between the evil genius Keith and androgynous Jagger.

The two are the primary songwriters of the band — like two brothers, th­ey often fight but are always able to reco­ncile their di­ffer­ences to belt out pure magic – one album after anot­her. Then there is Charlie Watts behi­nd the drum kit – fi­lling giant arenas with his booming dr­um so­und. The Sto­nes have been aro­und for half a century and they refuse to slow down or go aw­ay. Mo­re th­an 200 million in alb­um sa­les and $1.5 billion in conc­ert re­venues since 1989 does not really matt­er; in the end it is all ab­out the music — the spirit of being different and never ha­vi­ng to gr­ow up in a cynical world.

The origin of the band co­m­es before guitarist Brian Jo­nes got the lads together and ca­lled them the Rollin’ Stones. In the 1950s Mick and Keith were known as the Glimmer Twins to sch­ool mates at Da­rtford in Ke­nt. The stars co­llided once again in 1960 at Richmond Station when Keith noticed Mick had some blues records — the rest, as they say, is history. Charlie Watts, Ian Stewart and Bill Wyman completed the official line up of the Rolling Stones. The Stones played their first gig at The Marquee on July 12, 1962. Soon, the band embarked on a string of tours in England and was considered the slightly more dishevelled version of the Beatles.

But it was Andrew Oldham, their manager at the time, who encouraged them to adapt a cavalier and gregarious attitude, grow their hair long and encompass a rebel rousing fervour. Their first US tour in 1964 was a disaster as they did not have a hit record and the conservative white America failed to understand their fashion and on-stage antics. But it was in Chicago, at Chess studios that they started to shape their sound. His efforts proved to be fruitful as The Last Time became their first No1 composition in 1965 and in May they released what is considered to be the greatest rock song ever, I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.

In 1968 they released the massive hit single Jumping Jack Flash and the alb­um Beggars Banquet. The album featu­red another Stone iconic song, Sympathy for the Devil. By now, guitarist Brian Jo­nes had become completely unpredictable and a shadow of the talent he used to be. To add insult to injury, he lost his girlfriend, Anita Pallenberg, to Keith, which obviously sou­red relationship between the two band members.

The influence of drugs and alcohol added to his problems. The Stones and Brian Jones parted ways but in June 1969 and within a few we­eks, Jones drowned in his swimming pool. The Stones performed a free concert at London’s Hy­de Park in his honour, which also saw the debut of Mick Taylor, the guitar virtuoso and replacement.

Since the Beatles broke up, the Stones claimed the title of the biggest band in the world and kicked off the decade with the album Let It Bleed, which featured the hit song, Gimmie Shelter. The album was a hit and sold 2 million copies. A string of super hits and iconic albums made the band a force to be reckoned wi­th. In 1971, Sticky Fingers, with its iconic sleeve, desig­ned by avant-garde artist Andy Warhol, became a massive hit selling 3 million copies in the US alone. It featured the PG-rated Brown Sugar and a gem of ensemble playing called Can’t You Hear Me Knocking.

The band returned to tour America armed with more hits than the fans could count in 1972. It was rock’s biggest tour at the time and was kicked off by the Stones performing on flat-top truck through 5th avenue in NYC. The 1972 album Exile on Main St, was recorded at the south of Fra­nce in Villa Nellcote which was being rented by Keith. The band members had actually left England to avoid taxes and were exiles in France! The debauchery and decadent living influenced songs like Rip this Joint and Tumbling Dice. The creative period continued with the release of their ne­xt album, Goats Head Soup in 1973. This album spawned a worldwide hit known as Angie, but remained a sour point for both critics and fans, never managing to do well.

Meanwhile, Mick Taylor continued to get frustrated wi­th Keith and Mick not acknowledging his presence or his songs. Taylor was also hurt that the 1974 song It’s Only Ro­ck n’ Roll was recorded with Ronnie Wood, though it was later overdubbed with the rest of the band for the album released. He departed abruptly and left the Stones scurrying for a new guitar player. The interested parties included Eric Clapton and even the amazing Jeff Beck. But it was in Ronnie Wood that Keith found his friend and collaborator.

The touring cycle of the band refused to slow down and it got only bigger mid-70s onwards. The 1978 album Some Girls had punk influences and also featured the disco styled Miss You. The album sold 10 million copies worldwide and was their biggest-selling album. Soon enough, the 80s greeted them with their stellar album, the 1981 Tattoo You, which was a hit and was followed by the mammoth global world tour in 1982 with a stage designed by Japanese designer Kasuhide Yamazaki. This was the start of massive stage designs for the Stones, who at this point, had almost 300 people travelling with them on tour! But things between Keith and Jagger became rough as the former disapproved of the latter wanting to pursue a solo career as part of the new CBS deal. The 1983 album Dirty Work was slammed critically and the relation between Keith and Mick had soured to such a point that Mick refused to tour behind it. Jagger and Richards set aside animosities and went to work on a new Rolling Stones album that would be called Steel Wheels. Touted as a return to form for the band, the album was released in 1987, and was followed up with such a massive tour, many forgot about the album and remember the Steel Wheels tour to be a bigger part of the Stones’ legacy.

The massive tour changed the concert industry forever and featured VIP tents and sponsorships.

Bill Wyman decided to leave the band after 30 years but ensured Ronnie Wood became full time member. In 1994 the Stones roped in Darryl Jones as the new bass player, though not an official member. Soon, they released Voodoo Lounge in 1994 and went on the highest grossing tour till then called the Voodoo Lounge Tour playing South America for the first time.

The undisputed kings of touring by this time, the band Rolling Stones were the first major recording artists to broadcast a concert over the internet in the form of a 20-minute video on November 18, 1994.

The band decided to grace Indian shores for the very first time playing in Bangalore and Mumbai as part of the 2003 Forty Licks world tour, which was a huge success. After a gap of few years, on July 26, 2005, which was Jagger’s birthday, the band ann­ounc­ed the name of their new album, A Bigger Bang, their first album in almost eight years. After the release, the band embarked upon their biggest tour yet called the Biggest Bang tour, which is still the biggest grossing tour of all times.

The most successful working rock group of all times, the Rolling Stones have rewritten every myth and genre of rock music for the past 40 years. Sur­viving the odds, they stand taller, bigger and better than before. The best thing about them is that you can be a young teenager just fretting over your first pimple or an old rocker worried about your frail bones, but you can still rock out to Stones’ music! Their fans belong to all age groups, from all walks of life. Shantanu Kaul, executive director and COO of Consus Consulting (CCG India) tells that The Rolling Stones for him “represents my growing years, the sense of rebellion and being anti-establishment. Their attitude, some fantastic music, personifies the sex, drugs and rock n’ roll era of the ’60s and ’70s.”

“They are arguably the best live act around….even after 50 years,” Kaul adds. For Vivek Kaul, a financial advisor, their songs “represent the soundtrack of youth”.

Mayur Kaul, another fan of the band, remembers growing up listening to their music and what attracted him to the band was “Jagger’s stage presence”. Even though he is of the opinion that the Stones’ music “doesn't shape popular culture any more”, he acknowledges the fact that “their music is legendary and they've got the loyalty of a huge fan base.”

German-based The Interview People decided to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Rolling St­ones in a 2,000-plus page e-book containing intervi­ews and images that they plan to release soon. Mat­thias Würfl, managing director and co-founder of the organisation, who has actually met Jagger, tells us, “We picked a topic which is interesting for a huge international audience where you can gather a lot of interesting material. This way we came across the Rolling Stones. In 2003, I interviewed Mick Jagger in Paris.”

When asked about the band, Würfl says, “The band itself is a huge piece of art. It is some kind of history already, the magic about surviving so long under those circumstances, they still exist and are making good music.”

Ashish Yechury, a student of Asian School of Journalism, Chennai says, “To me they represent a lost generation, my parents generation. What attracted me to the Stones was the depth of their lyrics with songs like Gimme Shelter and Sympathy for the Devil. They have such a dark quality to them. The attitude is a big factor.” When asked about their relevance in this day and age, Yechury says, “Their voice represents a different time. In today’s fast changing world, that voice is important.”


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