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Topic: It's Only Rock'n'Roll: Forty years of the Rolling Stones Return to archive
07-04-02 09:45 PM
CS I'm reading this article, and I like it, I have not finished it, but in the meantime here ya go

It's Only Rock'n'Roll: Forty years of the Rolling Stones

Four decades ago, a callow R&B group was reluctantly given a last-minute slot to play London's Marquee Club. Within months they had become the most notorious band in the world and the toast of high society. And they haven't given up yet. Andy Gill looks back at the excessive career of the Rolling Stones

04 July 2002

In a few days' time, the Greatest Rock'n'Roll Band in the World turns 40. And what better way to celebrate than with another globe-girdling, record-breaking tour? An iconic presence throughout the second half of the 20th century, the Rolling Stones have managed to successfully fight off the claims of any and all pretenders to their crown, from Led Zeppelin to Bruce Springsteen to REM to U2, with a series of tours that rewrote the record books, upping the ante on every level, from grandiosity of staging to audience size to revenue generated. The sheer scale of a Stones campaign is mind-boggling, and gets more so with each jaunt. In 1989, they played 116 shows around the world, to about six million fans, with four shows at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum alone generating more than $9m (£6m). In 1994, the Voodoo Lounge Tour grossed $300m (£200m); the following year, a mere seven dates at the Tokyo Dome brought in a whopping $27m (£18m).

The presentation has grown more elaborate accordingly, on the principle that if you're going to charge punters top dollar, you should take pains to make your show the most outlandish and extravagant they'll ever see. The 1997 Bridges to Babylon tour, with its massive circular screen and extending cantilevered bridge out to the middle of the auditorium, is surely the most lavish extravaganza ever staged by a single artist. A week or two after attending the Wembley show, I saw the revitalised, resurgent Aerosmith at the same venue, presenting their grandly-titled Toxic Twin Towers Ball. There was no comparison: for all its gaudiness and energy, the Aerosmith gig was hardly in the same medium, let alone league, as the Stones' flamboyant presentation. The forthcoming tour will doubtless raise the bar even higher, with jet-packs, perhaps, or maybe an airship or two.

It's a far cry indeed from their early days as one of a number of R&B bands scuffling for breaks in the early Sixties. Brought together through the godfatherly interest of the Brit-blues pioneer Alexis Korner, the fledgling Stones got their big break when Korner's Blues Incorporated were booked to play a BBC radio Jazz Club session, and couldn't fulfill their usual Thursday residency at the Marquee Club. With Long John Baldry stepping up from support to headliner, Korner recommended the Stones as support, and on 12 July 1962, an early line-up (with the future Kink Mick Avory on drums, and the future Pretty Thing Dick Taylor on bass) made its debut. The band's leader, Brian Jones, wore a trendy corduroy jacket, and the guitarist Keith Richards a dark suit, while the singer, a callow LSE student called Mick Jagger, preferred a woolly cardigan, which in those days suggested daringly bohemian inclinations.

Harold Pendleton, who booked the club for the National Jazz League, barely tolerated Korner's weekly blues shows, and hated the Stones' less jazz-influenced take on the blues, wasting no opportunity to run them down. His manifest disapproval prompted Brian Jones to pen a letter to Jazz News magazine, complaining of the "pseudo-intellectual snobbery" of the jazz scene. "It must be apparent," he wrote, "that rock'n'roll has a far greater affinity for R&B than the latter has for jazz, insofar that rock is a direct corruption of rhythm and blues whereas jazz is Negro music on a different plane, intellectually higher but emotionally less intense." Not that the band were that sure of their direction: in an earlier edition of the same magazine announcing their debut, Jagger was quoted as saying, "I hope they don't think we're a rock'n'roll outfit."

Despite the disapproval of sections of the audience, who, according to Dick Taylor, were openly hostile before they'd even played a note, a contingent of supportive Mods ensured a decent reception, and Pendleton grudgingly used them as a last-minute replacement for bands who failed to show, if he couldn't find anyone else. Eventually, Richards was driven by Pendleton's constant derogation to take more direct action than a sniffy letter to Jazz News, responding to one of the booker's put-downs by clobbering him with his guitar. It was the first anyone had seen of Keith's physical side, but not the last. When the Australian entrepreneur Robert Stigwood, who helped promote some of the Stones' earliest concert tours, refused to pay them £10,000 they were owed, he was accosted at a restaurant by the angry guitarist. The journalist Keith Altham was with him at the time. "Keith," he asked, "why do you keep on hitting him?" "Because the bastard keeps getting up!" the guitarist replied.

The Stones' career really started taking off during their residency at the Station Hotel, Richmond, where their growing reputation attracted both their future manager Andrew Loog Oldham and Decca's A&R man Dick Rowe ("The Man Who Turned Down The Beatles"). Oldham was a lippy 19-year-old PR hustler who, in his own words, had decided to become "a nasty little upstart tycoon shit", in emulation of his hero Phil Spector, whom he had met shortly before. (Indeed, it was advice from Spector that helped Oldham secure the Stones an unprecedented deal: don't use the record company's studio to record the band, he warned, because they'll own the copyright on the recording; pay for your own independent studio session instead, and lease the tapes to the label.) Oldham was instantly drawn to the group. "I knew what I was looking at," he said. "It was sex. And I was just ahead of the pack."

Oldham's influence was decisive in transforming the raw R&B outfit into a massive attraction, by setting them up as the uncouth antithesis of The Beatles, whose charm and wit had quickly made them beloved of toddlers and grannies alike. Oldham knew that parental condemnation was the surest route to teenage hearts, and set about ensuring that newspaper coverage was critical of the band's sound, their attitude, and particularly their looks. The Daily Express referred to their "doorstep mouths, pallid cheeks and unkempt hair", and even the NME – not yet the rebellious journal it would become, but still the voice of youth – described them on their first tour as a "caveman-like quintet".

Their manager's ideas were often brilliant – he fought long and hard with Decca to leave the group's name off the cover of their debut album, thereby bestowing an aloofness on the band which set them apart from their peers – but he sometimes went too far. Inspired by Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange, he penned a sleevenote for their second album that exhorted fans to delinquency. "Cast deep in your pockets for loot to buy this disc of groovies and fancy words," he wrote. "If you don't have the bread, see that blind man, knock him on the head, steal his wallet and lo and behold, you have the loot. If you put in the boot, good. Another one sold." It was devastatingly effective: questions were raised in the House of Lords, and the offending paragraph was eventually deleted from later pressings of the album.

Oldham established an image and an attitude that continued long after his association with the group was over. In their prime, the Rolling Stones were a force of nature, able to transmute with ease the raw ore of their own R&B heroes into rock'n'roll gold, and needing nothing more than an east London garage wall to relieve themselves against to send tremors of terror down the spine of the establishment. So potent was their image that despite the competing claims of such fellow beat-boom longhairs as the Kinks, the Who, the Animals and the Pretty Things, the Stones effortlessly assumed the mantle of number-one folk-devil, a mantle they carried with style and aplomb from parochial UK origins to the global stage.

Ironically, their very notoriety assured their entry into the new, supposedly classless society of the Swinging Sixties, which grasped the ruffians – well, Mick, anyway – to their bosom. Jagger may have first slipped into the London demi-monde, that confluence of louche aristos and bohemian hustlers that pushed back the boundaries of taste and decency, in pursuit of posh totty, but he soon found its warm and moneyed embrace irresistible. Mentored by the likes of the art dealer Robert Fraser and the antique dealer Christopher Gibbs, he became a staple of the society columns. At a dinner party at the latter's Cheyne Walk flat, he leaned over to fashion designer Michael Fish and whispered, "I'm here to learn how to be a gentleman." He could have been taking the Mick, but one doubts it. It speaks volumes for Gibbs's tutoring that, these days, he would be taking the Sir Mick.

All the attitude in the world, however, is useless without the product to back it up, and the Stones soon showed they could compete at the highest level. Listening to a recently-issued four-disc anthology of British blues, it's impossible not to be struck by how quickly the Stones outstripped their fellow enthusiasts of the early Sixties, leaving behind the hand-me-down "authenticity" of nit-picking blues obsessives for a new music that channelled the raw energy of the blues into a more streamlined, potent force. It all happened so fast, as they progressed from basic blues templates such as the Buddy Holly/Bo Diddley knock-off "Not Fade Away" and the Willie Dixon/Howlin' Wolf knock-off "Little Red Rooster" – the most unlikely number one of 1964 – to the extraordinary sonic invention of "The Last Time", "Satisfaction" and "Get Off of My Cloud" the following year. And then on from there, pushing the envelope of pop with each successive release, unafraid of using whatever new sounds or strategies their engineers – particularly Ron Malo at Chess Studios, and the gifted Dave Hassinger – could come up with to give their singles that edge over the competition. Reverb, feedback, compression... the Stones employed them all in their search for sonic novelty, only stumbling when all bets were off in the hippie era. Struggling to match The Beatles' rococo invention, the Stones drifted too far from the security of their trusted blues roots and came a kaftaned cropper with Their Satanic Majesties Request, a real rock folly stuffed with space-rock, phasing and hippie hymns, and packaged in a tacky 3D-effect photo, the era's naff precursor to the hologram.

Once bitten, however, they wouldn't make the same mistake again for many years. The following year's Beggars Banquet ushered in an era of unparalleled achievement for the Stones, in which sonic invention was tempered with due regard for their blues roots. Ironically, for all the charismatic presence of Brian Jones and Ronnie Wood, few Stones fans would dispute the supremacy in their catalogue of the albums recorded between 1969 and 1974 with the more retiring Mick Taylor, particularly the towering trilogy of Let it Bleed, Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street, with which they negotiated the transition from the Sixties to the Seventies.

It was during this period that the Stones established themselves as the dark lords of rock'n'roll excess. Extravagant hedonism had always been a part of showbiz, but the Stones bestowed upon it a public legitimacy that would become the template for each successive generation of rockers, from Led Zep and Aerosmith through to Guns N' Roses and Oasis. Their American tours of 1969 and 1972 were unparalleled marathons of sexual and narcotic indulgence. Robert Frank's 1972 tour documentary Cocksucker Blues featured scenes of such casual depravity that Jagger refused to allow it to be shown, while the Rolling Stone journalist Robert Greenfield reported vast quantities of drugs of all kinds, from prescription medications such as quaaludes and Demerol to pot and acid, and in one instance, $500 worth of cocaine laid out in a four-foot line on a mirror, consumed within minutes. Considering their "triumphal progress", their biographer Albert Goldman, never one to mince words, wrote of a "public image of sado-homosexual-junkie-diabolic-sarcastic-nigger-evil unprecedented in the annals of pop culture".

But that was then, and this is now. In recent years, the Stones have become all about presentation, a parody of their former scary selves. Mick Jagger, once rock'n'roll's Pan inciting followers to sybaritic excess, has become the pre-eminent pantomime dame of rock, while their shows have become bigger, grander, more absurdly conceived than ever before. Even the announcement, every five years or so, of a new Stones tour has become a media event in itself, reported with wry chuckles and inevitable jokes about Zimmer frames, as if it were an extraordinary feat for these sexagenarians to even take to the stage, let alone travel in the height of luxury across the six continents. Their contemporary Bob Dylan, by comparison, keeps up a ferocious touring schedule with no comparable fuss and bother, calmly playing hundreds of sold-out shows a year, and thereby continually rejuvenating his own creative impulses to produce, in his sixties, work which, in its own way, equals that of his youth.

The comparison is instructive on several levels: while Dylan has undergone a creative rebirth by actively confronting the inevitable ageing process, growing old gracefully with work of commendable maturity, the Stones seem, for several decades now, to have been trying to ignore the fact that they are old men, using various sleights of presentation to persuade themselves – though few others, surely – that they are still vital young rockers, still able to punch their weight with younger pretenders. But the sight of the wrinkled fop Jagger flouncing his way around the stage, wiggling his bottom "like a duck shaking water from its tail", to use Philip Norman's memorable phrase, and clapping his hands like a fey flamenco dancer, has become one of rock's greatest embarrassments. "You wouldn't want my trousers to fall down, would you?" he once famously enquired of an audience, the roar of assent recorded for posterity on a live album. These days, the response would be more along the lines of "Oh God, please no. The very thought has put me off my dinner!"

Worse still, the Stones seem to regard the band as very much a part-time job, convening every five years or so to crawl back into the saddle and haul themselves around the world's enormodomes. Albums, it seems, are almost an afterthought, cranked out without passion or wit, then speciously presented as the raison d'κtre for the tours, as if they were so inspired by the new material they just had to share it with us in the intimate surroundings of one football stadium or other. So we have the Steel Wheels Tour, the Voodoo Lounge Tour, the Bridges to Babylon Tour, the album title always in our faces, although it's the last thing any of the audience has come to hear. Indeed, I can't recall a single track from the Stones' recorded output of the past 20 years that would make it on to any reasonable person's home-made "Best of the Stones" collection.

Instead of focusing their efforts on ensuring that the company's core business – ie records by the Rolling Stones – are of a standard one might expect from the Greatest Rock'n'Roll Band in the World, in recent years the various members seem to take more interest in their individual side-projects, none of which is worth a light. There are few more compelling illustrations of rock-group synergy, of the principle of the whole being more than the sum of its parts, than the Stones. And no wonder: have you heard Mick's last ghastly solo album, the bargain-bin staple Goddess in the Doorway? It's just utterly bereft, a pointless exercise that ended up being little more than a promotional tool for a TV documentary, Being Mick, when commercial logic dictates it should have been the other way round. And be honest: who in their right mind wants to hear Keith sing more than the one token song, for heaven's sake?

They'll doubtless pull out all the stops again for the upcoming tour, though whether this most barnacled of pop galleons will ever be as relevant or as inspiring as it was in the Sixties, when it became, in Can bassist Holger Czukay's apposite description, "the Volkswagens of rock'n'roll", is doubtful in the extreme. As for being the Greatest Rock'n'Roll Band in the World, who knows? According to Keith Richards, it's not even that desirable a status. "On any given night," he once said, "it's a different band that's the greatest rock'n'roll band. It's gotta go up and down. Otherwise, you wouldn't know the difference. It would be just a bland straight line, like looking at a heart machine. And when that straight line happens, baby, you're dead."

Up and down with the Stones: Five hits and a turkey

By Nick Coleman

'(I can't get no) Satisfaction' (Decca single)

The moment in high summer 1965 when the Stones cleaved to Bob Dylan and identified consumerism, sexual anguish and wishful negritude as the essential components of the hip English suburban experience. This was their seventh hit single but the first one that sounded as tough, dissolute and unquantifiably "other" as the chaps themselves wanted to be. "Little Red Rooster" was play-acting. This was the real thing: a saturnine, priapic sulk of a record that has more to say about what post-war austerity and Cold War alienation can do to a fellow than any amount of cool-ass research at Essex University. Bad posture in sonic form.

'Jumping Jack Flash' (Decca single)

Spring 1968, the season in which the Sixties went off like a firecracker. Keith Richards feeds his acoustic block chords through a portable cassette player in the studio and then feeds the result to his rhythm section. When the chomping comes to a halt, sullen but homely English R&B-pop has been transmogrified into a rock beast with five backs. All this unpleasantness is only accentuated by an accompanying promotional film in which the five group members all compete with each other to see who most resembles the alien insect that is going to have your daughter's cherry.

Let it bleed (Decca album)

The end of the Sixties, adumbrated in the first completely authoritative long player by the newly self-appointed "Greatest Rock'n'Roll Band in the World". It's a dark, forbidding place in which drugs, serial murder, Vietnam, Beelzebub and prostitution jostle for space in an atmosphere of zonked pseudo-aristocratic decadence. The Stones and their posh chicks are now tone-setters for a generation of silk-blouse-wearing hardcore romantic junkie wannabes. The difference between them and us is they've got the rhythm section.

Exile on Main Street (Rolling Stones Records album)

Original title: Tropical Disease. And no wonder. Here are the chaps in 1971, encamped avec les chicks in the basement of a chateau in the south of France, playing the most abandoned rock'n'roll'n'soul'n'country'n'blues of their career, and the ventilator just packed up. It's a swamp of a double-album but, recorded in mopey detachment from London, LA and the taxman, an utterly focused one. Rock was always meant to be this joyous and filthy.

'Miss You' (Rolling Stones Records single)

The last great Stones single came out in 1978 on disco heels. Well, on a four-on-the-floor chassis decorated with white-wall harmonica and Sir Mick at the wheel in a pimp's hat. There is no snazzier illustration of the Stones' greatest attribute: their ability to turn up at other folks' parties and then make like the hosts.

Dirty Work (Rolling Stones Records album)

By the time this stinker came out in 1986, in a blaze of Mick vs Keith tabloid antagonism and the vilest sleeve-art ever, the consensus was that the Stones were washed up and now was the time to jumping jack it in before things got worse. They did get worse, in 1997 with Bridges to Babylon, but not before the old coots rediscovered some real form as the only irrelevant old stadium rockers of the Nineties to actually rock like it's a vocation.

07-05-02 12:41 PM
CS I finished the article and is not as good as it started.
07-05-02 01:27 PM
gypsy Thank you for typing that out! That was very nice of you. I really enjoyed reading it. Thanks!!!
07-05-02 01:34 PM
Maxlugar Yeah this article really turns on them.

The last paragraph was like a steel tipped boot to the nads.

But it did take off about 15 minutes of this boring day.


07-05-02 02:04 PM
gypsy wrote:
Thank you for typing that out! That was very nice of you. I really enjoyed reading it. Thanks!!!

I didn't type it, it's just a "copy and paste"
07-05-02 11:20 PM
Maxlugar wrote:
Yeah this article really turns on them.

The last paragraph was like a steel tipped boot to the nads.

But it did take off about 15 minutes of this boring day.



Yeah, I've NEVER understood the distaste some people have for Dirty Work OR B2B. They are both decent releases - spotty in places, but worlds away from the competition. What ELSE was happening in '86 or '97? (well, ok, '97 had Time Out Of Mind. B2B is still a good album.)

Were you still in 2000 Man's backyard when he started blasting Dirty Work at the end of the night? For some reason I think it was after you'd left, which is cruel irony, but it sounded damn good. I think the key is drinking milk stout and eating red meat first. And having your cab arrive before "Winning Ugly" starts.

Is the author of this article the same Andy Gill who deconstructed guitars for Gang of Four? There was an interesting band, back in the day. Marxism you could dance to. Love is like a case of Anthrax. Hell, I didn't even know what Anthrax WAS back then.
07-05-02 11:44 PM

On June 16, 2001 the hit counter of the WET page was inserted here, it had 174,489 hits. Now the hit counter is for both the page and the board. The hit counter of the ITW board had 1,127,645 hits when it was closed and the Coolboard didn't have hit counter but was on line only two months and a half.
Rolling Stones tour 2002 - Rolling Stones World Tour - Rolling Stones on the road