Thursday, 12 July 2012

Happy 50th Birthday, Rolling Stones

by Mark Richardson

"It was twenty years ago today", sang The Beatles in 1967, and, for the vast majority of listeners to their album, Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, twenty years was a lifetime ago. "Hope I die before I get old" was another line, this time from The Who, in their 1965 song "My Generation", which became a phrase that seemed to sum up a generation who lived in the present and for whom the past and ageing were concepts beneath contempt. So imagine the same listeners' response to that lyric if it were 'fifty', not twenty years ago: that's like forever, man!

Keith Richards and Mick Jagger, 1962
(source: Daily Telegraph)
The third group from Sixties Britain to achieve global influence (together with those mentioned above) has achieved that dubious distinction of fifty years; The Rollin' Stones (as they were then called) hit the stage of the legendary and prestigious Marquee Club in Oxford Street on July 12 1962, fifty years ago today. True, they wisely decided to drop the rather affected and twee spelling and become The Rolling Stones, and they also dropped several of the group from that first gig, but by 1971 they were regularly, and without any inaccuracy, being introduced on stage as "the greatest rock and roll band in the world".

That moment, and the way in which a band can still be functioning in such a youth-oriented world for fifty years, should certainly be cause for a pause for thought. There is something really special, it seems to me, about that group. There has been a lot of naked ambition, jealousy, ego tripping and downright unpleasantness over the years associated with members of the group, much of which has been centred on Mick Jagger and Keith Richard, and it is true that they have become a very different proposition in cultural terms since then, but we ought to be celebrating the continued existence of such a life-enhancing, exciting and, above all, unique band.

Keith Richards and Mick Jagger, 2012
(source: hollywoodreporter)
Sure, they were never the same as The Beatles, but then they never wanted to be: their blues roots (the name is likely to have come from a track by legendary blues artist Muddy Waters) and their love of rock and roll always meant that it was the feel, the energy, the sway that they craved. It got them into extraordinarily dangerous places. In 1965 three band members were arrested for urinating publicly in a garage forecourt. Dangerous? Well they were arrested, but quickly they were also being targeted and harrassed by the authorities cracking down on drug use, and then, in 1969, July 3rd in fact (so another anniversary just gone this month), the founder of the group, Brian Jones, already deeply mired in a world of drugs, was found dead in his swimming pool. Just five months later, Jagger was howling out the lyrics to "Under My Thumb", having just sung the challenging and dark song "Sympathy for the Devil", while a few yards in front of him a concertgoer was being stabbed to death by a Hell's Angel 'security' man. Dangerous indeed (see video below):

So, with a 50th Anniversary tour in the offing, they will still be the hottest ticket in town. Unlike so many varnished, wrinkly old stagers, there will continue to be an edge, an excitement, a total thrill about them. When Keith hits those opening chords to "Satisfaction", shivers down the spine and faces beaming with glee will be the order of the day.

Happy Birthday, guys.

1 comment:

  1. Dave Allen writes:
    “When the Rolling Stones first appeared nationally in the following summer (1963), I was in my early teens and finding a new love in popular music which persists to this day. Their “bohemian” style was not quite PGS but seemed unexpectedly enticing, although my real fondness for them now is because through their early cover versions I discovered the delights of post-war Chicago blues, especially Muddy Waters. I don’t think there is any doubt that their name came from Muddy’s record “Rollin’ Stone” and the apostrophe wasn’t “twee” or “affected”, it was nothing more than a precise copy of that title which they may even have learned from his first British concerts in 1958 when he toured with Chris Barber. “Rollin’ Stone” – an alternative title to an older “Catfish Blues” – appears on the live recording fro that tour. From Muddy and Chicago I grew to love a far broader range of American vernacular music (including Woody Guthrie) which wasn’t generally on the High Street curriculum in those days. My life has been greatly enriched as a consequence and I’m grateful for it.”

    Read Dave Allen’s article celebrating the 100th anniversary of Woody Guthrie’s birthday at


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