Who They Are: Having covered The Beatles in the prior installment of this series, it seems apt to cover their media-fueled alleged rivals, The Rolling Stones, as a next step forward. As was the case with The Beatles, I’m presuming that if you’re musically savvy enough to have any interest in my website, then you’re also culturally savvy enough to know who The Rolling Stones are. There’s the legendary songwriting, performing and production team of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, yeah, along with stalwart and epic drummer Charlie Watts and a series of increasingly brilliant guitarists (Brian Jones to Mick Taylor to Ronnie Wood), plus creepy bassist Bill Wyman (until the early ’90s) and then the excellent Darryl Jones, who sadly is still treated as a side-man, three decades into his tenure with the group. Keyboardists Ian Stewart (RIP), Nicky Hopkins (also RIP), and Chuck Leavell have also been long-time, under-credited live and studio contributors to the group’s catalog, alongside sax-man Bobby Keys (also RIP), background singer Bernard Fowler, manager-producer Andrew Loog Oldham, and many, many others, perhaps most notably Merry Clayton, famed for her thrilling guest vocal spot on “Gimme Shelter.”
When I First Heard Them: As with The Beatles, it’s hard to nail down exactly when I first heard The Rolling Stones, since they would have been utterly ubiquitous on radio through much of my childhood, and I listened to the radio a lot in my early years. While my parents had some Beatles albums when I was a kid, the Stones were neither culturally nor musically up my folks’ alley, so there was nothing at home to bolster and build on what I might have heard on the radio. The first Rolling Stones album that I acquired and came to know deeply was their 1972 double-album masterpiece Exile on Main St., which remains my favorite record of theirs to this day. Their 1978 release Some Girls was the first record of theirs that I acquired and loved in its original release cycle, staunchly defending it with my friends as a stone cold rock n’ roll classic, when many of those same friends were aghast that the group had “gone disco” with the record’s dance-worthy, rhythmically-rich singles and deep tracks. I can’t say that I’m a particular fan of the Stones’ latter-day work, since the last album of theirs that I truly, deeply loved was 1981’s odds and sods collection Tattoo You, though 1983’s Undercover mostly pleased me, while offending most every other serious music critic I knew or read. I will give the Stones credit for releasing one of the better Anno Virum tributes with their 2020 single “Living in a Ghost Town.” It’s allegedly part of a new album project; I guess if the rest of it is as good as that one track is, then I might have to amend my views on their contemporary album catalog. Watch this space.
Why I Love Them: I’ve answered this question 39 times already in this series, and in every prior case, as I’ve started typing, the answer was pretty clear to me. But for The Rolling Stones? Errrmmmm . . . not so much. Mick and Keith are stereotypes and caricatures of rock n’ roll icons that don’t normally appeal to me, at all. The Stones’ music is anchored in the blues tradition, which doesn’t normally move me much. Their live appearances over the decades have become more about spectacle than about substance, and their studio albums have (as noted above) not much moved me since the years I was in college. Brian Jones and Bill Wyman are among the most odious figures in rock history for a variety of icky-factor reasons, which is usually enough to keep me from supporting or sustaining bands that welcome such awful human beings into their ranks. The Rolling Stones are obviously deeply influential and popular, but by that rubric, I’d be inclined to like Lady Gaga, Van Morrison, Patti Smith, Radiohead, and Bruce Springsteen, all of whom I actually detest, deeply. So on paper, there’s not a lot there that would make them score highly on my dance card, but in reality, I have them on our family playlists at the house and in the car pretty much all of the time, varying which songs from which albums I sample over the years, rather than just including or excluding a small collection of stable and stalwart songs in short bursts. Rock n’ roll’s lineage contains a gazillion Rolling Stone wannabes of various levels of attainment, but when in the mood for that sort of thing, I guess it seems much preferable to go to the fresh-water wellspring itself, rather than drinking stale and flat water that’s been poured between way too many interim vessels along the way. It’s mostly rock n’ roll (with some dressing up at times), and I like it, like it, yes I do. (Although as the list below will make clear, I don’t necessarily favor the obvious hits). So, at bottom line, I guess I love The Rolling Stones just because I love The Rolling Stones for being The Rolling Stones and making the very best Rolling Stones music there has been, is, or ever will be, for better or worse, in sickness or health, and until my death does us part, while Mick and Keith (and probably Ronnie) live on and on, once and future kings of the post-apocalyptic cockroach culture, world without end, amen.
#10. “Lady Jane,” from Aftermath (1966)
#9. “She’s So Cold,” from Emotional Rescue (1980)
#8. “Start Me Up,” from Tattoo You (1981)
#7. “Shattered,” from Some Girls (1978)
#6. “Sympathy for the Devil,” from Beggars Banquet (1968)
#5. “Tumbling Dice,” from Exile on Main St. (1972)
#4. “Miss You,” from Some Girls (1978)
#3. “Gimme Shelter,” from Let It Bleed (1969)
#2. “Street Fighting Man,” from Beggars Banquet (1968)
#1. “I Just Want to See His Face,” from Exile on Main St. (1972)