Written by Chrissy Mauck
“If you start me up, If you start me up I’ll never stop.”
Although charismatic Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger is overtly crooning about his sexual prowess, the “Start Me Up” lyrics are just as applicable to the Stones and their stronghold on the title of longest-lived continuously active group in rock ‘n’ roll history.
Interestingly, founder Brian Jones christened the band on a dime in 1962 while placing an ad in a music magazine. Prompted for his band name, Jones glanced down and spotted a Muddy Waters record featuring the track “Rollin’ Stone.”
His hurried decision couldn’t have been more apropos. Since their first formal gig on July 12, 1962, the Stones have been an unstoppable force and are widely considered the world’s greatest rock and roll band.
Boyhood friends who reconnected in October 1960 at a train station, Jagger and Keith Richard (later changed to Richards) soon banded together in Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys. While making the rounds of London blues clubs, the pair were knocked out by Jones’ superb slide guitar work; a technique they’d never before witnessed. Before long, Jagger and Richards decided to join Jones’ band, which at the time included bassist Dick Taylor (later of the Pretty Things), drummer Mick Avory (later of the Kinks) and keyboardist Ian Stewart.
During an eight-month residency at the Crawdaddy Club, the Stones cemented their lineup with a shy but consistently solid drummer in Charlie Watts and an unassuming Bill Wyman fattening the sound on bass (Stewart was ousted from the formal lineup for not looking like rock star material, but stayed on in a supporting role as the piano-playing “sixth Stone”).
Album track “Street Fighting Man” is one of the first Stones songs in which guitarist Keith Richards’ experimentation with open tuning can be heard. Ever since, he’s been known to favor a five-string variant of open G tuning, using GDGBD unencumbered by a low six-string on his Fender Telecaster guitars.
The Stones recorded their self-titled debut album in late 1963 in the basement of Regent Sound Studios in London.
“We did our early records on a two-track Revox (tape machine) in a room insulated with egg cartons at Regent Sound,” said Richards in Simon Wells’ The Rolling Stones: 365 Days. “A tiny little back room. Under those primitive conditions it was easy to make the kind of sound we got on our first album and the early singles, but hard to make a much better one.”
Upon its April 1964 U.K. release, The Rolling Stones became a huge seller, staying at #1 for 12 weeks, while the U.S. version, titled England’s Newest Hit Makers, reached #11.
The wild U.S. success of the Beatles in early 1964 opened the nation’s doors to a flood of British bands, and the Stones were eager to tap into the fame and fortune experienced stateside by the Fab Four.
The Associated Press wrote this about the June 1964 arrival of the Stones at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York:
“In the tracks of the Beatles, a second wave of sheepdog-looking, angry-acting, guitar-playing Britons is on the way.”
Despite the U.S. press mocking their “unkempt” appearance, the tour ended with two sell-out concerts at Carnegie Hall. Along the tour route, the band enjoyed a two-day recording session at Chess Studios in Chicago, where they met several of their musical heroes, including Chuck Berry, Buddy Guy and Muddy Waters. Out of these sessions came a cover of Bobby and Shirley Womack’s “It’s All Over Now,” which became the Stones’ first #1 hit in the U.K. Later, it would lead to a tribute of those blues influences with a cover of Willie Dixon’s “Little Red Rooster.”
“This time, I didn’t want to do a fast beat number,” said Jagger of the blues single. “If the fans don’t like it, they don’t like it. I like it. It’s a straight blues and nobody’s ever done that. Except on albums. We thought just for a change we’d do a nice, straight blues on a single. What’s wrong with that?”
The highlight of the single—which immediately shot straight to #1 in the U.K.—was, interestingly, Jones’ slide guitar playing, an innovative addition to pop music.
But the band’s most successful work came from the Jagger/Richards songwriter pairing. “The Last Time” was the first of their compositions to top the U.K. charts (reaching #9 in the United States). Soon after, in June 1965, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” became their first international hit, earning them superstar status. Built around Richards’ driving fuzztone guitar riff, “Satisfaction” is often considered the all-time greatest rock ‘n’ roll song.
Following the massive worldwide success of “Satisfaction,” the Stones began to rely less on covers and more on songs by Jagger and Richards. Aftermath, released in April 1966, marked the band’s first album to consist solely of original songs. Jones also added new elements to the Stones’ evolving sound by playing a dulcimer on the baroque-sounding “Lady Jane,” marimba on the misogynic “Under My Thumb” and sitar on the darkly hypnotic “Paint it Black.”
1967′s Between the Buttons explored more hard-rock pop while pushing buttons with the title and sexual lyrics of single “Let’s Spend the Night Together.”
“I always say, ‘Let’s spend the night together’ to any young lady I’m taking out,” said Jagger. “If people have warped, twisted, dirty minds, I suppose it could have sexual overtones. Actually the song isn’t very rude. When you hear it you’ll realize this.”
Being rude was the least of the Stones problems that year as Jagger, Richards and Jones all faced legal troubles stemming from a string of drug busts.
|Many consider Beggars Banquet as the Stones’ masterpiece.|
The band also temporarily abandoned R&B in favor of psychedelia on Their Satanic Majesties Request (1967), which Rolling Stone magazine called a result of “an identity crisis of the first order.” Often criticized at the time as a sub-par knock-off of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Satanic Majesties has actually enjoyed more positive critical and popular acclaim over the ensuing decades.
The Stones returned to their R&B roots and penned soul-searching lyrics for 1968 album Beggar’s Banquet, which drew high praise from a more appreciative Rolling Stone.
“On Beggars Banquet, the Stones come to terms with violence more explicitly than before, and in so doing are forced to take up the subject of politics. The result is the most sophisticated and meaningful statement we can expect to hear concerning the two themes—violence and politics—that will probably dominate the rock of 1969.”
Album track “Street Fighting Man” is one of the first Stones songs in which Richards’ experimentation with open tuning can be heard. Ever since, he’s been known to favor a five-string variant of open G tuning, using GDGBD unencumbered by a low six-string on his Fender Telecaster guitars.
While Richards made good use of downtime stemming from late-’60s drug charges, Jones suffered a downward spiral, having limited involvement in recording Beggars Banquet, which many consider the Stones’ masterpiece. The group announced Jones’ departure from the band in June 1969. On July 3, he was found dead in his swimming pool.
The Stones replaced Jones with gifted guitarist Mick Taylor, who played his first show with the Stones at a free July 5,1969, concert in Hyde Park, which drew a quarter million people.
The Stones remained in tour mode for the rest of the year, including three concerts at New York’s Madison Square Garden to shepherd in new album Let it Bleed, which featuring staples “Gimme Shelter,” “Midnight Rambler” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”
While the ’60s expanded the Stones global notoriety, the ’70s-era dawning of stadium rock would secure the band’s fortunes and its place atop rock’s aristocracy.
Sticky Fingers, released by the Stones’ own record company in 1971, featured hit single “Brown Sugar,” written by Jagger during filming of the movie Ned Kelly in Australia.
“I was trying to rehabilitate my hand and I had this new kind of electric guitar, and I was playing in the middle of the outback and wrote this tune,” he said.
The Stones put out six more albums in the ’70s-Exile on Main St. (1972), Goat’s Head Soup (1973), It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll (1974), Black and Blue (1976), live set Love You Live (1977) and mega-hit Some Girls (1978), which many consider one of their best modern-era albums. Taylor left the band mid-decade, replaced in 1975 by former Birds/Faces/Jeff Beck Group member Ron Wood, who made his Stones studio debut on Black and Blue.
The ’80s yielded six more albums, including the group’s best-selling album, Tattoo You. Its biggest hit, “Start Me Up,” opened with what has since become a trademark Richards chord riff. The Stones ground to a slow stop in the ’80s, though, with a three-year lull in songwriting (1986-89) and eight years between tour as Jagger and Richards disagreed on the direction the band should take.
But the Glimmer Twins—their self-proclaimed moniker for their enduring musical partnership—resumed their working relationship late in the decade during a 10-day songwriting retreat in Barbados. The Stones also returned to the road with a world tour to promote 1989′s Steel Wheels.
|The Stones release a re-issue of Exile on Main St. in May 2010.|
The Rolling Stones were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989. Jagger, Richards, Wood and Taylor attended the induction ceremony.
The Who’s Pete Townshend handed out the prestigious honor, telling the Stones, “Guys, whatever you do, don’t grow old gracefully. It wouldn’t suit you.”
Wyman retired from the band in 1992 and was replaced by bassist Darryl Jones for the recording of 1994′s Voodoo Lounge. Though honored with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in Feb. 1986, Voodoo Lounge marked the Stones’ first Grammy win for best rock album. The band toured extensively for the album and for 1997 release Bridges to Babylon.
The Stones celebrated 40 years together in 2002 with the release of Forty Licks, a greatest hits double album that included four new songs and led to another round of touring.
The band released its first album of original material in almost eight years with 2005′s A Bigger Bang, which charted at #3 in the United States. The subsequent “Bigger Bang Tour”—which included their largest-ever gig, with 1.3 million spectators attending a Feb. 19, 2006, concert at Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana Beach—became the highest-grossing tour of all time, with earnings of $437 million, proving yet again that the Stones really are the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band of all time.
Heeding Townshend’s advice, they keep on rolling. After the premier of 2008 Martin Scorsese documentary Shine a Light, which showed the Stones performing at New York City’s Beacon Theatre, Richards told reporters that the band “might make another album.”
In the meantime, the Stones are enjoying the success of the May 2010 re-issue of Exile on Main St., which reached number one on the U.K. charts and took the number two spot in the United States.
On Oct. 12, 2010, the Stones will release 1974 concert film Ladies & Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones on DVD and Blu-ray. The fully restored and re-mastered masterpiece was filmed over the course of four nights in Texas during the 1972 Exile on Main St. tour.
Source: The Rolling Stones: 365 Days by Simon Wells