Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Rolling Stones: Midnight Ramblers

The Rolling Stones are, save the Beatles, the most famous rock band of all time. The Stones emerged from London around the same time that the Beatles were breaking out from their hometown, Liverpool. While the Beatles long ago parted, The Rolling Stones are still a functioning rock band, although with some members now in their seventies, the band is now only occasionally productive.

The Stones current lineup consists of Mick Jagger on lead vocals; Keith Richards on guitar; Charlie Watts on drums; and Ron Wood on guitar. All the current members except Wood have been with the band from the beginning, and the band has seen limited personnel changes despite its long run of 50 years.

The Stones started out in the early Sixties as one of the finest white blues bands of the day, led at that time, by the late blues guitarist, Brian Jones. In the band’s earliest incarnation, they were a blues and R&B band, and Jones was the driving force and resident blues expert. The band’s name came from the Muddy Waters song, “Rollin’ Stone.” The band played their first gig at London’s Marquee Club before landing a regular gig at the Crawdaddy Club. Former Beatles publicist, Andrew Loog Oldham became the Stones manager around this time.

Oldham’s first act was to secure a lucrative recording deal for his new band. Decca Records, which was still reeling from their failure to sign the Beatles, offered Oldham a sweet deal for the Stones. Oldham, then began to publicize the Stones as the anti-Beatles, a band of louts who were the polar opposite of the clean and decent Beatles. In spring 1963, Decca released the first Stones’ single, a cover of Chuck Berry’s, “Come On.”

The Stones recorded their debut album, “The Rolling Stones,” in 1964. The album only contained one song written by Jagger and Richards, with the rest of the songs being blues cover songs. Oldham encouraged Jagger and Richards to work on their songwriting, as he believed that the band would have limited appeal if it continued to just perform songs by “middle-aged blacks.” Two more albums relying heavily on covers of R&B and blues, “The Rolling Stones Number 2” and “The Rolling Stones Now,” were released in 1965. The songwriting team of Jagger and Richards were beginning to produce results with their first self-written hit, “Heart of Stone,” appearing in 1964.

The Stones first album with a significant amount of original material, “Out of Our Heads,” was released in 1965. This album contained the Stones first big international hit single, “Satisfaction,” and the single turned the band into bona-fide pop stars. The album contained several other excellent tracks such as, “Play with Fire” and “The Last Time.”

The Stones would continue to improve on their next release, “Aftermath” (1966), an album of mostly original songs that includes the early classic songs, “Mother’s Little Helper,” “Lady Jane,” and “Under My Thumb.” The latter track riled feminists and helped to solidify the band’s “bad boy” image.

In early 1967, the band’s next album, “Between the Buttons,” was released. This album saw the band moving away from the blues and R&B they had long focused on, and further into the realm of rock and the psychedelia that was so pervasive at the time. Later in 1967, the band would dive headlong into psychedelia with “Their Satanic Majesties Request,” a full-blown psychedelic freak out which was panned by many critics, but is still an interesting offering with the excellent tracks, “She’s A Rainbow” and “2000 Light Years from Home.”

Between 1968 and 1972, the band would enjoy a golden period that would see the band record an outstanding string of albums which are all now considered among the very best albums of 20th century popular music.

The first, “Beggar’s Banquet,” appeared in 1968, and featured some of the best rock and blues tracks ever recorded by a rock band. “Sympathy for the Devil” is the most famous track on the album, followed closely by ”Street Fighting Man.” The blues chops of the band, especially in the case of Brian Jones, are on full display on tracks such as “No Expectations” which features fine slide blues guitar by Jones. “Prodigal Son” is a fine country blues cover. Brian Jones would die tragically from drowning in his swimming pool shortly after the release of the album.

In 1969, “Let it Bleed” appeared, and like its predecessor, it contained excellent tracks of rock and blues. Several of the band’s most famous songs are found here such as, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” “Gimme Shelter,” and the title track. The cover of Robert Johnson’s “Love in Vain” is one of the highlights of the band’s recording career.

After a two-year hiatus from the studio, during which time the excellent live album, “Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out” (1970) appeared, another classic album, “Sticky Fingers” (1971), was released. The album was the hardest rocking Stones album yet, and featured new guitarist, Mick Taylor, who was brought in to replace the deceased Brian Jones. Taylor’s presence on the album gave the band a fuller rock sound that was exploited on the numbers, “Bitch,” “Can’t You Hear Me knocking,” and “Brown Sugar.” A fine country-rock moment can be heard with “Wild Horses,” a song that Keith Richards wrote with Gram Parsons of the Flying Burrito Brothers.

In 1972, the comprehensive and outstanding double album, “Exile on Main Street,” was released, and it is considered by many as the band’s definitive work. A slew of blues, R&B, and even gospel tunes populate the album along side rock songs such as the hits, “Happy” and “Tumbling Dice.” 

The Stones’ work started to slide in the mid-Seventies, with the band recording several albums which were several notches below the superb work of the past. Keith Richard’s drug use would become an issue, especially following his arrest at a Toronto hotel. It was not until 1978 that the band would finally make an album worthy of their reputation. That album was “Some Girls” (1978), featuring the stellar tracks, “Shattered” and “Beast of Burdon.”

The band’s work from the Eighties to present has been spotty, but there have always been fine moments such as the album releases, “Tattoo You” (1981), “Stripped” (1995), “The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus” (1996), and “Shine a Light” (2008).

The band is still a touring unit and they have ventured into new territory, playing concerts in Shanghai, China, in 2009.

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