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the rolling stones

"What's really surprising is that we have stayed together, with all the egos and the lack of it and whatever it is that makes people what they are. And the fact that people still like you is staggering." - Charlie Watts.

It's simple. The Rolling Stones ARE rock 'n' roll. They are the longest running act in the history of rock having just celebrated their 40th anniversary with yet another mega-bucks World Tour (Forty Licks), which saw Mick Jagger continuing to squeeze himself into ridiculously tight leggings. Throughout drugs overdoses, deaths, Satanic cults and brushes with Hells Angels, and Mick and Keith's bickering, they helped define the 60's and have remained wildly popular ever since and in Keith Richards' case, barely alive. They were the dangerous, bad boy antithesis to The Beatles' lovable mop tops. Now pushing 60 and beyond, they continue to live on their legacy as the bad old men of rock.

The band was formed by former London School of Economics student Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. The legend has them bumping into eachother on the platform at Dartford railway station where Keith noticed a blues album under Mick's arm. And it was the start of a beautiful, love/hate friendship...

Comprising original members Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Brian Jones, the band secured a residency at Richmond blues club The Crawdaddy before being signed to Decca Records in 1962 by A&R man Dick Rowe who had just rejected The Beatles. The band's debut single, a cover of Chuck Berry's Come On, reached No.21 in the UK charts. The band soon secured the services of a manager, London impressario/hustler Andrew Loog Oldham who helped crystalised their image as the bad boys of rock and roll. Oldham worked the dirty outlaw card for all it was worth, elicitng a string of lurid tabloid headlines culminating in the infamous tabloid think piece "Would you let your daughter marry a Rolling Stone?". During a UK support slot to The Ronettes in 1963 the band caused near riots among teenage girl fans. In February 1964 the group, now with the addition of Bill Wyman on bass and Charlie Watts on drums had their first No. 1 single with a cover of Buddy Holly's Not Fade Away.

The early Stones sound was fairly derivative of American blues but with Jagger's pout and whirling dervish dance moves borrowed from James Brown and Richards demonic guitar grooves the band had a primal, sexual intensity that made The Beatles sound like mummy's favourites.
The band's first three albums, The Rolling Stones, 12 x 5 and The Rolling Stones Now, were made up largely of R&B and blues covers. It was the Jagger/Richards composition (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction which sealed the group's image as sneering, rebel rockers. The record was banned from US radio, which of course immediately propelled it to the top of the US and UK charts in the summer of 1965.

A string of No.1 singles followed, Get Off My Cloud, 19th Nervous Breakdown and 1966 single Paint It Black which featured the group's first flirtation with full on psychedelia with Brian Jones on the sitar. The groundbreaking Aftermath album was released later that year with the band experimenting with their sound. Jones was influenced by Morrocan Jajouka music and Jagger and Richards songwriting was developing rapidly.

By the time of 1967 album Between The Buttons and hit singles Let's Spend The Night Together and Ruby Tuesday, the Stones were on the authorities' hit list, regarded as druggy, subvervises. In February of that year the official Stones watch resulted in a raid of Richards' Redlands home with Jagger and Keith arrested for drugs. Keith's conviction was quashed on appeal and Jagger was given a year's probation but it was the start of a run of high-profile court appearances. Jagger immediately wrote We Love You as a tribute to the fans who had stood by the band through their trials with Lennon and McCartney popping up on backing vocals. Jagger would return the favour by turining up on The Beatles' All You Need Is Love.

1967 album Their Satanic Majesty's Request is generally regarded as a failed attempt at a psychedelic concept album and didn't come close to rivalling The Beatles concept album of that year, Sgt Peppers.

1968's Beggars Banquet album featuring the much needed No.1 hit Jumpin' Jack Flash, saw the band return to their blues roots and a staggering burst of creativity that would see the band reach their creative peak with four albums over a five year period. Single Sympathy For The Devil was malevolent genius, Mick posing as Beelzebub over a voodoo funk vibe. During the sessions for follow up album, 1969's Let It Bleed, Brian Jones left the band saying he wanted to form a new group. A few days later the Stones recruited former John Mayall's Bluesbreakers guitarist Mick Taylor as his replacement. A month later Jones was found dead in mysterious circumstances in his swimming pool at his Sussex home. Jones' unstable personality had buckled under his drugs intake and he was annoyed at having control of the and wrestled from him by Jagger.
The band's 1969 free Hyde Park gig became a memorial for Brian and the group unveiled their new songs. The bar room blues of Honky Tonk Women was released a week later and went straight to No. 1. The Let It Bleed album was released in December and was a feast of apocalyptic blues with the brooding menace of Gimme Shelter and thundering Midnight Rambler, proving that the Stones were better at harsh realism rather than dopey, hippy idealism.

However, the band's gig at Altamont Speedway in Northern California at the end of 1969 put a chillingly symbolic end to the hippy idealism of the '60s. The band's free gig was badly organised, exacerbated by brutal Hells Angels acting as security. One Hells Angel ended up stabbing an innocent fan to death while many other fans were beaten up. The Stones, appalled, were airlifted out of the gig.

Following Jagger's appearance in Nic Roeg's cult hit film Performance, the band released the Sticky Fingers album in 1971. 1972 follow up, double album Exile On Main Street is generally regarded as the band's finest hour. Recorded in the basement of Keith Richards villa in the South of France the album is a murky, elegantly wasted trawl through the blues from the cascading rock of Tumbling Dice to the rousing gospel of Shine A Light. Inevitably, follow up albums Goats Head Soup (1973) and It's Only Rock 'N' Roll (1974) were a let down. By the time of 1976's Black and Blue album, ex-Faces guitarist Ron Wood had replaced Mick Taylor. Again, the album was patchy featuring the Stones venturing into dangerous territory (ie reggae), with Cherry Oh Baby.

Drugs began to take hold of the band in the mid '70s, often affecting their live performances and it came as a surprise to no one when Keith Richards was arrested in Toronto for possession of heroin. Richards escaped a jail sentence but agreed to perform some free concerts in the city as part of his pennance.

1978's Some Girls album, featuring the disco funk of Miss You and the gritty blues of Beast Of Burden was a return to form, the band perhaps kicked into life by the recent punk explosion were wary of being seen as rock dinosaurs.

On record, the '80s were largely a stagnating period for the Stones and a period of bickering between Richards and Jagger about the direction of the band. 1980's Emotional Rescue was formulaic while 1981's Tattoo You redeemed itself only with the Microsoft anthem, Start Me Up. But although their studio output was uninspired, the Stones were now one of the biggest acts on the stadium rock circut. The band's live show was still worth the money, especially now Keith had cleaned up his addiction to drugs and could get through a whole set without falling asleep.
1984's Undercover and 1986's Dirty Work albums were again, largely forgettable. After a brief lull the band returned with 1989's Steel Wheels album. Featuring the single Mixed Emotions the album was generally regarded as a minor return to form.

By the '90s the band had become genuine rock dinosaurs. How long could they keep going? Would they be drawing their pensions before going on tour? They moved to Virgin in a multi million pound deal for the 1994 album Voodoo Lounge (their first without newly departed bassist Bill Wyman who had recently split from his teenage bride Mandy Smith). 1995's Stripped followed but didn't cause the critics to wax lyrical. No matter. The Stones' legacy was now enshrined in rock folklore and going to see them live was an essential part of a rock education. Their world tours were still gigantic events, lumbering across the world, regularly grossing millions. (2002's Forty Licks World tour grossed 175m). The band cranked it up again for 1997's Bridges To Babylon album, not a total disaster but not a life changing event either.

As we speak the band are rumoured to be preparing yet another money spinning world tour in 2005/6 which will mean they'll rarely get to bed before midnight. An inspiration to elderly gentlemen everywhere...

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