The Rolling Stones were the antithesis of The Beatles. It’s very difficult to imagine how any two groups could have been more different :
The Beatles came from Liverpool, The Stones didn’t. There were four Beatles and five Stones. Nobody in The Stones was called George Harrison. The Stones didn’t have The One With The Big Nose, they had The One With The Big Lips. His name was Mick Jagger and astonishingly, all these years later, it still is. But much else has changed in that time.
For a start, four of those five original Stones are now over 50 years older, but despite their age they still “rock” and still take delight in shocking – They perform shocking concerts, give shocking interviews and make shocking records . . .
So while The Rolling Stones are frequently referred to as ‘the greatest rock and roll band in the world™’, they are incontestably the oldest rock and roll band in the world.
In the 60s, The Stones (the name came from a Muddy Waters track) became the living symbol of rebelliousness. Everywhere they went they caused offence with their threatening behaviour, foul language and blatant promiscuity. They were the archetypal Bad Boys Of Rock.
Following a gig on 1 July 1965, the group pulled up at the all-night Francis Service Station on Romford Road, Stratford (UK). After being told the lavatories were being renovated and being refused permission to use the private toilet, Bill Wyman “urinated against the boundary wall of the service station”, with Mick Jagger and Brian Jones following suit further down the street.
The trio were charged and stood trial – during which the press had a hoot after it was revealed that, during the incident, Jagger had sneered: “we’ll piss anywhere, man”. The Stones were ordered to pay £3 each plus costs.
The group survived the ‘scandal’ but were brought to book for drug-related offences in 1967. There were also sex scandals (mention a Mars Bar to Mick and he’ll automatically think of Marianne Faithfull), riots, and even murders in the audience.
Brian Jones (pictured at left) was effectively kicked out of the band in June 1969. Initially the creative leader and most musically talented member of the group, he gradually became hampered by a drink and drugs-induced haze.
The former salesman at Whiteley’s department store in London was found dead in his swimming pool a month later on 3 July. The coroner concluded death by misadventure.
Sticky Fingers (1971) was the first Rolling Stones LP released on their own label, the first to feature the John Pasche-designed tongue and lips logo, and the first to top both the US and UK album charts.
The album is full of explicit drug references, not least on the Marianne Faithfull co-write Sister Morphine, a dark tale of addiction.
Andy Warhol’s cover design of a jeans-clad crotch originally came with a working zipper, sealing the consummate sleazy Stones package.
By 1972 the Stones were outlaws – albeit on the run from the taxman rather than the demons that had been on their tail three years earlier – and a gang you only ran with if you had the strongest constitution. When they arrived at Keith Richard’s villa in the South of France, they brought with them only their hardiest compadres.
But the 12 months it took to record and mix Exile On Main Street (1972) took a toll on all concerned, the band included. Drugs and booze were a given, which added to the fractious hell of living and working en masse in an unsuitable mansion (once a Nazi headquarters) . Mick’s decision to disappear with Bianca only added to the grumbling.
Exile On Main Street was Keith’s baby, but he could not have made it without the strongest backup the band ever had; Jimmy Miller (production and percussion), Bobby Keys (saxophone), Jim Price (trumpet and trombone), and Nicky Hopkins (piano) are everywhere on the album, contributing to a loosely layered sound which hides just as much as it highlights.
The band hated the album but the DNA of rock is imprinted across all four sides of the LP, and the Stones never rolled as well again.
Trouble arose when preparing to begin recording the Dirty Work album in 1985. When Mick saucily referred to Charlie Watts as “my drummer”, Charlie famously replied “Don’t ever call me ‘your drummer’ again. You’re my fucking singer”.
Keith commented later that “Charlie punched him into a plate full of smoked salmon and he almost floated out the window along the table into a canal in Amsterdam”.
Mick Jagger received a knighthood on 12 December 2003 for his services to music. Keith Richard immediately described the honour as “fucking paltry”, prompting Sir Mick to retort that Keith was just sore that he hadn’t got one too.