Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



Rock group, 'The Greatest rock'n'roll band in the world': Mick Jagger, vocalist (b Michael Philip Jagger, 26 July 1943, Dartford, Kent); Keith Richards, guitar (b 18 December 1943, Dartford); Bill Wyman, bass (b William Perks, 23 October 1936, Penge, south-east London); Charlie Watts, drums (b Charles Robert Watts, 2 June 1941, northwest London; d 24 August 2021)); Brian Jones, rhythm guitar, other instruments (b Lewis Brian Hopkin Jones, 28 February 1942, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire; d 3 July '69), replaced by Mick Taylor (b 17 January 1948, Hertfordshire), who was succeeded by Ron Wood (b 1 June 1947, Hillingdon, Middx); plus Ian Stewart, keyboards (b 1938, d 12 December 1985). The Rolling Stones reflected the times that they played through, their best music transcending the farce and melodrama of their story: Keith Richards, the 'Human Riff', is a superb guitarist who has never lost his love for rock'n'roll and the roots music it came from; Mick Jagger is the perfect front man for a rock band, always almost over the top, with boundless energy and an ego to match; Charlie Watts, with his jazzman's ability to play slightly behind the beat, was one of the best drummers in the genre.

Jagger and Richards had known each other in primary school, met on a train as teenagers and discovered they were both rhythm and blues fans; Jagger attended the London School of Economics, Richards was in the same art school as guitarist Dick Taylor, who played in the same R&B band as Jagger (with fame Keith dropped the 's', calling himself Richard, until reconciled with his father years later). Jones followed a similar enthusiasm a hundred miles away, travelled to London to visit Alexis Korner's club, where Jagger was the second-string vocalist after Long John Baldry, and where he met Watts and Stewart. A nucleus of Jones, Jagger and Richards began to rehearse together, with Watts or with Mick Amory (later drummer with the Kinks), Dick Taylor on bass, and Stewart. Drummer Tony Chapman also passed through; Wyman replaced Taylor '62 (who then formed the Pretty Things); Watts was persuaded to quit his job in advertising '63. European blues enthusiast Giorgio Gomelsky (b 28 February 1934, Tiflis, Georgia, USSR; d 13 January 2016, NYC) booked them a weekly slot at the Railway Hotel in Richmond, Surrey, and acted as an unofficial manager until they attracted a following, when hustling publicist Andrew Loog Oldham turned up (b 1944): he'd worked for designer Mary Quant, then for the Beatles' manager Brian Epstein, and moulded the Stones into a saleable commodity as a rebellious London answer to the relatively goody-goody northern Beatles. Oldham demoted Stewart, who did not fit the slim-hipped image (Stewart became their tour manager and trusted confidant, frequent keyboard player on tours/records; had 'Boogie With Stu' dedicated to him on Led Zeppelin's Physical Graffiti '75; he played pub blues with Watts early '80s in Rocket 88).

A contract with Decca was easily obtained, as that label must have been kicking itself for turning down the Beatles; their first record '63 was a cover of Chuck Berry's 'Come On', a minor UK hit. Oldham asked the Beatles for an original song, and the Stones' version of 'I Wanna Be Your Man' was top 20 UK (where the song was not a Beatle single). They toured the UK in the winter of 1963 at the bottom of a bill with the Everly Brothers and Little Richard; a cover of Buddy Holly's 'Not Fade Away' (to which they added Bo Diddley's beat) was no. 3 '64, also reaching the USA top 50. Their eponymous debut LP was no. 1 UK, with Phil Spector and Gene Pitney helping; 'Tell Me' from it made the USA top 30, as did their first UK no. 1, a cover of the Valentinos' 'It's All Over Now' (by Bobby Womack). The EP Five By Five was made in Chicago during their first US tour '64; Willie Dixon's 'Little Red Rooster' from it was a UK no. 1, while Jerry Ragavoy's 'Time Is On My Side' was their first US top ten. Rolling Stones No. 2 was their second UK no. 1 LP; USA counterparts 12 x 5 and The Rolling Stones Now! both reached the top five USA albums '64-5.

They exploited their opposite image to the Beatles, refusing to wave bye-bye on a UK pop TV programme; while the Beatles collected MBEs from the Queen, the Stones were arrested for urinating on a garage forecourt. They were popular in the USA but had no number one hit singles there, where it seemed slightly peculiar to have five English kids covering Chuck Berry and the rest; Oldham pushed them to write songs of their own. Out Of Our Heads '65 was a roots LP in UK, only no. 2; a different LP of the same title in USA included the first Jagger/Richards songs 'The Last Time' (no. 1 UK, top ten USA) and '(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction', their first transatlantic no. 1; 'Get Off Of My Cloud' was their second the same year, on the USA LP December's Children (And Everybody's). They helped Jagger's then girlfriend Marianne Faithfull to four consecutive top ten hits '64-5. Compilation Big Hits (High Tide And Green Grass) and Aftermath '66, Between The Buttons '67 all in different editions on each side of the pond, as well as Got Live If You Want It! '66 (made in the Albert Hall: an exciting souvenir EP in UK, stretched to a dubious LP in USA); Flowers '67 was not issued in the UK at all. Their early 'Under-Assistant West Coast Promo Man' had sent up the record business; big hits in both UK/USA included '19th Nervous Breakdown', 'Paint It, Black', 'Mother's Little Helper' (a song about housewives' tranquillizers, years before the problem of 'legal' pills was widely recognized), 'Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing In The Shadow?'. 'Sittin' On A Fence' (on Flowers) was an acoustic lament for an innocence everyone was losing in those years: in the songs at least, they had no illusions about their own or anyone else's generation.

Aftermath was their most cohesive LP to date, yet still too poppish, overshadowed by the Beatles' Revolver, Bob Dylan's Blonde On Blonde and the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, all the same year. (The reason the albums were different in the UK and the USA had to do with the way song royalties were paid; USA LPs had fewer tracks. This ended with the Beatles' Sgt Pepper; see their entry.) In '67 the Stones faltered badly: Their Satanic Majesties Request late in the year achieved record advance orders and was the biggest disappointment of the decade, a dreadful attempt at psychedelia. $15,000 was spent on an opulent 3-D cover for the album; there may be a sense in which they wanted it to fail, psychedelia being no part of what the Stones were really about. Meanwhile Jagger, Richards and Jones had been arrested on drugs charges, the law clumsily making it obvious that it wanted to arrest the outlaw Stones rather than the Beatles; prison terms were avoided after a famous Times leader asked, quoting William Blake, 'Who Breaks A Butterfly Upon A Wheel?'. Their only single '67 was the limp 'We Love You', accompanied by a film with Jagger dressed as Oscar Wilde, Marianne as Lord Alfred Douglas, Richards as the Marquess of Queensberry. They were also growing distant from producer Glyn Johns, and from Oldham (they had entered the clutches of Allen Klein, who would soon add to the list of lawsuits pending against him the one with Oldham over the Stones' money).

Then they pulled it all together and reached their peak. 'Jumpin' Jack Flash' '68 (no. 1 UK, 3 USA) was classic, exciting rock'n'roll, dispelling notions of studio or electronic wizardry for the Stones: while the Beatles no longer toured at all, the Stones had to tour because they really were the world's greatest rock'n'roll band. It was also the year that flower-power began obviously to fail, a year of riots and the emergence of hippy terrorism; by the time Beggars Banquet came out at the end of the year (after a squabble with Decca over the original sleeve, which pictured a toilet and a graffiti-covered wall) the Stones were almost bored with it, but it was their first masterpiece, with knowing 'Sympathy For The Devil' (the title of Jean-Luc Godard's film of the sessions), 'Street Fighting Man', 'Salt Of The Earth'; low-down dirty 'Parachute Woman', 'Stray Cat Blues', etc. The sleeve thanked Nicky Hopkins and 'many friends', believed to include Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood.

Jagger made the film Performance '68, playing a jaded, faded rock star: not a happy pop Beatle film but a risky portrait of psychopaths, with James Fox and Anita Pallenberg, a communal Stones' girlfriend; soundtrack music was by Jack Nitzsche and Lowell George; Jagger's only song was 'Memo From Turner', one of his best tracks, recorded with members of Traffic including Winwood. Out-takes of Pallenberg and Jagger won a prize at a pornographic film festival in Amsterdam. A TV film Rolling Stones Rock And Roll Circus was made in December, with the Who, Jethro Tull, John Lennon, Clapton and others, but not shown until '96; Jagger thought he had been outshone by the Who.

Brian Jones was far more than a rhythm guitarist; he had been the musical centre of the group many times, e.g. his slide guitar on 'No Expectations' an attraction of Beggars Banquet. They might not have accomplished anything without him, but he'd become unreliable and drug- sodden; he could not get another visa for touring in the USA. In May 1969 the unhappy, asthmatic, alcoholic woman-beater, his liver and heart already badly damaged, was eased out of the group; in July he drowned in his swimming pool in Sussex (having purchased the former home of A. A. Milne, the 'House at Pooh Corner'), amid the usual rumours of foul play. (His last project was issued '72 as Brian Jones Presents The Pipes Of Pan In Joujouka, Moroccan traditional music.) A free concert in Hyde Park two days later with Mick Taylor (ex-John Mayall's Bluesbreakers) went on as scheduled; in tribute to Jones boxes of butterflies were released, many of them also dead; the band gave one of its worst performances ever. Jagger and Marianne then flew to Australia; he played the legendary outlaw in the flop film Ned Kelly, the soundtrack with Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson (one song by Jagger). She took an overdose of pills while they were there and Jagger saved her life, but the days of the affair were numbered.

'Honky Tonk Women' was no. 1 USA/UK mid-'69, one of their best (the video saw them in drag); Through The Past Darkly (Big Hits Vol. 2) '69 was dedicated to Jones; Let It Bleed '69 was their second masterpiece in a row, with the strutting title track, a cover of Robert Johnson's 'Love In Vain', 'Country Honk' (a different version of 'Honky Tonk Women'), orchestrated 'You Can't Always Get What You Want' etc included guests Leon Russell, Ry Cooder, Al Kooper. Flower-power was well and truly over after another free concert in December 1969 at Altamont, a disused racetrack in northern California: bad organization included 'security' provided by the Hell's Angels, who hacked and stomped to death Meredith Hunter, an 18-year-old black man foolishly waving a pistol, captured in film Gimme Shelter. Get Your Ya-Yas Out '70 was their best live LP, made during the USA tour, and marked the end of the Decca contract; they formed their Rolling Stones label. Sticky Fingers '71 included 'Brown Sugar' (no. 1 USA, 2 UK), 'Wild Horses' and 'Sister Morphine' (influenced by Gram Parsons, who fell out with Jagger over composer credits). Klein had their money tied up tight, but meanwhile their taxes hadn't been paid, and they moved to France. Jagger married model/socialite Bianca Pérez Mora Macias (the marriage didn't last, but she was a more substantial person than anyone knew at the time, later working for her native Nicaragua and other troubled countries). Two-disc Exile On Main Street '72 (later on one CD) included 'Sweet Virginia', 'Sweet Black Angel', top ten single 'Tumbling Dice' (revived for a top 40 USA hit '78 by Linda Ronstadt): it was criticized at the time as sprawling, in retrospect is definitive and the end of their peak. Henceforth they would coast through a boring musical decade with fans complaining about their work but buying it anyway because it was better than most of the rest.

Jamming With Edward '72 really did sprawl, a jam with Jagger, Wyman, Watts, Hopkins. Jagger sang on Carly Simon's no. 1 'You're So Vain' '72. Goat's Head Soup '73 made it obvious that their peak was past, but included 'Angie', no. 1 USA/5 UK; It's Only Rock And Roll '74 had a good title track and a cover of the Temptations' 'Ain't Too Proud To Beg'. Metamorphosis '75 on Decca was mainly demos from the '60s, plus Wyman's 'Downtown Susie'. Taylor left the band, running for his life: heroin came too close (he worked with Mike Oldfield, Bob Dylan, made expensive flop Mick Taylor '79, later Stranger In This Town '90). He was replaced by ex-Faces Ron Wood on Black And Blue '76, described by Lester Bangs as the first meaningless Stones album, notable only for Jagger and Richards's interest in reggae (Jagger sang with Peter Tosh on 'Don't Look Back', also on Tosh LP Bush Doctor '78). Two-disc Love You Live '77 had one side recorded in a small Canadian club, showing some of the old vigour; Some Girls '78 was their best in years, perhaps pushed by competition with punk rock, including a disco-ish 'Miss You' (their last no. 1 single); feminists were outraged by the title track, as though surprised by Stone-age chauvinism. Emotional Rescue '80 pursued sloppy disco; Sucking In The Seventies '81 was a well-named compilation; Tattoo You '81 was a relief, and it seemed as if the Stones had recovered from the 1970s, with Sonny Rollins among the guests. Yet it had been put together by Jagger from scraps, the final mix by Bob Clearmountain (who'd worked with the Psychedelic Furs): 'Start Me Up' was a Richards tune dusted off from '79, a no. 2 single in the USA; the album was no. 1 for nine weeks.

Long known as the 'Glimmer Twins', Jagger and Richards found it more and more difficult to agree about anything; Richards spent a lot of money on drugs and lawyers while Jagger took care of the business end (somebody had to do it). Yet rehearsals for a 1981 USA tour were effective, Richards running the music while Jagger looked after the details, and the flash: the show had him riding in a cherry-picker over the audience. It was reportedly the highest-grossing tour in rock history; tour film Let's Spend The Night Together was surprisingly effective, but Still Life was a disappointing souvenir live album. Back in the studio, Undercover '83 had some driving tracks, and Dirty Work '86 saw the Stones in their best form (some said) since Some Girls.

Pallenberg and Richards had been heroin addicts for years, had two children and finally split up; the indestructible Richards said that 'When I was on heroin, I learned to ski and I made Exile On Main Street.' He could always beat Jagger, a fitness freak, at tennis. When he quit heroin he became effectively an alcoholic, but married Patti Hansen '83 and stayed in some kind of control. It was Columbia boss Walter Yetnikoff's idea to make Jagger a solo star; Yetnikoff had no idea what he was doing, while the Jagger albums interfered with whatever the Stones might have done during that period, but Jagger made the solo She's The Boss '85 with Pete Townshend and Jeff Beck; 'Just Another Night' was a standout track but the album disappointed Stones fans, as did Primitive Cool '87. Richards had not had much desire to make solo albums; the Stones were his life. He and Gram Parsons had talked about a collaboration early '70s, but it never happened; he did a one-off cover of Chuck Berry's 'Run Rudolph Run' '79; then he was irritated not only at Jagger competing with the group but doing it in what appeared to be an off-hand way. Richards was music director for a 90-minute documentary Hail! Hail! Rock'n'Roll! '86 celebrating Berry's 60th birthday, and surviving working with the difficult Berry gave him a new kind of confidence. His first solo album Talk Is Cheap '88 was accompanied by a tour with drummer Steve Jordan (from the Berry experience), guitarist Waddy Wachtel, saxophonist Bobby Keys (had worked with the Stones; b 18 December 1943, d 2 December 2014 in Franklin TN) and others as The X-Pensive Winos; a live recording made at the Hollywood Palladium was released; his next solo was Main Offender '92 (all on Virgin) and the Winos toured Europe and gigged in NYC that year. Jagger's solo albums sold somewhat better than Richards's but Jagger's promo tour was cancelled because of lack of interest, while there was never any lack of interest in Richards's guitar. Jagger's third solo album was Wandering Spirit '93, with Lenny Kravitz and other guests, produced by Mick Rubin; it reached no. 11 in the US charts. Keith made Wingless Angels '97 with Rastafarian brethren.

Richards also worked with Aretha Franklin, and contributed to Tom Waits's Bone Machine, John Lee Hooker's Mr Lucky and Johnnie Johnson's Johnnie B. Bad, all released '92. (Johnson was Berry's pianist in the 1950s, and Richards was convinced Johnson had virtually written Berry's tunes.) Jagger did duo 'Dancing In The Street' '85 with David Bowie for Band Aid (a no. 1 hit), made video 'Running Out Of Luck' '87; he had signed a contract for an autobiography but eventually had to return the advance, and he appeared in film Freejack '92. He finally married Texan model Jerry Hall (b 2 July 1956) in November 1990 in an ceremony in Bali consisting of Buddhist rituals (their third child was born early '91 and they subsequently had a 4th) and he was continuously in trouble over dalliances with other women until she divorced him in 1999. Ron Wood's solo work included I've Got My Own Album To Do '74, Now Look '75, Gimme Some Neck '79, 1,2,3,4 '81; he collaborated with the Faces' Ronnie Lane on Mahoney's Last Stand '76, and with Richards in the New Barbarians '79 (a Canadian charity concert was part of a deal Richards made with the law there after a drugs arrest). Wood also toured off and on with Bo Diddley.

Bill Wyman was the band's archivist, said to have amassed a huge collection of stuff; his solo work included Monkey Grip '74, Stone Alone '76, soundtrack Green Ice and Bill Wyman '81 (with engaging top 20 UK single '(Si, Si) Je Suis Un Rock Star'); he formed Willie and the Poor Boys '85 (the name from a Creedence Clearwater track) for an eponymous LP/video to aid Faces' Ronnie Lane (MS victim) with Watts, Wood, Chris Rea and Ringo Starr. Wyman opened a restaurant, the Sticky Fingers Café, in London in May '89; in June he married his second wife, teenager Mandy Smith (it lasted 17 months). He published a Stones memoir Stone Alone and finally made good his frequent threats to leave the Stones in 1992. (Darryl Jones has filled in on bass ever since.) Watts said in an interview that Mick and Keith are so dominant that it's frustrating to work with them, and that that was also the reason Mick Taylor had left. He released Struttin' Our Stuff, by the Rhythm KIngs, basically an excellent bar band with a changing cast of classy sidemen like vocalist Georgie Fame, guitarist Albert Lee and guitarist/arranger Terry Taylor. The Rhythm Kings were bigger in Europe than in the USA, but on one occasion 300 Americans chartered a plane to go and see them in London. In 2011 Wyman had settled down with another wife and three young daughters; a five-CD compilation of the Rhthm Kings' studio albums was to be released on Proper, they were to tour the UK with the original Supreme Mary Wilson, and Wyman was working on his eighth book, another Stones memoir. He also exhibited that year as a photographer, and has dabbled in archeology and restaurants.

Drummer Charlie Watts was always the quiet one, always a jazz fan, never listened to Stones records: he had a different kind of style in mind, whether playing music, having a suit made or watching cricket. He bankrolled the Charlie Watts Big Band for a gig at Ronnie Scott's club late '85, with John Stevens and 31 others (arranged by Alan Cohen) and the unexpectedly successful venture toured the USA: album The Charlie Watts Orchestra Live At Fulham Town Hall was made, Watts said, 'after we'd played together only a week'; somebody said that the band, with three drummers, sounded like a fat man falling downstairs. The Charlie Watts Quintet made more sense, featuring such players as Peter King on alto sax, Brian Lemon on piano, the gifted young trumpeter Gerard Presencer; albums on small UK labels included From One Charlie '91 (a tribute to Charlie Parker, the mini-album accompanying the reissue of Watts's book Ode To A High-Flying Bird from '64; the quintet opened Ronnie Scott's new club in Birmingham). My Ship and Warm And Tender '93 were followed by Long Ago And Far Away '96 on Virgin, the last two full-length albums featuring vocalist Bernard Fowler singing standards beautifully.

Oldham had formed the Immediate label c.1967, a bright independent with the Nice, Small Faces, Humble Pie, Fleetwood Mac, Nico, Chris Farlowe and Amen Corner on the roster; it folded '70; a relaunch was unsuccessful '76. He moved to NYC, worked as a producer and oversaw the reissue of Stones albums on CD '87; he hadn't noticed before that one track was easy for Richards's voice, but difficult for Jagger. 'I said to Keith: ''Did you pick the key for that song?'' And Keith just looked at me and smiled.' Meanwhile the Stones came together for a benefit for Stewart '86, and talk that Jagger and Richards would never play together again had been premature: Steel Wheels '89 was a strong album and a tour, as rock's bad boys did it again and did it best; on the tour somebody cracked, 'We've been in Washington for a week, and I haven't heard so much talk about health care for the aged since Bill left the band.' Flashpoint '91 was the tour souvenir; Voodoo Lounge '94 yet another album and tour, Darryl Jones replacing Wyman, the album produced by Don Was, engineered by Don Smith and winning two Grammys; Jagger told David Sinclair that 'It could have been more ground-breaking ... I think Don Was is great, but the trouble is that all these people are trying to re-create Exile On Main Street, and it's just impossible to stop them.' Stripped '95 was an interactive 'CD-Plus' (with video etc) recorded live and at rehearsals in various European locations, featuring lesser-known tunes; concerts all over the world including Rio got ecstatic reviews in '95 (but China refused to let them in); it was reported that Bill Gates paid them $6-8m to use 'Start Me Up' in promoting his latest Microsoft software package. Another Voodoo Lounge was a CD-Rom '95, a fantasy computer game with film from the tour etc. Bridges To Babylon '97 was another album-and-tour, 1/3 Keith, 1/3 Mick and 1/3 producers (Was, Dust Bros).

Books include Philip Norman's The Stones '84, Stanley Booth's memoirish The True Adventures Of The Rolling Stones '86; Keith Richards: The Biography by Victor Bockris '92 was an amusing book about one of rock's most fascinating characters. But Keith's Life, an autobiography co-written with his long-time associate, novelist and journalist James Fox, got rave reviews in 2010, at 564 pages one of the best books of its kind from the entire rock era, candid and intelligent as well as amusing.

The Rolling Stones Rock'n'Roll Show from '68 was finally broadcast and released on video '96, by then an amusing period piece of variable performances. In 2008 the band left the label deal they had with bankrupt EMI and signed a new contract with Universal, coincidentally the conglomerate that now included Decca, their original label.