If The Beatles reinvented rock and roll in the sixties, the Rolling Stones gave it its mojo. No disrespect to Messrs. Lewis, Presley, or Holly, but rock was in decline since The Day the Music Died.
I could rehash their history, but you already know it. And if you don’t, GO LOOK IT UP RIGHT NOW!
The Stones are, essentially, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards with Charlie Watts laying the beats. They didn’t replace Bill Wyman with a full-time bassist, and the second guitar slot never found stability until Ron Wood replaced Mick Taylor.
No, it’s Mick and Keith the band revolves around. From their first song, “Time Is on My Side” to the disturbing “Sympathy for the Devil” to “Start Me Up,” there’s a memory attached to every song. Three that stand out for me are “Satisfaction,” “Sympathy for the Devil,” and “Miss You.” I’ll take the last one first. It’s the first song I remember when it was new. “Miss You” came out during disco’s waning days. It was disco, and yet it wasn’t. This was a time when The Beatles were twiddling their thumbs over reuniting or just continuing their solo careers. (McCartney’s efforts after about 1976 were a big snore fest, and Lennon was baking bread. Literally.) Arena rock was on an upswing, but the bands had trouble trying to figure out what they wanted to be when they grew up or Led Zeppelin got out of rehab. Leave it to Mick Jagger and Billy Preston to give rock its identity back. I was twelve at the time and went around singing the falsetto hook, “Who-oo-HOO-oo-Hoo-oo-oo! Who-oo-HOO-oo-Hoo-oo-oo!” at the top of my lungs. My brothers, who were 5 and 3 at the time, thought it was funny. Mom was not amused.
Nor was she amused by “Sympathy for the Devil.” Growing up in a religious household where the rumor about “Stairway” having backwards messages (It doesn’t. I’ll tell you how I found out for sure in another post.) was given credence, a song sung by Satan about all his achievements did not go over well. But then just listen to that bongo intro and Mick screaming “Yeeooow!!!”, you get a real taste of evil’s seductive power. It eventually helped in writing whenever I wanted to write about someone who is deliberately, whether they believe they are or not, evil.
And then finally, we come to “Satisfaction,” the Stones’ signature song. As a kid, I just thought it was a cool song. As a teen, I thought it was a really cool song. As an adult, I was fully aware of song’s raw sexuality. I suspect many people reading this (possibly even me) were conceived to “Satisfaction.” The song even gave a date a very happy ending one evening.
There was a time, the 1980’s, where I questioned whether the Stones should continue. Tattoo You is a classic Stones album, but then they came out with Undercover, which sounded like a misstep, followed by the weak Dirty Work. (I liked “One Hit to the Body,” which had a guest appearance by Jimmy Page.) And then Keith’s habits caught up with him and turned him into rock’s first zombie guitarist. It looked like they were done.
But then came Steel Wheels. It was closer to the classic Stones sound than the previous two albums. Still, Bill Wyman retired during the sessions. How did that affect them? Many bands have a member they simply can’t afford to lose even though he’s not in the spotlight or part of the creative core: Pink Floyd’s Rick Wright, Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones, Cliff Burton and Jason Newsted of Metallica. For the Stones, it was Wyman. Darrell Jones stepped in nicely for the live shows, but in the studio throughout the nineties, there was clearly something missing from the Rolling Stones since Wyman’s departure.
Still, the Stones press on. I could see them doing something bluesey and acoustic along the lines of Johnny Cash’s American recordings. That would rock.
Which is what the Stones have always done.