"You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you
might find, you get what you need"-
The Rolling Stones define rock 'n' roll. They are the longest running act in the history of rock music, having remained wildly popular and prodigiously productive over their 30-year career. The Rolling Stones began calling themselves the "World's Greatest Rock & Roll Band" in the late '60s, and few disputed the claim. The Rolling Stones' music, based on Chicago blues, has continued to sound vital through the decades, and the Stones' attitude of flippant defiance, now aged into wry bemusement, has come to seem as important as their music. The Stones were formed by blues purest, guitarist and harp player Brian Jones in 1962. He wanted to start a R&B band and the first to join him was pianist Ian "Stu" Stewart, followed by guitarist Geoff Bradford. In June, vocalist Mick Jagger and guitarist Keith Richards joined them. Bassist Bill Wyman and drummer Charlie Watts completed the early lineup.
Keith Richards is clear about whose band it was in the beginning: “Brian was really fantastic, the first person I ever heard playing slide electric guitar,” Richards said in Stone Alone: The Story of a Rock ’n’ Roll Band, by Bill Wyman. “Mick and I both thought he was incredible. He mentioned he was forming a band. He could have easily joined another group, but he wanted to form his own. The Rolling Stones was Brian’s baby.” Mick Jagger and Richards first met at Dartford Maypole County Primary School, but had lost touch with each other until a chance encounter at a train station 10 years later. They were both avid fans of blues and American R&B, and they found they had a mutual friend in guitarist Dick Taylor, a fellow student of Richards’ at Sidcup Art School. Jagger was attending the London School of Economics and playing in Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys with Taylor. Richards joined the band as second guitarist. In July 1962, the Rolling Stones played their first official gig, taking their name from a Muddy Waters song called "Rollin' Stone Blues." They played at venues like Ealing Jazz Club, Ken Colyer's Studio 51 and Eel Pie Island in Twickenham. The Rolling Stones commandeered an eight-month residency at the Crawdaddy Club, where they attracted a following of fans and fellow musicians, like Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton and Pete Townshend. The Beatles were already a British sensation, and their manager Andrew Loog Oldham decided to promote the Stones as their nasty opposites. He eased out the mild-mannered Stewart, who subsequently became a Stones roadie and frequent session and tour pianist.
In June 1963 the Stones released their first single, Chuck Berry’s “Come On.” After the band played on the British TV rock show Thank Your Lucky Stars, its producer reportedly told Oldham to get rid of “that vile-looking singer with the tire-tread lips.” The Rolling Stones’ commercial breakthrough came in mid-1964 with their rollicking, country-blues rendition of Bobby Womack’s “It’s All Over Now,” which went to #3 on the British chart and just missed the U.S. Top Forty. But it was in 1965 that the Stones discovered their own voice with the singles “The Last Time” and “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” The last of these, built around a compelling fuzztone guitar riff from Richard, is more than a standard; many consider it the all-time greatest rock and roll song. It also captured the Stones’ attitude: an impolite, plainspoken surliness that brought them into disfavor with rock-hating elements in the establishment. The three pre-eminent forces in rock music in the mid sixties were the Beatles, Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones. They mutually influenced one another, and aspects of Dylan’s folk-rock and the Beatles’ similar turn in that direction with Rubber Soul are clearly evident on the Stones music.
Aftermath, released in April 1966, was the first Stones albums to consist entirely of Jagger-Richards originals. It found them setting aside their blues roots to explore artful, unsentimental, hard-rocking pop that detailed battles between sexes, classes and generations. The contributions of Brian Jones, the one-time blues purist, were now key to the Stones’ eclectic sound, as he colored the songs with arcane embellishments on a variety of instruments ranging from marimba ("Under My Thumb") to dulcimer ("Lady Jane"). The group’s subsequent singles pushed the envelope of outrage, which the Stones were learning to exploit to their benefit. In January 1967 the Stones caused another sensation when they performed “Let’s Spend the Night Together” (“Ruby Tuesday”’s B side) on The Ed Sullivan Show. Jagger mumbled the title lines after threats of censorship (some claimed that the line was censored; others that Jagger actually sang “Let’s spend some time together”).
By the late sixties things were not going well between Jones and Jagger/Richards. Jones wanted writing credit on songs he help write in the studio, which he would never receive. He also had a drug problem that was getting out of hand and on top of everything else lost the love of his life, actress Anita Pallenberg, to his now former best friend Richards in 1968. In May of '69, it was agreed that Jones would leave the band. Tragically, less than a month later his body was found at the bottom of his swimming pool. Jones’ replacement was Mick Taylor, an alumnus of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers who made his debut with the Stones at a July 5th free concert in London’s Hyde Park. Attended by a crowd of 250,000, the concert launched the Stones’ 1969 tour while paying last respects to Jones. By this time the Stones had returned to basic rock and roll with a vengeance. By this time, every Stones album went gold in short order, and Let It Bleed (a sardonic reply to the Beatles’ soon-to-be-released Let It Be) was no exception. “Gimme Shelter” received constant airplay. The band’s first album for its own label, Sticky Fingers introduced their Andy Warhol designed lips-and-lolling-tongue logo, and yielded hits in “Brown Sugar” and “Wild Horses”.
Through the ’80s The Rolling Stones became more an institution than an influential force. A growing estrangement between Jagger and Richards culminated in a three-year lull after the release of Dirty Work in 1986. The two Stones sniped at each other in the press and in song: Richards’ album track “You Don’t Move Me” was directed at his longtime partner. Happily, the standoff ended when Jagger and Richards successfully resumed their working relationship during a ten-day songwriting retreat in Barbados. The Rolling Stones regrouped for an energetic, well-received world tour following the recording of strong, creatively resurgent Steel Wheels. On Jagger’s 62nd birthday, July 26, 2005, the Stones announced they were releasing a new album, A Bigger Bang , followed by a tour. The album included a rare political song from Jagger, "Sweet Neo Con," which was stingingly critical of the Bush Administration’s post Iraq War tactics and included the line, "You say you are a patriot/I think that you’re a crock of shit." The Rolling Stones are notable in modern popular music for assimilating various musical genres into their recording and performance, ultimately making the styles their very own.