a 30-year retrospective
of the Rolling Stones
BY TOM ERLE WINE
ecently, Bill Wyman
(the rock critic, not the
former Stones bassist)
wrote an article that
laimed that the main-
stream press makes each Rolling Stones
tour and album into a gargantuan me-
dia event and that the public doesn't
really care. While there's a certain
amount of truth to that -after all, each
album since 1974's "It's Only Rock &
Roll" has been hailed as a return to
form - the truth is, the public does
care, even if the Stones no longer change
pop music with their new records.
What makes the public care - and
what makes the band still important -
is the simple fact that the band exist,
They have so firmly worked them-
selves into the very fabric of popular
culture in the past 30 years, it's hard to
imagine rock 'n' roll -and, therefore,
popular culture - without them.
In fact, the Rolling Stones in their
prime were everything rock 'n' roll
was about, both in music and in image.
They were nasty, sexy, vicious, drug-
soaked, decadent, and smart, with a
relentless, swinging beat and slashing
From the beginning, the band was
dirtier and meaner than the rest, even if
that image was carefully calculated.
Jagger controlled the band's image; he
was always keeping on top of trends,
making sure that the band stayed hip.
Keith never cared about being current;
he delved deeper into blues, rock 'n'
roll, country, R&B, and reggae, creat-
ing one of the most distinctive guitar
styles in rock.
At first, Jagger and Richards were
blues purists much like Keith himself;
their originals were rewrites of old
Chuck Berry and Chess blues songs.
As rhythm guitarist Brian Jones began
to expand his musical tastes, his influ-
ence worked its way back into the
group's sound. The Eastern-tinged
"Paint it Black" aid the adventurous
"Aftermath" are directly connected to
how the band was different - at their
heart, they were the antithesis of hip-
pies, which was amply demonstrated
on their next album, "Beggar's Ban-
With "Beggar's Banquet," the clas-
sic Rolling Stones sound and image
was set in stone. Drawing equally from
rock, blues, country, and folk, the band
created a gritty, nasty masterpiece.
Jagger seduced 15-year old girls,
claimed he was the prodigal son and
asked for some sympathy for the devil
while the rest of the band cranked out a
dirty, rootsy music that could rock as
desperately as "Street Fighting Man"
or be as sadly beautiful as "No Expec-
tations." Even though Jones left the
group during the recording of "Let it
Bleed," the band became more musi-
cally diverse. Their next two studio
records were their best; in fact, "Exile
on Main St." is arguably the greatest
rock album ever recorded.
After "Exile," the band submerged
themselves in endless amounts of drugs
and sex, but their music did not become
boring. On each record they released in
the '70s, the band audibly slips into
excess; the friction between Jagger and
Richards is also clear. Although they
called themselves the Glimmer Twins,
the duo began to slip away from each
other, as Richards sank into heroin
abuse and Jagger spent most of his time
with trendy New York socialites.
"Goats Head Soup," "It's Only
Rock & Roll" and "Black and Blue"
are all by-products of being the World's
Greatest Rock and Roll Band - they
are self-involved records, filled with
the band's own troubles: scoring dope,
getting laid by "Star Fucker"s, having
the FBI keeping tabs on you, and rock-
ing for the sake of rocking.
Jagger became more cynical and
vicious; his snarling lyrics are
filled with contempt for the audience,
as well as his friends and lovers. His
cynicism culminated on "Some
Girls," the band's last great album.