“Throughout their career, Mick Jagger (vocals) and Keith Richards (guitar, vocals) remained at the core of the Rolling Stones. The pair initially met as children at Dartford Maypole County Primary School. They drifted apart over the next ten years, eventually making each other's acquaintance again in 1960, when they met through a mutual friend, Dick Taylor, who was attending Sidcup Art School with Richards. At the time, Jagger was studying at the London School of Economics and playing with Taylor in the blues band Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys. Shortly afterward, Richards joined the band” (Erlewine).
“Within a year, they…met Brian Jones (guitar, vocals)…By the time he became a fixture on the British blues scene, Jones had already had a wild life. He ran away to Scandinavia when he was 16; by that time, he had already fathered two illegitimate children” (Erlewine). Along with playing in Alexis Korner's group, Blues Inc., Jones made a stab at starting his own band, during which time he “recruited…the heavyset blues pianist Ian Stewart” (Erlewine).
Jones later became “reacquainted with Blues, Inc., which now featured drummer Charlie Watts, and, on occasion, cameos by Jagger and Richards. Jones became friends with Jagger and Richards, and they soon began playing together with Taylor and Stewart; during this time, Mick was elevated to the status of Blues, Inc.'s lead singer. With the assistance of drummer Tony Chapman, the fledgling band recorded a demo tape [which was] rejected by EMI” (Erlewine). “The group named itself the Rolling Stones, borrowing the moniker from a Muddy Waters song” (Erlewine).
And Now Live, for the First Time…
“The Rolling Stones gave their first performance at the Marquee Club in London on July 12, 1962. At the time, the group consisted of Jagger, Richards, Jones, …Stewart, drummer Mick Avory, and…Taylor…Weeks after the concert…Bill Wyman, formerly of the Cliftons” (Erlewine), replaced Taylor and “Charlie Watts, who had quit Blues, Inc. to work at an advertising agency once the group's schedule became too hectic” (Erlewine), became the drummer. “By 1963, the band's lineup had been set, and the Stones began an eight-month residency at the Crawdaddy Club, which proved to substantially increase their fan base. It also attracted the attention of Andrew Loog Oldham, who became the Stones' manager…Although Oldham didn't know much about music, he was gifted at promotion, and he latched upon the idea of fashioning the Stones” (Erlewine) “as the self-consciously dangerous alternative to the bouncy Merseybeat of the Beatles in the British Invasion” (Erlewine).
“With his preening machismo and latent maliciousness, Mick Jagger became the prototypical rock frontman, tempering his macho showmanship with a detached, campy irony while Keith Richards and Brian Jones wrote the blueprint for sinewy, interlocking rhythm guitars. Backed by the strong yet subtly swinging rhythm section of…Wyman and…Watts, the Stones became the breakout band of the British blues scene” (Erlewine).
“At [Oldham’s] insistence, the large yet meek Stewart was forced out…since his appearance contrasted with the rest of the group. Stewart didn't disappear from the Stones; he became one of their key roadies and played on their albums and tours until his death in 1985” (Erlewine).
The Early Singles – and “Satisfaction”
“The Rolling Stones signed with Decca Records, and that June…released their debut single, a cover of Chuck Berry’s Come On” (Erlewine) followed by a handful of cover songs, including It’s All Over Now, Howlin’ Wolf’s Little Red Rooster, both U.K. #1’s, and Irma Thomas’ Time Is on My Side, “their first U.S. Top Ten” (Erlewine).
“In June of 1964, the group released their first original single, Tell Me (You’re Coming Back)” (Erlewine). “The Last Time [released in] in early 1965, [was] a number one U.K. and Top Ten U.S. hit that began a virtually uninterrupted string of Jagger-Richards hit singles” (Erlewine).
“Still, it wasn’t until the group released (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction in the summer of 1965 that they were elevated to superstars. Driven by a fuzz-guitar riff designed to replicate the sound of a horn section, ‘Satisfaction’ signaled that Jagger and Richards had come into their own as songwriters, breaking away from their blues roots and developing a signature style of big, bluesy riffs and wry, sardonic lyrics” (Erlewine).
From Cover Albums to Original Albums
“By 1966, the Stones had decided to respond to the Beatles’ increasingly complex albums with their first album of all-original material, Aftermath. Due to Brian Jones’ increasingly exotic musical tastes, the record boasted a wide range of influences, from the sitar-drenched Paint It, Black to the Eastern drones of I’m Going Home. These eclectic influences continued to blossom on Between the Buttons (1967), the most pop-oriented album the group ever made” (Erlewine).
“Ironically, the album’s release was bookended by two of the most notorious incidents in the band’s history. Before the record was released, the Stones performed the suggestive Let’s Spend the Night Together…on The Ed Sullivan Show, which forced Jagger to alter the song’s title to an incomprehensible mumble, or else face being banned. In February of 1967, Jagger and Richards were arrested for drug possession, and within three months, Jones was arrested on the same charge. All three were given suspended jail sentences, and the group backed away from the spotlight” (Erlewine).
The Psychedelic Experiment
“The Stones' next single, Dandelion/We Love You, was a psychedelic pop effort, and it was followed by…Their Satanic Majesties Request, which was greeted with lukewarm reviews. The Stones' infatuation with psychedelia was brief” (Erlewine).
A Return to a Grittier Sound
“By early 1968, they had fired…Oldham and hired Allen Klein as their manager. The move coincided with their return to driving rock & roll, which happened to coincide with Richards’ discovery of open tunings, a move that gave the Stones their distinctively fat, powerful sound. The revitalized Stones were showcased on the malevolent single Jumpin’ Jack Flash…Their next album, Beggar’s Banquet was finally released in the fall, after being delayed for five months due its controversial cover art of a dirty, graffiti-laden restroom. An edgy record filled with detours into straight blues and campy country, Beggar’s Banquet was hailed as a masterpiece among the fledgling rock press” (Erlewine).
Brian Jones’ Departure
“Throughout the recording of Beggar’s Banquet, Jones was on the sidelines due to his deepening drug addiction and his resentment of the dominance of Jagger and Richards. Jones left the band on June 9, 1969, claiming to be suffering from artistic differences between himself and the rest of the band. On July 3, 1969…Jones was found dead in his swimming pool. The coroner ruled that it was ‘death by misadventure,’ yet his passing was the subject of countless rumors over the next two years” (Erlewine).
The World’s Greatest Rock & Roll Band
“The Stones had already replaced Brian Jones with Mick Taylor, a former guitarist for John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers…Their next album, Let It Bleed, released in the fall of 1969, …was comprised of sessions with Jones and Taylor, yet it continued the direction of Beggar's Banquet, signaling that a new era in the Stones’ career had begun, one marked by ragged music and an increasingly wasted sensibility” (Erlewine). “By the time the Rolling Stones began calling themselves the World's Greatest Rock & Roll Band in the late ‘60s, they had…pioneered the gritty, hard-driving blues-based rock & roll that came to define hard rock” (Erlewine).
“The group launched its first American tour in three years…The group broke attendance records, but it was given a sour note when the group staged a free concert at Altamont Speedway. On the advice of the Grateful Dead, the Stones hired Hell’s Angels as security, but that plan backfired tragically. The entire show was unorganized and in shambles, yet it turned tragic when the Angels killed a young black man, Meredith Hunter, during the Stones’ performance. In the wake of the public outcry, the Stones again retreated from the spotlight” (Erlewine).
“As the group entered hiatus…they formed Rolling Stones Records, which became a subsidiary of Atlantic Records…Keith wound up having more musical influence on 1971’s Sticky Fingers, the first album the Stones released though their new label. Following its release, the band retreated to France on tax exile, where they shared a house and recorded a double album, Exile on Main St…[which] was widely panned [originally], but over time…came to be considered one of the group’s defining moments” (Erlewine).
Sucking in the Seventies
“Following Exile…Jagger concentrated on being a celebrity and Richards sank into drug addiction. The band remained popular throughout the ‘70s, but their critical support waned…Taylor left the band after [1974’s] It’s Only Rock 'n' Roll, and the group recorded their next album as they auditioned new lead guitarists, including Jeff Beck. They finally settled on Ron Wood, former lead guitarist for the Faces and Rod Stewart, in 1976, the same year they released Black and Blue, which only featured Wood on a handful of cuts” (Erlewine).
“During the mid- and late '70s, all the Stones pursued side projects…[they] reconvened in 1978 to record Some Girls, an energetic response to punk, new wave, and disco. The record and its first single, the thumping disco-rocker ‘Miss You,’ both reached number one, and the album restored the group’s image” (Erlewine).
“However, the group squandered that goodwill with the follow-up, Emotional Rescue…that …received lukewarm reviews upon its 1980 release. Tattoo You, released the following year, fared better both critically and commercially” (Erlewine).
…And Not So Great in the ‘80s Either
“Tattoo You proved to be the last time the Stones completely dominated the charts and the stadiums. Although the group continued to sell out concerts in the ‘80s and ‘90s, their records didn't sell as well as previous efforts, partially because the albums suffered due to Jagger and Richards’ notorious mid-‘80s feud. Starting with 1983’s Undercover, the duo conflicted about which way the band should go, with Jagger wanting the Stones to follow contemporary trends and Richards wanting them to stay true to their rock roots…[1986’s] Dirty Work suffered a worse fate, since Jagger was preoccupied with his fledgling solo career” (Erlewine).
How to Make Only Four Albums in Twenty Years
The result was a three-year absence of Stones material, the longest break they’d ever had. Over the next twenty years, however, they would work together only fleetingly, coming together for surefire top ten, platinum studio albums that were really excuses for recording-breaking world tours.
The first of these albums was 1989’s Steel Wheels, “which was received with good reviews, but…was overshadowed by its supporting tour, which grossed over 140 million dollars and broke many box office records” (Erlewine).
“Following the release of [1991’s live album] Flashpoint, Bill Wyman left the band…The group reconvened in 1994 with bassist Darryl Jones, who had previously played with Miles Davis and Sting, to record and release the Don Was-produced Voodoo Lounge. The album received the band's strongest reviews in years, and its accompanying tour was even more successful than the Steel Wheels tour…Voodoo Lounge also won the Stones their first Grammy for Best Rock Album” (Erlewine).
Over the next decade, their only studio effort was 1997’s Bridges to Babylon. A trio of live albums appeared in that time and “a high-profile greatest-hits tour in 2002 was launched despite the lack of a studio album to support… the group issued A Bigger Bang, their third effort with producer Don Was” (Erlewine), in 2005.