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The Rolling Stones at 60: It’s Only Rock ’n’ Roll, But I Like It

A Kolkatan recalls coming of age to the sound of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards

Indrajit Dutta | Published 06.08.22, 02:33 PM
The Rolling Stones perform at Hyde Park, part of the SIXTY Tour

The Rolling Stones perform at Hyde Park, part of the SIXTY Tour

@therollingstones/Instagram

In Amsterdam 2022, a spry Mick Jagger at age 79 still grooves as if he’s back in 1964 trying to outdo Chuck Berry, while Keith Richards at age 78 is still that rockstar dude who’s cooler than his grandchildren and the many-faceted Ron Wood still makes rock-music magic with his guitar.

The Rolling Stones just turned 60, but they still rock every joint and every stadium. They are a big rock music book that still has unexplored musical chapters in it. At least their fans hope so, and I definitely am one of them. 

My tryst with the Stones began in earnest when I was 19. They remind me of college, namely Jadavpur University. I went through a phase where I sported a Beatles or a Rolling Stones haircut and Beatle boots in an attempt to look like a Sixties rocker. The year was 2006 and in those days, music meant CDs, either borrowed or bought from Music World on Park Street. 

The first Stones song I liked a lot was She’s a Rainbow. It wasn’t rock, but everything about the song, especially the sound and the lyrics, worked. Then I heard the big Stones hits — Satisfaction, Jumpin Jack Flash and Sympathy for the Devil. If there is an album that I love, it would be Aftermath. Two of its songs — Out of Time and Under My Thumb — were magical and worth the entire album. Stones purists might scream sacrilege, but I can hear the influence of the Beatles in these songs.  

Pioneers who are popular

One of rock music’s early pioneers, the Rolling Stones paved the way for bands such as Deep Purple and AC/DC. Punk rockers like The Clash and Sex Pistols who derided popular acts of the 1960s and 1970s might consider any comparison with the Stones blasphemous, but the fact remains the uncouth hairy caveman image that Jagger and Richards and The Beatles popularised surely impacted them.

Speaking of popularity, the Stones still remain, in musical parlance, a big hit. On July 27, Tokyo came out in droves to jive to their music. A special fireworks display in the Japanese capital in honour of the band turning 60 made it a thrilling occasion. It’s not only Baby Boomers who dig Jagger and Co, a look at the comment section for a YouTube video shows a diehard 16-year-old. For many, it is a family affair, where grandparents, parents and children dance to I Can’t Get No Satisfaction. They all got moves like Jagger.

What is it about all these old rockers? How do they transcend generations? Is it Mick Jagger’s voice and gyrations or is it Richards’s guitar and spooky persona? It would be a blasphemy to forget founder and virtuoso musician Brian Jones’s influence or to overlook Charlie Watts’s drumming in numerous hits, especially Out of Time. And how can one forget The Quiet Stone Bill Wyman’s stellar basslines. Last but not the least, Ron Wood, often the glue that held a feuding Jagger and Richards together. During the 1980s when a break up loomed large, it was Wood who kept them going. 

Mick Taylor also deserves a special mention. The magnificent Can’t You Hear Me Knocking makes any rock fan giddy with joy and Taylor’s guitar was out of the world. It is this combination of great music and showmanship that has thrilled Stones fans for generations. When I think of the Stones, I realise movies have also played a big part in me liking their songs. One instance would be the Martin Scorsese film Mean Streets that has a scene where Harvey Keitel is dancing with a lady and the song Tell Me is playing. 

The Stones vs the Beatles and beyond

Every rock music fan knows how the Stones came into being. They get their name from a blues number by Muddy Waters called Rollin Stone. In the early 1960s, they were obsessed with blues and rock ’n’ roll and wanted to play that kind of music, but then came the Beatles. A lot has been said about the rivalry between the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. As Tom Wolfe wrote: “The Beatles want to hold your hand, but The Rolling Stones want to burn your town.”

A couple of years back, Howard Stern reignited this debate on his talk show. I believe real music fans do not pay heed to these comparisons and point to Jagger’s speech when he inducted the fab four into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Jagger said a chance encounter with Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr drove him to seek the kind of fame the Beatles had found. In the early 1960s, when Jagger and Richards were desperately looking for a hit song they had turned to none other than Lennon and McCartney, who gave them I Wanna Be Your Man, which would become the Stones’s first hit in England. So much for professional rivalry.

Sixty years is a seriously long time. Start a Google search for the oldest bands in history and the Stones are easily near the top. Millions of bands and solo musicians have come and gone, but the Stones do not know the meaning of the word stop. The oldest band in history according to some websites is the Blind Boys in Alabama which was formed in 1939. The indefatigable Stones might just break their record.  

The Stones are still chugging along like a train. In 2005, they released A Bigger Bang and in 2020, Living in a Ghosttown came out. They were good, but that old Sixties and Seventies sound is not there. Jagger in 2012 on the Late Show with David Letterman said that no one wants to listen to their new album. That might be true, but they still rock ’n’ roll. May they turn 100 and rip the joint!

A less popular Rolling Stones song for the non-fans

Last updated on 06.08.22, 02:37 PM
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