(Click here for the Italian version)
The Rolling Stones were
probably the most impressive set of talents to come together in Britain
before the Soft Machine:
decadent vocalist Mick Jagger (who distorted soul crooning and turned it
into an animal instinct), rhythm guitarist Keith Richards (who took Chuck Berry's
riffs into a new dimension of fractured harmony),
multi-instrumentalist Brian Jones (who penned their baroque and psychedelic arrangements), and the phenomenal, funky rhythm section of
bassist Bill Wyman and drummer Charlie Watts.
Steeped in the blues, the Rolling Stones redefined the rock
performer, the rock concert and the rock song. They turned on the degree of
vulgarity and provocation to levels that made Chuck Berry look silly.
Arguably the greatest rock and roll band of all time, the
Rolling Stones revolutionized each of the classical instruments of rock
music: the drums incorporated the lascivious tom-tom of tribal folk,
the martial pace of military bands and the sophisticated swing of jazz;
the guitar amplified the raw and ringing style of
the bass invented a depraved sound, the singing turned the sensual crooning
of soul music in an animal howl, half sleazy lust and half call to arms;
and the arragements of keyboards, flutes and exotic instruments completely
misinterpreted the intentions of the cultures from which they were borrowed.
The revolution carried out by the Rolling Stones was thorough and radical.
Indirectly, the Rolling Stones invented the fundamental axis of
rock and roll: the sexy singer, sexual object and shaman, and the charismatic
For at least forty years that would remain the only constant in rock music
(and one of the external features that set it apart from jazz, folk, classical
In an era still crowded with vocal groups of pop music
Beatles) inspired by those of the 1940s', the Stones represented a generational
After them, not only rock music but western civilization itself will never be
the same again.
(Translated from my original Italian text by DeepL)
Considered by many to be the greatest rock bands of all time,
the Rolling Stones revolutionized each of the classic instruments of
rock music: the drums assimilated the lewd tamtam of tribal folk,
the martial drumming of military bands and the sophisticated swing of jazz;
the guitar exaggerated the raw, ringing style of Chuck Berry;
the bass invented a rough and rowdy sound; the singing transformed the sensual crooning
of soul singers into a bestial cry, half slimy lust
and half call to arms; and the arrangements of
keyboards, flutes, and exotic instruments completely misrepresented the intents
of the cultures from which they were borrowed.
The revolution brought by the Rolling Stones was total and radical.
Indirectly, the Rolling Stones invented the fundamental axis of
rock and roll: the sexy singer (sex object and shaman) and the
For forty years that would remain the constant of rock music
(and one of the external characteristics that distinguished it from jazz, folk,
In an era still crowded with pop music vocal groups (Beach Boys,
Beatles) in the style of those of the 1940s, the Stones represented
a traumatic shock.
(Translated from my original Italian text by Ornella C. Grannis)
The Stones constituted a rare miracle: five reckless white boys from a
European capital who managed not only to appropriate the music of black
Americans, but to surpass all their teachers. Nobody ever did the blues
like the Stones, and perhaps nobody ever will. Their blues was a
metaphysical, political and mystical.
When they appeared, in 1962, they represented most of all an epic cry
of revenge. The rockers of the 50s, from Chuck Berry on, had been
systematically chased away by the recording industry who favored the
"teen idols". The Rolling Stones were the legitimate heirs of those
forsaken rockers. In fact, they married Berry's wicked ethos to the
violent impulses of urban vandalism. The result was an explosive mix
that the world of music, popular or classic, black or white, had never
The Stones were blues-rock specialists. A banality really, a genre
within a genre, yet it was fundamental to the development of rock music.
The world before and after the Rolling Stones are actually two separate
worlds. Before there were only ditties. After there is rock as we have
come to know it. In a sense, the Rolling Stones invented the opposite of
the short, little songs that had dominated the preceding decades, and that
continued for a while, thanks to the Beatles. And the binomial "blues+rock"
remains today the dominant style of rock music. From Led Zeppelin to
Nirvana, directly or indirectly, they're all children of The Rolling
Stones. Without the Stones the history of rock and roll would have been
completely different. Without most of the melodic bands of the time, rock
history would have remained precisely the same, only the names in the hit
parade would have changed. The short silly little song was there before,
was there after and it's still around, but blues-rock was not there, and
it has become the fundamental structure of most modern genres, from hard
rock, that the Stones de-facto invented in 1965, to grunge, that the Stones invented
The leaders, Mick Jagger and Keith Richard, were from Kent. Jagger, a
student of economy, was an aspiring rhythm and blues singer being schooled
by white blues man Alexis Korner. Richards, a graphic designer, was a
guitar player fascinated by the John Lee Hooker's hypnotic riffs. They both
across a jazz inspired multi-instrumentalist who, at sixteen, had already
fathered two children: Brian Jones.
Jones became from the beginning the soul of the group. He was a prodigy,
in music(he could already play anything, from the organ to the saxophone)
as well as sexually (in a decade he fathered six children - the first at
fifteen - by six different girls). Jones was also the first rock agitator:
long hair, androgynous make-up, quarrelsome attitude, free use of drugs.
Jagger was among the first to imitate him, possibly contributing to Jones'
moral decay in a Dostoevskyan existence that in end turned Hitchcockian.
Raised in the suburbs, Brian Jones fell in love at an early age with
Charlie Parker. He had played the sax and the clarinet from London to
from the metropolitan clubs to the street corners before being introduced
to Jagger and Richard at the Ealing Blues Club. In the same club the trio
scouted pianist Ian Stewart, bass player Bill Wyman and drummer Charlie
Watts,three unemployed jazz aficionados. The Stones began to play gaining
in a short time the reputation of a white rhythm and blues band.
Within a year they became one of the most legendary attractions of the wild
London underground. Their sanguine, frenetic, loud and engaging style was
exciting. The concept of song was lost in these nocturnal sarabands, in
which a piece was twisted by improvisation and ended with a repetitive theme,
as in the best black tradition. Compared at first to the bands of the
Mersey beat, the Rolling Stones were a much more sensational novelty. In
Richmond, where they performed for four dollars a head, all the VIPs of the
"swinging London", Mary Quant included,gathered to listen. Going back to
the roots of
the ugly, dirty and bad music, they were awarded the palm of best band of
When they - minus Stewart, lost along the way in 1963 - entered a
recording studio for the first time, their repertory had stabilized
around the classics of rock and roll. With their first three 45s, Come On
(by Chuck Berry) in June, I Wanna Be Your Man (by Lennon and McCartney) in
November, Not Fade Away (by Buddy Holly) in March 1964, they grabbed the
attention of the young and the hostility of the mass-media. The young saw
in them real and spontaneous spokespeople. The mass-media saw them as
dangerous and perverted subversives. Their attitude conquered the young,
their anger frightened the old.
The Rolling Stones, unlike the bands of the Mersey beat, were also good
musicians: an expressive and versatile vocalist, a razor-sharp rhythmic
guitar and a natural talent like Jones as the inspiration, the coordinator,
the arranger and saboteur. Richard in particular, whose style was the first
conscious imitation of Chuck Berry, imposed himself immediately as the best
beat guitarist. His fuzz tone functioned to compensate for the absence of
brasses. Watts and Wyman formed the funkiest, most essential rhythmic
in the history of rock and roll. Jagger was the principal attraction: he
modeled his vocals upon the suffering vocalizations of Otis Redding and
Solomon Burke, and he moved about so much on stage as to be compared with
the blackest performers of ten years before.
Although The Rolling Stones did not belong to the "swinging London", the
London boastful and loud, but to the squalid and smoke-ridden
neighborhoods, their songs dazed and seduced even those who were not
The group was as restless in public as it was in private. Jagger and
Richards, already subscribers to the tryptich of sex/drugs/violence were
led astray by Jones' derailing personality. The inside story of the group
was one that women fought over (plenty of charming and fatal "Faithfulls"
self-destructed chasing their idols). It was a story of dependency on heavy
drugs, of corrupted and ambiguous friendships, of straight degradation: all
under the web of Brian Jones.
Their first LP Rolling Stones (Decca, April 1964) was the best album
yet released in England. It contains some rhythm and blues classics
played with a rebel stand of the youth of poor neighborhoods, and also
the first writing collaboration between Jagger and Richard: Tell Me. I'm
A King Bee (Slim Harpo), Carol (Berry), Route 66, I Just Want To Make Love
To You (Dixon) literally erupt from the grooves - crackling, exciting,
shattering. The Stones had a historic illumination: nobody before them had
ever correctly interpreted blues and rock through the body. They were the
first to do it, the first to recognize without reserve, what was the real
intent of black musicians. For years every white rocker had kindheartedly
"justified" that sound, smuggling it as "race music." With the Stones the
truth came to surface: their music was desperate, lewd, violent,
In monumentally confusing and fragmented discography of the time, it is
difficult to find the next album as such. Nevertheless, The Rolling Stones
were active with 45s while their LPs were stuffed mostly with rhythm and
blues and rock and roll covers. The orgiastic climate was beginning to tone
down progressively into more mature performances that preserved the
stylistic ingredients of the first album (sharp guitars, irreverent
choruses, tribal rhythms, coarse harmonics), in a more cautious mix.
Richard's urgent guitar playing, assault by fingertips, dominates these
new tracks, all covers: Around And Around (by Chuck Berry), Empty Heart,
She Said Yeah, and It's All Over Now (by Bobby Womack), the 45 that
introduces once and for all their forceful and unconventional stance.
Slow songs also proliferate to showcase Jagger's vocal quality in all
their theatrical mode: covers Time Is On My Side, Confessing The Blues
and Little Red Rooster (Dixon), and much more melodramatic originals:
Heart Of Stone, I'm Free, and Good Times Bad Times.
Heart Of Stone and Little Red Rooster entered the English hit parade and
brought the Stones to the United States. The following October they
released a second LP for the States (12x5). Rolling Stones n. 2 came
out in February 1965 (entitled Now in the United States).
1965 began a succession of Jagger and Richard masterpieces: The Last Time
(February, stolen from the Staple Singers' 1958 This May Be The Last Time), Satisfaction (May), Get Off Of My Cloud (September), all
originated by a corrosive and haunting mix of distorted blues riffs, of
wickedly sensual vocals and of demonic rhythms, all catapulted to the top on both sides
of the Atlantic, and also Fortune Teller (recorded in july 1963), a bursting performance with a
frantic cadence. The menacing and anxious synthesis of blues and rock and
roll had reached the boiling point. The stentorian riff of Last Time keeps
going without respite, hypnotic and obsessive like a war cry, while Jagger
twists without mercy a feverish gospel refrain. The shouting impetus of Get
Off Of My Cloud unhinges the door of gospel with alternating hammering
rhythms and choral slogans. With Satisfaction, under the influence of
Tamla's party-oriented soul music, Jagger's perverted tone and Richard's maniacal
distortions (wah-wah, wah-wah-wah ...) and Charlie Watts' proto-disco beat, set a sex flick to music. The anthem
top of "Billboard" where it stayed for four weeks, definitely consecrating
the group and pulling to the top the album Out Of Our Heads (1965, mostly
the American release). Never before had people so wretched ousted
established musicians from the best seller lists. An army of frustrated
youth saw itself in those five shady characters and their raunchy music.
In those years the Stones didn't play songs, they shouted in people faces.
While the Beatles had tea with the Queen, the Stones were pissing in public.
Conversely, at the same time the band presented two delicate and melodic
acoustic ballads, carefully arranged: Play With Fire an aggressive "slow
song" for harpsichord and harness bells, and As Tears Go By (September), a
tender serenade with a sentimental string section. They are the first signs
of a new sensibility.
December's Children (1965), mostly a compilation of already released
material, puts the spotlight on the rhythm section of Watts and Wyman,
perhaps the greatest of all time.
1965 also marked the persecution of the mass-media, of the moralists and
of the authorities: the sexual references were too explicit - in the text
as well as in Jagger's mimicking stage performances - their behavior at
concerts promoted violence, behind the scene there was incessant talk of
drugs. Rooted in the lower classes, Jagger, Richard and Jones knew how to
excite the crowd with forceful body language, exploiting the frustrations
of the young masses. Trouble followed them everywhere: the pillage of Berlin
in 1966 after Jagger's provoking Nazi goose-step, the disturbances from
Paris to Vienna, from Cortina to Warsaw, with the police always on alert
and the insurance companies refusing to guarantee their concerts. The
recurrent trials for illegal drugs made them outlaws or martyrs for the
opposing factions of media detractors and infatuated fans. Jagger, Richard
and Jones spent a night together in jail. They were convicted and came very
close to spending several months in prison.
Actually, by the end of 1965 the Rolling Stones had already accomplished
their mission. After having turned upside down the world of music with
their sound, their words and their body language, and after having
entrusted their name to two immortal pieces (The Last Time, a masterpiece
of white rhythm and blues and Satisfaction, a hymn to the frustration of
their generation), the five found themselves wanting to remain faithful
to their image of bandits but also willing to adjust to the changing times.
Aftermath (Decca, 1966), recorded in Los Angeles in march 1966, is the first album that doesn't showcase only hits
and it's also the first entirely composed by Jagger and Richard. With it,
the Stones aligned themselves with the wind of newness that blew over rock
music and showed the competence required to put together an LP. Another
precious and velvety acoustic ballad Lady Jane,with the dulcimer, and a
long, pulsating and obsessive jam Going Home, are the most substantial
contributions to the new, progressive sound. Under My Thumb set to a
marimba rhythm keeps high the banner of the captivating, dirty sound, the
image of the macho who enslaves the girl. The more melodic and exciting
blues of Out Of Time stretches over a Caribbean rhythm.
Although the Stones still have their sound solidly rooted in black music,
as the faithfully rendered High And Dry, Stupid Girl and Doncha Bother Me
show, Brian Jones knows how to arrange each piece using instruments such
as the dulcimer, the marimbas, the sitar, the flute and all kinds of
The progression of the masterpieces at 45rpm keeps going with the loud
and epileptic 19th Nervous Breakdown (February) and with the mystical
epic Paint It Black (May), which, on the painful notes of the sitar and
Jagger's vibrating baritone, lights an historic ode to the disquietude
of young people, completing the great trilogy of frustration (with Last
Time and Satisfaction).
The blasphemous Indian litany Mother's Little Helper (June), with the
chorus "what a drag it is getting old" and drug references, and the
psychedelic trumpets and a bacchanal of percussion complete (with 19th
Nervous Breakdown) a trilogy of psychotic rock.
That memorable year ends with Let's Spend The Night Together (December),
a relentless boogie with an allegedly obscene text (many radio stations
will censure the word "night").
The Stones were navigating the road of irreverence, much like a sort of
Kinks of the underworld. Their songs are a gallery of characters vile and
depraved: neurotics, psychopaths, prostitutes, hooligans, drug addicts.
Between The Buttons (Decca, 1967) and Their Satanic Majesties Request
(Decca, 1967), are esoteric and surreal works that attempt to ride the
tiger of psychedelia, but they also are perhaps masterpiece compilations.
Buttons puts to use the instrumental chromatism of Aftermath with pieces
such as Yesterday's Papers (xylophone and harpsichord), Complicated (tribal
drums), Miss Amanda Jones (the most rocking), and Cool Calm & Collected
(a Vaudeville-style rag) and Something Happening To Me (played in the style
of a 1920s Salvation Army Band). In the proudest acid style there is All
Sold Out: a trombone rhythm section, scorched by guitar distortions, piano
dissonance and flute improvisations, a stentorian blues and an aggressive
refrain. Ruby Tuesday, accompanied by recorder counterpointed by contrabass
and piano is a form of chamber psychedelia; the refrain, perhaps the
simplest of their career, is worthy of the Beatles.
This LP completes the progression toward "album-oriented" production.
If Aftermath had provided them with artistic autonomy, Buttons had
emancipated them from past styles. The Stones were now on to a varied
and original sound.
Their Satanic Majesties Request shows how much they had progressed
artistically -holographic jacket, fantastic text, impressive arrangements.
Majesties is a milestone of English psychedelia and magical rock, although
at times it falls due to mannerism and sensationalism. Majestic, chaotic,
poetic and unbalanced, this album (the least "Rolling Stoned" of all the
Stones' albums) is a pretentious medley of relentless riffs (Citadel), of
catchy melodies (Sing This All Together/I, 2000 Man), and of eccentric
arrangements. The deployment of instruments is imposing: harpsichord,
flutes, organ, electronic effects, etc. Nicky Hopkins' keyboards
contribution is pivotal.
The charm of the album (the charm of Brian Jones, that is) is in bizarre
modernist pieces such as the tribal orgy Sing This All Together/II, the
oriental inspiration of Gomper, the futuristic electronic effects in 2000
Light Years From Home. The masterpiece She's A Rainbow, fuses the sonic
attack of the early Stones' rhythm and blues with
 neoclassical carillon-like piano by Nicky Hopkins, stark strings, festive horns, languid choir, circus-like rhythm and cacophonous intermezzo.
In line with that acid/baroque tendency that obsesses over the
arrangements - and seems to want to copy The Beatles (guests of honor in
the choruses), We Love You (the single of August, with Jones on mellotron),
completes the trilogy,
along with Ruby and Rainbow, of the Stones' great psychedelic songs,
hammering, cacophonous and ethereal, continuing the ascent of melodic
and harmonic refinement.
The great creative season of the psychedelic Stones was heading for an
early and very tragic end. The real protagonist of that turn of events,
Brian Jones, now completely dulled by drugs, was being progressively
marginalized, while Jagger kept the mass media busy with his relationship
with Marianne Faithful and with plenty of drug charges. Jagger took
advantage of these early signals of disintegration to take over the
control of the band.
The pretext for change came with student riots.When generational
frustrations finally exploded in May 1968, Jagger, making use of his
experience as public meddler and bringing the language of the working
classes up to date, didn't hesitate to join in. It was the year of Jumping
Jack Flash (May) - their
first try in the field of belligerent anthems - and of Beggar's Banquet
(Decca, 1968), the bluesiest, most socially oriented album of their career.
that inaugurates the collaboration with producer
Jimmy Miller (who had worked with the Spencer Davis Group and on Traffic's
Mr Fantasy and Family's Music in a Doll's House),
is the opposite of the two albums that preceded it. It
significantly modifies the image of the Stones. As much as Jones had tried
to transform them in altar boys, Jagger gives them back the charisma of evil
in accordance with the dictates of a more modern blues - masculine, hard,
vibrant, syncopated - sustained by the sharp shavings of electric guitar
and by the relentless marathon of drums: the powerful Stray Cat Blues,
the country-gospel choral Salt Of The Earth and the slowest, most intricate
post-war blues Parachute Woman and Prodigal Son. The lyrics speak of sex,
drugs, politics. The Stones are the modern outlaws of music, they court the
devil and sing by his inspiration, like their legendary black forefathers.
The road was paved by Street Fighting Man, the complex revolutionary hymn
(sequestered for two years by the recording studio), that burst with the
most martial riff of Richard's career (on bass),
adrned by Jones' sitar and tambura,
and paced by Watts' war drums and by Richard's acoustic guitar (strummed like a tom tom). It
is surpassed in wickedness only by the demonic tribalism of Sympathy For
The Devil - Jagger's last will and testament - thanks to the epic piano
phrasing of Hopkins.
From this moment on, however, the story of The Rolling Stones became a
monotonous chronicle of mundane foul deeds and a list of albums always
dignified but held together more by undeniable class than by new ideas,
a slow, descending parable of hedonism, fetishism, narcissism, bohemianism,
aura, erotomania and schizophrenia.
In July 1969 Brian Jones - the sitar of Paint It Black, the dulcimer of
Lady Jane, the recorder of Ruby Tuesday - was found dead of an overdose in
his swimming pool. Neurotic, hallucinated, broken by loneliness and
powerlessness, Jones had become a wreck. He had been replaced in the band
a month before by Mick Taylor.
In December of the same year, during a concert in Altamont, California
the Hell's Angels fueled disturbances that culminated with the death a
spectator. At last, Jagger left Marianne Faithful full of drugs (she
would attempt suicide shortly after) to marry a model.
By now The Rolling Stones were eccentric multi-millionaires surrounded by
a team of managers (to handle their millions), of lawyers (to run from the
laws they continuously broke), of technicians (to prepare their concerts),
of doctors (to avoid the risk that someone could wind up like Jones).
In those same months came the obscene affront Honky Tonk Women (July), not
for nothing one of the most syncopated rhythm and blues of all time, the
masterpiece of the Stones rhythm section, to complete the trilogy - with
Let's Spend The Night Together and Sympathy For The Devil, of a depraved
and blasphemous rock.
Among the most creative blues pieces of the times must be added You Can't Always
Get What You Want (recorded in the sessions for Beggar's Banquet), introduced by a cappella by choir of children, then
immediately underlined by Latin percussions, a jazz piano, a church organ
and the London Bach Choir.
At the end of the year the Stone released Let It Bleed (1969), another
frenetic and rugged album , featuring Gimme Shelter,
a quintessential jam that featured lascivious post-psychedelic guitar counterpoint, pounding pseudo-voodoo rhythm section and profane gospel invocation;
and the seven-minute tribute to a serial killer Midnight Rambler.
Mick Taylor contributes the cocky Jiving Sister Fanny.
After the death of Brian Jones, their sound became sort of a puritan rhythm
and blues, a sound reluctant to accept any instrumental extravaganza.
At the same time the roles of the lead and rhythm guitars (respectively, Mick Taylor and Keith Richards) became to diverge. Previously the ambiguity of the two roles had been Richards' secret weapon.
Through those years The Rolling Stones became by all accounts one of the
greatest rock and roll bands. Their continuous concerts established a
standard reference for younger bands, a fact not to be overlooked
considering that in general the new generation was better served
technically than the old one. But that's not the case for The Rolling
Stones, who would continue to dominate even when their albums were
mediocre. While The Beatles (and many others of their generation) were
no longer playing live, realizing their mediocrity as musicians and
embarrassed to confront themselves with a much better prepared generation,
The Rolling Stones put on the best show on earth.
Sticky Fingers (Rolling Stones, 1971) left behind the psychedelic and
avant guard craziness to mark a singular comeback to their blues roots.
With this album the Stones found a post-blues format, intellectual yet
spartan, vulgar yet elegant, rowdy yet impeccable, lewd yet austere, that
would become the classic of classics. The album was much talked about
because of its sexy jacket, the zipper designed by Andy Warhol, a metaphor
of the contents. It's one of the most explicit and provocative albums of
all time, a continuous apology to dependency - from lascivious to
self-destructive; a collection of libidinous chants and grim sabbaths to
drugs. The animalesque assault of Brown Sugar, one of their best works
and a masterpiece of rugged rock is the quintessence of their savage style.
Also worthy are the passionate ode Wild Horses and the languid and rarefied
Sister Morphine. It's blues, labored blues, ghoulish and romantic, but it's
not the blues of the plantations, it's the blues of psychedelic lights.
And, still, Taylor's guitar sounds almost like a pedal steel of country music in Dead Flowers.
Taylor also rescues the confused Sway with two memorable solos.
Musically the band achieves an even higher level with the bold and fearless
Bitch, a seven-minute mini-jam with conga and sax, and Can't
You Hear Me Knocking (with Richards' sharp riff,
Mick Taylor's Santana-esque solo and Bobby Keys' saxophone).
The double album Exile On Main Street (Rolling Stones, 1972) completes the
maturation. Abandoning all pretenses and concentrating only on their
infernal nature, the Stones deliver on the concept of sexual obsession.
The songs are luxuriously bacchanalian, syncopated and droll, but the album
is self-referential, a sort of museum of the styles absorbed by the Stones
sound, from the hiccuping gospel of Tumbling Dice to the visceral,
percussive and stentorian funk of Rocks Off. It's a multi-voiced shouting
style mostly derived from gospel, with a rumbling jump-blues rhythmic
counterpoint of swooping horn blasts and heavy drum rolls. Percussion
dominates, albeit in different styles from song to song, along with
suggestive instrumental combinations and rhythmic patterns that go well
beyond their legendary syncopation. Exemplary are the saraband Happy and
the choral decadence of
All Down The Line (with a
blistering solo by
Mick Taylor on slide guitar).
The quieter episodes are counterbalanced by a sinister aspect: the solemn
and martial blues Torn And Frayed, the frenetic and possessed boogie Turd
On The Run, the tribal and demonic serenade Black Angel. The
autobiographical choral hymn Soul Survivor seals the work. Perhaps not by
chance the best
piece is a cover, the captivating dance Hip Shake by Slim Harpo,
and another great Mick Taylor solo is found on another cover, Robert Johnson's Stop Breaking Down.
Another celebrated Taylor solo graces Shine A Light, a ballad penned with Leon Russell.
Having replaced Taylor - another victim of the band's excesses - with Ron
Wood in 1974, the Stones were enticed by reggae and disco, but
substantially their music wouldn't change, still solid and gruff as in the
beginning but lacking the attitude and the fantasy of earlier times. For
the remainder of
the decade their albums parade yearly but the singles are not the "chansons
de geste" of the past: the struggling Angie (1973) from the mediocre Goat
Head's Soup, the anthem It's Only Rock And Roll (1974) from the album of
the same name, the disco crossovers Miss You (1978) from Some Girls and
Emotional Rescue (1980) from its album. There is nothing worth mentioning
from Black And Blue (1976), an album mined from Jagger's passion for reggae.
Mick Taylor still crafts a few fabulous solos, for example the one in the
mid-tempo Winter on Goat's Head Soap and especially the lyrical
Time Waits For No One
on It's Only Rock 'n' Roll.
Schizophrenically stretched between a bourgeois normalcy (home, marriage,
hobbies) and the image of heroin addicts afflicted with the "millionaire
loneliness syndrome" (permanently engulfed from one side of the world to
the other in a sort of consumerist caricature of the road adventures of
Henry Miller and Jack Kerouac: entire hotels reserved in their name,
million dollars nights of beer and fruit juice, gargantuan dinners) but
still able to suck into their tragic vortex
groupies and casual friends (plenty killed or grown stupid from drug abuse,
from suicide or otherwise ruined), the Stones ascended to living legends,
venerated by the media and by fans of every age from every country,
as they were in feeding their own cult.
In 1984 they are the first band to gain admission in the Rock'n'Roll Hall
of Fame, the shrine of the stars who filled Madison Square Garden. At the
end of 1985 keyboardist Ian Stewart, the unofficial sixth member of the
group, died. The progressive marginalization of drug addict Ron Wood began.
The disagreements and fights between Richard and Jagger filled the papers.
Their later hits pushed their ideology of music for the body to the
extreme, preserving only the rhythmical qualities of rhythm and blues,
The compositions, dried to the bone, lost their melodic packaging,
submerged completely in the sweat and breath of movement: the
hyper-syncopated voluptuous She`s So Cold (1980), the sweeping Start Me Up
by the beat of the most skin tight rhythm section in the history of music,
Undercover Of The Night (1983) from the album of the same name, Had It With
You (1984), a quintessential essay on the Stones' ritualism and One Hit To
The Body (1986), another hyper-cadenced classic that "sounds" like The
Rolling Stones. After that a modernistic coloring seems to erase the might
of the band. There is really little to save in Steel Wheels (1989).
(Original English text by Piero Scaruffi)
In 1992 Wyman left the band and was replaced by fantastic bass player Darryl
Jones, who had played with Miles Davis. But the albums didn't get any
better. The best song on Voodoo Lounge (Virgin, 1994)
is New Faces, a failed imitation of Lady Jane, and
Don Was' eccentric production tried in vain at recreating the magic of
mid-period Rolling Stones.
Bridges To Babylon (Virgin, 1997) was even less interesting. Its single
was Anybody Seen My Baby, basically copied from K.D. Lang's Constant Craving.
Fans had to wait 15 years before the Stones assembled another decent album,
A Bigger Bang (2005), that surprisingly exuded enthusiasm and verve.
Blue & Lonesome (2016) is instead an album of blues covers.
Living In A Ghost Town (2020) was the Rolling Stones' first single in eight years.
Forty Licks (Virgin, 2002) is a two-disc career retrospective.
Wyman founded a chain of restaurants in London, wrote
his autobiography and launched a new career as a
Struttin' Our Stuff (Velvel, 1998) and
Anyway The Wind Blows (Velvel, 1999)
are albums of
old-style jazz and blues, almost a nostalgic tribute to the music he came from.
(Translated by Ornella C. Grannis)
Keith Richard went solo in 1988 with Talk Is Cheap, an impeccable album
he unleashes his passion for the roots of rock music
(I Could Have Stood You Up), but also for dub (Make No Mistake).
Main Offender (Virgin, 1992) includes
the enticing 999, Wicked As It Seems and Body Talk and the long raga-reggae
Words Of Wonder. For the "icon of the Dionysian excesses of 60s" as
sociologist Camille Paglia has defined Richard, these records are humble,
modest and discreet.
Of all the Stones Charlie Watts is the one who has ventured solo the most.
Watts, one of the great poets of rhythm, has formed a jazz quintet inspired
by Charlie Parker and Duke Ellington. Long Ago & Far Away (Pointblank) a
compilation of refined ballads avails itself of a classical orchestra.
Live At Fulham Town Hall (Columbia, 1986) and
Warm And Tender (Continuum, 1993) deliver high-class jazz.
album, a collaboration with percussionist Jim Keltner (Higher Octave, 2000)
is a small new-age masterpiece of sampling and traditional music - every
title bears the name of a jazz drummer.
Of all the Stones, Mick Jagger is the one who has recorded the worst solo
albums: She's The Boss (Atlantic, 1985), Primitive Cool (Atlantic, 1987),
Wandering Spirit (Atlantic, 1993). The third is the least objectionable,
thanks to Rick Rubin's production, Flea and Doug Wimbish's collaboration
on the ballad Angel In My Heart, echoing Lady Jane, and decent songs like
Out Of Focus, Put Me In The Trash, Wandering Spirit. Goddess In The
Driveway (2001) parades the aging rocker with a cast of stars (notable Bono
in Joy, Wyclef Jean in Hideaway and Lenny Kravitz in God Save Me
Charlie Watts died in 2021 at the age of 80. The Stones released
Hackney Diamonds (2023), their first new music in 18 years.
Aside from the changes in style, throughout their career there are
constants easily recognizable that, not by chance, go back to the canonical
of the black tradition. Jagger's singing has embodied the fervor of the
great singers of profane gospel, Richard's riffs are a variation of Chuck
Berry's, the rhythm section is either the heavily syncopated cadence of New
Orleans or that of the magical tribal rituals of Africa, the goliardic
sarcasm of their sabbath is an exaggeration of the obscene metaphors of the
The Stones added to these elements the spirit of their time and a
messianic evocation to evil. From this synthesis stemmed the great
trilogies: that of frustration (Satisfaction, Last Time, Paint It Black),
that of psychosis (Mother's Little Helper, Have You Seen Your Mother, 19th
Nervous Breakdown), that of depravation (Let's Spend The Night, Honky Tonk
Women, Sympathy), that of psychedelia (Rainbow, Tuesday, We Love You). To
those trilogies, to comprehend all the masterpieces of the Stones, we may
add the trilogy of existential blues (All Sold Out, Out Of Time, You Can't
Always Get What You Want), that of the anthems (Street Fighting Men, Jumping Jack Flash,
Brown Sugar), and the corporeal one (She`s So Cold, Start Me Up, One Hit).
In their twenty year career The Rolling Stones have set the standard for
composing and performing that all successive generations had to match.
The Stones planted the seed of what became rock music: the political
protest, the liberalization of sex, the specter of death. Every one had to
with the sensual excesses and the lurid laments of Jagger, the rough
ebullience of Jones and the razor sharp chords of Richard. Their presumed
rivalry with The Beatles was, in reality, the rivalry between two different
ways of understanding life and was, therefore, a rivalry between two public
camps. The Beatles were moderate, The Rolling Stones were radical; The
Beatles were the light, The Rolling Stones were the darkness; The Beatles
were marijuana, The Rolling Stones were heroin.
Their tormented saga was twofold, first musical then personal, but always
coherent with an intimate "sympathy for the devil". The Rolling Stones were
the first to profit from William Blake's vision of the devil as ego.
Within the band Jagger was the businessman, the cynic who willingly
sacrificed Jones and ruined Marianne Faithfull, the calculating one who
always came out undamaged by all their trials and tribulations to transform
it all into millions of record sales. Richard, the co-author of all their
masterpieces was the true musical leader although often he seemed estranged
from the events of the group, the result perhaps of his drug use. His guitar
is the second voice of the band, sometime the first.
Jones towers over this drama of jealousy and mystery, this mix of
classic tragedy and Dostoevskyan romance. Jones was, in the beginning, the
catalyst and perhaps the guide toward degeneration. Jagger marginalized him
systematically, taking away a little at the time all his influence,
alienating all his friends. By the time John Lennon stepped in to lend
him a hand, Jones had lost the will to react. Jagger finished him
ruthlessly by extruding him from the band. Jones' mysterious death by
overdose, raised a multitude of conjectures and suspicions.
A disquieting aspect of the history of The Rolling Stones is the sequence
of deaths that flanked their path, as if their immortal myth had the need
of continual human sacrifice.
If a lot of their history is at the very least amoral, the Stones also had
a clear moralizing function: they expunged hypocrisy from the recording
industry, from the media and from the society of the 60s. In accordance
with the racism of those years, the industry had imposed the absolutely
whitest possible rhythm and blues that had little or nothing to do with its
The "teen idols", The Beach Boys and The Beatles had brought back the
melodic song simply up-dated by the instruments of a rock band. The Rolling
Stones accomplished an operation three times more revolutionary: they
recovered rhythm and blues as it was, they assimilated all that was "bad"
about it (the riveting rhythm, the vulgar singing, the arrogant attitude,
the obscene lyrics) to marry it to the frustrations of an entire generation
two minutes before those frustrations exploded into riots.
Where The Beatles tried to contain revolt by assimilating it to a common
and bourgeois ideology, The Rolling Stones amplified it beyond measure, to
infuse it with a new ideology - anarchic, rebellious, appealing to the
After them, not only rock music, but the whole western civilization will
never be the same again.