It is 50 years to the day since The Rolling Stones performed their first gig at The Marquee. And the wild boys continue to rock, writes Aparna Narrain
There is a story of how the British jazz singer and journalist, George Melly, on being introduced to The Rolling Stones frontman, Mick Jagger, commented on the rocker’s wrinkles. “They’re not wrinkles, they’re laughlines,” insisted Jagger. To which, Melly quipped, “Surely, nothing could be that funny.”
Jagger may have attempted to ease his way out of that situation, but even their best friends cannot deny that the grand old quartet of Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts and Ronnie Wood haven’t aged particularly well.
But pretty boy looks are, after all, for the Justin Biebers of this world. What is important is to rock, and the Stones certainly have been doing it for 50 years, since their first gig at The Marquee in London on July 12, 1962.
The line-up that night featured former schoolmates Jagger and Richards on vocals and guitar respectively, Brian Jones on guitar, Dick Taylor on bass guitar, Mick Avory on drums and Ian Stewart on piano. By 1963, Watts, a jazz drummer, and Bill Wyman had taken over the rhythm section. Jones got the name of the band from a Muddy Waters record lying on the floor.
The Stones originally stuck to playing covers of blues songs. After the songwriting partnership of Jagger and Richards came into its own around 1965, they made the transition to performing original blues-based rock songs such as ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.’
They became famous not only for their gritty sound and suggestive lyrics but also for their image which was in sharp contrast to that of The Beatles. While the Fab Four had a clean, wholesome look, the Stones were long-haired, dirty, degenerates, who embodied the very essence of the sex, drugs, and rock and roll lifestyle. They gained much notoriety for their relationships, wild parties, drug use and all-round hedonism.
As for that inevitable question of whether The Beatles or The Rolling Stones are better, Lawrence Liang (38), a lawyer who specialises in Intellectual Property Rights, and Prashant Vasudevan (33), Music Head, Radio Indigo, are unanimous. “I can’t answer that. That’s like asking me who is my favourite; my mother or my father.”
The Stones entered the American market as part of the British Invasion in the 60s. The band’s popularity steadily rose in large part thanks to Jagger’s sexually charged stage presence, boundless energy and later on, glam clothing and camp theatrics.
According to Liang, “Jagger exudes sexuality. The closest equivalent to Jagger in India, for me, was Shammi Kapoor. Kapoor had a kind of manic energy. The only way to describe Kapoor and Jagger is kinetic sexuality.”
In 1969, Jones was replaced by Mick Taylor, who, in turn, gave way to Ronnie Wood in 1976. The band released Let It Bleed in 1969 and embarked on a tour of America, which culminated with the infamous free concert at the Altamont Speedway where 18-year-old Meredith Hunter was stabbed to death by a Hells Angel.
Over the next three decades, the Stones notched up an impressive eight consecutive number one albums beginning with Sticky Fingers in 1971 (the first album released under Rolling Stones Records) and ending with Tattoo You in 1981.
They went on the much-publicised Stones Touring Party tour in 1972 that was marked by decadent behaviour and conflicts during the shows, survived a falling out between the Glimmer Twins, went on the first of their mega tours with the Steel Wheels tour, released solo albums, and became the first major artists to broadcast a concert over the Internet.
In 2002, Forty Licks, a compilation album, was released and the band went on the year-long Licks Tour. Bangaloreans got to see “The greatest rock and roll band in the world” in 2003. So did the concert meet expectations? Says Liang: “Oh completely, it was absolutely magnificent. To hear the Stones is to feel their kinetic energy, but to see them is to encounter them in the way they ought to be, as a full-bodied experience.”
C.K. Meena (55), columnist, watched them in action and even got them to sign her The Rolling Stones, Now! LP. She says: “My one-point agenda was to get them to sign the LP. But then I realised that I was actually measuring my own aging and growth against them, having listened to them from my teen years.”
The Stones released their first album in eight years, A Bigger Bang, in 2005 to positive reviews. After Keith Richards’ autobiography, Life, was released in 2010, the relationship between the Glimmer Twins soured again, owing to Richards calling Jagger “unbearable”, revealing that his nicknames for Jagger included Brenda and Her Majesty, casting aspersions on the serial womaniser’s manhood, and stating that Jagger took voice lessons.
In 2012, amid much speculation about whether the band would celebrate its 50th anniversary, the two made up. The Stones plan to celebrate the milestone with a tour in 2013, a documentary and a book this year.
So do people still listen to the Stones or is it “Moves Like Jagger” that they are clamouring for? Vasudevan (33), laughs as he says, “Well, I doubt kids today will even know who Jagger is. But yes, we definitely play a lot of Stones on the radio.”
As for the question of whether The Rolling Stones should retire Ganesh Krishnaswamy (33), vocalist for Bevar Sea, who also performs with Witchgoat and Pillbox 666, says: “I come from a school of thought where if you can still do it, then do it. You can’t really go out and tell someone you have to stop. It’s like telling Robert De Niro, you’re old, you’ve acted in enough movies and you should stop.”