The Rolling Stones began calling themselves the "World's Greatest Rock & Roll Band" in the late '60s, and few disputed the claim. The Stones' music, based on Chicago blues, has continued to sound vital through the decades, and the Stones' attitude of flippant defiance, now aged into wry bemusement, has come to seem as important as their music.
In the 1964 British Invasion they were promoted as bad boys, but what began as a gimmick has stuck as an indelible image, and not just because of incidents like Brian Jones' mysterious death in 1969 and a violent murder during their set at Altamont later that year. In their music, the Stones pioneered British rock's tone of ironic detachment and wrote about offhand brutality, sex as power, and other taboos. In those days, Mick Jagger was branded a "Lucifer" figure, thanks to songs like "Sympathy for the Devil." In the '80s the Stones lost their dangerous aura while still seeming "bad" - they've become icons of an elegantly debauched, world-weary decadence. But Jagger remains the most self-consciously assured appropriator of black performers' up-front sexuality; Keith Richards' Chuck Berry-derived riffing defines rock rhythm guitar (not to mention rock guitar rhythm); the stalwart rhythm section of Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts hold its own; and Jagger and Richards continue to add to what is arguably one of the most significant oeuvres in rock history.
Jagger and Richards first met at Darford Maypole County Primary School. When they ran into each other 10 years later in 1960, they were both avid fans of blues and American R&B and they found they had a mutual friend in guitarist Dick Taylor, a fellow student of Richards' at Didcup Art School. Jagger was attending the London School of Economics and playing in Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys with Taylor. Richards joined the band as second guitarist; soon afterward, he was expelled from Dartford Technical College for truancy.
Meanwhile, Brian Jones had begun skipping school in Cheltenham to practice bebop alto sax and clarinet. By the time he was 16, he had fathered two illegitimate children and run off briefly to Scandinavia, where he began playing guitar. Back in Cheltenham he joined the Ramrods, then drifted to London with his girlfiend and one of his children. He began playing with Alexis Korner's Blues, Inc., then decided to start his own band; a want ad attracted pianist Ian Stewart (b. 1938; d. December 12, 1985).
As Elmo Lewis, Jones began working at the Ealing Blues Club, where he ran into a later, loosely knit version of Blues, Inc., which at the time included drummer Charlie Watts. Jagger and Richards began jamming with Blues, Inc., and while Jagger, Richards, and Jones began to practice on their own, Jagger became the featured singer with Blues, Inc.
Jones, Jagger, and Richards shared a tiny, cheap London apartment, and with drummer Tony Chapman they cut a demo tape, which was rejected by EMI. Taylor left to attend the Royal College of Art; he eventually formed the Pretty Things. Ian Stewart's job with a chemical company kept the rest of the group from starving. By the time Taylor left, they began to call themselves the Rolling Stones, after a Muddy Waters song.
On July 12, 1962, the Rolling Stones - Jagger, Richards, Jones, a returned Dick Taylor on bass, and Mick Avory, later of the Kinks, on drums - played their first show at the Marquee. Avory and Taylor were replaced by Tony Chapman and Bill Wyman, from the Cliftons. Chapman didn't work out, and the band spent months recruiting a cautious Charlie Watts, who worked for an advertising agency and had left Blues, Inc. when its schedule got too busy. In January 1963 Watts completed the band.
Local entrepreneur Giorgio Gomelsky booked the Stones at his Crawdaddy Club for an eight-month, highly successful residency. He was also their unofficial manager until Andrew Loog Oldham, with financing from Eric Easton, signed them as clients. By then the Beatles
were a British sensation, and Oldham decided to promote the Stones as their nasty opposites. He eased out the mild-mannered Stewart, who subsequently became a Stones roadie and frequent session and tour pianist.
In June 1963 the Stones released their first single, Chuck Berry's "Come On." After the band played on the British TV rock show Thank Your Lucky Stars, its producer reportedly told Oldham to get rid of "That vile-looking singer with the tire-tread lips." The single reached #21 on the British chart. The Stones also appeared at the first annual National Jazz and Blues Festival in London's borough of Richmond and in September were part of a package tour with the Everly Brothers, Bo Diddley, and Little Richard
. In December 1963 the Stones' second single, "I Wanna Be Your Man" (written by John Lennon
and Paul McCartney
), made the British Top 15. In January 1964 the Stones did their first headlining British tour, with the Ronettes, and released a version of Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away," which made #3.
"Not Fade Away" also made the U.S. singles chart (#48). By this time the band had become a sensation in Britain, with the press gleefully reporting that band members had been seen urinating in public. In April 1964 their first album was released in the U.K., and two months later they made their first American tour. Their cover of the Bobby Womack/Valentinos song "It's All Over Now" was a British #1, their first. Their June American tour was a smashing success; in Chicago, where they'd stopped off to record the Five by Five EP at the Chess Records studio, riots broke out when the band tried to give a press conference. The Stones' version of the blues standard "Little Red Rooster," which had become another U.K. #1, was banned in the U.S. because of its "objectionable" lyrics.
Jagger and Richards had now begun composing their own tunes (at first using the "Nanker Phelge" pseudonym for group compositions). Their "Tell Me (You're Coming Back to Me)" was the group's first U.S. Top 40 hit, in August. The followup, a non-original, "Time Is on My Side," made #6 in November. From that point on, all but a handful of Stones hits were Jagger-Richards compositions.
In January 1965 their "The Last Time" became another U.K. #1 and cracked the U.S. Top 10 in the spring. The band's next single, "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," reigned at #1 for four weeks that summer and remains perhaps the most famous song in its remarkable canon. Jagger and Richards continued to write hits with increasingly sophisticated lyrics: "Ger Off My Cloud" (#1, 1965), "As Tears Go By" (#6, 1965), "19th Nervous Breakdown" (#2, 1966), "Mother's Little Helper" (#8, 1966), "Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow?" (#9, 1966).
Aftermath, the first Stones LP of all original material, came out in 1966, though its impact was minimized by the simultaneous release of the Beatles' Revolver and Bob Dylan
's Blonde on Blonde. The Middle Eastern-tinged "Paint It, Black" (1966) and the ballad "Ruby Tuesday" (1967), were both U.S. #1 hits.
In January 1967 the Stones caused another sensation when they performed "Let's Spend the Night Together" ("Ruby Tuesday"'s B side) on The Ed Sullivan Show. Jagger mumbled the title lines after threats of censorship (some claimed that the line was censored; others that Jagger actually sang "Let's spend some time together"; Jagger later said, "When it came to that line, I sang mumble"). In February Jagger and Richards were arrested on drug-possession charges in Britain; in May, Brian Jones, too, was arrested. The heavy jail sentences they received were eventually suspended on appeal. The Stones temporarily withdrew from public appearances; Jagger and his girlfriend, singer Marianne Faithfull, went to India with the Beatles to meet the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. The Stones' next single release didn't appear until the fall: the #14 "Dandelion." Its B side, "We Love You" (#50), on which John Lennon and Paul McCartney sang backup vocals, was intended as a thank-you to fans.
In December came Their Satanic Majesties Request, the Stones' psychedelic answer record to the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper - and an ambitious mess. By the time the album's lone single, "She's a Rainbow" had become a #25 hit, Allen Klein had become the group's manager.
May 1968 saw the release of "Jumpin' Jack Flash," a #3 hit, and a return to basic rock & roll. After five months of delay provoked by controversial album-sleeve photos, the eclectic Beggars Banquet was released and was hailed by critics as the band's finest achievement. On June 9, 1969, Brian Jones, the Stones' most musically adventurous member, who had lent sitar, dulcimer, and, on "Under My Thumb," marimba to the band's sound, and who had been in Morocco recording nomadic Joujouka musicians, left the band with this explanation: "I no longer see eye-to-eye with the others over the discs we are cutting." Within a week he was replaced by ex-John Mayall
guitarist Mick Taylor. Jones announced that he would form his own band, but on July 3, 1969, he was found dead in his swimming pool; the coroner's report cited "death by misadventure." Jones, beset by drug problems - and the realization that the band now belonged squarely to Jagger and Richards - had barely participated in the Beggars Banquet sessions.
At an outdoor concert in London's Hyde Park a few days after Jones' death, Jagger read an excerpt from the poet Shelley and released thousands of butterflies over the park. On July 11, the day after Jones was bured, the Stones released "Honky Tonk Women," another #1, and another Stones classic. By this time, every Stones album went gold in short order, and Let It Bleed (a sardonic reply to the Beatles' soon-to-be-released Let It Be) was no exception. "Gimme Shelter" received constant airplay. Jones appeared on most of the album's tracks, though Taylor also made his first on-disc appearances.
After going to Australia to star in the film Ned Kelly, Jagger rejoined the band for the start of its hugely successful 1969 American tour, the band's first U.S. trip in three years. But the Stones' Satanic image came to haunt them at a free thank-you-America concert at California's Altamont Speedway. In the darkness just in front of the stage, a young black man, Meredith Hunter, was stabbed to death by members of the Hell's Angels motorcycle gang, whom the Stones - on advice of the Grateful Dead
- had hired to provide security for the event. The incident was captured on film by the Maysles brothers in their feature-length documentary Gimme Shelter. Public outcry that "Sympathy for the Devil" (which they had performed earlier in the show, they were playing "Under My Thumb" when the murder occurred) had in some way incited the violence led the Stones to drop the tune from their stage shows for the next six years.
After another spell of inactivity, the Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out! live album was relased in the fall of 1970 and went platinum. That same year the Stones formed their own Rolling Stones Records, and Atlantic subsidiary. The band's first album for its own label, Sticky Fingers (#1, 1971) - which introduced their Andy Warhol-designed lips-and-lolling-tongue logo - yielded hits in "Brown Suger" (#1, 1971) and "Wild Horses" (#28, 1971). Jagger, who had starred in Nicolas Roeg's 1970 Performance (the soundtrack of which contained "Memo From Turner"), married Nicaraguan fashion model Bianca Perez Morena de Macias, and the pair became international jet-set favorites. Though many interpreted Jagger's acceptance into high society as yet another sign that rock was dead, or that at least the Stones had lost their spark, Exile on Main Street (#1, 1972), a double album, was another critically acclaimed hit, yielding "Tumbling Dice" (#7) and "Happy" (#22). By this time the Stones were touring the U.S. once every three years; their 1972 extravaganza, like those in 1975, 1978, and 1981, was a sold-out affair.
Goats Head Soup (#1, 1973) was termed the band's worst effort since Satanic Majesties by critics, yet it contained hits in "Angie" (#1, 1973) and "(Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo) Heartbreaker" (#15, 1974). It's Only Rock n' Roll (#1, 1974) yielded Top 20 hits in the title tune and a cover of the Temptations' "Ain't Too Proud to Beg." Mick Taylor left the band after that album; and after trying out scores of sessionmen (many of whom showed up on the next LP, 1976's Black and Blue), the Stones settled on Ron Wood, then still nominally committed to Rod Steart and the Faces (who disbanded soon after Wood joined the Stones officially in 1976). In 1979 Richards and Wood, with Meters drummer Ziggy Modeliste and fusion bassist Stanley Clarke, toured as the New Barbarians.
Black and Blue was the Stones' fifth consecutive LP of new material to top the album chart, though it contained only one hit single, the #10 "Fool to Cry." Wyman, who had released a 1974 solo album, Monkey Grip (the first Stone to do so), recorded another, Stone Alone. Jagger guested on "I Can Feel the Fire" on Wood's solo first LP, I've Got My Own Album to Do. Wood has since recorded several more albums, and while none were commercial hits (Gimme Some Neck peaked at #45 in 1979), his work was generally well received.
The ethnic-stereotype lyrics of the title song from Some Girls (#1, 1978) provoked public protest (the last outcry had been in 1976 over Black and Blue's battered-woman advertising campaign). Aside from the sidco crossover "Miss You" (#1), the music was bare-bones rock & roll - in response, some speculated, to the punk movement's claims that the band was too old and too affluent to rock anymore.
Richards and his longtime common-law wife, Anita Pallenburg, were arrested in March 1977 in Canada for heroin possession - jeopardizing the band's future - but he subsequently kicked his habit and in 1978 was given a suspended sentence.
In 1981 Tattoo You was #1 for nine weeks (1980's Emotinal Rescue also went to #1) and produced the hits "Start Me Up" (#2, 1981) and "Waiting on a Friend" (#13, 1981), the latter featuring jazz great Sonny Rollins on tenor saxophone. The 1981 tour spawned an album, Still Life, and a movie, Let's Spend the Night Together (directed by Hal Ashby), which grossed $50 million.
Through the '80s the group became more an institution than an influential force. Nevertheless, both Undercover (#4, 1983) and Dirty Work (#4, 1986) were certifiable hits despite not topping the chart, as every new studio album had done in the decade before. Each album produced only one Top 20 hit, "Undercover of the Night" (#9, 1983) and "Harlem Shuffle" (#5, 1986), the latter a remake of a minor 1964 hit by Bob and Earl.
Jagger and Richards grew estranged from each other, and the band would not record for three years. Jagger released his first solo album, the platinum She's the Boss, in 1984. His second, 1987's Primitive Cool, didn't even break the Top 40. Richards, who'd long declared he would never undertake a solo album (and who resented Jagger's making music outside the band), countered in 1988 with the gold Talk Is Cheap, backed up by the X-Pensive Winos: guitarist Waddy Wachtel and the rhythm section of Steve Jordan and Charley Drayton.
The two Stones sniped at each other in the press and in song: Richards' album track "You Don't Move Me" was directed at his longtime partner. Nevertheless, shortly before the Rolling Stones were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in January 1989 the two traveled to Barbados to begin writing songs for a new Stones album. Steel Wheels (#3, 1989) showed the group spinning its wheels musically, and were it not for the band's first American tour in eight years, it is doubtful the LP would have sold anywhere near its 2 million copies. But the 50-date tour, which reportedly grossed $140 million, was an artistic triumph. As the group's fifth live album, Flashpoint (#16, 1991), demonstrated, never had the Stones sounded so cohesive onstage.
Bill Wyman announced his long-rumored decision to leave the group after 30 years, in late 1992. "I was quite happy to stop after that," the 56-year-old bassist told a British TV show. The announcement helped deflect attention from Wyman's love life. In 1989 he married model Mandy Smith, who was just 13 1/2 when the two began dating. The couple divorced in 1990, the same year that Mick Jagger finally married his longtime lover, Jerry Hall. (Jagger and Hall would later split up.)
The early '90s were a time for solo albums from Richards - Live at the Hollywood Palladium and Main Offender (#99, 1992) - and Jagger's Wandering Spirit (#11, 1993). Neither sold spectacularly; apparently fans are most interested in Jagger and Richards when they work together. Wood released Slide on This, his first solo album in over a decade, and Watts pursued his real love, jazz, with the Charlie Watts Orchestra.
In 1994 Jagger, Richards, Watts, and Wood, along with bassist Darryl Jones (whose credits include working with Miles Davis and Sting
) released the critically well-received Voodoo Lounge (#2, 1994) and embarked on a major tour that proved one of the highest-grossing of the year, earning a reported $295 million. Voodoo Lounge brought the Stones their first competitive Grammy
. 1994's Best Rock Album award. Voodoo Lounge was also the group's first release under its new multimillion-dollar, three-album deal with Virgin Records, which included granting Virgin the rights to some choice albums from the Stones' back catalogue, including Exile on Main Street, Sticky Fingers, and Some Girls. After having languished in storage for nearly three decades, the Rolling Stones' Rock & Roll Circus concert film and soundtrack was released in 1996, which featured the Stones in the era of Beggars Banquet, and other rock luminaries - the Who
, Jethro Tull, John Lennon and Yoki Ono, Eric Clapton
, Taj Jahal, and more - as well as various acrobats, fire-eaters, and other circus artists who performed routines between songs.
Meanwhile, back to their standard time lapse of three years between tours, the Stones released Bridges to Babylon (#3, 1997, thier 19th platinum LP) and launched yet another lavish, sold-out worldwide tour, where they played two-hour concerts consisting of only a few songs off the new album and lots of hits. Corporate sponsorship was particularly intense: long-distance carrier Sprint, for example, paying $4 million to print its company logo on tickets and stage banners. In 1998 the Stones released the obligatory tour album, No Security.
In 1997 Richards coproduced and played on Wingless Angels, an album of Rastafarian spirituals; guested, with Elvis Presley
guitarist Scotty Moore, on All the King's Men, a tribute to Presley, and with the rest of the Stones, played on B.B. King's Deuces Wild. Assembling the roots-rock band the Rhythm Kings, with Peter Frampton and Georgie Fame sitting in, Bill Wyman put out three albums in the late '90s. Watts continued his jazz excursions with 1999's orchestral offering, Long Ago and Far Away, and then forayed into world beat with a 2000 collaboration with veteran session drummer Jim Keltner. Mick Taylor's recording career revived, as the ex-Stone put out Stonesy releases with Carla Olson.
In 2000 "Satisfaction" topped a VH1 Poll of 100 Greatest Rock Songs. Jagger gained more attention in the social columns. In 1998 29-year-old Brazilian model Luciana Gimenez Morad claimed that she was pregnant with his child; Jagger disagreed. Jerry Hall filed for divorce. Jagger, despite the couple's four children, maintained that their Hindu nuptials did not constitute a legal marriage. When Morad's child was born, DNA tests concluded that Jagger was indeed the boy's father.