The Rolling Stones began calling themselves the "World's Greatest Rock & Roll Band" in the Sixties, and few argued with them — even then. More than 40 years later, the band's music continues to sound vital. With literally scores of genre-setting hits under the group's belt — and fronted by two of rock's biggest archetypes — the Rolling Stones have done more to define the look, attitude and sound of rock & roll than any other band in the genre's history.
In the 1964 British Invasion the Stones were promoted as bad boys, a gimmick that stuck as an indelible image (partly because it was true). Their music started as a gruffer, faster version of Chicago blues, but eventually the Stones pioneered British rock's tone of ironic detachment and wrote about offhand brutality, sex as power, and other taboos. Jagger was the most self-consciously assured appropriator of black performers' up-front sexuality; Keith Richards' Chuck Berry–derived riffing defined rock rhythm guitar (not to mention rock guitar rhythm); and the stalwart rhythm section of Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts held everything together, making sure teenagers could dance to whatever Mick and Keith dreamt up. After the Seventies, the Stones lost their dangerous aura, but it didn't hurt their popularity: They've become icons of an elegantly debauched, world-weary decadence, elder statesmen who filled arenas well into the 2000s.
Jagger and Richards first met at Dartford 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 Sidcup 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 girlfriend 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 Number 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 Number Three.
"Not Fade Away" also made the U.S. singles chart (Number 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 Number One, 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. Number One, 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 nonoriginal, "Time Is on My Side," made Number Six 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. Number One and cracked the U.S. Top 10 in the spring. The band's next single, "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," reigned at Number One 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: "Get Off My Cloud" (Number One, 1965), "As Tears Go By" (Number Six, 1965), "19th Nervous Breakdown" (Number Two, 1966), "Mother's Little Helper" (Number Eight, 1966), "Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow?" (Number Nine, 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. Number One 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 Number 14 "Dandelion." Its B side, "We Love You" (Number 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 Number 25 hit, Allen Klein had become the group's manager.
May 1968 saw the release of "Jumpin' Jack Flash," a Number Three 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 buried, the Stones released "Honky Tonk Women," another Number One, 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 released in the fall of 1970 and went platinum. That same year the Stones formed their own Rolling Stones Records, an Atlantic subsidiary. The band's first album for its own label, Sticky Fingers (Number One, 1971) — which introduced their Andy Warhol — designed lips-and-lolling-tongue logo — yielded hits in "Brown Sugar" (Number One, 1971) and "Wild Horses" (Number 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 (Number One, 1972), a double album, was another critically acclaimed hit, yielding "Tumbling Dice" (Number Seven) and "Happy" (Number 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 (Number One, 1973) was termed the band's worst effort since Satanic Majesties by critics, yet it contained hits in "Angie" (Number One, 1973) and "(Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo) Heartbreaker" (Number 15, 1974). It's Only Rock n' Roll (Number One, 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 Stewart 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 Number 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 Number 45 in 1979), his work was generally well received.
The ethnic-stereotype lyrics of the title song from Some Girls (Number One, 1978) provoked public protest (the last outcry had been in 1976 over Black and Blue's battered-woman advertising campaign). Aside from the disco crossover "Miss You" (Number One), 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 Number One for nine weeks (1980's Emotional Rescue also went to Number One) and produced the hits "Start Me Up" (Number Two, 1981) and "Waiting on a Friend" (Number 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 1980s the group became more an institution than an influential force. Nevertheless, both Undercover (Number Four, 1983) and Dirty Work (Number Four, 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" (Number Nine, 1983) and "Harlem Shuffle" (Number Five, 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 (Number Three, 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 (Number 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 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 1990s were a time for solo albums from Richards — Live at the Hollywood Palladium and Main Offender (Number 99, 1992)and Jagger's Wandering Spirit (Number 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 (Number Two, 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 Yoko Ono, Eric Clapton, Taj Mahal, 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 (Number Three, 1997, their 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 1996'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 1999 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. In 2001 he released his fourth solo album, Goddess in the Doorway (Number 39). At the post-9-11 "Concert for New York City," held at Madison Square Garden on Oct. 21, 2001, Jagger, Richards and a backing band performed "Salt of the Earth" and "Miss You."
In 2002, the Stones released Forty Licks, a greatest hits package including four new songs, and embarked on yet another tour, including two—one in Toronto and another in Hong Kong—to benefit victims of the SARS epidemic. In November 2003, the band inked a deal allowing the Best Buy chain to be the exclusive seller of their 4-DVD tour document Four Flicks. Some music retailers in the U.S. and Canada, including Best Buy competitor Circuit City and the 100-store HMV Canada, responded by pulling Stones merchandise from their shelves. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked the Stones number four in its "100 Greatest Artists of All Time," just below the Beatles, Bob Dylan and Elvis Presley.
On Jagger's 62nd birthday, July 26, 2005, the Stones announced they were releasing a new album, A Bigger Bang (Number 3), followed by a tour. The album included a rare political song from Jagger, "Sweet Neo Con," which was stingingly critical of the Bush Administration's post Iraq War tactics and included the line, "You say you are a patriot/I think that you're a crock of shit."
The Stones' A Bigger Bang Tour began in August 2005 and by year's end had already set the year's record at $162 million in gross receipts. The tour took the band from North and South America to Europe, Asia and even the 2006 Super Bowl. The tour ended two years later in London. Overall, the Bigger Bang tour earned a staggering $558 million, the highest-grossing tour of all time. The tour was not without its setbacks. During the New Zealand stretch, in May 2006, Richards was hospitalized for brain surgery after reportedly falling from a coconut tree in Fiji. In June, Wood went into rehab for alcohol problems.
The Stones released another 4-CD box set, The Biggest Bang, in June 2007; it also was sold exclusively through Best Buy. The Very Best Of Mick Jagger, a collection of the singer's solo works, came out in October 2007. While Jagger had his share of starring film roles over the course of his career, it was Richard who made his big-screen debut in one of the biggest films of 2008, and one of the highest-grossing films of all-time, after portraying the pirate father of Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End.
The next year, filmmaker Martin Scorsese's April 2008 documentary Shine a Light intimately captured the Stones' 2006 Bigger Bang live performance at New York City's Beacon Theater from sixteen different camera angles and included guest performances by Christina Aguilera, Jack White, and Buddy Guy. An acclaimed soundtrack accompanied the release of the documentary. Rolling Stone celebrated Shine a Light with a cover that featured Jagger, Richards and Jack White. Also in 2008, the Rolling Stones revealed plans to leave their longtime label EMI for Universal Records, taking with them their entire Sticky Fingers-and-beyond catalog.
To commemorate the 40th anniversary of the performance captured on Get Your Ya-Ya's Out!, the Stones reissued their live album with five additional songs from the shows, plus a bonus disc with the performances of opening acts B.B. King and Ike & Tina Turner and a DVD of concert and backstage footage. Since the 2007 leg of the A Bigger Bang Tour, however, the Stones have remained largely quiet.
<Portions of this biography appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001). Daniel Kreps contributed to this story.
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