Time is on My Side: The Rolling Stones Find Maturity

But what will you do for a living when you grow up? — Shrewd reporter to Mick Jagger, circa 1966

The Rolling Stones on tour. Credit: Larry Hulst/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

The Rolling Stones have once again captured the spirit of the times and influenced those times in the way that only artists at the peak of their powers are able to do.

They are readdressing and redefining rock & roll by asserting new standards for a totally modern music, yet insisting that traditional and basic values be strictly honored and practiced.

That the public has responded so unanimously to their tour must be quite gratifying to the Stones. It is also proof of how well they understand their audience and their own strengths and ideas.

I find it an inspiration that time is on their side.

The themes of the 1981 shows are significantly different from those of the American tours of the Seventies. Instead of a roadshow for the apocalypse, we get optimism and energy. The repertoire this time is devoid of such songs as "Sympathy for the Devil," "Midnight Rambler," "Gimme Shelter" and instead we get uptempo rockers, fun songs ("Under My Thumb," "Let's Spend the Night Together," "Twenty Flight Rock") and good times. "Going to a Go-Go" is in, "Moonlight Mile" is out.

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It's also noteworthy that for all the elaborateness and razzle-dazzle of the set, the band itself is the most basic — two keyboards and one horn are the only additional instruments used on any song — it has been in years. The Richards-Wyman-Watts combination is the best rhythm section in rock. As soloists, both Keith and Mick are far and away the best in their fields.

The Rolling Stones are charting new territory where new ideas and leadership have not been apparent in recent years. They do so as a rock & roll band, as artists whose work deals with understanding society, and as persons who represent ways this generation proceeds.

What we are looking at in them is maturity. To grow up starts, in part, with no longer denying that one was young, and in accepting and cherishing that past. Thus we get "Under My Thumb" with the pride and passion of the original arrangement.

"Time Is on My Side" — which Mick introduces as "a song we did when we were teenagers" — is a turning point in the concerts, and it suggests a turning point in the evolution of the Rolling Stones. With that spoken clue but no other fanfare, both being young and getting older are accepted honestly, openly, with enormous dignity and with humor.

Equally important, the Rolling Stones have jettisoned a good deal of the rock & roll claptrap that they came to epitomize. We have been witnessing a tour in which sanity and privacy have prevailed. There have been no reports of the kinds of indulgences that many rock artists seek as proof of success. The roundups of local nymphomaniacs and the beakers full of L.A. cocaine are nowhere to be seen. No hotel rooms have been destroyed.

Rock & Roll is here to stay. If you want it. The Rolling Stones clearly want it, and — judging from the success of their tour — so do we all.

Many new groups in the last few years have issued albums that are quite good, quite successful and have delivered second efforts of substance. They are full of promise, but are yet to be fully tested.

As for the big names, Bruce Springsteen alone brought together the elements that capture the public's imagination. His showmanship, his charisma, his musical strength and his ideas indicated importance and generated excitement. As a performer, he presaged the need for a new level of showmanship, energy, sobriety and care. His social themes, though not innovative, were sincere, and deeply expressed. He presented, as no one had for years, this challenge: dare to be great.

And now the Stones are back. To say that they are the greatest rock & roll band in the world — which clearly has been demonstrated once again — is beside the point. What's awesome is that rock & roll can grow up and still be so fantastic.

To see the Rolling Stones in concert is to have a sense of a living treasure. They remind us how truly precious rock & roll is.

This is a story from the December 24, 1981 issue of Rolling Stone.