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Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones

As the progenitors of white boy rock’n’roll as defined by its simplified, sexualised reduction of Afro-American blues, The ROLLING STONES pretty much invented youth culture as we know it, or at least its more rebellious, anti-authoritarian face. Led by ol’ rubber lips himself, Mick Jagger (on vocals), with the dependably surly Keith Richards (rhythm guitar) plus the doomed Brian Jones (lead guitar) bringing up the rear (with bassist Bill Wyman and drummer Charlie Watts blankly comfortable in their relative anonymity), the ‘Stones’ unsettling chemistry produced massive hits like `(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ and `Paint It Black’, while presenting a sullen alternative to The BEATLES’ initially sugary pop-rock. For nigh-on half a century, Messrs Jagger, Richard, et al, have laid claim to be the greatest rock’n’roll combo of all time, and who could argue with them.
Hailing from London, England and instigated in the spring of ’62, one could witness an embryonic ROLLING STONES (PRETTY THINGS-bound Dick Taylor – not Wyman – was on board at this stage, Tony Chapman was about to be deputised by future KINKS sticksman Mick Avory and there was the ever-present pianist Ian Stewart) rehearsing in Richmond, Surrey. Taking their moniker from a MUDDY WATERS track, the sextet played their first gig at London’s Marquee Club on the 12th July 1962, and through performing an eight-month residency in Richmond blues club The Crawdaddy, Wyman (from the Cliftons) and Watts (from Blues Inc.) were consequentially drafted in to the fold.
Hairier, uglier and more rebellious than The BEATLES (publically anyway), manager/producer/hustler extraordinaire Andrew Loog Oldham wasted no time in playing the outlaw card for all it was worth. Working the press like a true pro, he elicited a string of publicity grabbing headlines, culminating with the infamous “Would you let your daughter marry a Rolling Stone?”. Which, of course, made the band even more desirable in the eyes of those self same teenage daughters and as The ‘Stones snaked their way across the country the following year on a joint headlining tour with The RONETTES. What had begun as hysteria and isolated fisticuffs had escalated into full-on rioting with promoters quaking in their boots, although the quintet (without Stewart who was demoted to roadie-cum-studio-sessioner) were duly signed to Decca Records by A&R man Dick Rowe, ironically the man who’d previously rejected The BEATLES when he was a Parlophone/E.M.I.
Sponging all the hype they could muster, The ROLLING STONES’ debut single, a cover of CHUCK BERRY’s `Come On’, almost hit the Top 20; the band were now well on their way to crystallising their image as the original bad boys of rock. With the help of LENNON & McCARTNEY’s `I Wanna Be Your Man’, the boys bubbled under the Top 10, but it was their third consecutive cover, BUDDY HOLLY’s `Not Fade Away’ (which shot to No.3), that paved the way for further fruits; with a Top 50 hit Stateside, the group were now beginning to usurp The BEATLES as the UK’s premier knicker-wetting phenomenon.
As for the music, the early `Stones sound was a fairly derivative take on black America yet it possessed a primal, sexual intensity that made their Merseyside rivals sound like choirboys. Rhythm was everything and in full flight Watt’s fluid, unswerving backbeat locked in perfect unholy union with Wyman’s bass and Richards’ demonic guitar grooves. Jones, meanwhile, casually lashed out searing slide guitar and the lippy Jagger, the blueprint for decades of wannabes to come, pouted, preened and snarled in equal measure.
Their first three albums – which varied greatly in content and titles between Brit and Yank shores – were made up largely of heavy-blues and R&B covers; being an English band one could identify with homeland releases than a plethora of American mix ’n’ match sets that over-saturated the market (it was a sign of the times, indeed). Not immediately taking their formulaic mantle from their Fab Four rivals, eponymous long-player THE ROLLING STONES (1964) {*8} – US title ENGLAND’S NEWEST HIT MAKERS (led by exclusive `Not Fade Away’ replacing their take of  BO DIDDLEY’s `Mona’ – only declared one Jagger-Richards original (`Tell Me’) alongside the pseudonymous (“Nanker Phelge”) group instrumental `Now I’ve Got A Witness’ and Phil Spector collaboration `Little By Little’. The set consisted of several re-treads of heyday R&B covers, namely `Route 66’ (Bobby Troup), `I Just Wanna Make Love To You’ (WILLIE DIXON), `Honest I Do’ (JIMMY REED), `I’m A King Bee’ (SLIM HARPO), `Carol’ (CHUCK BERRY), `Can I Get A Witness’ (Holland-Dozier-Holland), a Gene Allison US hit `You Can Make It If You Try’ (Ted Jarrett) and `Walking The Dog’ (RUFUS THOMAS).Hot on the heels of the group’s first UK chart-topper `It’s All Over Now’ (from BOBBY WOMACK’s Valentinos) and a second consecutive US Top 30 breaker `Time Is On My Side’ (an old Jerry Ragavoy gem), they hit pay-dirt with US-only LP 12×5 (1964) {*7}, a record that was split between fresh originals and choice covers courtesy of CHUCK BERRY (`Around And Around’), WILSON PICKETT (`If You Need Me’), The DRIFTERS’ classic `Under The Boardwalk’ and Dale Hawkins (`Susie Q’).
Omitting second Brit No.1 `Little Red Rooster’ (an electrifying reading of another DIXON classic), The ROLLING STONES’ sophomore UK long-player NO.2 (1965) {*8} spent 10 weeks on top of the charts, although some tracks had previously found their way on “12×5”; several covers to grace this set included 5-minute opener `Everybody Needs Somebody To Love’ (SOLOMON BURKE), Jerry Leiber’s `Down Home Girl’, Don Raye’s `Down The Road Apiece’, ALLEN TOUSSAINT’s `Pain In My Heart’ (a hit for OTIS REDDING), `You Can’t Catch Me’ (CHUCK BERRY) and `I Can’t Be Satisfied’ (MUDDY WATERS); hot on its heels and without the latter ditty, but with the addition of recent hits (`Heart Of Stone’ a highlight), the US-only THE ROLLING STONES, NOW!{*8} was virtually “NO.2” incarnate.
Apparently revealed to Richards in a dream, one of the most recognisable and famous riffs in rock history formed the core of the `Stones’ classiest hit so far `(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’. Despite the controversial lyrics which earned a boycott from US radio and further enhanced their reputation as leering malcontents, the record hit the top of the charts on both sides of the Atlantic during the summer of ‘65. This opened the floodgates for a wave of No.1 singles starting with `Get Off Of My Cloud’, but first there was the decipherment of the usual US/UK album variation via OUT OF OUR HEADS (1965) {*8}. It was thankfully their final set to partly rely upon on Stateside covers. Appearing on both cross-Atlantic versions were an array of timeless R&B nuggets from Don Covay (`Mercy, Mercy’), MARVIN GAYE (`Hitch Hike’), SAM COOKE (`Good Thing’), plus past hits from Betty Harris (`Cry To Me’) and OTIS REDDING (`That’s How Strong My Love Is’); the UK version included opener SONNY BONO’s co-penned `She Said Yeah’, while BERRY’s `Talkin’ About Me’ and Barbara Lynn Ozen’s `Oh Baby (We Got A Good Thing Goin’)’ preceded the aforementioned `Heart Of Stone’ and closing Jagger-Richards classic `I’m Free’; both previously displaced by a strong American side two consisting of `Satisfaction’ (its respective US/UK B-sides `The Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man’ and `The Spider And The Fly’), a one-time double-A side `Play With Fire’ and its closing 2-minutes `One More Try’.
Later described by Jagger as a collection rather than a bona fide Stones set, the US-only DECEMBER’S CHILDREN (AND EVERYBODY’S) (1965) {*7} brought together recent UK-only tracks/singles, recent US-only hit `As Tears Go By’ (previously lent to Jagger’s future bird and hit-maker MARIANNE FAITHFULL) plus a few past EP-only efforts including Arthur Alexander’s `You Better Move On’, MUDDY WATERS’ `Look What You’ve Done’, Hank Snow’s `I’m Moving On’ and a live version of `Route 66’.Ironically enough, the Jagger-Richards classic hit bandwagon rolled on un-relentlessly in ’66 by way of back-to-back chart-toppers `19th Nervous Breakdown’ and `Paint It, Black’, the latter a brooding psychedelia-tinged stampede that featured some nifty sitar playing by a cross-legged Brian Jones. Accompanying set AFTERMATH(1966) {*8} – all originals for once but excluding both 45s in its usual alternative UK variant – was a huge step forward, with Jones adding exotic touches once again in line with his growing admiration for the JouJouka musicians of Morocco. The Jagger-Richards songwriting partnership was blossoming, tackling social issues with trenchant ease; `Mother’s Little Helper’ as well as the usual sexual politics; `Under My Thumb’. The baroque English-ness of `Lady Jane’ was pitted against the blues-angst-y `Doncha Bother Me’ (one of several harmonica-honed tunes) and farmed-out CHRIS FARLOWE smash `Out Of Time’.
It was around this time that the feisty one began assuming the multitude of different masks he would use onstage and off, as one journalist aptly pointed out: “Mick Jagger was an interesting bunch of guys”. His cocky, chameleon-like affectations stood in stark contrast to Richards’ sullen, slightly aloof distance but it was exactly this homo-erotic chemistry that fuelled the band and fashioned the decadent legend of “The Glimmer Twins” as they’d come to be known. The band capped a glorious year (and er, World Cup winners England) when they scored another chart goal via the controversial, media-baiting `Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing In The Shadow?’, the live take one of the many monsters of classic rock collated on Xmas concert set GOT LIVE IF YOU WANT IT! {*6} – a screaming fan document spoiled by the unnecessary overdubs.
BETWEEN THE BUTTONS (1967) {*6 UK//*7 US} contained another salacious rebel anthem in `Let’s Spend The Night Together’ (though not on the UK version) alongside the ebb and flow wistfulness of `Ruby Tuesday’ (ditto and substituted with the excellent `Back Street Girl’). Much of the tracks were either derivative of their heady blues days or Vaudevillian, KINKS-like cuts (`Cool, Calm And Collected’ and `Something Happened To Me Yesterday’ both examples) – not exactly the semi-classic it’s made out to be.
By this time, though, the powers that be had had just about enough of these unkempt subversives and their dubious morals. The infamous Redlands drug bust in February ‘67 was probably the most famous of all the `Stones’ run-ins with the law, although by no means the most serious and in the end, Keith’s conviction was quashed on appeal while Mick was given a year’s probation. Yet only a few days later, the singer talked defiantly to the press about revolution. Meanwhile, they recorded their acerbic reply to The BEATLES’ `All You Need Is Love’ and with LENNON and McCARTNEY collaborating, the band cut `We Love You’ (flipped with double-A-side `Dandelion’). Allegedly written by Jagger in jail as a tribute to the fans who had stood by him, the No.50 hit came out sounding like a deliciously snide riposte to the authorities, complete with the sounds of heavy footsteps and a cell door clanging shut.
While they were successful on occasional ventures into warped psychedelia, The ROLLING STONES remained first and foremost a rock’n’roll band and their attempt at a psychedelic concept album THEIR SATANIC MAJESTIES REQUEST (1967) {*6} was always destined to sound half-baked at best. The stellar `2000 Light Years From Home’, `Citadel’ and `She’s A Rainbow’ (not Wyman’s PINK FLOYD-ian `In Another Land’ twinned with flop `The Lantern’) saved the album from being a complete failure, although these hits didn’t even come close to rivalling Sgt. Pepper.
A more honest response to The BEATLES’ magnum opus, BEGGARS BANQUET (1968) {*9} was the first album in a staggering burst of creativity that would see The ROLLING STONES release four of the best albums in the history of rock over a five-year period. Preceded by the much needed No.1 hit `Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ (which marked the beginning of a fruitful partnership with Jimmy Miller), the album saw the band realign themselves with roots music to startling effect. At this point the `Stones were not simply imitating their heroes of the American south, they had made the music truly their own. Inspired by Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel The Master And Margarita, the 6-minute `Sympathy For The Devil’ opening salvo was pure malevolent genius, the free-flowing, swaggering Mick casting himself gleefully in the role of Beelzebub over an irresistible voodoo funk. Similarly controversial were the topical `Street Fighting Man’ and the leering `Stray Cat Blues’ which centred on a rock star and an obliging 15 year-old groupie, the grinding rhythm oozing illicit sex. These subversive broadsides were alternated with threadbare country blues numbers that, save for Jagger’s barrow-boy-via-Louisiana vocals, sounded so authentic you could almost smell the corn bread. `Factory Girl’, `Salt Of The Earth’ and the lone-star copy of Robert Wilkins cut `Prodigal Son’ made for their best achievement to date.
During missing sessions for their classic follow-up LET IT BLEED (1969) {*9}, Brian Jones had left the band on 9th June. Only a matter of days afterwards (3rd July) he was found dead in a swimming pool at his Pooh Corner home in controversial circumstances, having never really recovered from having control of the band wrestled from him; his unstable personality buckled under a frightening drug intake. Preceded by another chart-topping single `Honky Tonk Women’ (available in countri-fied mode on the set), the long-player was eventually released the same fateful month as the Altamont disaster and possessed a vivid essence of brooding portent, most obvious on the opening track `Gimme Shelter’, with its thundering rhythm and near-hysterical urging. `Midnight Rambler’ was equally chilling (as was ROBERT JOHNSON’s `Love In Vain’) while Richards made his vocal debut on `You Got The Silver’, his voice a ragged sliver of emotive simplicity that stood in direct contrast to Mick’s affectations. Closing with the aching desolation of both `Monkey Man’ and `You Can’t Always Get What You Want’, the album was another example, if one was needed at all, that the `Stones preferred harsh realism to dopey idealism and had never really embraced the hippy philosophy. This was also the first studio material (albeit two tracks) to feature ex-BLUESBREAKERS guitarist, Mick Taylor, Perhaps it was fitting then, that the group were, quite literally, centre stage when that hopeful euphoria of the 60s finally came to an end during the last bitterly cold days of 1969. As the band played a free gig at a barren speedway track in Altamont, northern California, poor organisation and delays contributed to bad vibes which were exacerbated by brutal, acid-crazed Hell’s Angels. Supposedly acting in a security capacity, one of their number ended up stabbing an innocent fan to death while many others were beaten up, the `Stones themselves ferried out by helicopter in fear of their lives.
On the back of this disastrous period for the quintet and redeeming themselves somewhat from their last live album escapade, GET YER YA-YA’S OUT! (1970) {*8} was recorded at a transitional time, but the bump ’n’ grind of an American tour showed Messrs Jagger, Richards, Wyman, Watts and newboy Taylor to be at their peak; their stab at yet another CHUCK BERRY cue `Little Queenie’ kept the mood firmly rooted in the past.
By the release of STICKY FINGERS (1971) {*8} – their debut on their own-named brand imprint – the dark potency of the previous albums had gone, save for a few tracks, notably FAITHFULL’s bleakly-beautiful leftover collaboration `Sister Morphine’. The band had pushed things to the limit and from here on in they retreated. Nevertheless, the best was yet to come, and the set kept up the momentum. `Dead Flowers’ was a rollicking country hoedown shot through with typically twisted humour while Jagger assumed his inimitable Delta bluesman mantle for the inspired cover of the Rev. Gary Davis & Mississippi Fred McDowell’s `You Gotta Move’. Elsewhere, tracks like hit single `Brown Sugar’, B-side `Bitch’ and `Can’t You Hear Me
Knocking’ were quintessential ROLLING STONES, revelling in their own mythology.
Not exactly a treat for loyal fans of the band (well, at least three of them: Jagger, Wyman and Watts), there was a one-off collaboration (recorded April ’69) with “Let It Bleed” sessioners Nicky Hopkins and RY COODER on the US Top 40 set `Jamming With The Edward!’ (1972). In stark contrast, EXILE ON MAIN ST. (1972) {*10} remains one of the best double albums ever released and quite possibly – to Stones fans at least – staking a claim for the best album, bar none, ever released. Big claims, yet this was the pure, unadulterated essence of that cliched thing called rock’n’roll, no cobwebbed history lecture, but a living, breathing, sweating justification for white boys playing the blues. Recorded in a dank, humid basement in Richards’ villa in the south of France, the production is so murky that Jagger’s vocals verge on the indecipherable at points and the whole thing seems continually on the brink of collapse. Yet this only serves to enhance the unerringly strong material and elegantly wasted mood of the record. Apart from two blues covers by way of SLIM HARPO’s `Shake Your Hips’ and ROBERT JOHNSON’s `Stop Breaking Down’, the mood was a sheer rollercoaster of hard rock emotion; check out `All Down The Line’ and `Ventilator Blues’. From the aural massage of hit single `Tumbling Dice’ to the raggedy-assed beauty of `Loving Cup’, the down home gospel of `Shine A Light’ to Keef’s off-the-cuff anthem `Happy’, the Stones or rock music, for that matter, would never sound so spiritually debauched again.
In comparison, GOATS HEAD SOUP (1973) {*6} was inevitably a let down, the band sounding tired and listless, although Jagger at least sounded half-convincing on his tender US No.1 ballad, `Angie’. If the Devil had all the best tunes, derivative opener `Dancing With Mr. D’ was not of them, although there was enough of the usual sexual sleaze and swaggering debauchery to make the man from deep down happy – `Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)’ was the funky “voodoo-doo” exception; `Silver Train’ too, kept them on the right track.
Although Taylor’s distinctive style was an integral part of the band’s early 70s sound, he’d leave amid growing dissatisfaction with the Jagger-Richards domination of the band. His final album, IT’S ONLY ROCK’N’ROLL (1974) {*6} – complete with title track and accompanying soapy video – was Stones-by-numbers, bar an old TEMPTATIONS nugget `Ain’t Too Proud To Beg’. The 6-minute `Time Waits For No One’ and the raucous `Dance Little Sister’ probably saved the record from a press pasting.
The disappointing BLACK AND BLUE (1976) {*5} saw ex-FACES axeman Ron Wood brought into The ROLLING STONES fold and a half-hearted attempt at funk and reggae styling through respective dirges `Hot Stuff’ and Eric Donaldson’s `Cherry Oh Baby’ (the latter taken to new heights by UB40 several years on); the softer, romantic touches came via massive hit `Fool To Cry’, the best song here by a country mile.
By this point, the band were a massive live draw but often sloppy on stage (the rough’n’ready double-concert set LOVE YOU LIVE (1977) {*4} was a prime example) due in no small part to the band’s colossal drug intake. It came as little surprise to even the most casual Stones observer when, in February ‘77, Richards was busted in Toronto holding serious amounts of class A. Amid alleged rumours of a huge pay-off, naughty-boy Keef was eventually let off fairly leniently and yet again, the mightier-than-mighty Stones lived to fight another day, another thirty years and counting – too long some might say.
In a time when new wave, punk and disco was king (or queen), the group focused their effervescent energies on mixing up the medicine on SOME GIRLS (1978) {*7}, their last album for some time that actually sounded like they meant it. Although the bluesy dance-friendly experimentalism of schmaltzy opener `Miss You’ (a US No.1) was rather lukewarm, the album contained the last great Jagger-Richards song, `Beast Of Burden’. Another TEMPTATIONS tempter `Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)’ (penned by Barrett Strong & Norman Whitfield) was saddled alongside rockers `When The Whip Comes Down’ and `Respectable’, the set reflecting a transitional period for not only this band; the Jagger’s split in 1978, probably over Marsha Hunt’s allegations that the singer was the father of her child. Keef, meanwhile, had finally embarked on a one-off tour in ’79 with his buddies (Ronnie Wood, Ian McLagan, Bobby Keys, jazz-rock legend STANLEY CLARKE and Joseph “Ziggy” Modeliste) under the NEW BARBARIANS banner; one rare bootleg double-LP exists: `Breathe On Me’ (1980).
Lazy leftovers from their last sessions mixed with some fresh cuts, EMOTIONAL RESCUE (1980) {*5} was hardly the saviour to get them back on track; all but the BEE GEES/balls-in-vice-like title track dull and formulaic. 1981’s TATTOO YOU {*6} redeemed itself slightly with a rawer sound and the sprightly, if cliched hit `Start Me Up’ (and bookended semi-gem `Waiting On A Friend’); tracks to whet one’s appetite for desertion were `Little T & A’ and the soft `No Use In Crying’. The ROLLING STONES were, by now, one of the biggest acts on the stadium rock circuit, particularly in the States, and although their studio output was stagnating, the band’s live show was still worth the admission price, especially now that Keith had cleaned up his act and could get through a whole set without falling asleep on stage. And of course, just what one needed to empty one’s bank balance was yet another live album, STILL LIFE (AMERICAN CONCERT 1981) (1982) {*3} – a pit-stop or just simply the pits!
Leaving Atlantic Records for C.B.S., The ROLLING STONES’ UNDERCOVER (1983) {*6} – highlighting lead track hit `Undercover Of The Night’ – was a typically ill-advised 80s attempt at experimentation and as such, an unmitigated disaster, although it divided the critics with its schizoid hard-rock or formulaic pop-blues; `She Was Hot’, `Wanna Hold You’ and `It Must Be Hell’ came off best. In 1984, playboy Jagger supplied dual vocals with MICHAEL JACKSON on The JACKSONS’ `State Of Shock’ hit, while his breakaway Top 20 solo set, `She’s The Boss’ (1985) – accompanied by lead-off hit `Just Another Night’ – caused ructions between The Glimmer Twins, Keith unhappy with his frontman’s unyielding mainstream priorities. It proved to be a testing time for the pair (who’d been friends since school), but Mick was having the time of his life as he appeared at Live Aid with DAVID BOWIE dueting on the (MARTHA & THE VANDELLAS) nugget `Dancing In The Street’, which peaked at No.1 in Britain. Sadly, long-serving pianist and part-timer Ian Stewart died of a heart attack towards the end of ’85, a sour note indeed, and one that more or less solved the animosity between Mick and Keef. Of the other members’ extracurricular activities, Wyman, Watts and Wood would take a step back in time musically for the retro-rock album that was `Willie And The Poor Boys’ (1985), a colourful ensemble that suited the lads outgoing temperament. All three had of course other projects during the course of their main group employment: WYMAN had released four LPs, `Monkey Grip’ (1974), `Stone Alone’ (1976), the soundtrack to `Green Ice’ (1981) and the eponymous `Bill Wyman’ (1982), the latter featuring Top 20 pop hit `(Si, Si) Je Suis Un Rock Star’: Ron Wood had released an album while with The FACES (and continued to deliver others as a Stone) and Watts would find comfort in his old pastime, jazz, under the Rocket 88 banner (one LP in 1981) and several subsequent solo outings.
1986’s comeback effort DIRTY WORK (1986) {*5} was only marginally less tedious than its predecessors. Okay the aggression was intact by way of umpteenth chart entry `One Hit (To The Body)’, but the gutter ’n’ grit soul was left to the raunchy title track and not re-vamps of Bob & Earl’s `Harlem Shuffle’ (another hit to the body!) and obscure dub-reggae ditty `Too Rude’ (very UB40).In his first collaboration with EURYTHMICS man Dave Stewart (on production mainly), JAGGER was back in business solo-wise on `Primitive Cool’ (1987), an adventurous album of sorts that reached the charts if not our minds. To combat any dissent among the ranks, his long-time buddy, RICHARDS, too, supplied a side-line hard-rock album `Talk Is Cheap’ (1988).After a brief lull, The ROLLING STONES returned with 1989’s STEEL WHEELS {*7}, and while the Top 5 single `Mixed Emotions’ was their best in a decade, the album favoured glossy production and slick professionalism over content. But it worked nevertheless. Boisterous and bawdy as per usual, the group powered their way through a dozen stock-in-trade Stones cuts, the best being `Sad Sad Sad’, `Hold On To Your Hat’, the Eastern-fused `Continental Drift’, `Rock And A Hard Place’ and their third (a more subdued) chart entry `Almost Hear You Sigh’.
On the domestic front, at least in terms of the gossip columns and tacky tabloids, JAGGER married long-time other half Jerry Hall – formerly BRYAN FERRY’s girlfriend – on the 21st November 1990. On a another more controversial note, WYMAN’s marriage (since 1959) ended abruptly in the mid-80s after his two-year relationship with 16 year-old Mandy Smith, was revealed in the News Of The World; they married relatively quietly on the 2nd of June ‘89, but split and divorced acrimoniously in 1992, with the now famous Mandy allegedly suing for half a million quid.
Marking their first album as a quartet – as WYMAN took off to take up a solo career in his revisionist quest to root out early blues music – and with a move to Virgin Records amid million pound deals, the Don Was-produced VOODOO LOUNGE (1994) {*7} was touted as a dangerous return to form. Topping the charts in every country (with a few exceptions), the Glimmer Twins stacked all their cards on recreating the Stones’ of old. Classic rock for the purist, the hour-long double-set (at least in terms of vinyl) could claim to herald a new beginning for the quartet via `Love Is Strong’, `You Got Me Rocking’ and the menacing `I Go Wild’.
Never missing a trick, the pared-down, semi-acoustic “unplugged” project set, STRIPPED (1995) {*6} was listenable enough as they re-tread the boards (mainly in small-ish clubs in Amsterdam and Paris) on Stones staples, plus the odd rarity like DYLAN’s unintentional namedrop `Like A Rolling Stone’, WILLIE DIXON’s `Little Baby’ and a few others.
On the back of a plethora of exploitative heyday collections and compilations, there was one record that stood out from the pack when belated released in 1996, shelved as it was for nigh-on three decades. ROCK AND ROLL CIRCUS {*6} – a television special filmed on the 10/11th of December 1968 – it was performed under a psychedelic circus big top theme. As a piece of rock’n’roll theatre (featured LENNON, The WHO, CLAPTON, JETHRO TULL, TAJ MAHAL, etc.), it’s hard to beat and although the `Stones steered clear of the dark side, grinding out leering versions of `Jumpin’ Jack Flash’, `You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ and the rarely heard `Parachute Woman’, as well as a searing `No Expectations’. The prospect of a creative rebirth grew ever more remote, although it was always the case of maybe one more album would suffice. This came in the shape of 1997’s BRIDGES TO BABYLON {*6}, another commercial success that spawned a few minor hits, the 50-somethings still drawing the crowds (not in Britain though as the taxman became their enemy once again). Collaborating with The Dust Brothers, Danny Saber and Don Was (now as executive producer), Jagger, Richards and Co were as tight as ever, mixing up the medicine on the usual tear-jerking ballads (example `Already Over Me’ and `Anybody Seen My Baby?’), rockers (`Flip The Switch’ and `Low Down’) plus reggae stint (`You Don’t Have To Mean It’). Typically, the people at Stones HQ thought it best to give fans another live document by way of NO SECURITY (1998) {*4}.    
After rolling for a staggering forty years, it was inevitable some kind of compilation would be unveiled to celebrate such an admittedly impressive landmark. FORTY LICKS (2002) {*10}, found the ‘Stones bring their catalogue up to date, creaming off choice cuts from each of the four decades without even beginning to exhaust the wealth and depth of that incredible legacy. The obligatory concert set, LIVE LICKS (2004) {*6}, featured lean, mean (at least, leaner and meaner than their years) stage versions of the rolled gold, wrapped in the kind of cock-rock cover art last seen in the mid-80s.While the Stones’ last effort barely scraped the Top 50, the long-awaited, Don Was-produced A BIGGER BANG (2005) {*7} was hailed as the band’s best for decades; sounds familiar, non? Yet, in a five-year period that’s seen twilight, back-to-roots “comebacks” released by everyone from BOB DYLAN and VAN MORRISON to ELTON JOHN and PAUL McCARTNEY, the `Stones latest opus was apparently the real thing, scoring a UK Top 20 hit with classicist opener `Rough Justice’, resuscitating Jagger’s blues masque on `Back Of My Hand’ and harking back – successfully – to the high-wire funk of the late 70s on Top 40 single `Rain Fall Down’. And it’s surely a testament to the polarising power of the Bush regime that they managed to inspire a rare political jibe – `Sweet Neo Con’ – from the original 24-hour hedonists. The album itself narrowly missed No.1, and the `Stones topped off a profitable winter season with a world news-making free concert on Rio De Janeiro’s Copacabana beach.
Now with an excuse to release a live album, albeit through the endorsement of iconic director Martin Scorsese, the movie and accompanying CD SHINE A LIGHT (2008) {*6} was unleashed to compensate rare young fans who’d missed out on earlier movie moments (though the ground-breaking `Gimme Shelter’ was not featured). On the back of this fine retrospective, although released a year on from their re-mastered back catalogue in May 2009, the re-issued EXILE ON MAIN ST. was back in vogue as a double-CD, surprising even their harshest critics when it sold enough copies to land the peak UK chart position (No.2 in the US).
2012 was a year to invoke a spirit of retro-fixation; it was indeed their 50th anniversary. Hot on the heels of a book, a fresh documentary and a career-encompassing compilation, GRRR! {*9}, there was room in their busy diaries to include a headlining spot at Glastonbury and a few Hyde Park concerts the following summer; a DVD/double-CD (SWEET SUMMER SUN: Hyde Park Live (2013) {*6}) commemorated these pocket-emptying occasions – look out for old mucker MICK TAYLOR in a cameo during `Midnight Rambler’. One thinks there might still be one more studio effort before they hang up their muddy boots.
This was confirmed when the 4-piece band would run out the year 2016 with a fully-fledged electric blues covers album, BLUE & LONESOME {*6}. Consisting of a dozen tracks from BUDDY JOHNSON’s `Just Your Fool’ and HOWLIN’ WOLF’s `Commit A Crime’ to WILLIE DIXON’s closing pair, `Just Like I Treat You’ and `I Can’t Quit You Baby’, The ROLLING STONES had, in a way, come full circle from their teething days back in the mid-60s when `Little Red Rooster’ was pecking at the top of the charts. It might well be a fitting epitaph for the veteran combo, and with healthy, UK No.1 (US No.4) sales figures, Jagger and his new baby boy (father Mick’s eighth child in all!) will have plenty of diapers at his disposal.
© MC Strong 1994-2008/GRD/LCS-BG/MCS // rev-up Dec2011-Dec2016

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