A Stones Flashback

Posted on March 23, 2003

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Picture courtesy: rolling-stones-lyrics.com

TIME IS ON THEIR SIDE

As the ageless Rolling Stones get ready to rock India, here’s looking at their enduring appeal.

MAR 23, 2003 – HIS SATANIC MAJESTY MAY NOW ANSWER to Sir Michael Philip Jagger, but the Rolling Stones never got any respect in the early days. The media had apparently decided that only one British band could be slavishly obsessed over. The Beatles’ appearance on TV’s top-rated The Ed Sullivan Show, for instance, was a sensation that rocked the world; no one much talks about the Stones’ performing on the show.

Not that Mick and company cared. They were too busy countering in-vogue Fab Four innocence with their signature sex appeal, responding to I Wanna Hold Your Hand with I Just Want To Make Love You, forsaking mop-tops and identical suits for unkempt looks, bellbottoms and taffeta scarves.

In the process, the bad boys of the British Invasion have proved that nice guys don’t always finish first, having outlasted everyone from the Beatles to mid-nineties Beatles clones like Oasis. Along the way, they’ve made odes to substance abuse – Mother’s Little Helper was about a pill-popping suburban housewife – while being the target of numerous drug busts themselves. They’ve had, er, relations with underage girls and made headlines with cruel treatment of groupies while professing happy marriages to leggy models like Jerry Hall.

But forget the sex and drugs. Their rock ‘n’ roll highs include over 40 LPs, an astonishing 18 of which were produced between 1964 and 1970. Concert films (‘Ladies And Gentlemen, The Rolling Stones’, ‘Gimme Shelter’). Solo albums. Live appearances for HBO, Saturday Night Live and Live Aid. Distinctions both genuine – the Lifetime Achievement Grammy, induction to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame – and dubious (Jagger’s nomination as VH1’s fourth sexiest artist of all time).

And they still can’t get no satisfaction. Every time there’s talk about how its time these 60-plus rockers hung up their sequined tights, they announce another tour. (Never mind Jagger’s bluster, post numerous US and European tours, when he proclaimed in 1968, “I don’t want to come back and do any more of the rock ‘n’ roll spectacle kind of thing.”)

A rock ‘n’ roll spectacle is what the group kicked off two decades later, in 1989, with the Steel Wheels tour. Five years later, the Voodoo Lounge tour became the first major rock concert carried live over the Internet. Then came the 1997-98 Bridges to Babylon tour. Now, it’s the Forty Licks tour, apparently named in commemoration of the band’s fortieth anniversary. (Coming from a group that wailed “we all need someone we can cream on”, though, it’s anyone’s guess what this title really means.)

Why do they still do it? It can’t be the youthful thrills or energy; they are so old that their current opening acts – Sheryl Crow, No Doubt – were not more than specks in their parents’ (or Flower Power cohabitants’) eyes when the Stones began strutting their stuff. It can’t be the money; with their millions, they can probably snap up half the planet’s real estate. It can’t be the need to carry on their generational torch; they lost their sixties-hipster credibility the minute they got corporate sponsors (Tommy Hilfiger, VH1) for the tours and licensed Brown Sugar to Pepsi. And it can’t be just the music; even hard-core fans haven’t really lined up to buy the recent Stones albums, mostly of dubious quality.

The Stones may have their reasons for yet another tour, yet another opportunity to inflict on the universe the sight of Ol’ Rubber Lips doing pelvic thrusts at his age, yet another instance for fans to wonder if Keith Richards’ face can possibly get any more lined.

But the biggest reason of all could be that we simply need Mick and Keith, Charlie and Ron, to remind us of the aura, the arrogance, the old rock-and-roll swagger that’s all but vanished in this age of boy bands and Barbie dolls, when even the rockers choose introspection over flash, politically correct discretion over priceless sound bytes.

Can you imagine anyone today topping John Lennon’s “we’re bigger than Jesus” remark the way Keith Richards did? (The latter’s contribution to pop culture went, “The devil doesn’t bother me, it’s God that pisses me off. Him and his rain. You wait until I meet the motherf—–. Doesn’t he know who we are? We’re the Rolling Stones!”)

None of this is important to appreciate good music, but all of this is so important in defining a band. It’s over four decades since the Stones began peddling their anarchy to the Vietnam generation. Now, as another war looms over the horizon, they’re out to conquer a generation that equates ‘classic rock’ with the likes of John Mellencamp. It’ll be a while before they say It’s All Over Now.

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Posted in: Music: Western