Once upon a time…there were five lads who saw what the Beatles were doing, and decided they could be just as good. But their music was evil, low down and dirty, their behaviour was worse, and as for the hair…
Brian Jones, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts took R&B and the blues as their template and repeatedly forged granite gems of rock to a wave of public acclaim that took until 1967 to turn into a backlash. In these days of ‘artists’ such as Pete Doherty publicly flaunting their drug habits, the Rolling Stones’ Redlands bust can be seen as the time when the older generation needed a scapegoat for the gradual erosion of its comfy 50s haven of mushy ballads. These days, the thought of extensive prison sentences for anybody caught with cannabis is virtually unheard of: back then, it was a real possibility.
That the band bounced back from this to revivify the scene once again with harder, stripped-down blues and even splashes of country is nothing short of miraculous. Jumpin’ Jack Flash (FF 1976 #39) is Christ seen through the eyes of the realist: ‘I fell down to my feet and I saw they bled/I frowned on the crumbs of a crust of bread/I was crowned with a spike right through my head’. Released in May 1968, it was an automatic number one and promised great things (which Beggar’s Banquet realised in spades). Even the quite frankly naff recording quality (the master tape slow down has stubbornly survived even this latest remastering) does not detract from the magic of those hammered out chords and Jagger’s sneering, acerbic delivery.
Brian Jones’ death marked an era of rebirth for the band. They used Let It Bleed as a catharsis for the end of the 60s and the dawn of a decade that would see the Stones’ original timetable for revolution dusted down, proofread and reprinted in 1976. Brown Sugar (FF 1976 #13) underpins one of the all-time memorable riffs with a saxophone delivery that only heightens and colours the sleaze and verve of the lyrics. Although the first release on Rolling Stones Records (with its teasing catalogue numbers that began with COC or CUN) and the opener for Sticky Fingers (1971), the song was actually written and recorded in 1969, and can be heard in the documentary Gimme Shelter.
At this distance in time, it is difficult to appreciate the band’s achievements: they were deliberately manufactured as the Antichrists of rock, which gave the impetus for others to go further. They seem to have existed on a diet of recycled Chuck Berry from the middle of the 70s onwards, and are still touring and recording to this day. But, without them, the Beatles would have had the field to themselves. And that would never do.