The Rolling Stones: Stones Rolling in the Murky Stream

The Rolling Stones Stones Rolling in the Murky Stream - TokoPyramid

Rolling Stones in a figurative sense, refers to a bohemian lifestyle, wandering freely and living an adventurous life. The term was first used by the American blues musician Muddy Waters. Admiring their musical predecessor, the British band The Rolling Stones adopted this name as their nickname.

A decade after the musician Muddy Waters, it was Bob Dylan’s turn to use “Rolling Stone” as the title for a song written in 1965. The piece Like a Rolling Stone was voted as the greatest song of all time. The most famous music magazine in the United States, specializing in rock music, is also named Rolling Stone. This somewhat reflects the idea, that rock music is closely associated with the perpetual movement symbolized by rolling stones, but understood more figuratively than literally.

In 2012, it marked the 50th anniversary of the success of the Rolling Stones’ career. Although considered a legend in the rock music scene, initially, the band primarily played blues music, participating in the British Blues Boom movement (abbreviated as 3B). This was when British artists recreated blues songs originally performed by African-American artists, particularly in the Chicago style. Artists who started in this movement, including guitarists Eric Clapton, John Mayall, and Mick Jagger, at one point declared that they were the white sons of the heartfelt music of black musicians.

The Mick Jagger and Keith Richards duo is often compared to the Lennon McCartney partnership of The Beatles - TokoPyramid
The Mick Jagger and Keith Richards duo is often compared to the Lennon – McCartney partnership of The Beatles

When talking about the Rolling Stones, people immediately think of the iconic duo Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, who composed the band’s classic songs, similar to John Lennon and Paul McCartney of The Beatles. However, it’s fair to say that Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are not the founders of the Rolling Stones. The musician Brian Jones is the one who established the band by placing an ad in the newspaper (Jazz News) to recruit artists. Among the original members who toured together from 1962 to 1968, Brian Jones was the most dedicated to pure blues, and his compositional style was experimental and groundbreaking.

Despite being married and having children, Brian Jones had a problem with overeating, and, notably, he struggled with drug addiction. His erratic behavior made the band’s tours more challenging. When he was banned from entering the United States, and denied a visa for drug possession, Brian Jones was expelled from the Rolling Stones in June 1969. Just a few weeks later, his body was found in the swimming pool at his home. This death remains shrouded in mystery. Some believe Brian Jones overdosed on drugs and drowned in the pool. According to another hypothesis, being ousted from the Rolling Stones led Brian Jones to take his own life.

The Rolling Stones’ career took off from 1965 onwards. During this period, two songs of the band became famous worldwide. The first one is As Tears Go By (originally titled As Time Goes By), which Mick Jagger wrote for his girlfriend at the time, the singer Marianne Faithfull. The second one is the song (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, with its iconic opening guitar riff. Many younger generations often imitate or emulate the composition style of this song. However, alongside these, there are numerous other songs like Sister Morphine, Angie, Miss You, or Jumpin’ Jack Flash.

Regarding the song Satisfaction, it was once ranked second on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the greatest songs of all time, just behind Bob Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone. Conversely, according to critics, on the list of the 500 most important songs in American rock music, The Rolling Stones rank second with a total of 14 songs, surpassing names like Bob Dylan (13 songs), King Elvis Presley (11 songs), U2 (8 songs), the Beach Boys, and guitarist Jimi Hendrix (both with 7 songs each).

Over their 50-year career, The Rolling Stones have released 22 albums and 8 live music compilations. Excluding compilations, the band has sold over 200 million albums worldwide. The peak period of the band lasted for 5 years from 1969 to 1974. After Brian Jones was expelled from the group, Mick Taylor joined the band. Although not officially recognized as a permanent member, Mick Taylor’s skill in playing soul-inflected, improvisational guitar solos elevated the band’s performance to new heights.

This period marked the release of a series of iconic albums by The Rolling Stones, starting with Sticky Fingers in 1971. This album introduced an image that became very familiar to fans worldwide, the red and glittery logo depicting a pair of lips with a protruding tongue. Designed by a student at the London College of Printing, John Pasche, this logo became the trademark of The Rolling Stones for four consecutive decades.

Rolling Stones' Tongue and Lips Logo - TokoPyramid
Rolling Stones’ Tongue and Lips Logo

Mick Taylor’s guitar prowess overshadowed the band’s core member, Keith Richards, creating tension and discord within the group. By the end of 1974, Mick Taylor decided to part ways and leave the band instead of waiting to be expelled, as was the case with Brian Jones. The Rolling Stones then welcomed new member Ron Wood, primarily as a bass guitarist. It was not coincidental that Keith Richards chose a bass guitarist to replace Mick Taylor, as deep down, he did not want to be overshadowed by another lead guitarist. The aging process eventually turned into a rejuvenation: while the new member helped reconcile some internal conflicts, the quality of the albums suffered.

During this period, The Rolling Stones changed their musical style, shifting away from incorporating electrifying guitar solos and revisiting the technique of guitar weaving, where two guitarists play alternating roles, leading, and rhythm. Although effective in the recording studio, this style proved counterproductive on stage due to a lack of spontaneous inspiration. As a result, critics rarely highlight albums released during this period as significant milestones.

Once Mick Taylor was absent, the guitar sound of the band no longer resonated as vibrantly as counterparts like Eric Clapton and Fleetwood Mac, or renowned bands of the 1970s such as Eagles and Santana. In the summer of 1977, Joe Strummer, the lead guitarist of The Clash, bluntly declared: the king of rock music, Elvis Presley, had just passed away, and now neither The Beatles nor The Rolling Stones were relevant anymore. This implied that these bands were becoming outdated, and lacking innovative breakthroughs.

This proclamation was proven wrong. In 1977, Keith Richards was arrested in Canada (Toronto) for drug possession. Though he escaped a 7-year prison sentence, he was fined and obliged to compensate by performing to raise funds for charity (the famous Blind Angel benefit concert). This event made Keith Richards aware of his responsibilities, and he decided to kick the drug habit. However, this awakening seemed to have come too late. The rift between Mick Jagger and Keith Richards deepened. Keith Richards blamed Mick Jagger for wanting to monopolize power and become the sole leader of the band. Conversely, according to Mick Jagger, Keith Richards was the reason the band’s career was no longer sustainable.

Though not officially breaking up, the iconic duo of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards no longer wanted to face each other. Mick Jagger pursued a solo career, recording four solo albums. It wasn’t until 1989 that the band reluctantly worked together again (after being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame). While the sound of their later albums became more modern, the songs lacked the creative spontaneity of the past. Only on stage did the members of the Rolling Stones, even though they were nearly 70 years old, continue to captivate audiences with their dynamic and vibrant style.

Similar to The Beatles and The Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones deeply influenced both their contemporaries and subsequent generations. Evidence of this influence can be seen in the Pirates of the Caribbean film series, where actor Johnny Depp, playing Captain Jack Sparrow, borrowed the rugged style of Keith Richards. Veteran director Martin Scorsese incorporated many of the band’s songs into his films (Goodfellas, Casino & The Departed). He also directed a documentary titled Shine a Light about The Rolling Stones tour.

Media often contrasts The Rolling Stones with The Beatles. In reality, they knew each other well and often met. One of The Rolling Stones’ early recorded songs, I Wanna Be Your Man, was composed by The Beatles. Between these two legendary bands, there was an implicit agreement that their albums would not be released simultaneously to avoid affecting each other’s success. However, there remains a distinct difference in the ears of the listeners.

The Rolling Stones and The Beatles have been rivals since they first shot to fame in the early '60s - TokoPyramid
The Rolling Stones and The Beatles have been rivals since they first shot to fame in the early ’60s

In brief, fans often claim that Beatles’ music, blending with pop, has sweet and melodious tunes, making it a softer rock suitable for girls. On the other hand, The Rolling Stones’ music is seen as rugged, with sharp edges, resembling passionate and wild rock tailored for boys. Such definitions are inevitably limited, as a closer look reveals that the primary difference between The Rolling Stones and The Beatles lies in their styles.

From the outset, The Rolling Stones crafted a bad-boy image for themselves—rebellious youths reveling in decadence in stark contrast to The Fab Four’s clean-cut image. The Rolling Stones were outspoken, expressing their resistance through provocative lyrics (Satisfaction and Cocksucker Blues being two outspoken anthems). They released songs like punches to the stomach and slaps in the face. On the other hand, if The Beatles had rebellious thoughts, they were mostly subversive, conveyed through allegory and implication.

Regardless, The Rolling Stones played a significant role in changing the landscape of the American and British music scenes. For The Rolling Stones, rock was not just a musical genre but, above all, a mindset, a way of life. Inspired by the master Muddy Waters, The Rolling Stones fear neither murky waters nor muddy realms. The legend of The Rolling Stones has etched itself into people’s hearts through these qualities.

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