Music is always playing in my head, and a big percentage of the time it’s The Rolling Stones! They never really go away, and for that I’m glad. I read a book a few years ago, called “Old Gods Almost Dead.” And if you look at the members of the band up close, dinosaurs immediately come to mind. These guys are getting long in the tooth. They can still deliver the music, though, and that’s what’s really important.
Like so many groups who sprang to prominence during the so-called “British Invasion,” the Stones were in love with an inspired by black musicians in America who played the blues. And it took the Stones and yes, the Beatles, the Animals, and a lot of others who got famous in the 60’s, to expose that music to people right here in this country. These blues artists were laboring here in the midst of us, almost in anonymity, until British rock n roll artists came along and confessed their love for the songs, put their own spin on them, and exposed them to a much wider audience. That’s still happening to this very day. The Rolling Stones started out as a blues band and here’s an example of the music they were performing early in their career. This is the Stones’ version of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Little Red Rooster!“. (Sorry embed disabled by YouTube.)
The first time I ever heard the Stones was late in 1964, when “It’s All Over Now” came on the radio. It wasn’t a very big hit, topping out at #26 on the charts, but from the first moment I heard their take on that Bobby Womack song, I thought there was something very different about the guitar riffs and I was totally hooked. Then came a song called “Time Is On My Side” which climbed into the Top Ten…and there was “Heart of Stone,” “The Last Time,” and then the one that crashed its way into the casual music lover’s consciousness, “Satisfaction.” This song was a monster hit, and nearly a half-century later whenever the greatest songs in rock n roll history are discussed, “Satisfaction” is always somewhere near the top of the list. There were many big songs to follow and adoration from fans all over the world, but for the longest time, “Satisfaction” remained the Stones’ signature song.
I was always an avid Beatles’ fan, from the very first time I heard “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” and they will remain at the top of my list for the incredible amount of great music they made together in only a 6-year period. And the songs written by Lennon and McCartney will remain unsurpassed in my mind. John and Paul were geniuses. And George and Ringo weren’t bad, either, but there was always something about the Stones that defined them as sort of “The Anti-Beatles.” Back in the day there were all these magazines, asking, “Who’s better?” The Beatles or The Rolling Stones?” To me, it was like comparing apples and oranges. Not the same. The Stones were scruffy and threatening. Living life dangerously, without regard to public opinion. I know, I know, it was part of the act. Still, Keith Richards was the heart and soul of the group, and remains so to this day. Even when Mick Jagger, as the front man was grabbing all the headlines, Keith was lurking in the background, rebellious and wild. Not too long ago, I read Keith’s autobiography entitled, “Life,” which was excellent. Just reading about this guy was so entertaining, I couldn’t put it down til I finished it. And the book was well over 500 pages long! No matter. Believe it or not, this man who’s tried every diversion known to man is still somehow clear of mind, with a vivid memory. It’s been said that he actually died many years ago, and yet he’s still on stage banging away at his guitar, and smiling every now and then…with the ever-present cigarette dangling from his teeth. I’m getting ahead of myself here, I realize, but Keith, at least to me, always exemplified The Rolling Stones. Still does, around 50 years after the first time he and Mick got together and shared their affection for those old blues records. This song, in fact, has always made me think of Keith, even more than Mick. And the Stones have always rocked it in concert. Just watch this video. And make sure you crank it up loud!
This performance of “Sympathy” also showcases the amazing stage presence of Mick Jagger. But just listen to Charlie Watts and the way he pounds away at the drums. He’s fantastic. And, of course, there’s Ron Wood, who is the perfect foil for Keith on guitar. He joined the Stones much later in their career after stints with other bands, including Rod Stewart and Faces. Long time bassist Bill Wyman quit the band in the early 80’s. The Stones lost one of their founding members, Brian Jones, early on, when he drowned in a pool, in a rather suspicious incident. Jones was replaced later by Mick Taylor, a great musician in his own right, and finally, by Wood, who looks as if he might make it for the duration. One of these days, all the Stones are going to keel over and die right in the middle of some great rock n roll music. Maybe they’ll leave us right in the unmistakable opening riffs of this song.
That’s a song that never fails to get me going. If I’m listening to it at home, in my car, or even when I hear Keith play those first notes in the middle of a Carolina football game at Kenan Stadium, I get a shot of adrenalin. It’s just one of those songs that gets me going, I have to admit. But I’ve saved the best for last–at least it’s my favorite. I found this video of the Stones in concert, performing “Gimme Shelter,” one of the most powerful songs in rock n roll history it’s all about protest, and danger, and the conflict between good and evil, and to a great degree, sums up the tumultuous times we were living through when the Stones first recorded the song. There’s been no other time quite like it–the late 60’s…..I wanted to play this one for you for 3 reasons. (1.) It’s a great song. (2.) It’s terrific audio quality of a great live performance. And (3.) It features the most riveting, sexiest, awesome background singer I’ve ever heard. Her name is Lisa Fisher and she’s amazing. This song wouldn’t be the same without her. Somehow, her swagger just makes Mick’s “fade away” in comparison. I’ve got lots of Stones’ favorites, but this one is at the top of my list. Watch it and don’t forget to crank up the volume.
Well, that’s it for this time. And those old blues musicians I mentioned earlier? I plan to do a future column on them. It’s some of the best music ever made. In the meantime, tell me about the kind of music you like. And let me know your favorite artists…and why you enjoy them so much. Til next time….See you on the radio!