This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.
The Rolling Stones turn 50 this year. Okay, the individual members are somewhat older than that - in total about 2,000 years old - but the group had its first paid gig 50 years ago in July.
Initially they were without a name and a club promoter rang Brian Jones and asked about this. Brian was playing a Muddy Waters album at the time and he spied one of the tracks, Rollin’ Stone, and he said that they were the Rollin’ Stones. A “g” was quickly added to the first word of their name.
That performance at the Marquee club in London consisted of Brian Jones, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Dick Taylor and Mick Avory (or possibly Tony Chapman). Ian Stewart was there as well, in the background playing piano as he did for the Stones until he died in 1985. Taylor and Avory (or Chapman) were soon replaced by Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts.
This group had Keith, probably the best rock guitarist who didn’t play lead (although he could do that), Mick, possibly the most charismatic singer of any group and Charlie Watts, easily the best rock drummer ever (although he is essentially a jazz drummer – that could explain his great proficiency).
On the live album “Get Your Ya Yas Out” Mick rather dismissively says, “Charlie’s good tonight.” How patronizing. Charlie is good every night.
The Stones were originally a covers band, playing blues – Elmore James, Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters – and early rock & roll, particularly that of Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and Buddy Holly.
They eventually started writing their own material when their manager locked Mick and Keith in a room and told them not to come out until they had written a song. They did and the dam burst and there was no containing them. It was probably this that caused the easing out of Brian from his position as nominal leader of the group to be usurped by the “Glimmer Twins.”
The song they came up with is As Tears Go By. They also gave it to Marianne Faithfull who had a hit with it as well. Their manager wanted a pop song, not some more blues or copies or parodies of other records. This is the result.
Possibly their second best known song is Sympathy for the Devil. There are stories that this is the song they were performing at the disastrous Altamont concert when a member of the audience was stabbed by one of the Hell’s Angels.
This is legend - it wasn’t the song being played. However, it is so potent you can understand why this myth started. Here it is.
The song 19th Nervous Breakdown demonstrates why the Stones were such a great rock band. No more need be said.
No eyebrows were raised when the song Stray Cat Blues was included on the Beggars’ Banquet album perhaps because it wasn’t released as a single. I wonder if Bill had some input into this one. I’m sure the shock jocks would have a field day now.
They occasionally had forays into symphonic rock. Okay, they didn’t go overboard as some others did, but they did employ French horns, played by Al Kooper who also played piano and organ on the track, and a heavenly choir – the London Bach Choir. You Can't Always Get What You Want.
The Stones occasionally had pretensions to being a country band. You may laugh but this came about because of the close friendship Keith developed with Gram Parsons.
Gram taught them many country songs (they probably knew a bunch of them already) and they recorded a few tracks in a country vein. Wild Horses is probably the best known of these. That’s not what I’m going with though.
They recorded Honky Tonk Women twice, once as a country song under the title Country Honk. Here it is.
Another track that’s pure rock & roll. There’s no other reason needed to include it except that it’s probably the longest title of any of their songs. Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing In the Shadows?
And now for something completely different. Something Happened to Me Yesterday is one of those quirky songs that they released now and then. Okay, not very often actually. They didn’t have a Ringo for whom they wanted to produce a song.
Perceptive readers might notice that this next is the third track from the Beggars’ Banquet album. Not surprising really, as I think this is easily their best. It’s interesting because I learnt from Keith’s autobiography that several tracks on the album are all acoustic (except for the bass).
I couldn’t believe when I read that so had to listen to it a few times to check. I think he’s right, this track certainly is. Salt of the Earth.
I’ll finish with my favorite Stones song. This will get the hard core fans riled. There’s a very personal reason for this and I’m not going into that on the internet. Here is She's a Rainbow.
Okay, I’m anticipating the comments: “Where’s Satisfaction?” “What, nothing from Exile on Main Street?” and so on. I figure you know that first one and others you may ask about so I left them out. Besides, the ones I chose are the songs of theirs I like.