“Well my mother, told my father
That before I was born
I got a boy child comin’
Gonna be a rollin’ stone”
–Muddy Waters, Rollin’ Stone
“Is everybody ready? The biggest band in the world. Ladies and gentlemen, the greatest rock and roll band in the world, the Rolling Stones, the Rolling Stones, the Rolling Stones. The greatest rock and roll band in the world, the Rolling Stones.”
Thus begin the overlapping introductions (from different venues) to the Stones’ great 1970 album Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out: The Rolling Stones in Concert. And it would be so tempting to start there.
But let’s travel back about eight years or so from that point in time to the influences that led them to become such a great force in popular music. (The Stones were always, always openly respectful of – and gave credit to – their musical heroes, even once insisting they would not do an American pop show (Shindig) unless they could bring on Howlin’ Wolf.)
Brian Jones, from Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England, was a blues freak and multi-talented musician of the first order. As such, in addition to listening to blues records imported from America, he used to frequent London clubs such as the Marquee, where Cyril Davies and Alexis Korner were establishing a residency with their band, Blues Incorporated. At one of those sessions, Jones met Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. (Keef became ‘Richard’ for a while, then back to ‘Richards’ later.)
Keith and Mick had been childhood friends, then lost track of each other and then met again as teenagers. They in fact met by happenstance at a railway station while Mick was on his way to classes at the London School of Economics. Fatefully, Jagger was carrying records by Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters under his arm.
(I can imagine Keef saying, “Whatcha got there, mate?”). Most accounts peg this at October 17, 1961. (I know this because a plaque was installed at Dartford station where they met).
It’s fair to say that by the middle of the next year, the original nucleus (Jagger, Richards, Jones, ) had formed the band, with Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts joining in late ’62 and early ’63. They called themselves The Rolling Stones after the Muddy Waters song. (Is there any more important phrase in rock and roll? The band. The Muddy Waters song (“Rollin’ Stone”). The Dylan song. The magazine. I think not). In short order, Decca Records – who had famously passed on the Beatles – signed the Stones.
Released in 1964, I’ve always loved their version of “Route 66”, a song which lists a road and a bunch of American towns they could not yet have possibly visited:
But as mentioned, rock n’ roll was not the Stones’ only influence, not by half. They were (and still are) a great blues band. And so they covered Willie Dixon’s “Little Red Rooster,” first done by Howlin’ Wolf.
(In every way you can think of, the Stones were NOT the Beatles. The Beatles were Mersey pop, the Stones, London blues. The Beatles’ image was, “Ain’t they cute?” The Stones’ image – created by their manager Andrew Loog Oldham long before they actually started earning the reputation – was “Would you let your daughter marry a Rolling Stone?”
The other big influence on the Stones in general and Keith Richards in particular was of course, Chuck Berry. Chuck’s music not only set the pattern for where the Stones would go but his songs also supplied much of their early material before they started writing their own.
Here’s “Around and Around.” (And if you can ever find the live version from El Mocambo in Toronto, check it out. It’s a blast. Recorded around the time of Keef’s infamous Canada drug bust).
If you listen to these songs, you’ll realize it’s not as big a leap as it might seem from there to “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” That song – and that riff – had a big impact on the charts when it was released in 1965.
It was so soulful, so impactful that Otis Redding recorded it the same year (as did Aretha Franklin a few years later), apparently making up the words as he went along. Otis’ version used horns to play the main riff which Keith says he originally intended. (And as much of a gut-punch as that riff was, I can’t say that it hit me harder than “You Really Got Me” by the Kinks, which was released the prior year.)
The Stones throughout the years have always drawn a physical, sometimes violent reaction from their crowd. And in another comparison to the Beatles, they initially drew as many guys as the Beatles were drawing girls.
Here they are in all their sweaty glory, inciting the audience to near-riot in Ireland in 1965. From a documentary called Charlie Is My Darling. There’s another clip from this movie in the 2012 documentary Crossfire Hurricane where a bunch of guys from the audience totally swarm the stage. What’s with the priest in the audience in this one wonders? Blessing? Or exorcism?
With its sexually suggestive lyrics, sneering attitude towards the status quo and general rejection of all things holy, this song – played by those, those, those – those Rolling Stones! – was not popular with parents. And so of course, kids loved it.
Per Wikipedia, in 2004, Rolling Stone magazine placed “Satisfaction” in the second spot on its list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Right after … Like a Rolling Stone. “[Satisfaction] was the sound,” the paper said, “of a generation impatient to inherit the Earth.”
“(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” was added to the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress in 2006.
Next – The Stones move into the late Sixties and the Glimmer Twins become even more of a songwriting force. Sex. Drugs. Rock n’ Roll.