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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Gathering Moss With the Stones

The Rolling Stones have always been "my band." My love for the band started during the first shots of the British Invasion. Beatlemania was sweeping the country when I was in junior high. And, of course, the Fab Four dominated the charts and hearts of America. John, Paul, Ringo, and George made girls swoon. Don't get me wrong, I loved the Beatles, too, but in the middle of all the wild female idolatry over the Fab Four, many of the guys seemed to gravitate to the rougher image of the Stones. Perhaps, it was adolescent jealousy.

"Don't keep on looking that some old way
If you try acting sad, you'll only make me glad
Better listen little girl
You go on walking down the street
I ain't got no love, I ain't the kind to meet
'Cause you'll never break, never break, never break, never break
This heart of stone"  -Jagger, Richards

The Rolling Stones were the bad boys, the antithesis of the Beatles. Andrew Loog Oldham, their manager and producer, even promoted that image. With their unkempt look, they were scruffier than the Beatles -- the Stones quickly discarded their Beatle-like suits in favor of a darker look. They didn't smile on their album covers. And, the group, particularly Mick Jagger, was more sexually aggressive than the Beatles. While the Beatles were singing "Love Me Do," the Stones were confessing "I Just Wanna Make Love to You." This public image was summed up by one of the most provocative questions ever asked of parents, but targeted squarely at their over-excited adolescent offspring – "Would you let your daughter marry a Rolling Stone?" The Stones were "tuff" and they had attitude.

"She was common, flirty, she looked about thirty
I would have run away but I was on my own
She told me later she's a machine operator
She said she liked the way I held the microphone
And I said my, my, my like the spider to the fly
Jump right ahead in my web"  -Jagger, Richards 

In addition, the Stones more fully filled the craving for blues and R&B than any other band. In fact, I first heard many of the great blues and R&B classics in the form of Stones' covers. Early albums like England's Newest Hitmakers, 12x5, and The Rolling Stones Now featured songs like "I'm a King Bee," "Carol," "Confessin' the Blues," "Under the Boardwalk," "Pain In My Heart," and "Little Red Rooster." Years later, I found the hit versions of these songs by the original artists and grew to love them, but the Stones were responsible for whetting my appetite for blues and R&B.

"Like a lady in waiting to a virgin queen
Look at that stupid girl
She bitches 'bout things that she's never seen
Look at that stupid girl

"She purrs like a pussycat
Then she turns 'round and hisses back
She's the sickest thing in this world
Look at that stupid girl"  -Jagger, Richards

Along about 1965, the Rolling Stones began to write (Jagger and Richards) and record some of the best rock songs of all time. For decades, they rocked the masses, scoring hit after hit as they released songs like  "Satisfaction," "Get Off of My Cloud," "19th Nervous Breakdown," "Paint It Black," "Jumpin' Jack Flash," "Street Fighting Man," "Honky Tonk Women," and "Brown Sugar."

"I bet your mama was a tent show queen
And all her boyfriends were sweet sixteen
I'm no schoolboy but I know what I like
You shoulda heard me just around midnight

"Brown sugar how come you taste so good, baby?
Ah, brown sugar just like a young girl should, yeah"  -Jagger, Richards 

The Stones made many great albums such as Out of Our Heads, December's Children (And Everybody's), Aftermath, Between the Buttons, Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, Exile on Main Street, and Sticky Fingers. Whether Brian Jones, Mick Taylor, or Ron Wood was a member of the band, the album cuts sizzled -- "Under My Thumb," "Sympathy For the Devil," "Gimme Shelter," "Live With Me," "You Can't Always Get What You Want," "Rip This Joint," "Tumbling Dice," "Shine a Light," "Dead Flowers."

"Well, when you're sitting there
In your silk upholstered chair
Talking to some rich folks that you know
Well I hope you won't see me
In my ragged company
You know I could never be alone

"Take me down little Susie, take me down
I know you think you're the Queen of the Underground
And you can send me dead flowers every morning
Send me dead flower by the mail
Send me dead flowers to my wedding
And I won't forget to put roses on your grave"  -Jagger, Richards 

The Rolling Stones seem ageless, still recording and touring, but the magic of the early days has dwindled. Time has taken its toll, not so much on the talents of the band, but on the mystique and delivery of the music itself. Touted by their own '60s stage manager as "the greatest rock & roll band in the world," the Stones might well have earned that title, even surpassing the Beatles (if longevity and performance are considered).

"Everywhere I hear the sound of marching, charging feet, boy
Cause summers here and the time is right for fighting in the street, boy
But what can a poor boy do
Except to sing for a rock n roll band
Cause in sleepy London town
There's just no place for a street fighting man
No"  -Jagger, Richards

I still love the Rolling Stones and still listen to their superb recordings. The songs never cease to conjure images and emotions deep rooted in my memory. Riots with "Street Fighting Man," Vietnam with "Gimme Shelter," coming of age with "Satisfaction," relationships with "Let's Spend the Night Together" -- the Stones have given me a pretty respectable soundtrack. I believe no one should judge this band on their greatest hits packages or on their later body of work.

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