01. Jumpin’ Jack Flash (Single A Side May 1968)
02. Sympathy For The Devil (Beggars Banquet LP December 1968)
03. Dear Doctor (Beggars Banquet LP December 1968)
04. Jigsaw Puzzle (Beggars Banquet LP December 1968)
05. Street Fighting Man (Beggars Banquet LP December 1968)
06. Honky Tonk Women (Single A Side July 1969)
07. Gimme Shelter (Let It Bleed LP November 1969)
08. Let It Bleed (Let It Bleed LP November 1969)
09. Monkey Man (Let It Bleed LP November 1969)
10. You Can’t Always Get What You Want (Let It Bleed LP November 1969)
11. Brown Sugar (Single A Side April 1971)
12. Wild Horses (Sticky Fingers LP April 1971)
13. I Got The Blues (Sticky Fingers LP April 1971)
14. Sister Morphine (Sticky Fingers LP April 1971)
15. Tumbling Dice (Single A Side April 1972)
16. Rocks Off (Exile On Main St. LP May 1972)
17. Rip This Joint (Exile On Main St. LP May 1972)
18. Sweet Virginia (Exile On Main St. LP May 1972)
19. Angie (Single A Side August 1973)
20. Dancing With Mr D (Goats Head Soup LP August 1973)
21. 100 Years Ago (Goats Head Soup LP August 1973)
22. Winter (Goats Head Soup LP August 1973)
23. It’s Only Rock’n’Roll (But I Like It) (Single A Side July 1974)
24. Time Waits For No-One (It’s Only Rock’n’Roll LP October 1974)
25. Fingerprint File (It’s Only Rock’n’Roll LP October 1974)
26. Fool To Cry (Single A Side April 1976)
27. Hot Stuff (Black And Blue LP April 1976)
28. Memory Motel (Black And Blue LP April 1976)
29. Miss You (Single A Side May 1978)
30. Beast Of Burden (Some Girls LP June 1978)
It must have been the release of Hackney Diamonds that did it. A sudden, curious fascination with The Rolling Stones that led our readers to dig out the 2004 legends piece from the Green Inc archives. That in itself was unexpected. After all, who in the third decade of the 21st century could possibly be interested in a group of very old men no matter how great their legacy. And yet strangely, that interest rekindled my own and pushed me into writing this radically revised rewrite which should go some way to explaining my original attraction to The Stones who, for a couple of years or so in the mid-seventies, were my group of choice.
The first I heard of them would have been on Top Of The Pops in April 1971 as ’Brown Sugar’ stormed the singles chart at exactly the same time as I was taking my first tentative steps on the never ending path of musical discovery. Back then I had no idea how important The Stones would become to me, ‘Brown Sugar’ just another fabulous tune to enjoy along with such saccharine delights as ‘Right Wheel, Left Hammer, Sham’, ’Malt and Barley Blues’ and ‘Joy To The World’. Nonetheless, over the next couple of years or so, as my musical education continued unabated and I greedily absorbed everything from Roxy Music to Funkadelic to Bob Marley, The Stones albums somehow eluded me and I had still to hear any of them. However, that would all change in September 1973.
Returning to school for the start of my fourth year, the cool kids were all talking about Goats Head Soup. And so, keen to find out what all the fuss was about, I acquired some extra cash from my parents on the pretext of a mythical school trip, brought a copy in Boots Audio and immediately loved it. And I mean really loved it. Falling somewhere between the New York Dolls and Isaac Hayes, songs like the menacing ‘Dancing With Mr D’, the soulful, lazy hazy ‘100 Years Ago’ and the elegantly wasted, Van Morrison-ish ‘Winter’ opened up another dark, mysterious world I felt compelled to investigate further.
To do that meant going back in time, which even in 1973 was considered a backward step. I wasn’t remotely interested in the music of the past, but I knew that to find out how The Stones had earned their reputation as ‘The Greatest Rock’n’Roll Band In The World’ I had to hear Beggars Banquet (1968), Let It Bleed (1969), Sticky Fingers (1971) and Exile On Main St. (1972). So that’s what I did, taking full advantage of my best friend’s sudden access to his older sisters record collection after her move to Bristol, I borrowed and taped all four onto a couple of C90 cassettes before indulging in a remarkable sonic feast, the like of which I would never experience again.
At thirteen years old, hearing those albums was a mind blowing, crash course in what made The Stones such a potent force, the swaggering, single only ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ an obvious starting point for a novice like me. In fact, Beggars Banquet and Let It Bleed were the sound of The Stones getting back to the raw rhythm and blues of their formative years which hinted at the sinister route they were about to follow. It also gave them the confidence to experiment with the fervent samba rhythm of ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ alongside more traditional genres like the hokey country of ‘Dear Doctor’ and the British folk of ‘Factory Girl’.
All of these forms had deep wells of ideas, imagery and history to draw on that underlined The Stones commitment to provoke thought and challenge the status quo. Let It Bleed, their blood soaked full stop on the sixties, explored similar concepts in more detail on the apocalyptic ‘Gimme Shelter’, the thrillingly tense ‘Monkey Man’ and the anguished final minutes of ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’. In my 1973 pop world dominated by variations on glam, the sleazy sex, hard drugs and gratuitous violence alluded to on both albums made them incredibly subversive while introducing me to vintage musical styles I’d never heard before.
The Stones first albums of the hedonistic and deeply cynical seventies would do likewise, the Andy Warhol designed, zip sleeved Sticky Fingers not only the first record on their own label but also their first with Brian Jones replacement Mick Taylor. An eerie, often brilliant record that intensified their relationship with the blues, R&B, and country, it was The Stones sideways move into the bleak and weary ‘Wild Horses’, the gospel infused ‘I Got The Blues’ and ‘Sister Morphine’s dark tale of addiction that really fascinated me.
There was a lot more to be fascinated about on the sprawling, ramshackle and dishevelled Exile On Main St. A primordial soup of straight out Stones rock’n’roll, garageband thrash and every other style imaginable, it was recorded in the hot, damp basement of Keith’s rented Villa Nellcôte in the South of France during the summer of 1971. With the rest of the group mostly absent including the jet setting Jagger, despite his increasing heroin habit Exile On Main St. was very much Keith’s baby and it showed, capturing the ruinous atmosphere of the early seventies as succinctly as any album could.
Hearing Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers and Exile On Main St. one after the other in the space of a couple of weeks, it was impossible to understand or appreciate fully The Stones cultural significance or reputation. Mercifully free from the suffocating weight of hippy bullshit or the history of music in general, I knew instinctively that they were incredible, absolutely essential albums, although in truth my new found affection for The Stones wasn’t based solely on the music.
The photos taken by Dominique Tarlé at the Villa Nellcôte that featured regularly in the weekly music press were enough to fry any boy’s brain, but it was 1973’s Rock Dreams, a book by Belgian painter Guy Peellaert and author Nik Cohn, that gave The Stones even greater meaning. A fantasy history of rock depicting the icons of the era as they existed in the imagination rather than the mundane world of the everyday, The Stones featured strongly as the ultimate decadents, dressed up in drag, as pirates, in Nazi uniforms or as out of it junkies in a sleazy hotel room. More than any one record, it was these evocative and massively influential paintings that seared the image and mythology of The Stones on my impressionable young mind.
Fortunately, Guy Peellaert also provided the cover for It’s Only Rock’n’Roll, The Stones fourth studio album of the decade. Containing all their usual arrogance and dirt, an anthemic title track to be hollered from the roof tops and the Blaxploitation groove of ‘Fingerprint File’ that ultimately would have a lasting effect on their rhythmic DNA, for a fourteen year old boy seeking every scrap of inspiration and excitement he could find in excruciatingly dull times, It’s Only Rock’n’Roll proved to be the most intriguing Stones album of them all. Mystifyingly, the critics savaged it. Clearly pining for the mid-sixties version of the group from their long lost youth, most of the hostility seemed to stem from a perception that the songs of Jagger and Richards no longer captured the revolutionary zeitgeist as they had on Beggars Banquet and Let It Bleed (no matter how ambivalent those songs had been) or displayed the creative adventurousness of Sticky Fingers and Exile On Main St.
Needless to say, I didn’t care about any of that crap. The Stones had become so important to me and exerted such an influence over my close knit bunch of like-minded misfits that by the time we were fifteen and in a primitive group of our own, we believed we were The Stones, or at the very least a small town, provincial version of them. A bunch of bored out of our brains wannabe dissenters, we dressed up in our mothers fur coats, long scarves and gold hoop earrings, cut random chunks out of our hair to emulate our hero Keith and sought the high life in the out of the way village pubs and rich kid parties of Pangbourne, Upper Basildon and West Berkshire while learning to run from the Neanderthal locals wishing to do us grievous bodily harm. Hell, we even had our own teenage versions of Anita Pallenberg and Marianne Faithful in tow too!
In hindsight, it was the most exciting if ridiculous year which merely served to highlight the fact that our love for The Stones was based predominantly on escapism and the rock’n’roll dream, of which we knew precisely nothing. On the cusp of young manhood, it was a period encapsulated by Black and Blue, the recording sessions for which were used to audition Mick Taylor’s replacement and featured our favourite Face Ronnie Wood amongst others. Once again the critics hated it, most of the reviews based on the writers vehement (some might say racist) dislike of funk, reggae and disco. One such hater was renowned journalist Lester Bangs who declared Black and Blue ‘the first meaningless Rolling Stones album’. But to me it was the greatest party album I’d ever heard. And to this day, I can still hear the ghostly echo of the ecstatic highs and heartbreaking lows of that glorious time within the grooves of ‘Hot Stuff’, ‘Memory Motel’, ‘Hey Negrita’, ‘Fool To Cry’ and The Stones unappreciated, happy go lucky interpretation of Eric Donaldson’s ‘Cherry Oh Baby’.
Of course, Black and Blue came out just a couple of months before Johnny Rotten, the Sex Pistols and punk came along to save my sorry soul. Consequently, two years later my life had changed beyond all recognition, The Stones usurped in my affections by an increasingly ‘rock’n’roll’ Clash. Nonetheless, like many other’s I brought Some Girls (astonishingly their best-selling album of all time) through some misguided sense of loyalty. And yet, despite the dancefloor magnificence of ‘Miss You’ and ‘Beast Of Burden’, it just didn’t mean anything, Jagger, as you might expect from any 35 year old, missing the point of punk entirely by wearing a Vivienne Westwood Destroy/Swastika T-Shirt on the groups live tour later in the year. And that really was that, although it wasn’t the end. Not by a long shot.
In the 45 years since, The Stones have seemingly defied the science of ageing, released ten increasingly worthless studio albums and perfected the art of the never ending, multi-million dollar grossing tour with accompanying souvenir live album. If anything, their status as ‘The Greatest Rock’n’Roll Band In The World’ is greater now than it’s ever been. The game has changed and The Stones have been carried along by the weight of their own heritage, even more so than the bluesmen they once tried to emulate. It’s not even embarrassing. It’s just a sad reflection on the world we now live in. But don’t be fooled by those leathery old duffers shuffling around the stage or Stones by numbers albums like Hackney Diamonds. Go back and listen to Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed and their seventies albums because once upon a time The Rolling Stones were extraordinary. Once upon a time they really meant something. At least they did to me!
N.B.: In November 2020 I moved house. While going through the tortuous process of packing I came across a long lost box of old cassettes that included a couple of Stones C60 compilations I’d recorded soon after the release of Some Girls. Give or take a couple of songs, this playlist consists of the contents of those two cassettes; My Journey Through The Seventies With The Rolling Stones.