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The NBC Nightly News’ final segment Thursday was about how that day was the 50th anniversary of the Rolling Stones’ first gig. The segment featured the obligatory file footage and then a joint interview with Charlie, Mick, Keith and Ron Wood.

I had to laugh. They look like old uncles—the kind who would sneak you behind the house at family gatherings when you were 10 and teach you how to smoke a cigarette. Can’t you hear Uncle Keith cackling now? “Don’t tell your mum and pop, ha-ha caff-caff.”

Charlie’s 71 now, and in the interview, it looked as if he had a Silly Putty mouth that someone stretched way, way out. Keith should come with subtitles. Mick’s got a 69-year-old face and hair that’s about 30; he probably has it colored and styled about once a week. And say what you will, Ronnie Wood is not a Rolling Stone just because he hung around with them for so long that they felt sorry for him and let him into the band. If Wood is a Rolling Stone, then Nicky Hopkins and Ian Stewart were too.

Thursday night on the news, they looked like cartoon characters, Disney animations of their former selves. It’s sad to say this is how a generation or maybe two see the Stones. It used to be different. During the so-called British invasion of the 1960s, the Beatles were cute and cuddly. They wanted to hold your hand. The Stones were sheathed in cigarette smoke and probably on their way to the pub.

Did the Stones want to hold your hand? The answer came during the best moment of Thursday’s news segment—a clip of the band’s appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, when they were forced to change two words in a song they performed. As Mick sang “Let’s spend some time together,” he rolled his eyes with so much disgust it’s a wonder he wasn’t deported.

The Stones have made a lot of music between Ed Sullivan and now—some of it the very best rock ‘n’ roll ever made, and an equal amount less so. My musical obsessive-compulsiveness means I’ll buy everything a band makes until they lose their mojo. For me, the Stones lost theirs after “It’s Only Rock and Roll” back in 1974, but it’s fair to say the comedown was inevitable after the string of preceding stellar LPs: Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main Street and Goat’s Head Soup (where the first signs of the fading mojo surfaced). Then again, what do I know? Some Girls, from 1978, sold 6 million copies.

More and more, though, their albums seem like thin excuses to tour to promote the records and make millions of dollars. The tour after their last release, A Bigger Bang, from 2005, grossed $558 million. That’s a long way from the $50 or so the band was paid for that first-ever show 50 years ago.

I don’t know how 20-year-olds react to CD releases today, but I clearly recall the Stones’ release of Goat’s Head Soup and how two of its songs, “Angie” and “Silver Train,” were seen and heard first on TV on the premiere of the show Don Kirschner’s Rock Concert in 1973. The TV lounge in our dorm was jammed. It was An Event. When the LP finally was released and the bars downtown were playing “Silver Train,” the dance floors were packed, and I was doing my best Mick imitation out there.

The inevitable musical litmus test from that era is “Beatles or Stones?” It’s an unfair question. The Beatles changed the world. But as far as the music was concerned, the Stones were rock ‘n’ roll. With everything that has come since then in terms of explicit sex and violence in music, the Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” has never been outdone in terms of menace. These days, bands’ references to Satan result in raised eyebrows and shoulder shrugs, if that. Satan is nothing but a concept. But the Stones turned the devil into a person—most scarily, one of us:

I shouted out, “Who killed the Kennedys?”
When after all,
It was you and me.

As for the music, if there’s a better rock riff than the opening to “Satisfaction,” then I haven’t heard it.


( 28 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 13th, 2012 03:28 am (UTC)
I always refer to Keith as being like a car that has never had the oil changed. It's been 28 years and it's still chugging along, and now you're afraid to change it.

I can't say I was ever a huge Stones fan. I saw The New Barbarians (Keith's community service gig for trafficking) many years ago and remember very little about it, mainly because it wasn't all that exciting. I have no desire to spent $250 on a ticket to see them because I'd wind up watching a Jumbotron image of them way, way off on a tiny stage.

And yeah - I never thought of Ron Wood as an actual Rolling Stone. Mick Taylor, Brian's replacement, bailed quickly (jumped or pushed? doesn't matter now) and for some reason they brought in Ron - like you said, it might as well be Nicky Hopkins or Ian Stewart or any of the other hangers-on.

I still prefer their very early stuff, covers of old blues songs, tracks that late-night DJs on AM stations would play when they thought no one was listening. But I was, and I remember hearing "Little Red Rooster" and "Goin' Home" late on Sunday nights, and not really getting it - at 12 years old, how much do you really get? - but that's stuck with me all these years.
Jul. 13th, 2012 03:51 am (UTC)
I think the band was at its best during the Mick Taylor years.

The last paragraph of your comment is so cool that I don't have the words to say how cool it is.
Jul. 13th, 2012 04:07 am (UTC)
Don't get me started on how important AM radio was to me at that age. I could write pages and pages about it.
Jul. 13th, 2012 12:23 pm (UTC)
Earlier this year I read a book about '70s radio by a guy named Kim Simpson. In it, he explained everything I didn't understand about radio from that era. Well worth a read.
Jul. 13th, 2012 12:24 pm (UTC)
AM radio in the summer was king. Listening for the big stations on a skip.
Jul. 13th, 2012 06:28 am (UTC)
There are actually a lot of songs on "Bigger Bang" and "Bridges to Babylon" that I REALLY like, ranking among my favorite Stones songs of all.

I know it's only rock n roll, but....
Jul. 13th, 2012 12:26 pm (UTC)
I've got A Bigger Bang (in fact, you gave it to me), and it includes some fine songs. My favorites are "Let Me Down Slow," "Oh No, Not You Again" and "Dangerous Beauty." But in its entirety, it's no Beggars Banquet.
Jul. 13th, 2012 01:02 pm (UTC)
I agree. Individual gems but, as a complete album, just so-so.
Jul. 13th, 2012 12:35 pm (UTC)
That post worked itself out in an odd way. I was struggling with it—it felt stale and forced—but then I played some Stones to pick out some song elements to write about. Once I listed to "Jack Flash," "Satisfaction" and "Sympathy for the Devil," and once "Rocks Off" cued up, I was on my way. I'm not saying it's a particularly good post, but I probably would have abandoned it if I hadn't turned the music on.

The music is so dense that many of the words get obscured, but go online and check out the lyrics to "Rocks Off." That's all I'll say.
Jul. 13th, 2012 01:02 pm (UTC)
One of Jackson's favorites!
Jul. 13th, 2012 01:38 pm (UTC)
Tell Jackson this:

You got your eye on the cheerleader queen
You're walkin' her home from school
You know that she's only seventeen
She's gonna make you a fool
You know you can't touch this stuff
Without money or a brand new car
Let me give you some good advice young man
You better learn to play guitar
Jul. 13th, 2012 12:22 pm (UTC)
Jul. 13th, 2012 12:29 pm (UTC)
AM radio was where I heard the song that turned me into a rocker: "Born to be Wild." Steppenwolf's music has not aged well, but that song still sounds as good now as it did then.
Jul. 13th, 2012 01:06 pm (UTC)
I was late to the Stones fan club, most probably because my older brothers were big into folk music and I didn't really have anyone to steer me in the right direction. I was, admittedly, a Beatles fan, and remember my dad coming out on the front porch to holler when it was time for their segment on Ed Sullivan.

But AM radio - I still get shivers when I hear Bob Seger's "Night Moves" and remember searching the dial for it every time we were out on one of our back road cruises.
Jul. 13th, 2012 01:36 pm (UTC)
I have added three Seger tracks to my music library; I don't have any of his LPs, but I now have "Hollywood Nights," "The Fire Down Below" and "Ramblin', Gamblin' Man," a song that takes me back to the fall of 1972 and a now-gone bar called Charlie's in Fredonia. And I recall him putting on a helluva show when we saw him at the Aud.
Jul. 13th, 2012 07:33 pm (UTC)
I never could decide which was my favorite Stones song - Sympathy for the Devil or Heartbreaker. Both of them get inside me. As for Seger, give Turn the Page a listen.
Jul. 13th, 2012 08:03 pm (UTC)
Impossible for me to pick just one Stones song as a favorite.

As for Seger, I've never been able to forgive him for those Chevy truck commercials.
Jul. 14th, 2012 01:23 pm (UTC)
I hear you on the truck commercials. I love, love, love the melancholy strain of Main Street. Interestingly, all my Seger stuff is on vinyl. My devotion for him never made it to cassettes or cds.
Jul. 14th, 2012 02:32 pm (UTC)
As long as you've got a turntable, you should be all set. Interestingly, vinyl is making a comeback. With a high-end turntable to play it on, vinyl sounds warmer and richer.
Jul. 14th, 2012 02:34 pm (UTC)
Both the boys bought vinyl copies of The Low's remastered "Shakespeare My Butt" album at the Artpark show on Wednesday night.
Jul. 16th, 2012 04:20 pm (UTC)
Sure you've heard a better rock riff -- its by the Kinks. I can see you playing it on your air guitar now.
Jul. 16th, 2012 08:22 pm (UTC)
Rock Riffs
I've continued thinking about my last entry about greatest guitar riffs. To be great, much like a discussion on any subject of "greatness", it needs to be memorable, easily/quickly identifiable, and have survived the years.

There have been recent examples that I believe will test time well -- The White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army"; Nirvana's "Come as You Are"; Guns N Roses' "Sweet Child 'O Mine"; and Lenny Kravitz' "Are You Gonna Go My Way?".

Going back to the 70's and 80's you've got a lot more to choose from -- Aerosmith's "Walk this Way"; The Scorpions' "Rock you Like a Hurricane" (although I prefer Michael Schenker's earlier band, UFO, and their "Rockbottom"); AC/DC's "Back in Black"; Ozzy's "Crazy Train"; Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper"; Van Halen's "Ain't Talkin' About Love"; ZZ Top's "Tush"); and Skynard's "Sweet Home Alabama".

And, then, you're back in the 60's and early 70's for the classics -- Cream's "Sunshine of Your Love"; Derek and the Dominoes' "Layla"; Led Zep's "Heartbreaker" (or how about "Kashmir"?); Sabbath's "Iron Man" (or, "Paranoid"); Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water" (although I like the earlier "Burn" or "Highway Star"); and, even the Beatles' "Day Tripper".

But, other than the Kink's "You Really Got Me", the biggest of all is still Jimmy's "Purple Haze." Won't be long and it'll be 50 years old, and it is as amazingly original now as it was then.

Edited at 2012-07-16 08:23 pm (UTC)
Jul. 17th, 2012 01:37 am (UTC)
Re: Rock Riffs
I'll take your word on the recent examples and will have my musical guides advise me.

"Tush" is just Billy Gibbons doing some recycling, and I'm a B.G. fan. As far as BOC goes, I'd take "Burnin' for You" over "Reaper." I'm with on the Aerosmith and Skynyrd.

Cream: I'll take "White Room" or "Tales of Brave Ulysses" over "Sunshine." "Layla" certainly belongs on the list. I never was much of a Sabs fan; Deep Purple's "Smoke" is their best-known riff for sure. Gotta add the live "Statesboro Blues" from the Allmans, Tull's "Locomotive Breath" and Leslie West's guitar from "Mississippi Queen."

"Kashmir" is The Most Pretentious Rock Song Ever Recorded.

Jul. 17th, 2012 06:15 pm (UTC)
Re: Rock Riffs
I'm going with the opening of "Aqualung" over "Locomotive Breath". And, while "Mississippi Queen" has a memorable guitar riff (I love West's solo album "The Great Fatsby"), what opens the song is a cowbell. Its the cowbell that makes the song instantly recognizeable.

Which brings me to the topic of greatest cowbell songs. For your consideration are: War's "Low Rider"; Stones' "Honky Tonk Woman"; Grand Funk's "We're an American Band"; James Gang's "Funk 49"; Free's "All Right Now"; Argent's "Hold Your Head Up"; J. Geils' "Give it to Me"; Sly's "Dance to the Music"; The Chambers Brothers' "Time has Come Today"; Santana's "Evil Ways"; Stealer's Wheel's "Stuck in the Middle with You"; Tull's "Cross Eyed Mary"; Nazareth's "Hair of the Dog"; and, Zepplin's "Good Times, Bad Times".

And, while "Mississippi Queen" opens with the cowbell and then moves into a guitar riff, "Don't Fear the Reaper" opens with guitar and then goes into the second best known use of the cowbell. MORE COWBELL!!

Edited at 2012-07-17 06:20 pm (UTC)
Jul. 17th, 2012 07:20 pm (UTC)
Re: Rock Riffs
Good call on Aqualung.

Best cowbell songs? I surrender.
Jul. 17th, 2012 01:27 am (UTC)
Kinks fan here, but no: "Satisfaction" is the undisputed, heavyweight champion.
Aug. 11th, 2012 09:47 pm (UTC)
More Cowbell!
Aug. 11th, 2012 09:51 pm (UTC)
Re: More Cowbell!
It looks like he's playing cowbell for the Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra.
( 28 comments — Leave a comment )

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