Performing Arts

The Rolling Stones: Greatest all-time rock band opens another chapter


(From left) Ron Wood, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of legendary British rock band, The Rolling Stones pose on stage during a launch event for their new album, "Hackney Diamonds" at Hackney Empire in London on September 6, 2023. PHOTO | DANIEL LEAL | AFP

In one of the astonishing ironies of the music business, a band of elderly rockers, whose lead vocalist just turned 80, has created one of the industry’s biggest stories this year with an announcement about their upcoming album.

But the Rolling Stones are no ordinary musicians. It has been 18 years since ‘the greatest rock band of all time’ released original studio material.

Hackney Diamonds, which drops worldwide on October 20, contains 12 new songs, including the first single, Angry, a typical Stones song with the signature guitar riffs, a catchy chorus and the distinctive roaring vocals of Sir Mick Jagger.

Read: Jabali Afrika: Band teams up with other artistes to raise awareness on suicide prevention

Against the backdrop of the iconic Rolling Stones logo of the tongue and lips, known as Hot Lips, fans from around the world travelled to Hackney, London last Wednesday to catch a glimpse of 80-year-old Jagger, guitarist Keith Richards, 79, and bassist Ronnie Wood, 79.

The album released on the Polydor label, contains the group’s last recordings with drummer Charlie Watts, who died in 2021 at the age of 80 from throat cancer.

A stellar cross-generational line up of collaborators includes Stevie Wonder, Lady Gaga and former Stones bassist Bill Wyman.

In his book, The Sun & the Moon & the Rolling Stones, US writer, Rich Cohen says: “Everyone I ask to explain this longevity (of the band) gave the same answer: Mick Jagger. His will, determination and intelligence.”

It is a shared love for collecting records by American blues greats that brought together Jagger, then an 18-year-old student at the London School of Economics, and Richards.

From a little flat in Chelsea, London, Jagger, Richards, and Brian Jones would listen to records by Richie Valens, Jerry Lee, Ketty Lester, Arthur Alexander, Jimmy Reed, the Everly Brothers, Chuck Berry, and Bo Didley. If they liked a song, they would add it to their repertoire.

They played their first gig on July 12, 1962, at the Dartford Church Hall (Bill Wyman joined in December 1962 and Charlie Watts played his first gig with the group in January 1963).

When a reporter asked, “What do you call your band?” Jones looked around and his eyes landed on the back of the album The Best of Muddy Waters and on side one, song five of the LP was “Rollin’ Stone”.

Incidentally, the new album by the Stones closes with their version of Rollin Stone tipping their hat to Muddy Waters and the other bluesmen who inspired them.

The 1960s was the era of the British musical invasion: while the Beatles carried a clean-cut boy-next-door image, with their sweet pop songs, the Stones were unkempt, dirty and rude.

As one writer said: “The Beatles want to hold your hand, but the Stones want to burn down your town.”

The Rolling Stones signed their first contract with Decca Records in May 1963 and recorded their first single Come On, a version of a Chuck Berry song shortly after.

That September they went on their first tour playing with their heroes, the Everly Brothers and Bo Didley.

“Between then and 1966, for three years, we played virtually every night, or every day, sometimes two gigs a day,” says Richards. The band went from small clubs to big theatres packed with teenage girls

Ironically, it was Paul MacCartney and John Lennon of the Beatles who wrote the first Rolling Stones song I Wanna Be Your Man.

Think of all the timeless anthems made by the Rolling Stones in the 1960s: (I Can’t Get No0 Satisfaction, This May Be the Last Time, Honky Tonk Women, Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Sympathy for the Devil, Brown Sugar, Paint It, Black and You Can’t Always Get What You Want have kept the band touring worldwide for more than six decades

The 1970s were a turbulent decade for the Stones with various arrests of the musicians for drug possession, and feuds between the Jagger and Richards.

Their battles with drugs and alcohol were so bad that in the mid-1970s Keith Richards was included in a newspaper list of celebrities most likely to die in the coming year.

Read: Clarence Avant: The 'Godfather' of black music whose influence straddled film, American politics and sports

The personal and creative feuds culminated in a split in the 1980s, with Jagger and Richards recorded largely unsuccessful solo albums.

The Stones were back together again in 1988 and since then both artists have masked their loathing for each other for the sake of the iconic brand.

There have been exceptions though, such as in 2003 when Jagger was knighted by Prince Charles much to the chagrin of Richards who publicly dismissed the honour as “blind stupidity.”

Despite the upheavals and the love-hate relationship between the bandmates, the Rolling Stones has survived as one of the enduring institutions of rock & roll and the new album opens another chapter in a turbulent history.

[email protected]