The Rolling Stones
The Rolling Stones (illustration by Andy Friedman)
No other rock 'n' roll band in history has reigned like the Rolling Stones. As their 55th year rolls on in 2017, they're still swaggering across stages, recording (2016's Blue & Lonesome), and doing their best to ignore time. Over a long stretch of 30 studio albums, innumerable compilations and live releases (and countless bootlegs too), the Rolling Stones haven't really changed that much either, morphing from raucous, rebellious bad boys to raucous, rebellious elder statesmen (and grandfathers). The Rolling Stones are an indomitiable, swaggering life force — and FUV Essentials.
The FUV staff's two biggest Rolling Stones fans, afternoon weekday host Dennis Elsas and Paul Cavalconte, host of "Cavalcade," reflect on what the band has meant to them over the years:
A particular cover of Time magazine has a smiling picture of five guys—Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood, Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts—with the headline, “Rock Rolls On—Aging Stars like the Rolling Stones Strut their Staying Power." If it weren't for the fact that Wyman retired from the group in 1993, you might think that inside of this issue you’d find a story of one of the Stones' recent and very successful world tours, including last year’s historic show in Havana, Cuba.
However, this article is from September 4, 1989 — and yet, nearly 30 years later, the Stones continue to defy time and create rock ‘n’ roll magic whenever and wherever they roll.
The first time I saw the Stones on TV it was on the ABC program "The Hollywood Palace," a weekly variety show with an assortment of performers similar to Ed Sullivan’s format. On that week, in June 1964, Dean Martin was the guest host, and his less-than-hospitable intro and outro for the band was all I needed to get hooked on their image and sound.
In early 1965, the Stones wrote and recorded the “The Last Time," but they were just at the beginning of their ascent into cultural superstardom. By the end of that same year their musical declaration “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction," with the perfect mix of lyrical cynicism and an unforgettable musical lick, would solidify that status. Surely they knew and maybe we were just beginning to realize by the mid-'70s that “Time Waits For No One," but that song is part of the same album that would declare without apology “It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll (But I Like It)."
I’ve been lucky enough to interview three of them: Mick, Ronnie and Bill (in 1976, 1982, and 2002, respectively), and the experiences were all memorable. Jagger was promoting Peter Tosh being signed to Rolling Stone Records, Wood had a “lecture” coming up in NYC, and Wyman had just written a wonderful coffee table book history of the band, Rolling With The Stones. I’ll feature highlights of all of them during my show this week or you can listen to them anytime here.
All right, I think you see where I’m going here. At age 73, Jagger still moves on stage like no one else. Yes, as Maroon 5 has pointed out, he “moves like Jagger." Watts is still keeping the beat and pounding those drums with the same subtle style that hasn’t changed in decades, while Wood, the "new guy" in the group (he joined in 1975), never disappoints.
Richards is the very definition and epitome of rock ‘n’ rock cool, with an attitude and musical confidence that even the youngest players aspire to. So until I hear otherwise “time, time, time is on their side” — and as long as the Rolling Stones continue to write, record and perform, they just might be the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band in the world.
- Dennis Elsas, May 2017
"The Beatles and The Stones,
Made it good to be alone.”
— House of Love, 1990.
The deep impression made on me as a youngster growing up with the Rolling Stones was in a trance of solitary, intimate listening to the LP records. This was alone: night, headphone listening, and not as casual background music. Today, as a radio host, that power is real and present every time I choose a Rolling Stones record to play. Their songs always stand apart, and they open an invisible door that invites a sensitive listener in. But you have to be a deep listener, a solitary occupant of a conceptional stadium where the World’s Greatest Rock And Roll Band is in command performance, just for you.
In America, Rolling Stones records first arrived on the same London labels that brought classical repertoire across the ocean. The dignity of that distinctive red or blue (mono/stereo) label and logo were in a deliciously ironic contrast to the music in the grooves of a Stones disc. Drop the needle on one London record and Brahms comes out. Needle drop another identical one and it’s “She Said Yeah.”
My first Stones 45 was “19th Nervous Breakdown." The hexagonal Through The Past Darkly collection was my first long player. They took me into a world of frock coats, recorders and harpsichords — just like the London classical cousins — but were charged with electricity. The words were the musings of introversion: "Dandelions will make you wise;" "She comes in colors everywhere;" and "Yesterday don’t matter if it’s gone."
Then, Rolling Stones records, Andy Warhol’s lapping tongue, sequins and a sinister stance heralded the 1970s. Exile On Main Street’s grotesque carnival film strips adorned the record sleeve that housed one man who "walks the hillside in the sweet summer sun;" another who claimed, “The sunshine bores the daylights out of me,” and a third evangelical fellow proclaiming, “May the good lord shine a light on you, make every song you sing your favorite tune.” There’s a bit of me in each.
We all became the closest of friends. For me, the Rolling Stones' style, attitude, sexuality, hedonism, and carelessness were all ancillary to the core reality of the music. The sonic space of each Rolling Stones song is a universe to explore. It is dark and rich, sad and real, fanciful and farcical, and always awash in a shimmer of extravagant sound. The greatest surprises come when the lyrics crack the facade and allow intimacy and vulnerability through: "No Expectations," "Moonlight Mile," "Torn And Frayed," "Memory Motel," "Sitting On A Fence," "I Am Waiting," "Play With Fire," "Loving Cup," and "Slipping Away." These are the Rolling Stones’ art songs.
There are a good two dozen hit songs that have been on the stadium setlist (and commercial radio playlist) forever, while an alternate reality takes shelter within the Stones’ venerable album catalog. There are spiral black bands that host lyrical and musical poetry to place the Jagger/Richards songwriting juggernaut in full peer stance with Lennon/McCartney and Robert Zimmerman.
These are the songs for your downtime, not for shouting at lung capacity with thousands of other revelers in an arena show. They’re for long drives, winter nights, beach afternoons. They’re for gains, losses, changes, milestones. They’re what co-author Keith Richards calls, simply, “life.” They make it good to be alone.
- Paul Cavalconte, May 2017