Earlier this week, I gave four reasons why the Rolling Stones are still the most important and influential rock band in the world. Here are my OTHER four reasons why I have spent thousands of hours defending them, and thousands of pounds watching them perform all over the world. PLUS, ten unforgivable Downers that even I can't defend...
Their look is significant not only for defining cool in the sixties but in terms of the original
shock impact that their appearance had on most of the older generation. This context is hard to
appreciate now unless somebody under 30 researches life and attitudes pre-1963. The atmosphere was stiflingly oppressive and conservative, having barely moved on from the repressive austerity of 1950's rationing. National service had only just ended and discipline was paramount with adults constantly harking back to the war and if young people had discovered a voice they were only whispering.
Enter five 'scruffy', casually-dressed, long-haired insolent louts who paid little respect to their elders; in fact they openly mocked them. If one considers that the suited smiley neatly-coiffured Fab Four were deemed shocking by many a year earlier, you can sense the shockwaves generated by the Stones. The only recent parallel is the punk revolution, but 1970's Britain was a much more open-minded place than Britain circa 1963. The five surly, sullen, sneering faces that stared out of newspapers somehow constituted a threat to perceived civilised values. In the media obsession with Mick's large sensual lips there is surely a Freudian fear of overt sexuality at work.
There was a tirade of shockingly personal and nasty put-downs. A judge called them "morons"
purely on the basis of their unkempt appearance. The Stones, egged on by maverick manager
Andrew Loog Oldham, played up to this image, consciously looking and acting more loutishly for the press. David Bailey captures the moodiness perfectly on their second album cover. The second phase of the Stones look was more mod, more hip.
Brian, ever the dandy, led the way with sharp double-breasted suits and spotted shirts, then outrageous wide-brimmed floppy hats. Mick wore a brightly coloured military jacket in a distinctly unpatriotic manner. As the first exotic hints of psychedelia started to infiltrate the swinging sixties a myth that cries out for debunking is that the Stones always looked uncomfortable in beads, bells and kaftans.
Even a perfunctory glimpse at photos from the time, particularly those by Michael Cooper, tells a different story. In fact the unholy triumvirate of Mick, Keith and Brian virtually defined androgynous sartorial cool throughout this period: silk kurtas over tight purple crushed velvet hipsters, Plantagenet satins, antique brooches, flamboyant hats, multi-coloured scarves (Brian sometimes wore them around his elbows and knees).
Moroccan chic crossed with 'Granny Takes a Trip' finery. Most bands dressed up in '67 but few
carried it off with such grace and style. Mick and Brian's natural effeminacy clearly leant itself to the task. Brian regularly swapped clothes with his girlfriend Anita Pallenberg and had experimented with make-up even in the early sixties. The rest of the band (yes, even Charlie Watts) dabbled with make-up in the late sixties. By 1969 the atmosphere was a lot more open-minded, even daring, but nevertheless the sight of Mick Jagger coming on stage at the Hyde Park concert in a white dress (albeit with trousers underneath) was taking things way too far for a lot of Stones fans.
Inevitably the early 70's and Glam Rock look took the gender bending to silly extremes: witness the rhinestone studded jumpsuits open to the crotch, but by this time Mick was pretty much on his own. The rest of the band drew the line at some mascara and a flouncy shirt. By the mid to late seventies Keith had begun to settle into his wasted gypsy/outlaw look which still persists today and Charlie insisted on wearing the handmade Saville Row suits he'd always wanted to wear.
Only Mick with his eye attuned to changing fashions, continued to evolve, chopping and changing like a chameleon. His instincts sometimes let him down like with the brightly coloured sports gear in 1981/82 but invariably he looks stylish and makes brave choices that he can get away with, still being as thin as a rake.
Closely connected to the look was the attitude. It has been claimed that this was
an invention by Andrew Oldham but he has said he worked with what he had. The arrogance was already there and the rebellious desire to be free from petty restrictions."We piss anywhere
man". Banned from hotels. Sending up straights. Voting everything a miss on Juke Box Jury.
The whole Clockwork Orange thing with Oldham.
Refusing to play the sad old showbiz game of
waving to everyone on the revolving Palladium stage. Hedonistic parties. Sexual licentiousness.
Being "suspected" of "decadence" by the Daily Mail. Mick, arm in arm with student radicals at
Grosvenor Square. Keith telling a judge, "we're not old men, we're not concerned with petty
morals". They effortlessly embodied cool though the revolution they spearheaded was mostly
cultural, not political.
The Stones made adventurous subversive choices with their films. They chose Peter
Whitehead to make their first tour movie which was too avant garde to release. They took risks
such as making 'One Plus One' with Godard, the most radical French nouvelle vague director who mixed together sequences of the Stones learning 'Sympathy For The Devil' with scenes of black militant revolutionaries reading philosophy in scrapyards. They worked with the respected Maysle Brothers on 'Gimme Shelter' which is probably the greatest music documentary ever made. The notorious 'Cocksucker Blues' was an unflinching no-holds barred look at the band & the craziness & boredom surrounding them on the 1972 tour directed by Robert Frank, one of America's finest photographers and filmmakers (though to this day it can only be screened if the director is also present to answer questions).
They chose the great Hal Ashby to make the 1981 concert movie 'Let's Spend The Night Together'. They made the first ever concert film shot on IMAX cameras. Mick's first acting job in a film was in 'Performance' by Roeg & Cammell ' s masterpiece and possibly the best film of the 1960's. It was mainly downhill for Mick's acting career after this such as 'Freejack' which was just plain embarrassing.
Mick, Keith & Brian were always articulate, sharp, observant, sometimes acerbic & often very funny. Their best quotes are almost as well known as their songs.
"I've never had problems with drugs, I've had problems with the police" (Keith).
"...the war in Vietnam, persecution of homosexuals, illegality of abortion, drug taking. All these things are immoral..." (Brian 1967)
"Anarchy is the only slight glimmer of hope" (Mick 1966)
"Go on stage with a bloody
elephant. Are you mad?... I worked with Elton and that's enough!" (Keith 1975)
"You can't keep it up with sixteen year olds for ever, they're very demanding" (Mick 1977)
"There are black magicians who think we are acting as unkown agents of Lucifer and others who think we are Lucifer. Everybody's Lucifer" (Keith)
"Marriage? It's all right for those who wash" (Mick 1967)
"I must say, in fairness to the poppy, that never once have I had a bad cold" (Keith)
Kicking Stu out the band
Meredith Hunter's murder
Mick Taylor leaving the band
Mick accepting a knighthood
Bill and Mandy Smith
'Let's Work' and 'Primitive Cool' album
Mick's control freakery & social climbing.
Keith's occasional bitterness & intolerance (such as his cold dismissal of Brian & juvenile assaults on Mick in 'Life')
Ticket prices and all-seating venues