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  Volume 6 | Issue 29 | July 22, 2012 |


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50 Years of The Rolling Stones: 'Only rock 'n roll'

Asrar Chowdhury


In 1960, two friends, separated at childhood, met once again by divine accident as Orson Welles would have said. They were products of their time- influenced by the blues emanating from the Mississippi delta. One noticed the other carrying blues records- which included Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry albums. The rest from thereon is the story of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards and The Rolling Stones.

At 165 Oxford Street, London, on Thursday July 12, 1962, The Rolling Stones played their first gig at the Marquee club with Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones, Ian Stewart and Richard Taylor. The current Stones comprise Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts (since 1963), and Ronnie Wood (since 1975). Deriving their name from Muddy Waters' Rollin' Stone and initially recording mostly Chuck Berry songs starting with Come On (Jun/07/ 1963), The Rolling Stones keep rolling fifty years later.

As the 1960s opened, Rock 'n Roll in America had reached a nadir. Buddy Holly tragically died in 1959. Bill Haley, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and Fats Domino had run out of steam. And of course, Chuck Berry was in jail. Rock 'n Roll was very much alive in Britain though. Indeed, America was ripe for a British Invasion. The Beatles invaded in 1964 with Beatlemania. The Rolling Stones, The Animals, The Searchers, The Yardbirds (including Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck) and other British bands followed that changed the landscape of American popular music and laid the foundations of what would become a truly popular global culture.

By 1965, The Stones finally ran out of Chuck Berry songs. Staying true to their R&B (Rhythm and Blues) roots in Muddy Waters and blending it with the 'backbeat' from Chuck Berry's song Rock 'n Roll to up the tempo- they defined themselves and re-defined Rock 'n Roll forever with I Can't Get No Satisfaction establishing a new R&B- Rock and Blues genre. After that there was no turning back. Get Off of My Cloud (1965); 19th Nervous Breakdown, Paint it Black, Lady Jane (1966); Ruby Tuesday (1967); Jumpin' Jack Flash (1968); Sympathy for the Devil, and Honky Tonk Women (1969) established their reputation as 'the' antidote to The Beatles by the same year the Beatles recorded their last studio album Abbey Road (1969) before finally disbanding in 1970 with Let It Be.

Muddy Waters and The Rolling Stones- 1981 released in July 2012. Source: RollingStones.com

A band is remembered not only for its music and its ability to create and influence genres, but also for its live performances. The Stones have surpassed and outlived everybody else- with live performances representing their persona for 50 years. The road being their home for decades, they slowly performed from the small London clubs to some of the world's largest stadiums. They made £20 ($32) for their first gig at The Marquee, 1962. In their last tour, The Bigger Bang in 2006-07, they officially made $558 million which remains a Guinness Record.

The Stones have paid their Gurudakshina for playing their Gurus' blues. In 1981, they visited Muddy Waters in Chicago and jammed for a live session. Years later, the bluesman certified "My greatest record is the one I made with The Stones". In 1986, Keith Richards and Friends celebrated Chuck Berry's 60th Birthday where Eric Clapton and Julian Lennon participated. Even better: The Stones may have missed The Concert for Bangladesh, but their Jumpin' Jack Flash was performed by Leon Russell.

The Stones are not the first band to have survived fifty years. The British bands, The Searchers and The Hollies have been there before them. What makes The Stones special is: they took the best from black R&B and black Rock 'n Roll; married it with a sensibility that had been an on-going process in the 1960s with other British bands. Once they struck that right chord in a new genre- Rock and Blues- they made it their own. The result has been some magical songs over the decades complimented with unrivalled live performances. Other great bands have rocked- but that was it. Almost everybody else failed to 'roll' and 'rock'. This will probably be their lasting legacy written in stone. Their Blues come from the heart and the gut Rocking with the rawness of youth. Looking back on fifty years: with The Rolling Stones it's been 'only rock 'n roll, but [we liked] it'!

(The author teaches economic theory at Jahangirnagar University and North South University.)

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