April 15 – Stones Album The ‘Aftermath’ Of Competition With Beatles?

One of the side-effects of The Beatles incredible run of records in the ’60s was the effect they had on other bands of the era. The Beach Boys were openly competitive with them, and so were the Rolling Stones. They all listened intently to one another’s releases and then tried to one-up them. A good example of that was this day in 1966, when the Rolling Stones put out the British version of the album Aftermath. The American version came out about three months later.

It represented quite a step forward for the Stones in many ways…and not coincidentally, they started working on it just after the Beatles released Rubber Soul. And the expansion of sounds and instruments the Fab Four were beginning to show rubbed off on this one – Brian Jones in particular got musically experimental, playing a sitar on “Paint it Black” and a koto (a Japanese string instrument) on “Take It Or Leave It.” Sound-wise, they began incorporating elements of country and psychedelia in with their traditional blues rock stylings. It was the first they’d recorded in stereo. And there was perhaps just a wee bit more American influence as well; they recorded the album in L.A., and they’d hooked up with Allen Klein to work as their North American manager. Few people in music would end up saying much good about Klein, but in the here and now, he got the band an advance of over $1 million which added to their confidence.

The confidence showed up in the lyrics, which generally followed a theme of sex, anger and power. Many today label it a “misogynistic” record, but at the time, few cared. They focused on the songs, which were among the Stones best to that point – including “I Am Waiting,” “Lady Jane”, “Under My Thumb,” “Mother’s Little Helper” and “Paint it Black.” Sort of. “Paint it Black” was put out as a standalone single in Britain at the time and wasn’t on their copies; it did make it onto the shorter American release which was however, short three other songs. The Brits got 52 minutes of music in all, the lengthiest LP made to that point. (That sort of differentiation between North American and European releases was common at the time; in fact Aftermath was only the fourth Rolling Stones album at home but their sixth on this side of the Atlantic.) There were limits to how much swagger the Stones could display mind you. Their record companies (London Records here and Decca Records in Europe) nixed their plans to call it Could You Walk On Water? …which given the Beatles problems later that year after John Lennon made his more popular than Jesus comments, seemed to be remarkably astute of them. Decca however, spared no superlatives when putting out the record, comparing it to equivalent in importance of Shakespeare or Dickens “for gramaphone records.”

Reviews at the time were positive. Record Mirror figured “the Rolling Stones have on their hands the smash LP of the year,” the NME figured that they were musical “masterminds” and speculated “Mother’s Little Helper” and “Lady Jane” could be massive hits, Robert Christgau figured it was the “only possible challenge to Rubber Soul …for innovation, tightness and lyrical intelligence.” Years later, Entertainment Weekly would grade it “A-”, allmusic gave it a perfect 5-stars, and Pop Matters noted that it “cemented their reputation as a subversive cultural force.” Many would point to it as a significant step towards the psychedelic sounds that so dominated the following few years, and the aggression that would spur on the punk movement a decade later.

Predictions were right. “Mother’s Little Helper” was put out as a single here and made it to #8, oddly they didn’t release it as a 7” in the UK. “Paint it Black” was a worldwide hit, their sixth #1 in Britain and third #1 hit in the States and Canada. The album went to #1 for eight weeks in the UK and became their first one to go gold there; it also topped German charts and got to #2 in the U.S. where it eventually became their first platinum one.

Of course, as they were reveling in the “aftermath” of the Aftermath success, the Beatles were putting together Revolver… and the competition continued to heat up.

April 4 – Happy Ending To Verve’s Bittersweet Story

It was one of Britpop’s finest moments…and one of music legal bureaucrats worst. The Verve hit #12 in the U.S. on the Billboard singles chart this day in 1998 with the wonderful “Bittersweet Symphony.”

While “Britpop” is rather an undefined and arguably irrelevant category, it’s been widely applied to just about any British pop band or artist of the ’90s who weren’t straight-forward rock nor easy listening. It was the defining movement of the decade there, but in the States, it took a back seat to grunge among other things, and by getting to #12, “Bittersweet Symphony” ranks as the penultimate Britpop single, behind only Oasis’ “Wonderwall”.

The song was one that had widespread and obvious appeal; as The Guardian term it, “a moody, existential anthem driven forward by a distinctive string motif.” Or, as allmusic put it, “astonishing.” It was helped along by a memorable video consisting of one camera watching the band’s singer, Richard Ashcroft as he walked along a London street for the full four-and-a-half minutes (about a minute and a half shorter than the album cut, by the way.) It was a highlight off the great album Urban Hymns, which allmusic rate a rare perfect 5-stars and which remains in the all-time top 20 sellers in their native land. After two albums and seven years, they’d clearly found their stride with it. The song would get nominated for a Grammy for Best Rock Song (it lost to Alanis Morrissette) and a Brit Award for Single of the Year. It lost that too, to a ditty by All Saints, but they did take home trophies there for Best Album and Best Group.

Strangely, at the time they were recording, Ashcroft wasn’t crazy about it. Luckily, producer Youth (Martin Glover) was, and more or less demanded they keep it…and had the genius moment of adding something more to it. “It was only after we’d put strings on it that he started getting excited,” he recalls. Ahh, yes the strings.

The string bit he inserted was a little bit of Andrew Oldham’s orchestra playing the Rolling Stones “The Last Time.” The Verve and their record company thought they’d reached an appropriate and legal agreement to sample it, but Allen Klein jumped out of the woodwork and sued them. Klein had been the Stones’ manager around the time the original came out, and owned publishing rights to it. Now famously, he won the lawsuit, getting Keith Richards and Mick Jagger added to the writing credits and taking the lion’s share of the royalties from the smash. Richards’ joked it was the biggest hit he’d written since “Brown Sugar.”

Finally, in 2019, the “Glimmer Twins” over-ruled their one time boss, and Ashcroft announced “this remarkable and life-affirming turn of events was made possible by a kind and magnanimous gesture from Mick and Keith who have also agreed they are very happy for the writing credit to exclude them and all their royalties derived from the song they will pass to me.” There’s no report on how Mick and Keith managed to get Klein or his estate to agree, but as the manager had died years earlier, we must assume his descendants weren’t as greedy as he had been. Either way, Ashcroft is right calling the Stones’ duo “magnanimous.”

Those royalties will probably serve him well. Because The Verve were already considering splitting up while making Urban Hymns, the legal mess was likely the final straw that caused them to go their own ways. Ashcroft’s had a solo career since, which has been moderately popular but never coming close the popularity of this record.

While it missed the top 10 by a bit in the U.S., it managed to get to #5 in Canada, #3 in Ireland and #2 in the UK… remarkably it somehow missed being a weekly #1, but it still went 3X platinum there. Critically it was picked as the Song of the Year by both the NME and Rolling Stone. And maybe now, after all that legal stuff, people will get to be able to just enjoy it for what it was – one of the ’90s more majestic and timeless works.

February 24 – Nicky The Piano Player To The Stars

Making the best of a bad situation. That’s what the artist we look at today did… and Nicky Hopkin‘s best was pretty darn good! If it wasn’t he probably wouldn’t have played on 11 Rolling Stones albums. And records by each one of the Beatles. And seemingly more big British acts of the ’60s and ’70s than he didn’t. Hopkins was never a household name…unless you’re household was one of a rock star. Then, as Ultimate Classic Rock point out, it would be since “bands and producers wouldn’t ask for Hopkins. They’d demand him!” Hopkins was born on this day in 1944.

Hopkins learned to play piano by the age of three. He grew up in Middlesex, England and won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music. A good situation for a young musician in swingin’ London early in the ’60s. The bad situation was Nicky’s health. He suffered from severe Crohn’s Disease all his life – a painful stomach problem – and that limited his ability to tour or plan ahead much. He did join one band as a teen, the fairly well-reviewed Screaming Lord Sutch’s Savages, but the premature death of the band leader Cyril Davies while Hopkins was bed-ridden after intestinal surgery pulled the plug on that quickly. So, Hopkins made the sensible decision to become strictly a session player. Studios had washrooms, and presumably it wouldn’t be too much an inconvenience if his illness kept him in bed and he had to miss a day or two.

His timing couldn’t have been better. The so-called British Invasion was about to kick in, and most British bands seemed to have talented guitarists, bassists, drummers…but not keyboard wizzes. Hopkins quickly got called to work with bands like the Kinks. He played on songs like “Sunny Afternoon” of theirs, but said that Ray Davies tried to take the credit. Davies, years later would admit “Nick and I were hardly bosom buddies,” but did compliment at length, saying “with his style, he should have been from New Orleans” (something the Who’s Pete Townshend would echo, saying “he didn’t look the part, but he played the blues!”) and “unlike lesser musicians, (Nicky) didn’t show off. He would play only when needed.” He played on several Who albums, and with the Jeff Beck Band, which also had Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood as members, and on the Beatles “Revolution.” And as viewers of Get Back found out, his name came up when they were throwing around ideas for a guest keyboardist for the rooftop concert; Billy Preston was picked instead, which was also a very good choice. But his biggest claim to fame was working with the Rolling Stones.

From 1967 through 1981, he played on 11 Stones studio albums, appearing on songs like “Sympathy for the Devil,” “Waiting on A Friend” and perhaps most notably, “She’s A Rainbow”, on which Ultimate Classic Rock point out, “he’s all but the lead player.” He apparently fit in well with Jagger and Co., not only was he a regular call-up for the studio, he did manage to accompany them and play on three tours before ill health forced him out of a 1973 tour and he once again decided to stick close to home. There he worked with artists like the Jefferson Starship, Nilsson and Peter Frampton in the early-’70s. And later with George Harrison, Ringo Starr, John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Hopkins is one of the very few artists to have appeared on albums by each of the Beatles, including Harrison’s great Living in the Material World, Ringo’s hit singles “You’re Sixteen” and “Photograph” and Lennon’s “Jealous Guy.” “Nicky Hopkin’s playing on ‘Jealous Guy’ is so melodic, so beautiful, that it still makes people cry even now,” Yoko Ono commented not long ago.

Hopkins moved to the States at some point in the ’80s while doing film score work, which oddly enough, was taken to heart mainly by Japanese film-makers. But his Crohn’s Disease (worsened by years of drinking and other substance issues) caught up to him and he died from complications of surgery for it in Nashville when he was just 50. A show of the respect for him, a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music in his name was set up shortly after his death…funded largely by Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Bill Wyman, Yoko Ono and Roger Daltrey.

November 7 – Glimmer Twins Weren’t Identical In ’80s

Like all siblings, “the Glimmer Twins” had their share of spats and disagreements. We heard the results of one of those on this day in 1983, when the Rolling Stones put out their 19th studio album, Undercover.

The Glimmer Twins, needless to say weren’t twins or related at all, other than by being part of the same hard-working (and hard-partying) band for over twenty years. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards once again got the band together and shared the production and much of the writing on the record, although they got frequent collaborator Chris Kimsey to share the producing and perhaps mediate a little. By this time, Richards was said to be in much better, more coherent shape than he had been for a good chunk of the past decade and was itching to get back to music. His music. The problem was Mick was ready to go too, but had entirely different tastes or visions than Keith by then. Mick seemed like he was probably big into the Clash, becoming a fan of new wave, post-punk and even reggae that was beginning to take over the British charts. Keith was still a fan of old blues rock and early Rolling Stones music. They apparently butted heads quite a bit over the near one year it took to put the album together, mostly in Paris and New York. “When we started,” Mick later said, “Keith and I got in a bit early and we rented an 8-track demo studio here in Paris. And I said, ‘well, have you got some Keith?’ and we took turns…got to know the material each of us had written.”

With their disparate tastes and album beginning by the two writing separately, it’s little surprise there was a bit of an eclectic feel to Undercover. There were some traditional, old-style Rolling Stones rockers like “She Was Hot” and “Too Tough” and a few more boundary-expanding tunes like the danceable “Too Much Blood,” and the political title track, “Undercover of the Night.” That one, inspired by the political tensions and civic unrest in South American countries like Chile at the time, took them a lot of time to finish. It ended up being done with Jamaican reggae stars Sly and Robbie playing on it (Robbie Shakespeare playing bass and Sly Dunbar on drums) to give it a bit more of an “islands” feel, but Ronnie Wood says they toyed with it for weeks. “We took it up into some wonderful adventures with all these changes. There was a great percussive and acoustic version.” He lamented “The final, polished, glossed-up version was Mick’s vision for the song.”

So, despite slightly varying sounds, the album still had the typical Stones trademarks and was largely defined by rather bleak, violent lyrical imagery. It didn’t appeal to everyone. Although Rolling Stone called it “rock and roll without apologies” and graded it 3.5-stars, Robert Christgau at the Village Voice wasn’t alone when he termed it an “overblown, incoherent pile of s***”.

Did the Jagger or Richards vision win over the public more? It’s hard to say. “Undercover of the Night” did OK as a single, reaching #9 in the U.S. (and #2 on the then-new Mainstream Rock chart) and #11 back in Britain. The more-Richards style “She Was Hot” just missed the top 40 in those lands but did get rock radio play as did another single, “Too Tough.” The album itself missed the top of the charts everywhere except Sweden, which is a rarity, but still did hit #3 in the UK and Canada, #4 in the U.S. and went platinum there…decent stats but a big drop-off compared to their previous three albums, and for that matter, most of their body of work to that point.

It appeared it could be the end of the old behemoth band. It ended their relationship with Atlantic Records (although it was on the traditional “Rolling Stones” label, it was put out and distributed by Atlantic) and Mick went off to work on a solo album. However, as we know, it was only a temporary glitch in the rolling momentum. Before long they’d signed a huge deal with CBS/Sony Records and were back in the studio together, revving up for yet another tour…much like the one they’re on now, almost 60 years into their career!

October 25 – A Rolling Big Show

Perhaps Mick Jagger can empathize with Art Garfunkel or John Oates. Because even though Mick was the frontman for his band (unlike the other two mentioned), it seemed like he was always Second Fiddle. Only in his case, it was that his band the Rolling Stones, were always sort of taking second-place to The Beatles. Another example of that- this night in 1964. That was the Stones’ first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, about eight months after the Fab Four had cemented their spot in the hearts and ears of Americans on the same program.

That said, the Rolling Stones were doing just fine back then. They’d already made a big name for themselves in the UK and their second album (to American audiences), 12X5 was moving upwards on the charts thanks to their first big North American hit, “Time is on My Side.” Soon after the album would hit #3 and the single, #6. Ed played no small part in that, to be sure.

At the time, his show had already become a Sunday night tradition for families across the nation. In the ’64-65 season, it was averaging almost 14 million viewers each week – and that was when the U.S. population was only a little north of 150 million. It was the 16th most-watched show that year, and even though it had dropped off in ratings from the previous year, it was still the place for new performers to appear if they wanted to gain widespread popularity.

It’s said that Sullivan didn’t much like the Stones. Their first appearance saw Mick Jagger looking rather slovenly, by early-’60s standards, in tight pants and a sweatshirt. Sullivan was irked, and told him to “suit up” next time. But Sullivan was smart and knew what his viewers liked, so at least there was a next time – in fact the Stones would appear 6 times in all. By early-’65, when they were back playing “Little Red

Rooster”, Jagger had thrown on a blazer. Jagger, smart himself, also acquiesced, unhappily but willingly, to Sullivan’s request later on that they change the lyrics to “Let’s Spend The Night Together” (scandalous at the time) and so the crowd heard “Let’s Spend Some Time Together.” This of course contrasts famously with Jim Morrison and the Doors who was asked to change the line about “get any higher” in “Light My Fire” and went back on his word, screaming out “higher” to the host’s anger when appearing. Of course, the Stones still roll on, over five decades later, so there is something to be said for being a pragmatic artist!

The show was far from the only reason for the Stones success, but it didn’t hurt, that’s for sure. A year to the day after their debut on Sullivan, (ie, this day in 1965) they put out a new standalone single, “Get Off My Cloud”, as a follow-up to their first major American hit “Satisfaction.” It didn’t give Mick Jagger much satisfaction though. Mick has said “I never dug it as a record…we rushed it as a follow-up and how do you follow up ‘Satisfaction’?” He added “I wanted to do it slow, like a Lee Dorsey thing (but) we rocked it up…I thought it was one of Andrew Loog Oldham’s worst productions.” Apparently the public were satisfied by it though; it quickly became their second North American #1 hit and fifth such one back in Britain.

August 29 – Stones Were Rolling On Steel Wheels

Hard to believe that they were already considered graying, grizzled veterans over 30 years ago. But such was the case when on this day in 1989, the Rolling Stones roared back from rumored retirement (as a band at least) with Steel Wheels. On this side of the Atlantic, it was their 21st studio album, and followed a several-year hiatus during which both Mick Jagger and Keith Richards had put out solo albums.

Steel Wheels followed the albums Dirty Work and Undercover, two albums which had so-so commercial success and generally lukewarm receptions from the band’s hardcore fans who found them too experimental and unfocused. That in mind, it’s no surprise this album sounded a lot more like a traditional Stones album, with 12 songs picked from an estimated 50 that Jagger and Richards wrote in a short period of time at the start of the year. Adding to the effect was their recruitment of Chris Kimsey to co-produce it with them. He’d done their Undercover album it was true, but had been in the studio for their “classic” albums of the ’70s dating back to Sticky Fingers. The result was a pretty traditional, rock/blues effort not unlike material from Goat’s Head Soup or Some Girls, perhaps with the exception of the experimental “Continental Drift”, complete with Eastern influences and Moroccan instrumentalists.

While part of the “Glimmer Twins” reasoning with the album may have been an annoyance at the criticisms they’d drawn for deviating from their norm with songs like “Harlem Shuffle” ,from Dirty Work,  there was also a practical reason. For the first time in seven years, they were doing a world tour, and doubtless wanted some new rockers to add to the classics like “Brown Sugar” and “Start Me Up” which would feature in their year-long, 115 show tour.

The tour was wildly received, with some six million fans taking it in (an average of almost 60 000 per show) and it raking in close to $200 million, making it their most successful and one of the biggest for anyone to that point. The album… well, it did OK too though it didn’t break any records.

Steel Wheels got to #1 in Canada and Norway, and #2 in the States. In their homeland, it was a #3 hit. Across the board it was their best showing since 1981’s Tattoo You and it got them a gold record in the UK, double-platinum in the U.S. and a triple platinum award in Canada. It was helped along with their biggest single in close to a decade, “Mixed Emotions”, which also topped Canadian charts and got to #5 in the U.S. The follow-up, “Rock and a Hard Place” made #23 in the States, their 42nd top 40 hit there.

Critics liked it, but didn’t love it. For example, the magazine named after them (Rolling Stone) rated it 4.5-stars, suggesting “in the past few years, the reverence typically shown both the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan has worn perilously thin”. They decided that this album should restore the Stones image since it “signals renewed convictions” and makes the upcoming tour “enticing.” Later on, Q would give it 4-stars while allmusic considered it a 3-star effort. They noted it followed so-so solo works from both Jagger and Richards who’d found “clearly they were worth more together than they were apart” and while the album was alright, it was “A little long, largely due to its lack of surprises.”

Two surprises came from it. It would be their last studio album with bassist Bill Wyman, who left the band in ’93, and the last one for their monster deal with Columbia Records. Fans would have to wait five years for their next album, Voodoo Lounge,  after this one, by which time they’d signed to Virgin Records. But as we know, the Stones have kept rolling to this day, and seemingly will continue to do so, despite the sad death of drummer Charlie Watts this week. Charlie had been a member since the band’s second year, in 1963.

August 5 – Dancing, Err, Rolling Stones

Maybe you can’t teach an old dog new tricks but you can at least get them to put a new spin on the old ones. Or at least you could the Rolling Stones as they forged on well into their second decade. They hit #1 in the U.S. on this day in 1978 with “Miss You.”

It was the first single off their Some Girls album, the first to have Ronnie Wood onboard as a full-time member and guitarist. Despite Keith Richards’ deepening drug problems in that time period, it was seen as one of their most creative albums of the decade and a return to form after a few less-than-brilliant records.

Considering that by then they used Richards and Wood as guitarists and Mick Jagger played some guitar on the single as well, it wasn’t as much a blow-the-walls down rocker as one might have expected. The Stones were taking note of what was going on in the music world and didn’t want to get left behind. It was the height of the disco revolution and old-style rock and roll wasn’t in vogue. So the Stones set out to get with the times… but do so in their own style.

“’Miss You’ was heavily influenced by going out to the discos,” drummer Charlie Watts confirms. “you can hear it on the four-to-the floor and the Philadelphia-style drumming.” Keith Richards says it “was a damn good disco record.” To whit, the band took the song which is just under five minutes on the LP, under four on the single and put in a bit more dance beat and extended it to eight-and-a-half minutes in their first 12” single.

If you could dance to it, the song about the dude pining for his lost love and his buddies just wanting him to stop his moping didn’t exactly scream “Studio 54” like some other rockers crossover disco hits of that era (think Rod Stewart’s “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” or Kiss’s “I Was Made For Loving You.”) Part of that probably is owing to the fine, and prominent bluesy harmonica played by Sugar Blue, a New York bluesman Mick found busking in Paris! Ian McLagan, formerly of Faces joined in the fun adding some electric piano to the song Mick apparently wrote with a bit of help from Billy Preston when they were jamming in Toronto the year before. (Unfortunately for Preston, he wasn’t credited for writing while Keith Richards was, per the Stones’ norm.)

Miss You” spent a week on top in the States before being deposed by the Commodores, and also made #1 in Canada. It was their seventh U.S. #1 single, but only the second of the ’70s. It got to #3 in the homeland which wasn’t very much home to them at that point, the UK.

Beast of Burden” was the next single off Some Girls and was also a North American top 10 making the album the last of theirs to produce two major hit songs.

July 30 – Mick Said Toronto Was Back After Mini-pandemic

Another summer day, another huge concert memory. On this day in 2003, Canada had its biggest-ever rock show – Molson Rocks For Toronto, more commonly referred to as “Sarstock.”

In some unfortunate ways, 2003 was a sort of “fire drill” for 2020 as it turns out. A new corona virus – SARS (Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome) – had shown up in China, originating it would seem in one of their live animal markets. Hundreds there began getting a pneumonia-like, highly contagious disease that at first baffled doctors. And made them sick as well. The virus made its way through adjacent areas of Asia early in the year but, remarkably, stayed more or less contained there – with one exception. Canada, or more precisely, Toronto. On Feb. 23, about four months after the Chinese outbreak began, an elderly woman from Hong Kong showed up in a Toronto hospital with it. Soon she was joined by her son, who died days later. Seemingly within a blink of an eye, it was running wild throughout Toronto. Or at least its large “Chinatown” neighborhood and several hospitals. By the time the World Health Organization declared it “contained” in July, Canada had accumulated something in the range of 400 cases, mainly in Toronto, and had 44 deaths from it, the most outside of Southeast Asia. (there were no fatal cases in the U.S., by comparison, and at highest estimate, 27 cases.) It was suggested that 90% of the cases were spread in two hospitals, North York General and Scarborough General. Many of the effected and dying were in fact doctors and nurses. So bad was it that the W.H.O. put out an advisory briefly in the spring urging people not to travel to Toronto. Such things understandably hit the Toronto economy hard, with an estimated 100 000 out-of-town tourists canceling plans to visit and hundreds of hotel workers losing their jobs.

By the time cases were beginning to diminish, a couple of federal politicians from Ontario wanted to do something to promote tourism again. Their concept – a big, televised concert to show the world Toronto was safe and open for business again. They got together with Molson breweries and quickly set up the huge one day event at Downsview, an abandoned military base in the city. It had hosted the Pope the previous year and let over three-quarters of a million people see him, so the sky was the limit for this show.

A high-quality lineup of both local acts and international superstars was assembled, with none other than the Rolling Stones headlining. The Stones have had an odd love-hate relationship with Toronto, with Keith Richards being arrested and jailed there in the ’70s for drug possession (which resulted in a charity concert as part of his penalty) but the band also recording records at the small El Mocambo club there and seemingly being almost part-time residents for years. Mick Jagger said on the concert day, “eight weeks ago we were asked to do this. We were on tour in Europe and we had some other dates. We moved those dates around and decided we would do this.”

The gates swung open around 8 AM, and by lunch the show was under way, kicked off by comedians Dan Aykroyd and Jim Belushi, who’d do a few numbers throughout the day. Sam Roberts, then a very promising young rocker who was riding up the charts was on soon after, and Kathleen Edwards and The Tea Party. The Flaming Lips were the first big international act, complete with many dancers in furry animal costumes on stage. The Isley Brothers followed, as well as local faves Blue Rodeo. The fast-paced (15 minute sets generally) afternoon sets gave way to the big events as the sun grew lower in the sky, beginning with a rather poorly-received Justin Timberlake who at times had to dodge water bottles being tossed at him. As a show of support perhaps, the Stones would invite him back to join with Mick on “Miss You” while Keith admonished the crowd for bad behavior. After Justin came the much better-liked Guess Who, hometown heroes Rush (who added a cover of “Paint it Black” to their set) then AC/DC and of course the Stones as a finale. They did a fairly complete 90 minute set. Jagger would tell reporters that night it was “the biggest party I’ve ever seen. Toronto is back!”

The $21.50 tickets sold out quickly weeks in advance, with the total number of attendees being pegged at 490 000. A chunk of the funds went to hospital workers and unemployed hospitality-sector workers. The city opened up the subway and ran them for free that night to help the massive crowd disperse.

In Canada, MuchMoreMusic televised the show for those out of town or who suffer from claustrophobia; the national CBC network also showed a highlight show that night. Media like the New York Times were there and reported on it, no doubt helping publicize the politicians original goal of getting tourists to come back. Toronto’s counter-culture paper, Now, rated the show 3-stars out of 4, calling it “a well-behaved” – save for the water bottles and booing of Timberlake – middle of the road concert, lamenting that for a show sponsored by a brewery, beer stands were hard to locate and “simple actions like buying a hamburger or finding the city of outhouses required at least 30 minutes.” They also put forth a common opinion of the day, that “AC/DC stole the show with their balls-out approach. The Stones on the other hand were suprisingly sloppy.” Not that too many were complaining by the time the final refrains of “ “ rang out.

Within a few months, those who missed out looking for hamburgers or beer could soon relive it at home… to some degree. A two-hour DVD of the show was put out by Rhino Home Video, although obviously, some acts (Sam Roberts, Blue Rodeo) were omitted entirely and most of the big-name sets were edited to just one or two songs.

If only Covid was so limited that a single concert in one city could help alleviate its toll.

July 12 – Maybe They Are A Rock & Roll Outfit, After All

Funny thing about history is how often no one’s aware when they’re seeing it being made. Case in point – the hundred or perhaps 200 people who hung out at the Marquee Club on Oxford Street in London this night in 1962. Some of them might have been disappointed in fact, that their usual Thursday night entertainment – a jazz/blues combo called Alex Korner’s Blues Inc. – wasn’t there. They’d been invited to play live on the BBC that night, and had recommended a fill-in for them. They were friends with a new group that played covers of American blues, led by Brian Jones at the time. A promo in Jazz Times said that Long John Baldry would be there, but headlining “Mick Jagger, R&B vocalist is taking an R&B group into the Marquee (they’re) called the Rollin’ Stones.” Thus was born rock’s most enduring, and probably most famous band – the Rolling Stones as they’d soon become.

The Stones were brand new back then, and had to borrow money from Mick’s dad to rent equipment that night. Although Jagger and his childhood friend Keith Richards were in the band, Jones was the de facto leader of them in 1962 and would remain so until Andrew Oldham became their manager the following year and changed the look and dynamic of the group. They were joined by Ian Stewart, a pianist fired by Oldham who’d later go on to be a fairly successful session musician, and drummer Tony Chapman. Or maybe Mick Avory, soon-to-be Kinks drummer. No one seems to really remember who was behind the kit that night; the ads listed Avory but Chapman was the normal drummer they rehearsed with then. Longtime regular Charlie Watts would join soon, but no one seems to know exactly when. “None of us can really remember when Charlie’s first gig was,” Jagger would later lament, adding that the ’62 show to him was the conception of the band, not the birth. “It’s not the same band,” he remarked in the last decade. “Only Keith and myself are the same.”

So from that haphazard and inauspicious beginning they were rolling, Or “rollin’”. They didn’t have a set name only days before the gig, so Jones, when asked happened to look at an old Muddy Waters record and see a song called “Rollin’ Stone” and dubbed them that. Stewart hated the name. “It sounds like the name of an Irish show band,” he’d sneer, not a rock band. Not that they were that yet. “I hope they don’t think we’re a rock & roll outfit,” he allegedly told the club owners before the first show.

They powered through an 18-song set of covers they term “Chicago Blues” – songs by Muddy Waters and ones like “Got My Mojo Workin’”, “Kansas City” the song made popular by Fats Domino and covered later by the Beatles, Jimmy Reed’s “Big Boss Man”, and “Happy Home” as a finale. Needless to say there was no “Satisfaction” or “Brown Sugar”; they were still a year or two away from writing their own material.

The Marquee Club would move to Soho in 1964. The Rolling Stones played it again and recorded a live album at it in 1971; the Marquee closed by 1996 but the Stones keep on rolling. Seems some people think Mick’s group is in fact a rock & roll outfit… and a pretty good one at that!

June 6 – Mick Was Satisfied At Least

Someone once suggested that you can’t always get what you want, but sometimes you get what you need. Oh…that was the Rolling Stones and they proved their case this day in 1965. It was this day 56 years back that they released a single they thought was OK, but not what they really wanted. Of course, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” went to horrify grammar teachers for generations and become, as Newsweek put it “the five notes that shook the world.” Not only is it likely the best-loved Stones song, it’s one of the truly iconic rock songs of all-time…despite guitarist Keith Richards thinking it wasn’t ready to release yet.

The success was something rock stars normally only dream of. What’s more, it apparently began in a dream. Keith Richards says he got the idea for the music in a dream. He got up, picked up an acoustic guitar and a portable tape recorder and played the riff. He says when he played back the tape there was about a two minute song followed by “me snoring for 40 minutes.” They knew the music was catchy and Mick Jagger quickly put together the lyrics, which he said was “an attack on the status quo” – sexual frustration mixed with the frustration of living in an overly materialistic, commercial world.

At the time they were touring the States, and they quickly went to Chess Studios in Chicago to record it – or a version thereof. It was a little different than the “Satisfaction” we know, and Brian Jones played harmonica on it. Viewers of the show Shindig heard it first. They played that version on the show with them lip-synching to it before it was released. However, a few days later they went to a studio in California and re-recorded it, resulting in the smash hit we all know. Keith used a Gibson Fuzzbox to get the familiar buzzy guitar sound…which he ironically planned to have taken off the record! He heard it in his head being played by a horn section and used the effect to simulate the sustain he thought the horns would have. Mick and producer Andrew Oldham disagreed though and rushed the single out, guitar and all. Which was probably a great veto!

For the mid-’60s it was a bit of a shocking song. It rocked harder than most of its contemporaries on hit radio and it was comparatively blatant about “trying to get some girl” . And it complained about advertising, from the Marlsboro man to soap commercials, which didn’t thrill a lot of radio people. Consequently, some stations wouldn’t play it over here, and the BBC initially wouldn’t play it because they considred it too controversial. They’d later reverse that decision not long after it was officially released in Britain, a few months later.

It quickly became “the song that really made the Rolling Stones; changed us from just another band into a huge monster band,” as Mick Jagger put it. The song would eventually become their fourth #1 hit at home, but more significantly it was their first American #1. It would spend four weeks at the top (before being knocked off by Herman’s Hermits “I’m Henry the 8th, I Am” believe it or not) and finish up the year-end as the third biggest hit. It’s import seemingly has only grown since then. BMI list it among the 100 most-played records of the century and in 2000, VH1 viewers voted it the “greatest rock song,” period. Rolling Stone, the magazine, would go on to list the Rolling Stones, the band, song as the second greatest song of all-time and “the sound of a generation impatient to inherit the world!”

Keith for his part says “I’m not going to complain…although I never consider it the finished product.” Which I guess is true of his band itself, revving up to mark their 60th anniversary together next year.