August 24 – Starts And Ends For The Stones

It’s an important date on the Rolling Stones calendar. Of course, when you’ve been around 60 years, there come to be a lot of those!

Of course, sadly enough, their drummer Charlie Watts passed away one year ago from cancer on this day. But 40 years to the day earlier, in 1981, was a much brighter moment for them. That marked the release of their 18th studio album (in North America, in Britain, with different track listings early on in their career it was merely their 16th), Tattoo You.

The album was something of a return to form, if one considers their “form” to be pretty much straight-ahead rock, compared to Emotional Rescue, which came out a year earlier, or Some Girls from ’78. What makes that surprising is that far from a unified album it was basically a reworking of outtakes they had from the past decade! The Stones had agreed to go on a massive world tour starting that fall, and hadn’t got anything much in the way of new songs to record. Associate producer Chris Kimsey explains it “really came about because Mick and Keith were going through a period of not getting on. There was a need to have an album out and I told everyone I could make an album from what I knew was still there…I spent three months going through (outtakes of) the last four, five albums.”

He succeeded surprisingly well, coming up with a solid collection of 11 songs, some dating back to 1972. So far back did he look in fact, that Mick Taylor is the guitarist on two songs…and he had left the band seven years earlier. That done, the band got back together briefly over the winter of ’80-81 in New York to finish off the tracks, in a few cases adding new vocals (the lead-off single “Start Me Up” for example had been “Never Stop” in the demo they worked from) and a few overdubbed instruments, like Sonny Collins sax on “Waiting on A Friend.” Looking back on it, Mick Jagger says “I think it’s excellent. But all the things I usually like, it doesn’t have. It doesn’t have any unity or purpose or place or time.”

Remarkably, fans and critics found it did have a sort of unity and took to it in a big way. The magazine that more or less shares its name with the band (Rolling Stone) rated it 5-stars, declaring “the Rolling Stones are back…(with a new record that) dances – not prances – and rocks – not jives – onto the scene.” The New York Times suggested “Tattoo You is something special”, liking how there were “no Chuck Berry retreads, none of (the songs) are disco, none of them are reggae. They are all rock’n’roll.” Later on, Udiscover Music summed it up as being a record which “consilidated the finest elements of the Stones music, demonstrating their willingness to change while never betraying their roots.”

That was pretty much the case, although they did separate the songs into a rock side of the record and a ballads one. The former generated two hit singles while the latter added one. The “ballad” was “Waiting on a Friend,” a song originally done for Goat’s Head Soup back in ’72; it got to #13 in the U.S. and #10 in Canada. The rockers were “Hang Fire”, a top 20 hit in the States, and memorably, “Start Me Up.” That one had originally been created during the Some Girls sessions (long before Microsoft existed let alone used it for software commercials) and was their first real, prototypical rock song to connect in years. It topped Aussie charts, and got to #2 in the States and Canada. It also was their very first “Mainstream Rock” #1 hit on Billboard. But that’s a bit misleading as the chart had only been begun about six months prior…had it been around in the ’60s there is little doubt they would have been scores of them.

All in all, Tattoo You reached #2 in their homeland, but #1 in a number of other lands including the U.S. (where it was their eighth-straight …but also their last one to date) ,Canada, France and Germany. Although it only hit gold status in the UK, it was 4X platinum in North America.

It helped them make the fall tour in North America the year’s biggest, taking in over $50 million and playing to crowds as big as 181 000 over two nights in Philadelphia, and 87 000 or so in New Orleans’ Superdome, which at the time was the largest-ever indoor crowd for a concert. Fans wanting to relive the experience got the chance in 2012, when they released a double-album called Hampton Coliseum, a recording of their December show in Virginia, which included six of the Tattoo You songs, including “Black Limousine” and “Little T&A” besides the better-known hits.

August 20 – CBS Figured There Was Gold In Those Stones

The rich got richer! Rolling Stones signed a contract with Columbia/CBS Records this day in 1983 after spending years with Atlantic. The contract was worth at least $28 million (their biographer Murray Nelson says it was more like $50 million.) Whether 28 or 50 mil, it was the biggest contract any musician had signed to that point, topping Kenny Rogers’ previous record $20 million with RCA.

The contract was reportedly for four new albums and allowed them to keep using their own “Rolling Stones” label . Mick, Keith and the lads gave them two before jumping to Virgin Records in the ’90s. Both 1986’s Dirty Work and ’89’s Steel Wheels did fairly well- both were top 5 hits and platinum in the U.S., Steel Wheels hit #1 in Canada. However, it would seem unlikely Columbia got their money back on them alone. The real goldmine for them though was obtaining the rights to all the previous Stones’ work and being able to reissue them. Fans might not have noticed the change; even though signed to CBS the records and CDs had the Stones’ own “big lips” label on them. They were one of the few acts prominent enough to be on Columbia and not have their records sporting the traditional orange markings of that company.

In the ’90s they signed to Virgin Records but their last album, Blue and Lonesome in 2016 was on Polydor Records, distributed by Universal. That one by the way was their 11th #1 album in their homeland and won them a Grammy Award for Best Blues album… but with the state of music sales, is currently their only regular album not to have gone gold or better in the U.S. Will we see another new Stones album? Time will tell. Although there are no apparent immediate plans for one, the band recently wrapped up a European tour marking their 60th anniversary as a group.

July 11 – When The Glimmer Twins Were Cowboys…With Cowbells

The Rolling Stones took a page out of the Beatles playbook this day in 1969, issuing a standalone single not from their current album. And much like “Penny Lane” and “Hey Jude” had done for the Fab Four, the Stones’ “Honky Tonk Women” became one of their biggest and best-known hits. The single is noteworthy in their chronology not only for being one of their biggest hits, but being the introduction of Mick Taylor to the world.

Honky Tonk Women” had surprising origins…like a ranch somewhere in the middle of Brazil. After finishing the Beggars Banquet album, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards went on vacation there, with their girlfriends. Girlfriends in tow or not, the lads took every chance to take part in the local nightlife in the cantinas and saloons nearby, and met many “honky tonk women” – on one level merely women who liked to hang out in the bars and dance, but on a more metaphoric, assumed level, local prostitutes. Anyway, the pair were thinking about them…and the country surroundings. Richards recalls “Mick and I were sitting in the middle of nowhere, with all these horses and I started to play. Basically, fooling around with an old Hank Williams tune, ’cause we really thought we were like real cowboys.”

Thus, “Honky Tonk Women” came around, even though Mick set the song in Memphis and New York City rather than the pampas of Brazil. The original take of it was more country & western-oriented than the one fans heard and loved as a single. Back in London, in the spring of ’69, they began to work on the song. Brian Jones was playing on some of the earliest demos, which turned out to be the last thing he’d do with the Stones. However, as we recently noted, Jones was becoming less and less reliable and would soon be booted from the band and replaced with Taylor, who plays on the final cut and claims he created the distinctive guitar riff that runs through it (something Keith remembers differently!). Producer Jimmy Miller, who’d worked with them on Let it Bleed came back to produce it, and had the idea of putting the cowbells at the opening of the song, and is credited with playing them.

The song came out shortly after Jones death, ironically…in fact, the day after he died in Britain ( a few days before this, it’s American release.) And of course, it took off. It rode up the charts like a wild horse around the world, becoming their second #1 single in both their homeland and the States, and topping Australian and New Zealand charts as well; somehow in Canada it was held to #2. In the U.S. it was the year’s fourth biggest song and went gold. The song went on to be one of the band’s most enduring and popular ones in concert, memorably in the 1989 tour when they brought a 60-foot inflatable “honky tonk woman” on stage for the song!

Those who wanted the song on an LP didn’t have long to wait; the label included it on a compilation called Through the Past Darkly before the end of ’69. But the single was quite a record in its own right – the b-side was “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, another classic. Rolling Stone lists both among their 200 greatest songs of all-time. At the time it came out, that magazine called it “the strongest three minutes of rock and roll yet released in 1969.”

Fans who wanted to hear what the original take sounded like were in luck as well. They put out a more country-sounding version, based on the original demo, called “Country Honk” on Let it Bleed.

July 3 – This Stone Rolled Too Wildly

It’s a red-letter day for black marks on the rock calendar. This day in 1969, Brian Jones , founder of the Rolling Stones, died at age 27, drowning in his pool. That came only weeks after the band had fired him after years of volatile, unpredictable behavior.

Jones was, no matter what else, a musical talent to be reckoned with. His dad was a piano teacher on the side and his mom led the church choir; they exposed Brian to lots of classical music as a child. He soon found a preference for old American blues music however, and his parents indulged him, buying him a saxophone and then a guitar as a young teen. He mastered both, and later keyboards and other instruments as well. He was by all accounts smart, but always in trouble at school. By age 16 he was playing in various jazz or blues clubs around London; in 1962 he put an ad in a music paper looking to form a band. That brought out, among others, Keith Richards and Mick Jagger, as well as Charlie Watts. Jones assembled the band, and then picked the name, Rolling Stones, on a whim when an interviewer asked about it.

Jones preferred doing blues covers and very bluesy rock originals, which the rest of the band soon began to tire of, as did the manager Andrew Loog Oldham, with whom Jones never got along well with. Through the band’s early days, Jones irritated the others, getting paid 5 pounds (about $140 now) a week more than Jagger and Richards by the record company, supposedly for helping manage the group. He went through a string of girlfriends, that was prolific even by rock star standards, had several children and was often sued for paternity. One of his many flings left him for Keith in 1967, adding to the hostilities. And he got as bored with music as with any girl. On the one hand, he wanted the band to remain rooted in the blues; on the other hand he had grown bored with playing guitar by all accounts a few years in. Bill Wyman remembered “there were at least two sides to Brian’s personality. One Brian was introverted, shy, sensitive, deep-thinking. The other was a preening peacock…”

Although he was best known for his guitar work, often playing what they termed “weaving” guitars with Richards (in which both would rather alternate lead bits and rhythm parts), and also being a slide guitar talent, as we hear on “Little Red Rooster”, he experimented with all sorts of other instruments, particularly paying attention to the Beatles expanded sounds in ’66-67. He got a sitar (played on “Paint it Black” among other songs), and a mellotron (“She’s a Rainbow”), not to mention dulcimers and autoharps. He even joined Jimi Hendrix, playing percussion on “All Along the Watch Tower.”

He also experimented with drugs and booze, and stretching it to the limits. One wonders how bad one’s addiction had to be in the 1960s for Keith Richards to be fed up with it! By early 1969, the Stones were planning an American tour, and Jones drug arrests made it difficult to get him a work visa. Worse, he’d often not show up for recording sessions, and some present called him “literally incapable of playing music” anymore. He drove his motorbike through a store window, further debilitating him. On June 8, 1969, the band fired him although they gave him the grace of being able to publicly say he quit because “I no longer see eye to eye with the others over the discs we’re cutting.”

Not long after, his girlfriend found him floating in his pool. By the time medics arrived, he was dead. The coroner put it down as “death by misadventure” but noted both his heart and liver were in terrible shape from years of abuse. He was one of the first members of the grisly, so-called “27 Club”, musicians dying of unusual circumstances at age 27. Through the years various conspiracy theories have emerged suggesting he was killed in a fight over money, but the Sussex police investigated in 2010 and found no reason to re-open the case.

Although only Wyman and Watts attended his funeral from the Stones, they did play a show at Hyde Park just two days after his death, and released a number of white butterflies in his memory, as well as playing “I’m Yours and I’m Hers,” a Johnny Winter song he loved.

As an ironic final twist to the story, the Doors Jim Morrison wrote a poem in his honor, entitled “Ode to LA, while thinking of Brian Jones, deceased.” Two years later to the day, Morrison himself joined the “27 Club”, being found dead in his Paris bathtub.

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.