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The Rolling Stones: A Wild Story of Struggle and Success

The Rolling Stones publicity shoot in 1971.

The Rolling Stones have long been a rock and roll staple all over the world. Even in small third-world countries that are just discovering the internet, they know who the Rolling Stones are. But they have been around so long that many don’t even know how this infamous band began.

Humble Beginnings

The Rolling Stones is actually a story that begins with humble beginnings back in England in the 1950s when Keith Richards and Mick Jagger became friends. Both boys were but seven years old at the time. Their friendship was cut a bit short when the Jagger family moved out of the immediate area in 1954.

Mick Jagger was always destined to be a musician, and sometime in his teen years, he created a band with his friend Dick Taylor. The two mostly played covers of other famous songs, most notably those by Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry.

But Jagger and Richards were destined to work together, as they ran into each other in 1961 in a train station, and a musical agreement quickly followed between the three young men. This trio was called the Blues Boys and they focused on playing rhythm and blues music. 

Not one year later, the trio heard of a Jazz Club nearby that was featuring a band that the boys looked up to. They sent in a tape of their best songs, and the leader of the band, Alexis Korner, was immediately impressed.

While the trio would end up playing with members of Alexis Korner’s band for a short period, they eventually left once again to form their own group along with the former guitarist of Korner’s Blues Incorporated, Brian Jones and the former drummer of the same band, Ian Stewart.

This band was called Jones and Stewart, and it took them a few trials to find a drummer who was a good fit for their sound. They finally came upon Tony Chapman, who officially became part of the band in 1962.

Around the middle of this year is also when the band officially became known as Rollin’ Stone, after Jones saw the Muddy Waters LP lying on the floor during a phone call with a journalist. This later transformed into the name the Rolling Stones.

The Rolling Stones in 1965.

The band members at the time were:

Mick Jagger (Lead vocals, harmonica)

Keith Richards (Guitar, back-up vocals)

Charlie Watts (Drums)

Brian Jones (Guitar, sitar, back-up vocals)

Ian Stewart (Piano)

Bill Wyman (Bass guitar, back vocals)

Note that the band did routinely replace members for extended periods of time, as well as had guests join them for tours. It was during these periods that Mick Taylor and Darryl Jones rose to fame thanks to their collaborations with the Rolling Stones.

The Rolling Stones Rise to Fame

In a perfect world, the rest would be history and the band would gain instant fame overnight. But this is a bit unrealistic in a time that didn’t include the internet.

The Rolling Stones played their first show on July 12th, 1962 at the Marquee Club in London. Shortly after this performance, the group added Bill Wyman as a bass guitarist after his outstanding audition at the Chelsea. In 1963, drummer Charlie Watts would also become a permanent member of the band. 

Crazy enough, it was after hiring Charlie Watts as the permanent drummer that the popularity of the band began to flourish. They went on their first tour in 1963, which peaked with a performance at the Crawdaddy Club in Richmond, London the same year.

At this point, the band was still playing cover songs of other popular bands. It was only after they hired Andrew Loog Oldham in 1963 (The former manager of the Beatles) that they began to experiment with songwriting and play their own compositions.

That being said, their first five singles were actually ghostwritten by others and it wasn’t until 1965 that the band’s reputation for writing music really took off. Many of the songs written by all band members would be credited to Nanker Phelge, which was the band’s collective pen name.

The Rolling Stones on tour in 1965.

The Beatles and the Rolling Stones Controversy

At the same time the Rolling Stones were becoming popular, so too was another band called The Beatles. And when the manager of the latter became the manager of the former, he started out trying to make the Rolling Stones in the image of the Beatles.

He quickly discovered that this wasn’t going to work, and instead decided to go in the exact opposite direction, making the Rolling Stones a rebellious unkempt group of bad boys, while the Beatles continued to be the poster children of positive rock ‘n’ roll.

This resulted in much different paths for each band. Whereas the Beatles were invited to Buckingham palace to play for the Queen, the Rolling Stones spent just as much time in the media as a result of their blatant drug use. Wyman, in a later interview, confided that he didn’t believe that Oldham did it on purpose, but rather that the Rolling Stones simply never fit into the mold society had in mind for bands at the time.

Despite what may sound like animosity, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones were actually good friends, and the second single released by the band, “I Wanna Be Your Man,” was written by none other than John Lennon and Paul McCartney and gifted to the Stones during a studio visit.

By 1964, thanks to this and their first single, the Rolling Stones songs were number one on the UK charts for the first time ever and they landed their first record deal with Decca records this same year. 

The Rolling Stones First American Tour

Although they were topping US charts, it took a bit longer for the Rolling Stones to catch on internationally than they had hoped, and their America tour in 1964 was a bust. They found themselves the laughing stock of celebrities everywhere.

Not to mention that Stewart officially stepped down from playing with the band at this time, although he did continue to stay on as the band’s manager for years to come.

But despite the lack of respect on screen and in public, their US tour was successful in that the band got to meet Muddy Waters and supposedly wrote several songs of their own while in sessions with the famous band in the city of Chicago. 

The Rolling Stones in Hyde Park in 2013.

The Peak of the Rolling Stones Fame

Between the years 1965 and 1967, the band reached the peak of their fame—something which is surprising looking back at how unsuccessful their American tour was just one year before. In 1965, the band released their second UK record which topped charts within days. The same record was released in the US and managed to make it to the number five spot on the American charts.

Later that year came the band’s first international hit single, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” which was actually recorded while the band was in Chicago in the United States. The song was famous for a particular guitar riff played by Richards that simply made the crowds go nuts. Following this success, the band released 2 more albums and one more single the same year. 

After 1964, the rest is history, as the band continued to produce hit single after hit single, and more chart-topping records. They played to sold-out crowds of over 100,000 fans in Australia and New Zealand the next year.

But it wasn’t just in the year 1965, as the songs of the Rolling Stones continued to top music charts for a total of over 39 years and the band hosted regular stage performances, making them the longest-performing rock band of all time.

Top Song Released by the Rolling Stones Based on Chart Appearances:

  1. Paint It Black
  2. Honky Tonk Women
  3. Start Me Up
  4. The Last Time
  5. Get Off of My Cloud
  6. 19th Nervous Breakdown
  7. Rock and a Hard Place
  8. Emotional Record
  9. She Was Hot
  10. Miss You
  11. (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction
  12. Highwire
  13. Mixed Emotions
  14. Time is On My Side
  15. Jumpin’ Jack Flash
  16. Angie
  17. Tumbling Dice
  18. Brown Sugar
  19. Gimme Shelter
  20. Let’s Spend the Night Together
The Rolling Stones bow after their show in London on May 22nd, 2018.

Where are the Rolling Stones Now?

Unfortunately, even though the Rolling Stones are still together, they have lost a few members along the way. The first to go was Brian Jones.

Although all the members of the band enjoyed a rock and roll lifestyle filled with drugs and sex, Jones seemed to indulge too much, alienating most of his bandmates. And by 1969, he left the band. Just weeks after this occurrence, Jones was found drowned in his swimming pool.

Besides just struggling with internal struggles, the image the band portrayed (and often lived) caused them many external struggles too. So many, in fact, that they found themselves banned from certain states and countries.

It got so bad, that they eventually created their own record label to keep record labels from canceling on them called Rolling Stones Records. They also had numerous legal issues in the 1970s. Some of these legal issues led to them being banned from England, thus making many of the band members abandon their English roots and turn to more American customs. 

The next member of the band to go was Ian Stewart, who suffered a heart attack in 1985. It proved fatal. The band during this time had been considering pursuing solo careers, but during the aftermath of the death of their friend, they decided to come back together and make music as one.

This didn’t end their legal troubles, however, as in the early 2000s, the band was reportedly being sued by Mick Taylor who was only with the band as a guitarist during the years 1969-1974. But during this time he helped the band release several hit songs such as Exile on Main Street, Let it Bleed, and Sticky Fingers. He alleged that he was never paid properly for his work with the band, but after formally announcing the lawsuit, it was later dropped

Despite bassist Bill Wyman retiring in 1993, the Rolling Stones did not fade away into music oblivion and still travel and perform all over the world, even though most members of the band are now in their seventies.

The popularity of the band has come and gone over the years, but there is simply no brushing the Rolling Stones under the rug. They are truly the greatest rock and roll band of all time.

As of the writing of this article, the band still contains lead singer Mick Jagger, guitarist Keith Richards, and Ron Wood (bass guitar) after the death of drummer Charlie Watts in 2021. The band is currently on an American tour for the rest of 2021.

No future tour dates have yet to be announced but one can assume that the Rolling Stones will continue to produce and perform music for as long as Jagger/Richards are both alive and kicking!

Hope Davis
Author: Hope Davis

Writer, because it's the only way daydreaming pays.

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Written by Hope Davis

Writer, because it's the only way daydreaming pays.

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