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The Rolling Stones

The Longest-Performing Rock Band of All Time

By Shelly Schwartz, Contributing History Writer

Picture of the young members of the Rolling Stones, including Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and Jones

British rhythm and blues group The Rolling Stones leaning on a wall in London. They are, from left to right: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, Brian Jones, and Bill Wyman. (May 1964)

(Photo by Evening Standard/Getty Images)

Who Are the Rolling Stones?

The longest performing rock band of all time, the Rolling Stones have greatly influenced rock and roll throughout the decades. Beginning as part of the British Rock Invasion of the 1960s, the Rolling Stones quickly became the “bad-boy” band with an image of sex, drugs, and wild behavior. After five decades together, the Rolling Stones have amassed eight #1 singles and ten consecutive gold albums.

Dates: 1962 -- Present

Also Known As: The Stones

Original Members:

Current Members:
  • Mick Jagger - lead vocals, harmonica
  • Keith Richards – guitar
  • Charlie Watts – drums
  • Ron Wood - bass guitar

Overview of the Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones were a British band, begun in the early 1960s, influenced by American rhythm and blues artists such as Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and Fats Domino, as well as jazz musician Miles Davis. However, the Rolling Stones eventually created their own sound by experimenting with instruments and writing rhythm and blues mixed with rock and roll.

When the Beatles hit international stardom in 1963, the Rolling Stones were right on their heels. While the Beatles became known as the good-boy band (influencing pop rock), the Rolling Stones became known as the bad-boy band (influencing blues-rock, hard rock, and grunge bands).

Important Friendships

In the early 1950s, Keith Richards and Mick Jagger were elementary-school classmates in Kent, England, until Jagger went to a different school. Nearly a decade later, their friendship was rekindled after a chance encounter at a train station in 1960. While Jagger was on his way to the London School of Economics where he was studying accounting, Richards was commuting to Sidcup Art College where he was studying graphic art.

Since Jagger had a couple of Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters records under his arm when they met, talk quickly turned to music. They discovered that Jagger had been singing adolescent “love frustration” songs in underground clubs in London while Richards had been playing the guitar since the age of 14. The two young men once again became friends, creating a partnership that has kept the Rolling Stones together for decades.

Looking for an outlet to try out their musical talent, Jagger and Richards, plus another young musician named Brian Jones, began to occasionally play in a band named Blues Incorporated (the first electric R&B band in Britain). The band embraced aspiring young musicians with an interest in this type of music, allowing them to perform in cameo appearances. This is where Jagger and Richards met Charlie Watts, who was the drummer for Blues Incorporated.

Forming the Band

Soon, Brian Jones decided to start his own band. To get started, Jones placed an advertisement in Jazz News on May 2, 1962, inviting musicians to audition for a new R&B group. Pianist Ian “Stu” Stewart was the first to respond. Then Jagger, Richards, Dick Taylor (bass guitar), and Tony Chapman (drums) joined as well.

According to Richards, Jones named the band while on the phone trying to book a gig. When asked for a band name, Jones glanced down at a Muddy Waters LP, saw one of the tracks named “Rollin’ Stone Blues” and said, “Rollin’ Stones.”

The new band, named Rollin’ Stones and led by Jones, played their first performance at the Marquee Club in London on July 12, 1962. The Rollin’ Stones soon secured a residency at the Crawdaddy Club, bringing in younger audiences who were looking for something new and exciting. This new sound, a renaissance of blues performed by young British musicians, had kids standing on the tables, rocking, dancing, and shouting to the sound of electric guitars with a provocative singer.

Bill Wyman (bass guitar, backing vocals) joined in December 1962, replacing Dick Taylor who went back to college. Wyman wasn’t their first choice, but he had an amplifier the band desired. Charlie Watts (drums) joined the following January, replacing Tony Chapman who left for another band.

The Rolling Stones Cut a Record Deal

In 1963, the Rollin’ Stones signed with a manager named Andrew Oldham, who had been helping to promote the Beatles. Oldham saw the Rollin’ Stones as the “anti-Beatles” and decided to promote their bad-boy image to the press. Oldham also changed the spelling of the band’s name by adding a “g,” making it “Rolling Stones” and changed Richards’ last name to Richard (which Richard later changed back to Richards).

Also in 1963, the Rolling Stones cut their first single, Chuck Berry’s “Come On.” The song hit #21 on the UK singles chart. The Stones appeared on the TV show, Thank Your Lucky Stars, to perform the song while wearing matching hound’s-tooth jackets to appease television producers. Their second hit single, “I Wanna Be Your Man,” written by the Lennon-McCartney songwriting duo of the Beatles, reached #12 on the UK chart. Their third single, Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away,” hit #3 on the same chart. This was their first American hit that went to #48 on the American chart.

Parents Hate the Stones

The press turned an eye toward the Rolling Stones, a group of brash punks upsetting the status quo by playing black music to young white audiences. A March 1964 article in the British weekly Melody Maker titled, “Would You Let Your Sister Go With a Stone,” created such a stir that eight thousand kids showed up at the Rolling Stones’ next gig.

The band decided the press was good for their popularity and thus purposely started shenanigans such as growing their hair and wearing casual, mod-style (modified) suits in order to receive more media attention.

The Rolling Stones Roll into America

Becoming too big to perform in clubs by early 1964, the Rolling Stones went on a British tour. In June 1964, the band rolled into America to perform concerts and to record at Chess Studios in Chicago as well as the Hollywood RCA Studios, where they captured the vibrant, earthy sound they desired due to better acoustics.

Their American concert in San Bernardino, California, was well received by excited schoolboys and screaming schoolgirls, even without a major hit record in the States. But the Midwest concerts proved spotty because no one had heard of them. Crowds picked up again at the New York concert.

Once back in Europe, the Rolling Stones released their fourth single, Bobby Womack’s “It’s All Over Now,” which they had recorded in America at Chess Studios. A fanatical Stones cult began to form after the song hit #1 on the UK charts. It was their very first #1 hit.

Jagger and Richards Start Writing Songs

Oldham urged Jagger and Richards to start writing their own songs, but the duo found that writing blues was harder than they expected. Instead, they ended up writing a type of morphed blues-rock, a hybrid of blues with a heavier melody than improvisation.

On their second trip to America in October 1964, the Rolling Stones performed on the Ed Sullivan TV show, changing the words to “Let’s Spend the Night Together” (written by Richards and Jagger) to “Let’s Spend Some Time Together” due to censorship. That same month they appeared in the concert film the T.A.M.I. Show in Santa Monica, California, with James Brown, the Supremes, Chuck Berry, and the Beach Boys. Both venues greatly improved their American exposure and Jagger began to mimic the moves of James Brown.

Their Mega Hit

The Rolling Stones’ 1965 mega hit, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” with Richards’ fuzz-guitar riff designed to imitate the sound of a horn section, hit #1 worldwide. Their musical attitude, a mixture of rebellion and irreverence using urgent guitars, tribal drums, forceful harmonicas, and sexually tensed vocals, seduced the young and alarmed the old.

When the Rolling Stones had another #1 hit, “Paint It Black,” the following year, they had begun to secure their rock-star status. Although Brian Jones had started the band, leadership of the Rolling Stones shifted to Jagger and Richards once they had proved themselves to be a strong songwriting team.

Drugs, Death, and Citations

By 1967, the members of the Rolling Stones were living like rock-stars, which meant they were abusing a lot of drugs. It was in that year that Richards, Jagger, and Jones were all charged with possession of drugs (and given suspended sentences).

Unfortunately, Jones was not only addicted to drugs, his mental health spiraled out of control. By 1969, the rest of the band members could no longer tolerate Jones, so he left the band on June 8. Just a few weeks later, Jones drowned in his swimming pool on July 2, 1969.

By the late 1960s, the Rolling Stones had become the bad boys they had once promoted themselves to be. Their concerts from this period, filled with teenagers from the growing counterculture movement (young people experimenting with communal living, music, and drugs), were raucous enough to lead to a number of citations against the Rolling Stones for causing concert violence. Jagger’s Nazi goose-stepping onstage didn’t help.

Rolling Stones Gather No Moss in the 70s, 80s, and 90s

By the early 1970s, the Rolling Stones were a controversial group, banned from many countries and exiled from Britain in 1971 for not paying their taxes. The Stones fired their manager Allen Klein (who had taken over from Oldham in 1966) and started their own record label, Rolling Stones Records. The Rolling Stones continued to write and record music, mixing in punk and disco genres inspired by new band member Ron Woods. Richards was arrested in Toronto for heroin trafficking, resulting in legal limbo for eighteen months; he was subsequently sentenced to perform a benefit concert for the blind. Richards then quit heroin.

During the early 1980s, the band experimented with the new-wave genre, but members began to pursue solo careers due to creative differences. Jagger wanted to continue experimenting with contemporary sounds and Richards wanted to stay rooted in blues. Ian Stewart suffered a fatal heart attack in 1985. In the late 80s, realizing they were stronger together, the Rolling Stones reunited and announced a new album. By the end of the decade, the Rolling Stones were inducted into the American Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989.

In 1993, Bill Wyman announced his retirement. The Stones’ Voodoo Lounge album won the Grammy Award for Best Rock Album in 1995 and prompted a world tour. Jagger and Richards agreed that their drifting in the 80s attributed to their success in the 90s. They believe that had they stayed together, they would have broken up.

The Stones Keep On Rollin into the New Millennium

The Rolling Stones have endured waxing and waning popularity over the decades. While band members are now in their sixties and seventies in the new millennium, they still perform, tour, and record. In 2003, Jagger was knighted to Sir Michael Jagger, causing another riff between himself and Richards, especially, according to Richards, because the band’s message had always been anti-establishment. There was also a public outcry that questioned the appropriateness of knighting a former British tax exile.

Documentaries regarding the band’s exceptionally long and controversial career capture the counterculture movement, perfecting the technology of recording records, and flamboyantly performing to live audiences. The band’s lips and tongue logo, designed by John Pasche in the 70s (a symbol of their anti-establishment message), is one of the most identifiable band icons in the world.

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