Paint it Black – The Rolling Stones – Vietnam War
The Rolling Stones began calling themselves the “World’s Greatest Rock & Roll Band” in the Sixties, and few argued with them — even then. More than 40 years later, the band’s music continues to sound vital. With literally scores of genre-setting hits under the group’s belt — and fronted by two of rock’s biggest archetypes — the Rolling Stones have done more to define the look, attitude and sound of rock & roll than any other band in the genre’s history.
In the 1964 British Invasion the Stones were promoted as bad boys, a gimmick that stuck as an indelible image (partly because it was true). Their music started as a gruffer, faster version of Chicago blues, but eventually the Stones pioneered British rock’s tone of ironic detachment and wrote about offhand brutality, sex as power, and other taboos. Jagger was the most self-consciously assured appropriator of black performers’ up-front sexuality; Keith Richards’ Chuck Berry–derived riffing defined rock rhythm guitar (not to mention rock guitar rhythm); and the stalwart rhythm section of Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts held everything together, making sure teenagers could dance to whatever Mick and Keith dreamt up. After the Seventies, the Stones lost their dangerous aura, but it didn’t hurt their popularity: They’ve become icons of an elegantly debauched, world-weary decadence, elder statesmen who filled arenas well into the 2000s.
Jagger and Richards first met at Dartford Maypole County Primary School. When they ran into each other 10 years later in 1960, they were both avid fans of blues and American R&B, and they found they had a mutual friend in guitarist Dick Taylor, a fellow student of Richards’ at Sidcup Art School. Jagger was attending the London School of Economics and playing in Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys with Taylor. Richards joined the band as second guitarist; soon afterward, he was expelled from Dartford Technical College for truancy.
Meanwhile, Brian Jones had begun skipping school in Cheltenham to practice bebop alto sax and clarinet. By the time he was 16, he had fathered two illegitimate children and run off briefly to Scandinavia, where he began playing guitar. Back in Cheltenham he joined the Ramrods, then drifted to London with his girlfriend and one of his children. He began playing with Alexis Korner’s Blues, Inc., then decided to start his own band; a want ad attracted pianist Ian Stewart (b. 1938; d. December 12, 1985).
As Elmo Lewis, Jones began working at the Ealing Blues Club, where he ran into a later, loosely knit version of Blues, Inc., which at the time included drummer Charlie Watts. Jagger and Richards began jamming with Blues, Inc., and while Jagger, Richards, and Jones began to practice on their own, Jagger became the featured singer with Blues, Inc.
Jones, Jagger, and Richards shared a tiny, cheap London apartment, and with drummer Tony Chapman they cut a demo tape, which was rejected by EMI. Taylor left to attend the Royal College of Art; he eventually formed the Pretty Things. Ian Stewart’s job with a chemical company kept the rest of the group from starving. By the time Taylor left, they began to call themselves the Rolling Stones, after a Muddy Waters song.
On July 12, 1962, the Rolling Stones — Jagger, Richards, Jones, a returned Dick Taylor on bass, and Mick Avory, later of the Kinks, on drums — played their first show at the Marquee. Avory and Taylor were replaced by Tony Chapman and Bill Wyman, from the Cliftons. Chapman didn’t work out, and the band spent months recruiting a cautious Charlie Watts, who worked for an advertising agency and had left Blues, Inc. when its schedule got too busy. In January 1963 Watts completed the band.
Local entrepreneur Giorgio Gomelsky booked the Stones at his Crawdaddy Club for an eight-month, highly successful residency. He was also their unofficial manager until Andrew Loog Oldham, with financing from Eric Easton, signed them as clients. By then the Beatles were a British sensation, and Oldham decided to promote the Stones as their nasty opposites. He eased out the mild-mannered Stewart, who subsequently became a Stones roadie and frequent session and tour pianist.
In June 1963 the Stones released their first single, Chuck Berry’s “Come On.” After the band played on the British TV rock show Thank Your Lucky Stars, its producer reportedly told Oldham to get rid of “that vile-looking singer with the tire-tread lips.” The single reached Number 21 on the British chart. The Stones also appeared at the first annual National Jazz and Blues Festival in London’s borough of Richmond and in September were part of a package tour with the Everly Brothers, Bo Diddley, and Little Richard. In December 1963 the Stones’ second single, “I Wanna Be Your Man” (written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney), made the British Top 15. In January 1964 the Stones did their first headlining British tour, with the Ronettes, and released a version of Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away,” which made Number Three.
“Not Fade Away” also made the U.S. singles chart (Number 48). By this time the band had become a sensation in Britain, with the press gleefully reporting that band members had been seen urinating in public. In April 1964 their first album was released in the U.K., and two months later they made their first American tour. Their cover of the Bobby Womack/Valentinos song “It’s All Over Now” was a British Number One, their first. Their June American tour was a smashing success; in Chicago, where they’d stopped off to record the Five by Five EP at the Chess Records studio, riots broke out when the band tried to give a press conference. The Stones’ version of the blues standard “Little Red Rooster,” which had become another U.K. Number One, was banned in the U.S. because of its “objectionable” lyrics.
Jagger and Richards had now begun composing their own tunes (at first using the “Nanker Phelge” pseudonym for group compositions). Their “Tell Me (You’re Coming Back to Me)” was the group’s first U.S. Top 40 hit, in August. The followup, a nonoriginal, “Time Is on My Side,” made Number Six in November. From that point on, all but a handful of Stones hits were Jagger-Richards compositions.
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