Or, Ten Reasons Why the Rolling Stones are the Greatest Rock Band Ever
By Kaitlin Halibozek
There have been so many bands since rock music took off in the 1950s, it may seem pretty pretentious of me, a collegiate undergraduate, to make the case that out of all of these bands, the Rolling Stones are the greatest. But because I know that I’m not alone in my opinion, I’m going to give you ten reasons, in no particular order, to support my claim. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, and this is mine. (So don’t get mad.)
ONE: Mick Jagger. He may be one of the ugliest men in show business, but let’s not hold that against him. The Stones’ front man knows how to work a stage as well as James Brown, and at the age of sixty-three, he’s still running around like he did in the ‘60s. Plus his voice has stood the test of time enough for him to continue to rock out for a two-hour set.
TWO: Keith Richards. The guitarist responsible for such classic riffs as the one on “Satisfaction” probably shouldn’t still be alive (considering all his drug addictions), but somehow he’s still here. His now-classic line at just about every live show, “It’s great to be here…it’s great to be anywhere,” pretty much sums it up. And let’s be serious: he has to be cool if everyone’s favorite pirate, Captain Jack Sparrow, was based on him!
THREE: Sympathy for the Devil. The lead-off cut on 1968’s “Beggars Banquet” is simply a great piece of rock songwriting. Jagger is a complete history nut, and wrote the song with the help of Richards from the point of view of the Devil, commenting on such human atrocities as the Hundred Years’ War, the Bolshevik Revolution, World War II, the Kennedy family’s unfortunate history, and claims responsibility for all of them. (For a complete analysis, see the Wikipedia article). There was a lot of controversy when the song was released, and many people accused the Stones of dabbling in Satanism. But “Sympathy for the Devil” remains one of the Stones’ greatest achievements, perhaps because it illustrates that they could sing about more than sex and women—or maybe because it captures the sinister feeling that rock music can have.
FOUR: (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction. This song, however, is clearly about sex and women. Richards’ opening riff, as I’ve stated above, can be identified by almost anyone, and is known as one of the band’s signature songs. Devo covered it in 1987 in their creepy, new wave way, and I can deal with that. But when Britney Spears covered it in 2000…well, let’s just say that it was completely unnecessary. And I want to know who thought that it would be a good idea. Because as far as rock cover songs go, it’s borderline sacrilegious. Cover Joan Jett all you want, Britney, but leave the Stones alone.
FIVE: Their country songs. Let’s state the obvious: The Rolling Stones are as British as fish and chips. Yet somehow they manage to capture the essence of good ol’ American country music on classics such as “Wild Horses,” “You Gotta Move,” “Dead Flowers,” and “Far Away Eyes,” not to mention the honky-tonk flavor on “Country Honk” and “Honky-Tonk Women.” Maybe it’s Jagger’s faux-twang that does it, or maybe it’s just the fact that they’re talented musicians who can play anything they want. Either way, they’re a lot of fun to listen to.
SIX: You Can’t Always Get What You Want. When I was in the third grade, I read those Animorphs books. And I still remember that the alien character opened up his narration in one of the books with something along the lines of, “You can’t always get what you want. A very wise human named Rolling Stone said that.” The only reason I remember that is because I agree with him: Like “Sympathy for the Devil,” this song off of 1969’s “Let It Bleed” is a departure from “typical” rock song topics. It even features a chorus (the London Bach Choir) prominently, which is something a lot of rock songs don’t have. And the fact that it has a legend at its origins makes it even more of a classic: Apparently, Jagger went to a soda fountain and asked for a Cherry Coke. The man behind the counter told him they didn’t have it, and when Jagger complained, he was apparently told, “You can’t always get what you want…” and an idea was born.
SEVEN: Longevity. Let’s do some math: the Stones came into being in 1962, taking their name from the Muddy Waters song “Rollin’ Stone.” It is currently 2006. That means that for forty-four years, Jagger, Richards, and drummer Charlie Watts have been rocking out (with other members of the lineup changing) to sold-out venues. That’s just plain impressive!
EIGHT: Stage presence. I’ve already touched on this, but the Rolling Stones know how to put on a show. I saw them in 2005, and not only did they sound fantastic, but they played for two hours and still had all the raw energy they had in the ‘60s and ‘70s (which I know about from concert footage such as the classic documentary “Gimme Shelter”). They even use bridges that connect to second stages and moving stages to give the audience on the other side of the stadium a front-row experience. After all the women and drugs of their heyday, it’s pretty phenomenal that they can still put on a great show—and it better be for that $200 ticket.
NINE: They have a horns section. There’s something about rock bands who depart from the power trio that make them even more exciting. The Stones use horns prominently, especially the saxophone, to accent Richards’ guitar on songs such as “Bitch,” “Brown Sugar,” and “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” (all off 1972’s “Sticky Fingers”), which give the songs an R&B flavor.
TEN: They’re chameleons. The Rolling Stones have been accused of trying to cash in on fads in the past, but in fact, they’re just showing their versatility (like when they recorded country songs). Their 1978 album “Some Girls” includes a couple of tracks that clearly sound like disco, “Miss You” and “Shattered.” But “Some Girls” is considered by some critics to be one of their best albums because it also includes “Far Away Eyes” and another Stones trademark, “Beast of Burden.” The Stones know how to make good music, and shouldn’t be scoffed at for trying out new sounds. And in 2005 they released “A Bigger Bang,” which includes a track titled “Sweet Neo Con”—a not-so-subtle condemnation of President Bush. Sure, they’re jumping on yet another American bandwagon, but the lyrics are actually quite clever: “But one thing that is certain/Life is good at Halliburton/If you’re really so astute/You should invest at Brown & Root/How come you’re so wrong/My sweet neo con/If you turn out right/I’ll eat my hat tonight.” They may be British, but sometimes it’s the outsiders who are able to see clearly.