Thursday, October 21, 2010

Why I Hate The Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones--"The Last Time" (mp3)
The Rolling Stones--"It's All Over Now" (mp3)

It was not always so.

Back in the late 60's and early 70's, I had two Rolling Stones albums that got as much turntable play as anything else I owned--Big Hits (High Tides and Green Grass) and Through the Past Darkly (Big Hits, Vol. 2). Songs like "Heart of Stone," "The Last Time," "As Tears Go By," "Paint It Black," "Ruby Tuesday," "She's A Rainbow," and "Dandelion" were favorites that I'd play over and over, stacked album side after stacked album side on my record player. The songs from those two records comprised much of the soundtrack of my early teens.

What I didn't realize until I was researching this column is that these songs are hits from the Brian Jones era Stones; by the time Through the Past Darkly came out, Jones was both out of the band and dead.

For most people, I realize, the pinnacle of the Stones as a band came after this--Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main Street all the way up to Some Girls, but by that time I was already pretty much done with them. In 1974, we all had tickets to see the Stones in Cleveland, but I ended up selling mine, with the vague excuse that I had to work (which was true, but not essential--I was being paid $2.00/hr by the Mt. Lebanon Parks and Recreation Dept. to schedule and oversee tennis courts that cost $.50/hr to rent, but all of them but one was closed due to construction!). I have never been sorry that I didn't see that show, great as my friends said that it was.

What happened? What happened to me? I've never really tried to figure that out until now. I just knew that I had a vague dislike for what the Stones had become, and that feeling has grown from distaste to loathing over the years. I hung with them until about 1972, and then I was finished with them, but for a smatterin of great songs on Exile.

I suppose, in the simplest terms, the, Rolling Stones, especially Mick and Keith, became more celebrities than legitimate musicians to me by the mid-70's. The Stones seemed like they were more of an event, a brand with a logo, and those two guys more like larger than life figures than members of a hard-working band. I suppose it's why I never liked U2 much; they believed their own mythology and became bigger than their music.

Why didn't my disdain spread to other megabands like the Who or Led Zeppelin or Bowie? With the Who, it was obvious: Pete Townshend continued to write songs that helped him to work through his childhood and England and the meaning of rock. Like Neil Young or, even more so, Bruce Springsteen, the songs of the Who always had their contexts built in. With Quadrophenia, whether it was true or not, I always felt like I was glimpsing Townshend's own teenage angst, difficulties fitting in, romantic failures. The Who rocked, but they were confessional, too.

And Zeppelin? Much as they were (rightly) accused of stealing other people's blues riffs, I never doubted that they were bluesmen, that everything originated there. And, I never lost interest in whatever Jimmy Page had to play.

Bowie never pretended to be anything but a chameleon.

The Stones, though, were never more than dabblers. Satanic for awhile when it was cool. Yeah, they went bluesy on Exile, but wasn't it just a pose? It certainly didn't carry over. Maybe go a little reggae a record or two later? Maybe embrace a disco beat when that is hot? Occasionally country for shits and giggles. While some bands can successfully intergrate the latest trends into their sounds, with the Stones, it always sounded to me like a purely commercial endeavor. What sheen could they put on their sound so it would sell?

Sensing the change in rock in the late 70's, Townshend confronted the Sex Pistols, both in person and in song; Neil Young also did so in song and recorded with Devo. Where was Mick at that time? Studio 54.

Because rock and roll is all about the lie. That's right. It's just a lie, but it's a lie that we want desperately to believe. The men and/or women up on the stage, like any performers, must convince us that they are indeed what they seem--troubadors, revolutionaries, chroniclers of our times, lovers, visionaries. We want to believe that the people in those songs are people they know, that they care about, maybe even them. And if the listener/audience member doesn't buy the lie, the whole house of cards that is a band's persona collapses.

With the Rolling Stones, I never had any trouble seeing through the facade. From Keith's pathetic "acting" in Gimme Shelter to Mick's spraying down the audience with a firehose in concert, the Stones became the epitome of Queen's implied mantra: You will not rock us; We will rock you. To me, the lyrics "But what can a poor boy do, except to sing for a rock and roll band" are among the most laughable I've ever heard. Great a song as "It's Only Rock 'N' Roll" might potentially be, I don't buy it for a second. There's nothing about the Mick persona that suggest that he has ever been the guy with the broken heart, or even that he would be "waitin' on a friend." Sorry, boys, but the public personas can't play the material convincingly.

Finally, you'll notice, I haven't said a word about anything past the late '70's. That's because there isn't anything to say. Their sporadic output of new material over the last 32 years is, to be kind, forgettable, to be direct, embarassing. The Rolling Stones are the worst example of a band that didn't know when to hang it up, and so they have become the Beach Boys of hard rock, dusting off the show every few years for an international money grab from the kinds of people who still believe that Mick Jagger and Keith Richards never got any satisfaction.

I know that most of you will not agree with me. That's fine. But I'll bet you have your own versions of the rock and roll lie that you refuse to believe. This is just mine.

24 comments:

Thom Anon said...

First Nirvana, now the Stones. Who are you guys going to poop on next, Springsteen?

Some Rocktober.

-T

Bob said...

The gods must die, T.A. You know that. I'd have expected a passionate defense from you, though.

John said...

Bob,
I always feel a bit guilty when it comes to The Stones. That mix I made for your wife to inspire her on her marathon did them in for me (and likely for her). Wild Horses just ain't a good song for a woman who's tying to finish a 10K.

Billy said...

@Thom - Fair enough. I vow a no-poop zone for at least my next few posts.

@Bob - While not overly impassioned, I'll offer a defense.

First, it's just weird to me that you obsess over the metaphorical speck in the Stones' eye but not at the plank in the eyes of other musicians still in your good graces. (Or, at the very least, the wood chips are of equal size.)

You don't like them because they experimented with their sound? Say huh? But Zep can totally steal stuff so long as they had good intentions? Holy hypocritical Elvis-lover, Batman!

I always figured "It's Only Rock and Roll" was about the confusing and odd relationship between a rock star and a groupie, the kind of gal who really loved Mick... but also jumped the bones of other lead singers with equal passion (Read: Pamela Des Barres). Or maybe it's just about the relationship between young fleeting fans and the hardworkin' artist. The latter was enough to drive Thom Yorke batshit crazy after their first platinum album.

I don't mean the Stones are heroes or good people, but somewhere in them is the capacity to feel something at some point. Strange that you remove that capacity from them merely because they're exceptional performers. (Meanwhile, getting a personality read from Bob Dylan is apparently like searching for water in the desert. Apparently "troubadours" are granted such license.)

There. I'm sure you've now come to your senses.

Bob said...

Billy, to quote (and therefore uplift) my pal Springsteen: "Nobody knows where love goes, but when it goes, it's gone."

troutking said...

Careful about calling the Boss your 'pal', Bob. Billy won't let you get away with that...just kidding.

Bob, I have to agree with you about the Stones since Exile on Main Street. Though they occasionally come up with a tasty lick and a catchy chorus (You Got Me Rockin', Rough Justice, Mixed Emotions, etc), these are essentially hard-rock pop songs. There's not much, if any, substance there and they won't be considered classics. However, from 1964-1971, I think their output rivals anyone's, except perhaps the Beatles. Just because they made bad records after that shouldn't take the shine off great songs they did produce.

I agree with you that once they lost their personas--which I think were true, at least if you read Keith's new book--of hard-rocking blues/R&B fans, then they lost their authenticity and haven't been believable since then. Mick went all jet set, Keith became a drug fiend, they lost Brian Jones and his experimental artistry, they fired Mick Taylor, a first class blues guitarist and replaced him with Ronnie Wood, who's always been a lightweight, in my opinion. But, why not just ignore what came later and focus on the genius of the early singles, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers and Exile?

They are, at this point, showmen, but having seem them twice on their last tour, they are effective showmen. The songs are fun to hear live and occasionally carry authentic emotion from the band. But I'm not sure that matters. They are the original band, they still play the songs well and you can bring your own authenticity to the concert. You bring your own context and personal meaning to the songs that are good enough and substantial enough to merit that weight. And, if you drink a little, Start Me Up is a pretty good song to dance along with.

Curt Shannon said...

"it's only rock and roll, but I like it..."

This may be the first time I've seen the Stones dissed like this - usually it's the Beatles who get slammed. No one changes his/her mind during these discussions, but here's my take:

1) Through "Some Girls", the Stones always included some blues cuts, or at least more authentic tunes. The overall vibe might have been more slick ("Exiles" excepted), but they gave lip service to their roots. And don't forget, the albums you like were Greatest Hits compilations - the earlier albums had lots of throw-away songs. The ratio of decent to sucky songs on the albums from "Beggar's" through "Exiles" is much higher.

2) The Stones never pretended to be anything other than what they were - a rock and roll band. Yeah, they dabbled in concept albums, the disastrous "Satanic Majesty's", but immediately rebounded with "Beggar's Banquet." No rock operas, no doodling, meandering, arena rock albums (sorry Jimmy), no jumping from genre to genre for whole albums (Neil and Frank and others.) Yeah, they would give a nod to the fashion of the time - country, reggae, disco - but at their core they were rockers.

3) But you are right about what the Stones have become, at least since "Some Girls." And even that was a last gasp after so-so albums between "Exiles" and it. Can anyone name a decent song they've written since Start Me Up? It's embarrassing to see them live now, pretending to be 20 again. Mick is downright creepy crotch-pressing Christine Aguillera in the movie "Shine a Light." Even there, presumably when they would REALLY kick out the jams, the only good stuff is when Aguillera and Buddy Guy are on stage; otherwise it's the Stones by numbers. Their songs, good as they were in their time and place, don't translate well when performed by septuagenarians. They will certainly be remembered, but only for what they did in the 60's and 70's. After that, paint it black...

One note for one of the commenters: I've always heard that Mick Taylor quit the band, not that he was fired.

Bob said...

John, to be fair to the Stones, it wasn't them that derailed my wife's half-marathon. She had even asked you for an all-Stones cd. They are great running music. It was when you got bored with the Stones and switched to Kim Richey after three songs that she lost her running mojo.

troutking said...

True. I shouldn't have said "fired." Mick Taylor did indeed quit, but from accounts I've heard, he was never fully welcomed into the Stones as a "full" creative member. He was a very talented guitarist whose talents weren't fully appreciated or utilized, so he left. So, yes, he wasn't fired but operating the band in a way or direction that encouraged him to leave certainly left the Stones with less chance for artistic revival, especially in a blues-based format.

Thom Anon said...

I'm not particularly passionate about them, especially not the latter day dinosaurs they've become. But at one point, genuine or not, they brought The Rock, and that's what I want.

I wanna rock.

-T

troutking said...

Agreed and excellent point. You can't hear the riff from Satisfaction or the drums from Get Off My Cloud or the chords from Brown Sugar and not want to get up and rock out. But for those who say "I Wanna Rock", follow this link:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=25pS3bx4S8A

jed said...

really Bob? they have had their down times like Neil and Costello, but how can you deny Keith? who called Ronnie Wood a "lightweight?" really? Mick is expendible, i'll grant you that. you should listen to the Winos. just sayin'.

Bob said...

Jed, it doesn't mean I won't read Keith's autobiography, which looks incredible. But, yeah, they don't do it for it for me. The old stuff, yeah. When that plodding, too-slow "Start Me Up" came on at the Mocs game the other day, I though, yeah, that's about where that belongs. Right next to "Centerfield."

Anonymous said...

I hate the Rolling Stones too.

Anonymous said...

good blog, fair points made, they are a money making machine, original for a spell, when Jones was around, then lapsed into predictable, Keith spins a good yarn at least, MJ is all primping and posing, and a gay boy at heart, the others well they just sort of stand around don't they, Watts reminds me of stiff upper lip headmaster, boring old man from the moment he popped out of his mother's vagina

Anonymous said...

they stole all their music from black american rock blues artists, by rights, they should donate half their wealth to the poor black rock veterans they stole from,

no amount of 'homage' to chuck berry and muddy waters, makes up for the fact that they are fake,

Keith Richards has a conscience and knows its true, he's the most likeable of the crew, the others are insufferable narcissistic 'unts'

stoneslove said...

atleast this is well written but it is totally untrue especially considering the Stones have always promoted the blues and blues muscians you idiots! Just check out them playing with Muddy Waters or inviting BB King etc to open for them. I got tired of Jimmy Page's playing a very lonely lonely long time ago. Robert Plant now there is the very definiton of a poser and Jimmy Page pretending to be Satanic yes sir talk about bullshit!

Patrick Dwyer said...

The Stones didn't tour America in 74. Your memory was probably from June of 1975. I still love the Stones but I agree that success and world record-selling tours changed who they are. I'll take an El Macombo set any day. Stick them in a bar and it all comes back home. You could see that clearly in the Muddy Waters set. Love when the Stones entourage comes in, sits down, and you can see Keith open a bottle with a switchblade.

Bob said...

Mr. Dwyer, yes I it was 1975. We had tickets in Cleveland. Certainly a mistake on my part not to have gone.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a Stones fan because the "songs" are all basically endless 2-3 chord jams that, after 100s of hours of tape rolling, eventually got boiled down into something coherent. The joke is on us - these are not finely crafted slices of the times... they're a boring jam session that engineers turned into something listenable. For example - try to find the chord progression in "Start Me Up" - you can't, because it's just Keith Richards doodling while high on H on a 5-string Telecaster tuned to some weird open chord. Ditto with "Only Rock and Roll" and dozens of other Stones' songs. They're an inch deep, which is not deep enough to keep my attention, even when I'm drunk. And as far as the "Brian Jones" era Stones go... not much better. Every hear a good guitar solo from this "Lead" guitarist? Nope. He strummed chords, and it was boring as hell. Sorry.

Bob said...

Seeing Stones in ATL next week. Can't wait!

stonesrcool said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
stonesrcool said...

The stones are a steady stream of honest simple little tunes most of which are very carnal in there sound not really based on any songwriting merit

lori christ said...

I Believe the Rolling Stone`s Hated me Soo much still homeless after 2 year`s. But I Believe The Rolling Stone`s are The Greatest Rock&Rolling band in The Whole World there will never be a Better Rock&Roll Band EVER They have a Great Catolog.Sorry you feel like that maybe you should be homeless and ripped-off and broke too !!! Hope to see you out here on the street real soon !!!! Stop picking on The Rolling Stone JERK !!!! Your a Bully they Should do what they did to me and give me everything you own !!! WOOHOO And Mob you yes everything little thing they did too me hope they do to you throw you in the street an attack like they did me Sir ! You have no right to even be on the internet they should take that away too !!! Hope to see you Sleeping Behind the Dumpster really soon ??? Hope I can Throw Rocks and Beer Bottles At you Too ! You must be the rolling stones friend because i know them guys and they would never let anybody talk shit like this about there band buddy !!! Hope to see you blowing in the Abuse of wind soon too !!!