Welcome to “I’m With The Band.” In this column, I’ll teach you how to become a fan of all the iconic bands that you have always heard of, but may not truly know yourself. I’ll introduce you to some deep cut songs that’ll elevate your status from “surface level fan” to “real fan,” and explain why, in my humble opinion, these bands are worth getting to know. Hopefully by the end of this series, you’ll see why you should become a fan of them, too.
It was on the outskirts of Austin, Texas, hitchhiking home with two strangers in the back of a pickup truck, when I truly understood why the Rolling Stones were considered the world’s greatest rock & roll band.
Three months ago, my friends and I attended the Stones’ “No Filter Tour.” The show closed with a larger-than-life rendition of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” and although the three of us had planned on using rideshare to get back into the city, we soon realized that spotty rural cell service combined with the 50,000 attendees trying to leave the arena would make this impossible.
In Woodstock style, we spent an hour pacing all ends of the outdoor venue, even venturing through the long rows of trailer parks under the increasing likelihood that we were to be stranded for the night. But on a whim, we ultimately decided to join two strangers by hopping into the bed of the first city-bound truck we could find.
It was a half-hour drive on the open road. We filled the time sharing stories and smiles, and even learned that the two strangers were an uncle and nephew duo who had seen the Stones in concert an astonishing 19 times. As we all discussed our favorite moments from the show, we heard the uncle begin to list a compilation of songs he wished he could’ve heard that night.
His list was endless, to the point where it seemed like he was reciting the Stones’ entire discography. I was sure that in the case of any other band, such a long list of proclaimed hits would be almost incredulous.
But the Rolling Stones aren’t just any band. They are the longest performing band to date, having survived the British rock invasion, disco, grunge and 21st-century pop. The Rolling Stones have become the most ubiquitous symbol in rock n’ roll, with their genre-bending music representing a full-fledged cultural revolution. When you understand this level of pure greatness that the Stones accomplished, you can begin to see how even after naming over 50 songs, the man’s list had just scratched the surface of the Stones’ influence.
Yes, the Rolling Stones truly are that good.
The Rolling Stones formed in 1962 in the midst of the British pop-rock invasion. Like most other British bands at the time (e.g. the Bee Gees), the Stones spent the majority of their first years chasing the heels of The Beatles. The Stones’ early sound, like their 1965 song “Time Is On My Side,” was practically indistinguishable from the sound of traditional British pop-rock. Even their first five album covers show the Stones looking like poster children for the standard British boy band image.
But the Stones were hardly fated to stay photocopies of The Beatles. As the years passed, the Stones began to step into their darker reputation of being the “bad boys of rock n’ roll” — an image they have the blues to thank for.
Blues artists like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf influenced the Stones in finding their distinctive sound. If you compare Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightnin’” to the Stones’ “Little Red Rooster,” the inspiration is palpable. The blues allowed the Stones to create rock music that was dirtier, grittier and sexier than that of The Beatles. It’s for this same reason that Martin Scorsese chose to create a blues-inspired soundtrack for the 2013 film “The Wolf of Wall Street;” there is no better sound than the blues that captures the rebellious lifestyle of a rockstar.
Despite popular singles such as “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and “Paint It, Black,” it wasn’t until their 1968 album “Beggars Banquet” that the Stones elevated their status from popular musicians to cultural icons. And if you play this vinyl on a record player, it wouldn’t be hard to understand why.
It only takes twenty seconds of listening to the album’s opening song “Sympathy for the Devil” to realize that what you are hearing isn’t music at all, but rather history. When the needle drops, the listener is transported to the tumultuous movements of the late 1960s, a time when the Vietnam War, riots and political turmoil were all threatening to tear America apart. The world was changing, and it was changing fast, reflected in the unhinged escalation of the song’s percussion rhythm and Mick Jagger’s chilling wails. While other hippie and psychedelic artists of the late 1960s chose to shy away from this darkness, the Stones committed to releasing an album that was raw, honest and resonated with fans worldwide.
1968 may have been the first time that the Stones produced an album that was bigger than the music itself, but it was hardly the last time. The magic that they found on “Beggars Banquet” escalated to unimaginable heights with each following release. It only took one year for the Stones to one-up “Sympathy for the Devil” with the “Let it Bleed” opener “Gimme Shelter” — a track that landmarks one of the greatest rock songs ever written.
Even with 10 consecutive gold albums, the Stones were never confined by one genre. They were a wildly unpredictable band, releasing everything from blues (“Ventilator Blues”), funk (“100 Years Ago”), country (“Dead Flowers”), disco (“Miss You”) and pop (“Start Me Up”). The Stones were rock & roll at its finest, possessing the power to leave a fan who had seen them live 19 times still yearning for more.
Today, listening to the Rolling Stones invites you to step into their world. When you listen to “Far Away Eyes,” you can hear the time Rita — an infamous blind Stones’ groupie — saved Keith Richards from a heroin possession prison sentence by buttonholing the judge.
Or perhaps with “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking,” you may hear the night that Jagger woke up off of an LSD trip to find that he had bought a run-down Hampshire mansion — an estate the band renovated and recorded albums “Exile on Main Street” and “Sticky Fingers” in.
For me, every time I hear “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” I’ll think about that night in Austin surrounded by good music, good people and way too much loose dirt in the bed of a pickup truck. I’ve gotten the opportunity to create my own world in these memories, and I invite you all to do the same.
Editor’s Note: This article is a review and contains subjective opinions, thoughts and critiques.