A listening journey with The Rolling Stones

When my 15-year old son recently began learning classic rock songs on his guitar, I began looking for ways to help him learn about the history of rock in a fun way that would also get him acquainted with lots of guitar music. As I was asking him for ideas to get started, a Rolling Stones song came on the car radio, as if on cue.

“That’s it! The Rolling Stones!” I said. Let’s make a Rolling Stones listening project!

The plan is to listen to every Rolling Stones recording in chronological order. With a little help from Spotify, we began yesterday and will come back to it each time we go for a drive.

I LOVE projects like this because they really take us on a journey. I’m not exactly a Rolling Stones expert, but I do know that their career can be divided into various eras. These are their eras, or periods, as I categorize them in my mind:

1. The Early Days, when they performed covers of American pop, rock, and blues songs at London’s Crawdaddy Club. This is the repertoire on their first studio recordings.

2. Their Pop Period, when you might hear anything from a harpsichord to a sitar on their hits such as Paint It Black.

3. The Classic Rock Era of the late 60s when their sound really came together. Bluesman Mick Taylor on lead guitar and Keith Richard’s greatest riffs: Honky Tonk Woman, Jumping Jack Flash, etc.

4. The 1970s, culminating in their last great album, Some Girls (which I remember from my teenage years).

5. All the albums that have come out since then. The songs aren’t great, but occasionally I’ll hear a horn arrangement or something that catches my ear.

So that’s how I characterize their history now. I expect it to change as our listening journey continues.

In fact, it’s already changing.

We cued up their first album yesterday, 1964’s The Rolling Stones, and I was surprised to hear that the first track was a cover of a famous jazz blues, Route 66. The album as a whole isn’t that good and each song has a different studio “sound.” Worse still, it doesn’t capture much of what I suspect their loyal following at The Crawdaddy Club heard during their weekly appearances there.

The band must have felt the same way, because The Rolling Stones No. 2 was produced in a much more unified way and sounds more like a live band. We’re about halfway through this album and I can hear some of the excitement they must have generated during their live shows at the time.

I recently heard an interview with their first manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, on The Bob Lefsetz Podcast. When he first began managing the group, Oldham was impressed by their charisma and fashion sense, but didn’t know any of the songs they were covering. He says that when he finally heard the originals by Chuck Berry and other more established rock and blues artists, he didn’t think The Stones’ versions were as good! Despite this, we can hear hints of the amazing music that was to eventually come.

Listening journeys such as this can inspire us as well as teach us a lot about our favorite musicians and genres.

What music interests you? Try taking a listening journey of your own and see where it takes you.

Enjoy the journey and “let the music flow!”

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