When we hear people talk about the Rolling Stones, we tend to hear them use phrases like “The world’s greatest rock band.” Rarely, however, do I hear them described as being “creative.” (That platitude is usually reserved for their 1960s colleagues The Beatles.) If we really examine their music, however, we begin to see a continuity of creativity that began fairly early in their history and continues to this day.
The Rolling Stones began life as a cover band, playing American rock, pop, and blues as best they could. Knowing how great the band would eventually become, it can be somewhat of a shock to hear them play The Drifters’ “Under The Boardwalk” from their album The Rolling Stones No. 2, released in 1965.
They sound like a good student band, which they were. It’s actually a miracle that British groups like the Beatles and The Stones, with little or no musical instruction, were able to mimic and eventually master American popular music as well as they did. They did this with an abundance of talent, willpower, and perseverance.
Then the miraculous happened….
The Stones (and, incidentally, The Beatles) morphed from a band which played “OK” renditions of American music into, as Shakespeare put it, “something rich and strange.” Their creativity took over and brought their music in a whole new direction. Their song “She’s A Rainbow,” from only a few short years later (1967) is a creative masterpiece that transcends any one of their specific stylistic influences.
Going further, their “mature” style of classic rock, heard in songs like “Honky Tonk Woman” and “Jumping Jack Flash,” takes the basic blues style and uses it to great advantage on popular song forms, much like the jazzers did in an earlier generation.
Seen in the light of their artistic evolution, the creativity of The Rolling Stones becomes clear. They began life as a cover band, morphed into a somewhat exotic “pop” group, and eventually coalesced into a unique blues-rock amalgamation. Even their later albums show an amazing amount of musical creativity. A close listen to some of the performances on the Bridges To Babylon album, for instance, reveals a wide variety of creative approaches to vocal phrasing, rhythm accompaniments, and guitar textures. It’s as if, when the actual compositions weren’t that great anymore, the members of the group tried everything they could to make the performances interesting in other ways.
You may enjoy this brief blog post that my friend David Wahl wrote about an encounter he had with Mick Jagger, when The Stones were in Seattle during their Voodoo Lounge tour:
Thanks, David, for inspiring this article, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Mr. Jagger eventually wrote his own blog post about you, titled “The guy who treated me like a real person!”
Enjoy the journey, and “let the music flow!”