Thames & Hudson
ISBN 978 0 500 516249
The golden jubilee on 12th July 2012 of their first gig is a time to pause and reflect on the very real achievement of the greatest rock & roll band in the world, and this celebratory publication is a splendid coffee-table book, sensitively presented and narrated throughout, with pleasingly warm tributes to past members of the band.
Leafing through the book as someone who never knew a time when The Rolling Stones were anything other than a household name the beautifully presented photographs display the well-told stories of each era, with occasional snippets of new information like Mick Jagger letting us in on the secret that Ruby Tuesday has “a nice melody and a lovely lyric – neither of which I wrote”. While presented as an iconographic tribute the script credited to the current line-up is touchingly personal, with references to tracks so ingrained in the nation’s psyche the pictures really do bring the story of those remarkable 50 years to life.
An anniversary isn’t a time to be maudlin but scrolling through the years it’s impossible not to wonder at the tumultuous period from the disintegration of Brian Jones and his eventual death, shortly followed by the events documented in the film Gimme Shelter, to the departure of Mick Taylor. Echoing Harry Lime’s cuckoo-clock quip the era saw the release of four of the greatest albums by anyone: Beggars’ Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street. Not to detract from the remarkably consistent longevity at the top, these middle-era albums raised a great band to an exquisite one, note-perfect major contributions to our culture, raising The Rolling Stones
beyond even the heights of Aftermath and those staples collected on High Tide and Green Grass. All four were produced by Jimmy Miller who I always thought was the Mr Jimmy looking “pretty ill” in “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” but it turns out it probably wasn’t. For those who regard the artistic zenith of The Rolling Stones as Exile on Main Street - and there are plenty - the pictures of Nellcôte in Villefranche-sur-Mer will be particularly evocative.
Praise for these disks shouldn’t detract from either the brilliance of their earlier blues or the later seventies albums of which 1978’s Some Girls is perhaps the outstanding one, and competent later albums have to a certain extent been overshadowed by The Rolling Stones’ emergence as an important stadium act. The photographs in this collection reflect this and the more recent pictures reflect the genuine excitement felt by fans at what are massive events. The current vogue for re-forming bands suggests that it turns out The Rolling Stones were always ahead of their times.
With the band’s early brushes with the law reflecting broader social trends, The Rolling Stones 50 charts our own lives through the sixties right up to today, and quietly pays tribute to people that have truly blessed our lives. The days of being cast as the bad boys of rock are recalled by a sequence showing Mick Jagger looking out of sorts with a large dent his Aston Martin and Chrissie Shrimpton inside it. Jean-Luc Goddard’s seminal One and One merits just one picture and irreverent dismissal by Keith Richards, but it reminds us of The Rolling Stones’ central place at the cutting edge of sixties art to the backdrop of the student riots in 1968. There’s plenty here for even the most
casual fan I’d get a copy and one for your mum. I’ll be keeping white gloves next to my copy because it’s already getting well thumbed. If I had to choose a favourite picture, and there’s a lot to choose from, it is of the four extant Stones, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts and Ronnie Wood, informally and at peace. Older fans might turn misty-eyed to page 173’s picture of their “last concert appearance with Brian”. I for one hope they’ll keep going and look forward to their diamond jubilee.
A diamond band indeed.
© James Douglas June 2012