No Satisfaction — Will Someone Tell the Rolling Stones It’s Time to Retire?
Yoko Ono is probably the most reviled figure in pop music history.
But at least she got one thing right. The villainess wrongly blamed for breaking up The Beatles expressed one of the most thought-provoking explanations ever for the unwavering idolotry of The Beatles.
When interviewed about The Beatles dissolving at the height of their musical and cultural influence and the lasting impact of their odd sense of timing to abdicate the rock n’ roll throne, she quipped:
“It’s like the story of the Golden Temple: A guy fell in love with it and burned it down. He couldn’t stand the idea of it falling apart as it got older, and now the Golden Temple exists in perfect form forever. It became a myth.”
That pretty much sums up The Beatles — which stand as rock music’s golden temple.
Then, there’s the Rolling Stones — which have become rock n’ roll’s ruins.
The Beatles and Stones stand in stark contrast to the old maxim of quitting while you’re ahead. The Beatles split up in their prime. The Stones continue to record music and tour a full generation removed from the era of their most productive musical period.
Indeed, if the Stones were a temple, today they would look pretty much like Stonehenge.
Of course, none of this matters so long as there’s a few bucks to be made.
You’ll be hearing a lot of Stones music over the next four months — especially if you’re a football fan. ESPN recently announced that 16 classic Stones’ songs and lesser-known tracks will be integrated into this season’s Monday Night Football coverage. You’ll be hearing the Stones bumpering commercial breaks during the game, and later on Sportscenter. That’s pretty much what classic rock has been reduced to these days — a transition soundtrack for marketing beer and tires.
At least there’s something to the timing. This year marks the Rolling Stones’ 50-year anniversay. Their first-ever live gig took place back in 1962 at London’s Marquee Club, which was then a popular jazz venue. That first performance didn’t exactly impress anyone. Most jazz enthusiasts sitting in the audience gave the nervous young blues-infused locals little notice.
But those clumsy early moments bore fruit and eventually led to a dizzying phase of their careers when stage manager Sam Cutler would open up every show by introducing the Stones as “the Greatest Rock n’ Roll Band in the World,” completely with a straight face. During a blistering period of productivity and muscial innovation between 1968 and 1973, no one would dare argue the haughty proclamation.
Indeed, one of the most astounding live rock concerts in history was the Stones’ memorable 1973 performance at Forest National in Brussels. Initially, the group had hoped to play a huge outdoor concert in France that fall. But the French Government wouldn’t allow it, citing their past drug convictions back in the U.K. So instead, the Stones put on their gig in Belgium, and produced probably the best performance of their lives.
Inexplicably, the concert is only available on bootlegs. Why it’s not remastered and released today is probably due to the fact this concert plainly shows how far the Stones have fallen as both musicians and live performers. That electrifying Belgium performance — especially Mick Taylor’s kick-ass guitar work and some unusual arrangements with a sax — makes any show after that pale by comparison.
This beautifully-written bit from the liner notes at WOLFGANG’S VAULT gives the overall flavor of the show:
However, it is the 20+ minute continuous sequence that is “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” followed by “Midnight Rambler” that is possibly the most amazing live Stones ever recorded. When the band really gets cooking, these two performances reach incredible heights and display an intensity that they would never quite duplicate again. The former features a phenomenal vocal from Jagger, with Taylor’s biting lead guitar giving it a lot more emotional edge than anything up to this point. The guitar interplay between Richards and Taylor is brilliant. Taylor takes one of the most compelling solos of the night early on and Richards’ Chuck Berry-styled riffing, along with Bobby Keys’ sax, propels the band into a most impressive jam that is full of swagger. Toward the end of this jam, Taylor again cuts loose with a burning solo that is even more impressive for its economy and taste. This sets the stage for an absolutely hell-raising “Midnight Rambler” taken at a near frantic clip. Right from the start, one can sense that Taylor can’t wait to sink his teeth into this and he is blazing from the get-go. Keith Richards is pure propulsion here, riffing up a storm. Although The Stones were rarely known for their improvisational abilities, the spontaneous energy here is nothing short of inspired. When they slow it back down for the Hoochie Coochie Man-like creep section, the crunch of the music is immense. Much like the Muddy Waters’ song which fuels this particular section, the band achieves a blues authenticity that is even more passionate than the originals. High praise indeed! Keith Richards is deliciously raunchy here and Taylor is in his ideal environment. When Jagger begins his “midnight creep” vocal, the band pummels the audience after each line leading up to the penultimate line, “Everybody’s got to go!” This of course launches the band back into a few blissful minutes of The Stones blazing away before it cleverly cross fades back into the frantic tempo in which it began. Taylor is out-of-this-world phenomenal here and it would prove difficult to find any other Stones performance from any stage of their career that approaches the sheer raw energy in such abundance here.
I agree with the purists. The Stones were never quite the same group after Mick Taylor left the group. The steady slide began during the late 1970s. Oh, there were a few very good albums here and there (1981’s Tattoo You was probably their last truly great album). But somewhere along the way, the rebellious rockers became camp — cliches with amped-up guitars built around a chicken-walking frontman.
Rolling Stones’ concerts are now more painful than entertaining.
Don’t misunderstand. I can go along with a gag in a Jimmy Buffet sort of way. Aging rockers belting out bars from their heyday still holds some nostaligic appeal on occasion. It can all be in good fun, as Rod Stewart and a few tasteful and talented other acts have shown. But when the septuagenarian Stones stomp around the stage screaming about protest and street fighting, warbling beneath gigantic corporate banners bankrolling their world tour — in the process becoming little more than obscenely-compensated pitchmen for commercialization, the act has not only jumped the shark. It’s become a performance of pretense.
But none of this matters. The Stones will reportedly play another multi-million dollar tour soon to celebrate their 50-year legacy. I can see the crowd now. Out-of-shape 50-year-old fist-pumping concertgoers — lawyers and CPAs who rape the earth by day and Halloween themselves out as faux rebels by night — will be shouting the off-key lyrics of revolution to every song on the playlist.
They’ll fork over hundreds of dollars to watch Mick Jaggar pretend he’s 29 again. They’ll marvel that Keith Richards is somehow still alive. Alas, the leathery Richards — who once famously fell asleeep onstage during a live concert in Germany — obviously became bored with it all thirty years ago. Ronnie Wood, a latecomer to the original tight-knit group who never quite had the charisma of the others, has probably stood the test of time the best. He’s managed to make a pretty good living as the highest-paid stand-in in rock history. Then, there’s the perpetually stone-faced drummer Charlie Watts, whose first love is unquestionably jazz, manifested in seven albums released under the title of the Charlie Watts Jazz Orchestra, who can’t turn down the allure of one more fat paycheck.
Please Mick. Please Keith. Please Ronnie. Please Charlie. I beg of you.
On behalf of Stones devotees everywhere: Retire now.
Your temple has crumbled beyond recognition.