The Rolling Stones are fifty: but why am I not celebrating?


If you aren’t already aware, The Rolling Stones have been celebrating fifty years together as a band this year and in celebration have been playing gigs throughout the US, Canada, and the UK. This weekend they will also be headlining Glastonbury for the first time, one of the few things they have not done in their half-century together as the so-called “greatest rock & roll band in the world”. I have been a fan of the Stones for about eight years, have listened to most of their ‘classic’ material between 1965 and 1980, and appreciate significantly their contributions to music and society. But I can’t help but feel this party should have ended years ago, decades in fact, and unfortunately, their prolonged existence has ensured they have become somewhat of a parody of themselves.

Musically speaking The Stones went downhill during the 1980s, Tattoo You from 1981 was probably their last half decent album.  Part of the reason for this was their decision to indulge musically with the then current music trends e.g. dance music, but their decline can also be put down to the almost decade-long highly fractious relationship between Jagger and Richards, which ultimately had a damaging effect on the harmony in the group, not to mention the quality of the music. So for me, the early eighties would have been a good time to call it a day, even if it would not have been in the form of a glorified exit. But they didn’t call it a day, instead, they have kept soldiering on with a line of mediocre albums, Dirty Works anyone? And a formulaic existence which sees them now disappear for five years between albums or tours before coming back with a new world tour where they simply rehash the same songs, go through the same routines, on the same scale. How many times does one really need to see Mick Jagger prance around on stage shouting “give me a yeah”, I guess one can be thankful he no longer does it in full leotard.

As for their set-list on tour, they pretty much have not changed their set in twenty-five years, a set that mostly contains the same revolving door of about twenty songs mixed in with the odd cover or rare number. They seem to have been trying to remedy this slightly on their current tour by inviting star guests to perform with them while allowing fans to vote for a song to appear in the set-list, a nice enough gesture from Sir Mick if it means a rarely played number from their extensive back catalog will be played. I guess that’s what happens when you have been around for fifty years, you have so many songs you can’t play them all, but the easy option with The Stones has been to just play mainly hits and play them on every tour they do. Don’t get me wrong “Jumping Jack Flash”, “Brown Sugar” and “Satisfaction” are all great songs, but how many times does one need to hear them especially when you think of some of the other great songs The Stones have up their sleeve which never get played. As a band, if you have such a vast catalog of music to pick from you may as well use it, and their current tour would have been a perfect chance to vary their set a bit more and air some of their older sixties tracks, or rare studio gems.

Then there is the question of their musical validity, does anyone know any of their material since say about 1983?  I know several songs which are pretty good, but on the whole, their albums have been pretty average. Average to the point they hardly play any of the material from them live, which either says they also don’t think much of the material from their more recent releases, or are simply pre-empting what the fans think of which in that materials absence suggests the fans don’t think much of the Bridges of Babylon album, or Voodoo Lounge either. So in terms of producing new material, The Stones have not been musically valid for many years, and have only really gotten by on the continuous touring of their classic hits and reputation they built up over many years. They are not alone then in this regard as the live nostalgia market of acts from the 60s, 70s and even 80s is booming. I guess one positive of this is at least some of the original members are still involved unlike some acts (without naming names) that carry on with a different line-up, or with one egotistical member left living off past glories.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love The Stones and their music, if they came to New Zealand I would definitely attempt to see them just to have that opportunity before they definitely retire for good. But it is time that they wrapped it up once and for all. Every time I see Mick Jagger I just think he has become too business orientated with this group and how it seems to have become all about making the most money out of this brand for as long as possible. Hence the reason the prices for some of the tickets for their current tour have come in at $900 a pop. Yes, Ronny and Keith look like they are having a good time and good on them, yes fifty years is a great achievement considering the number of times they were written off by critics not to mention how many bands don’t even last ten years. But the cold harshness of reality tells me it shouldn’t have lasted this long and Jagger and company are now just going through the motions whilst picking up a giant paycheck at the same time. I hope this is the last tour and the band decides to exist left of stage gracefully, but I have my doubts, especially if Jagger continues to see dollar signs.  Just imagine ten years from now a 60th-anniversary tour?  The thought is too much to bear.

– Sam


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