- The Drifters Band History: From Lineup Changes to Legal Trouble - September 6, 2022
- The Four Tops Band History - August 26, 2022
- Creedence Clearwater Band History: The Prolific Band with a Surprisingly Short Life Span - August 8, 2022
The Rolling Stones are undoubtedly one if not the most influential rock band to ever exist. Although their most notable work comes from the ‘60s and the ‘70s, the band has been in the spotlight for six decades and still continues to tour today.
Despite many controversies involving drug use, album covers, and song lyrics, the band continued to top the charts with their many hits including “Start Me Up,” “Under My Thumb,” and “Paint it Black.”
There were eras where band members went on solo careers, but the band never deteriorated and actually came back stronger than ever. If you don’t know much about The Rolling Stones or want to settle the debate between The Beatles and The Rolling Stones read on as this article may give you the information you are looking for.
Original Lineup and Additional Members Over Time
The original Rolling Stones band members consisted of the following musicians:
- Mick Jagger (vocals and harmonica)
- Keith Richards (guitar)
- Brian Jones (guitar and various additional instruments)
- Bill Wyman (bass)
- Charlie Watts (drums)
- Ian Stewart (keyboards)
Later Members included:
- Mick Taylor (guitar)
- Ron Wood (guitar)
- Steve Jordan (drums)
The story of The Rolling Stones extends all the way back to 1950 in Dartford, Kent. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were classmates as well as friends, but lost track of each other over time. In the mid 1950s, Jagger formed a garage band that played music by blues acts like Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Bo Diddley.
After years of going their separate ways, Richards and Jagger reunited in 1961 on a train platform. The albums Jagger was carrying interested Richards and sparked up a conversation. Soon after, the two joined forces and created a band.
In 1962, the band expanded to slide guitarist Brain Jones, keyboardist Ian Stewart, and drummer Charlie Watts after meeting them all in a local Jazz club. The band name they originally played under was Chicago Blues. However, soon after Jones was talking to a journalist and the journalist asked for the band’s name. Jones saw a Muddy Waters LP lying on the floor and one of the tracks was Rollin’ Stone. From there, Jones decided the band’s name was The Rollin’ Stones, and everyone just went along with it.
Becoming a Name and Building a Following
The group played their first show as The Rollin’ Stones on July 12, 1962 at the Marquee Club in London. However, Dick Taylor was the bassist for a short time before Bill Wyman auditioned and obtained the official role as bassist. At first, the band played covers from Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley. In 1963, the band started finding their stride by playing original music and began to find popularity.
In 1964, the band now went by The Rolling Stones and beat The Beatles as the number one UK band in two surveys. At the time, their manager was 19 year old Andrew Loog Oldham. Oldham was younger than any member in the band and could not obtain an agent’s license or sign contracts without his mother co-signing.
Originally, Oldham wanted to follow The Beatles footsteps and have The Rolling Stones wear suits to look more professional. Later, he changed his mind and allowed the band to directly contrast The Beatles by wearing unmatched clothing, long hair and an “unclean appearance,” which ended up fitting their musical style much better.
At this time, Stewart ended up leaving the original line up, but remained road manager and touring keyboardist. The band was then signed to Decca Records, which declined to sign a deal with The Beatles.
The Rolling Stones got three times a new act’s typical royalty rate and full artistic control of recordings and ownership of the master tapes—which was basically unheard of for a new act. A cover version of Chuck Berry’s Come On was their first single a rose to number 21 on the UK Singles Chart making them a larger name seemingly overnight.
During this time, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles were actually friends. Paul McCartney and John Lennon even wrote and gave them the song I Wanna Be Your Man to put on their rotation. This was around the time where Jagger and Richards started taking songwriting seriously although their early attempts were described as “sloppy and imitative.”
Becoming Famous and the Height of Stardom
The band’s second UK LP was titled The Rolling Stones No. 2 and reached number one on the charts making them a household name in Western Europe. Soon after, the US version The Rolling Stones, Now! Was released and made them an international success. From there, Richards and Jagger really hit their stride with songwriting releasing classics like The Last Time, Get Off of My Cloud, Paint it Black, and Under My Thumb.
In 1966, the band released the album Aftermath and it was the first album that completely consisted of Jagger/Richards written songs. It reached number one in the UK and number two in the US. This is also where Brian Jones started to take on some more unconventional instruments like the sitar in Paint it Black, and the marimbas in Under my Thumb.
Live shows for The Rolling Stones were very high energy and drug filled, making the job tough for police trying to control the crowd. The crowds became rebellious and physically exhausting resulting in the police becoming more and more assertive. This was a very different atmosphere from many other successful acts of the time. In fact, the band was very open about their drug usage.
In 1967, Jagger, Richards, and Jones began to get hounded by the police for their recreational drug use, which was also a first for the time period. In mid 1967, three of the five members of The Rolling Stones faced drug charges for recreational drug use officially making them the bad boys of rock n’ roll. However, the band pumped out singles and albums keeping them a household name much to law enforcer’s dismay.
The band could not keep going the way they were. They were notorious not only for their music but their partying as well. Richards and Jones had a major girlfriend dispute, which drove a wedge into the middle of the band as the two could hardly work together anymore. This led to Jones contributing to the band less and less. Soon after, Jones was found drowned in his pool under “mysterious circumstances.” This case was never solved and was ruled an accidental death. Jones was replaced by Mick Taylor.
At this point, the band was pumping out albums such as classics like Let it Bleed and Sticky Fingers, the latter being the first time the infamous Rolling Stones lips logo was introduced. The logo was created to follow the suggestion by Jagger to copy the stuck out tongue of the Hindu goddess, Kali. It was one of the first times a logo could be used with a brand and the masses knew what it was referring to without a name being listed beside it.
In 1976, the band needed another guitarist and auditioned stars like Peter Frampton and Jeff Beck to join, but settled on Ronnie Wood as their newest member. During this time, Richards struggled to stay out of jail and made multiple attempts to get clean ultimately costing him his marriage and family in the process.
The Commercial Years
During this time, Disco was very popular and many true fans accused The Rolling Stones for selling out to the fad after the release of Miss You. Much to the fans relief, it was the only disco inspired song the band released. From there, hits like Beast of Burden and Shattered came out re-gaining the popularity they lost with Miss You.
Controversy happened soon after with the hit Let’s Spend the Night Together as the couple was about two people having premarital relations. When performing on The Ed Sullivan Show, they were asked to edit the line “Let’s spend the night together” to “Let’s spend some time together,” which they did much to the dislike of their fans who, once again, called them sell outs. In mid-1982 the band signed a new recording deal for a reported $50 million, which was the biggest record deal in history.
In 1983, Richards and Jagger had a huge rift, which made it difficult for them to work together. This started as a result of Jagger signing a solo deal with CBS records and turning his focus to write music for that endeavor rather than for the band. This lead to a lukewarm reception of the album Dirty Work, and led to Richards pursuing his own solo career. This almost led to the band’s demise as they were very rarely working together at this time.
In 1989, The Rolling Stones were inducted to The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and this is when Richards and Jagger put their differences aside and began working together again. The band keep releasing records such as Flashpoint and Wandering Spirit but the popularity of their newer work could not complete with the albums released during the height of their popularity.
From there, the band continued to release albums but toured with their past hits being the real draw as well as new songs in their lineup. Until the band released A Bigger Bang, which shot to the number two spot on the UK charts and number three on the US charts which catapulted them back into the public eye.
In 2006, the band played the Super Bowl Halftime Show in Detroit Michigan and got raving reviews for their performance and made the tour for A Bigger Bang an even bigger success.
The Rolling Stones Today
The Rolling Stones celebrated their 50th anniversary in the summer of 2012 by releasing the book The Rolling Stones: 50, which saw huge success. From there the band continued to release singled but mostly focused on touring as each tour they went on came with the rumor of the band packing it in for good—which they obviously haven’t to this day.
Today, the band is in their golden years but continue to tour much to the surprise of both critics and fans alike. The band’s 1973 album Goats Head Soup was reissued and The Rolling Stones became the first band to top the charts in six different decades. In 2021, Charlie Watts passed away, but the band pays homage by showing pictures and videos of the drummer at the beginning of each show while touring.
- The Rolling Stones / England’s Newest Hit Makers (1964)
- 12 X 5 (1964)
- The Rolling Stones No. 2 / The Rolling Stones, Now! (1965)
- Out of Our Heads (1965)
- December’s Children (And Everybody’s) (1965)
- Aftermath (1966)
- Between the Buttons (1967)
- Their Satanic Majesties Request (1967)
- Beggars Banquet (1968)
- Let It Bleed (1969)
- Sticky Fingers (1971)
- Exile on Main St. (1972)
- Goats Head Soup (1973)
- It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll (1974)
- Black and Blue (1976)
- Some Girls (1978)
- Emotional Rescue (1980)
- Tattoo You (1981)
- Undercover (1983)
- Dirty Work (1986)
- Steel Wheels (1989)
- Voodoo Lounge (1994)
- Bridges to Babylon (1997)
- A Bigger Bang (2005)
- Blue & Lonesome (2016)
Notable Studio Albums
Aftermath was released in the United Kingdom on April 15 1966 by Decca Records, and it was released in the United States on July 2. It is the Rolling Stone’s fourth British and sixth American studio album. This album is the album that many say started the rivalry with The Beatles, and is said to be an artistic breakthrough for the band as it was the first album to consist of all original compositions.
There was controversy with “Mother’s Little Helper” as the song is about homemakers abusing prescription medication in order to get through the day, a trend that was popular at the time but not openly talked about. “Under my Thumb” was also seen as sexist as it explains how a woman should be submissive after getting in a relationship. This led to the band being called “the bad boys of rock music.”
Track List US Version:
- “Paint It Black” (originally mistitled “Paint It, Black”)
- “Stupid Girl”
- “Lady Jane”
- “Under My Thumb”
- “Doncha Bother Me”
- Side Two
- “Flight 505”
- “High and Dry”
- “It’s Not Easy”
- “I Am Waiting”
- “Goin’ Home”
Let It Bleed (1969)
Let It Bleed was created during a time of great turmoil within the band. Brian Jones became relentlessly unreliable in the studio due to heavy drug use. During recording sessions he was either completely absent from the studio or so incapacitated that he was unable to perform.
Because of this, he was fired from the band leaving Keith Richards as the band’s sole guitarist until the band replaced him with Mick Taylor. Jones died mysteriously a month after being fired from the band. Jones only recorded two songs on this album.
This album hit number one on the UK charts and number three on the US charts. The songs on the albums did not rank super high at the time, but with touring, “Gimmie Shelter” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” became incredibly popular.
- “Gimmie Shelter”
- “Love in Vain
- “Country Honk”
- “Live with Me”
- “Let it Bleed”
- Side Two
- “Midnight Rambler”
- “You Got the Silver”
- “Monkey Man”
- “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”
Sticky Fingers (1971)
Many regard Sticky Fingers as the band’s most notable and popular album although there is controversy with both the imagery and music within the album. The cover image is a suggestive innuendo of a male wearing tight jeans with the focus being a close-up of the man’s crotch. Andy Walhol conceived the artwork.
Many believe the man in the image was Mick Jagger, but Warhol claims he photographed several different men for this image and Jagger was not included on that list. Another controversy was the song “Brown Sugar” as many saw it as a derogatory song about how black girls act or as one line suggests should act.
The album hit number one after being released on April 23, 1971 on British charts and stayed there for a whooping four weeks before it returned to number one in mid June. In the US, the album hit number one instantly and also stayed there for four weeks. The album spent 69 weeks on the Billboard 200.
- “Brown Sugar”
- “Wild Horses”
- “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking”
- “You Gotta Move”
- Side Two
- “I Got the Blues”
- “Sister Morphine”
- “Dead Flowers”
- “Moonlight Mile”
Some Girls (1978)
Some Girls is not only critically acclaimed for the music on the album, but it also receives rave reviews based on the band’s ability to adapt to the music of the time as well as integrate their classic sound. Critic Thomas Erlewine said, “Some Girls may not have the back-street aggression of their ’60s records, or the majestic, drugged-out murk of their early-’70s work, but its brand of glitzy, decadent hard rock still makes it a definitive Stones album.”
Again, there was controversy on this album, but not like past albums. “Miss You” was a hit that adapted the popular disco style while weaving the band’s soulful style, but hardcore fans did not like it claiming The Rolling Stones sold out to get a wider fan base. Luckily, it was the only song on the album that used the disco style. Other notable hits are “Beast of Burden” and “Shattered.”
- “Miss You”
- “When the Whip Comes Down”
- “Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)”
- “Some Girls”
- Side Two
- “Far Away Eyes”
- “Before They Make Me Run”
- “Beast of Burden”
Tattoo You (1981)
Tattoo You was a unique album as it was primarily composed of studio outtakes recorded during the 1970s. The album was not easy to record as the band was juggling multiple solo careers, which involved touring as well as personal feuding within the band mostly between Jagger and Richards.
The most notable song on the album is “Start Me Up,” which is also one of the band’s biggest hits to date. Tattoo You was critically acclaimed many saying it was a pleasant surprise given the band’s age and the internal feuding going on behind the scenes.
- “Start Me Up”
- “Hang Fire”
- “Little T&A”
- “Black Limousine”
- Side Two
- “Worried About You”
- “No Use in Crying”
- “Waiting on a Friend”
FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions about The Rolling Stones
Answer: Believe it or not, over the many decades The Rolling Stones have been around there have been very few changes to their line up. Most of the changes were due to deaths in later years. Brain Jones was fired from the band, but drowned mysteriously a month later.
• These are the original members of The Rolling Stones:
• Mick Jagger (vocals and harmonica)
• Keith Richards (guitar)
• Brian Jones (guitar and various additional instruments)
• Bill Wyman (bass)
• Charlie Watts (drums)
• Ian Stewart (keyboards)
Answer: The Rolling Stones album that is both the most popular and gets the most critical acclaim is Sticky Fingers. Released in 1971, the album, like many of The Rolling Stones albums came with controversy involving the cover image as well as the lyrics to the song “Brown Sugar.”
Answer: Since the Rolling Stones have been around so long, they have obviously had a ton of hits including (but not limited to):
• “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”
• “Paint it Black”
• “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”
• “Under My Thumb”
• “Brown Sugar”
• “Gimmie Shelter”
• “Sympathy for the Devil”
• “Start Me Up”
• “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”
• “Beast of Burden”
• “Miss You”
• “Wild Horses”
• “Mother’s Little Helper”
• “Tumbling Dice”
• “Honky Tonk Woman”
• “Let’s Spend the Night Together”
• “She’s a Rainbow”
• “Ruby Tuesday”
Answer: The Rolling Stones undeniably play rock and roll, and have been said to be the bad boys of the genre due to their drug use and ongoing controversy within the band. However, they were inspired by many American Blues acts like Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Bo Diddley giving them a blues sounds as well.
Answer: Originally, the band went by Chicago Blues. One day Brian Jones was talking with a journalist and saw a Muddy Waters LP open and saw the song Rollin’ Stone, which prompted him to say the band’s name was The Rollin’ Stones. The band just went along with it eventually adapting the name to The Rolling Stones.
Final Thoughts on The Rolling Stones
There haven’t been many bands to maintain so much success over six decades. In fact, there might not be any outside of The Rolling Stones. There aren’t many people on the planet that can’t name at least one Rolling Stones song as there are so many.
Many people argue over which band is more influential, The Rolling Stones or The Beatles—personally I am in the camp of The Rolling Stones as they have never broken up despite all their inner turmoil and continue to tour even to this days while being well in their 80s.
There aren’t many bands with more dedication, talent, and notoriety. If you are not very familiar with the Rolling Stones, I highly recommend checking out some of their hits as they will instantly hook you into fandom.