A Case for the Rolling Stones - Patrick Fryberger
I often feel, as was obvious in class, that the Rolling Stones are somewhat discredited and left out of the brightest areas of the limelight in looking back on modern music history. They are of course mentioned, but only as the bad-boy alternative to the Beatles that would have a shortlived "golden era" and then just hung around for years upon years. Other reasons for their discredit include that early on they played second fiddle to, of course, the Beatles, who also helped jumpstart their career with Lennon/McCartney writing a song or two for Jagger/Richards, and also early on the Stones seemed to stumble after them stylistically in whichever new, innovative direction the Beatles took. The very fact that this blog assignment is deemed "Elvis, the Beatles, & Dylan" was the last straw in me utilizing this space to make a case for the "the greatest rock n' roll band in the world, the Rolling Stones," as they were often introduced by the time of their "golden era." Now, I want to clarify that I do respect and recognize the huge amount of innovation and influence these artists put forth and the timeless fanbase they received as a result of it. And it's also obvious that I'm biased by being, indeed, a Stones fan, as opposed to my rather moderate interest in Elvis, the Beatles, and Dylan. But I'm not just sticking up for the underdog here, I'm sticking up for the one who should've had to be stood up against; the one that called themselves the greatest rock n' roll band in the world and practically obliterated the psychedelic movement which they were once a part of. The one who, gathered only minimal moss and changed, at least on the surface, their music and style to fit the mass opinion in a shameless, almost business-like manner. So no, I'm not supporting the Rebel Alliance, I'm supporting the Empire, and for good reason.
First off, the Rolling Stones in fact were the bad guys, as it noted in the video. They were the band that made any parents' worries about the Beatles go right out the window and provided a new focus for bashing rock n' roll music from a conservative perspective. At first appearance, they were ugly, unhealthily skinny, and grungy, and played loud material that echoed the original round of rock n' roll that had been so risqué, whereas the Beatles simply mirrored the cultural phenomenon which was Elvis. And, in a way, their clunky beginning almost worked its way into their act, being that they were sloppy, they were behind, and they were almost always overshadowed by artists like the Beatles or Dylan. The Beatles and Dylan dived into writing their own songs first, but it was the Stones who took the lead in writing darker, dirtier material relative for the times, and it was pointlessly so--the music wasn't really politically or emotionally charged (despite what they may say), just simply a means for whoever was listening to have a good old rocking time. Even though I find the Beatles' and especially Dylan's lyrics vastly overrated, I can fully consent to the fact that they contain a whole lot more depth than the average Stones song, much in the mode of early Beatles pop-rockers. But it was because of this that the Stones were so effective--just in the same way it was said in class that the Beatles may have been the remedy for the J.F.K. tragedy--the Stones were that kind of outlet. After some time the psychedelic movement came on, led most predominantly by the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix and others, and of course the Stones came clunking after. At this time they released what I would say are some great albums but which many seem to agree are very poor, so I'll just roll with it for purposes of staying somewhat neutral. The Rolling Stones were falling behind, to say the least, in their popularity and music. This is when the ‘second-fiddle’ nature seemed most apparent, through their soft-pop and then psychedelic album releases that seemed strangely reminiscent of the Beatles. Because this could be argued as their all-time low (I assure you they got much lower), the Stones, in their proper ‘rolling’ fashion, switched gears in a way that would forever change their image and music. They reverted back to their roots, and created, or perfected, modern rock n’ roll. What I mean by that is this: for seemingly anything in popular culture, there is a beginning, there is an apex, and obviously a downfall. Elvis almost inarguably was the beginning of rock n’ roll, and the Rolling Stones were the apex, much in the way that The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly was for the Western, or Terminator 2 for the action movie. They took the cumulated expanse of blues, of country, of soul, of folk, of gospel, and of course rock n’ roll, and molded it into something that no one had ever heard before, not even Elvis. This manifested itself in their aforementioned "golden era," and kicked off with the release of "Jumpin' Jack Flash." Rising from the darkness, the Stones burst onto to the scene with hard-boiled guitar riffs and a sound of vast, robust confidence ripping through straggly, weathered lyrics. Even listening to it today, you can hear its timeless fusion of multiple genres coming together in what is just simply one helluva song. This was just the beginning as the Stones went on to release four albums that brought a new definition to rock n' roll and pretty much shaped it forever. As the Rolling Stones told the world to Let it Bleed the Beatles told them to Let it Be and Bob Dylan began his gradual descent into obscurity. Of course there were a myriad of other popular artists, but the Stones had seized power and taken over, even going so far to claim themselves "the greatest rock n' roll band in the world." They more or less effectively killed the psychedelic movement with the ejection of guitarist Brian Jones from the band, who would soon afterward die in typically mysterious rock n' roll fashion, and then at Altamont, where the hard-rocking Stones paired with the Hells Angels in a despondent, epic breakdown of hippie optimism. I like to joke that the Beatles called it quits in the face of the newly all-powerful Stones and just simply couldn't hang with the best, but of course it's a matter of opinion. Either way, the bad boys had won, and I say for the better. They had carved a new trajectory in the history of rock n' roll, one that was deep and filled with innovation and influence much like the Beatles and Dylan. But unlike those two, the Stones had an even further grasp of music history with the inclusion of the Beatles, Dylan, Hendrix, the Doors, Led Zeppelin, the Who and so on, and, regardless of any 'who's first' argument, they made the most of it, and packed a bigger punch as a result. I could go on and on to their trashy highs and trashy lows and even a trashy breakup, and then the leveling out of their modern music and so on and so on and just lots of wonderful trash (even their part in the video was awkwardly trashy, but it made me smile), but I won't; I've been long-winded enough. Nevertheless, the purpose of all this is not only to show how I feel about the Stones' music, but also their place in history, and the immense impact of songs like "Gimme Shelter" or "Street Fighting Man" had upon the general populace and culture as a whole. In other words, the Stones did matter, and for better or worse, they always will.