Against a backdrop of social unrest and protests The Rolling Stones entered 1969 as a successful blues band that had experimented with psychedelia but were returning to their rock'n'roll roots. By the end of 1969 they had released a stone cold classic, lost one of their founding members, played an era defining concert at Hyde Park to half a million people and seen a fan stabbed to death at their concert in Altamont. This is the story of how 1969 cemented the Stones as "the greatest rock & roll band in the world".
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About the Author
Patrick Humphries started out as a hip young gunslinger on "New Musical Express" in 1976, and has been writing about music ever since. In the intervening years he has interviewed three Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, Lou Reed, Roger Waters, Joe Strummer, Elvis Costello, Cher, Neil Tennant and Art Garfunkel, among others. He has contributed to The Times, The Independent, The Guardian, Mojo and Sunday Express and has written numerous books including definitive biographies of Nick Drake, Fairport Convention, Tom Waits, Richard Thompson and Lonnie Donegan. He has also written and presented a wide variety of series and individual documentaries for BBC Radio 2 and Radio 4.
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When The Train Come In The Station
"Pop stars have always been loved ... or at least liked. They have been romantic or amusing, or brought rough from backstreet beginnings to polished stardom and admired for their success. But they've never been loathed, or jeered at by half the population. That is, not until 1963!"
That was how Pete Goodman (aka Peter Jones) began Our Own Story By The Rolling Stones, the first and "only official account" of the band. Record Mirror stalwart Jones was the first journalist to get fully behind the band, publishing Our Own Story in 1964, and my five-shilling copy is literally falling apart. I bought it in Beckenham when I was twelve and had run out of Beatle things to read about, so I switched to the Stones. I had experienced a frisson when I spotted local resident Bill Wyman, with his then-wife Diane, pushing their young son in a pushchair down Beckenham High Street. This momentous sighting occurred just outside the Three Tuns pub, where, five years later, David Bowie would run the Beckenham Arts Lab. Today, it is a Zizzi restaurant – which, as my wife pointed out, they should rename 'Zizzi Stardust'.
It goes without saying that the sighting of any celebrity was exciting in 1964. Even though they had relocated to London from Liverpool, the likelihood of me actually seeing a Beatle was remote. But spotting Bill had fuelled my imagination. There really was a playground schism back then: were you a Beatles or Stones fan? The Stones generally appealed to those of a somewhat rougher edge, though in truth I preferred the more melodic, singalong appeal of The Beatles – the Rolling Stones sounded to me like they needed their grittier edges sanded off. In retrospect, even on their early singles The Beatles sounded better on record. And they were fortunate to have come under the watch of George Martin, rather than EMI contemporaries of Martin's: producers Norrie Paramour, who worked closely with Cliff Richards & the Shadows, and Ron Richards, who was assigned to produce The Beatles' first session for Parlophone in June 1962, before Martin took over. From the very beginning, George Martin had discerned a certain elusive something in his charges and was willing to follow their lead. On disc, the Stones had had to rely on Andrew Loog Oldham who, by his own admission, could barely produce his way out of a paper bag. "He's an idiot," the Small Faces' Ian McLagan confirmed to Shawn Levy, in Levy's 2002 book Ready, Steady, Go! "He has no idea about sound. He couldn't produce a burp after a glass of beer."
However with new producer Jimmy Miller both on board and behind the board, the Stones were bracing themselves for an equally strong-sounding follow-up to Beggars Banquet. They were not to know that, at the dawn of 1969, they were about to have the field to themselves – and, within 12 months, they would move to the top of the pile.
By 1969, The Beatles had run their course. At the end of 1968, there had been tantalising plans for live shows at the London Roundhouse (never realised), and the weekly music press was filled with rumours of a 'new phase' Beatles LP to follow September's release of Abbey Road. However, a desultory 40-minute show on a windy London rooftop early in the New Year, and that was that – and in those days, when a group stopped touring and releasing new material, that really was it.
Today, it seems incredible to recall the permanent, enduring interest in The Beatles, a band that last released new music and played together half a century ago. Equally incredible is the fact that their main rivals are still going strong. The Stones just keep on keeping on. And on. And on. How many times researching this book did I come across contemporary accounts of the Stones returning to the live arena under the headline 'The Last Time'? It's been the same story since the band first entered tax exile, when Edward Heath served as prime minister from 1970 to 1974. The same headline appears under the administrations of presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush Senior, Clinton, Bush Junior, Obama and Trump ... the Rolling Stones' longevity is simply unparalleled.
People assume it is huge financial incentives that keep the band on the road year after year, decade after decade. But that theory misses the point. Each of the Stones could retire comfortably to their lavish properties around the globe, but they tour and record incessantly because that's what a band does. That's what the bluesmen they so admire did: they played until they dropped. Though when the Stones do finally drop, it will be under far cushier circumstances than their African-American forebears.
As Keith Richards reminded journalist Roy Carr, a mere quarter of a century into the Stones' career: "Nobody ever turned around to Muddy Waters, B.B. King or John Lee Hooker and said: 'Now you have to stop, you're not allowed to play any longer.'"
Diehard Stones fan and rock journalist David Sinclair told me: "The Stones are redefining old age as they redefined youth. B.B. King and John Lee Hooker played sitting down at the end – they were manifestly old men. The Stones make you look at old age in different ways; they have redefined how you look at growing older."
Despite their legendary status, the Stones are mortal. Like us, none of them had the ability to imagine their future. There's that oft-viewed clip of a cherubic young Mick Jagger opining: "I can't imagine myself singing 'Satisfaction' when I'm thirty." And as early as 1968, he was jokingly telling journalist Keith Altham: "We are hoping to make several live appearances shortly from our wheelchairs!"
Or again, speaking to the Daily Mirror in 1972: "When I'm 33, I quit ... I don't want to be a rock'n'roll singer all my life. I couldn't bear to end up as an Elvis Presley and sing in Las Vegas." Needless to say, in the course of their endless career, the Stones have played Vegas, although, true to their word, they have never succumbed to a residency.
Charlie Watts was, as ever, wearily philosophical when talking to Keith Altham at Olympic Studios during a recording session in the late sixties: "All these things go in cycles ... The times have changed and it's going to be a long time till they change again. Outside these studios now there are two kids. A year ago there were 10 and the year before that 20 or more!"
David Sinclair, then chief music critic of The Times, remembers being called in by the paper's obituary editor in 1998. The newspaper of national record had it on good authority that Keith Richards was soon for that great juke-joint in the sky, and Sinclair was asked to update the forty-four-year-old rocker's obituary. He duly amended it, but sadly the obituary editor died the following year. I don't know what moral is to be drawn from this, save that Keith motors on and on. The legend persists that he is driven with someone else's blood filling his veins on a regular basis. The Keith who operates with more chemicals circulating in his system than ICI. Keith, with a well-worn face hewn from the granite of a lifetime's real living. The Keith who, like the Dude in the 1998 film The Big Lebowski, simply endures.
The Rolling Stones defy all logic and reason, their very durability at odds with the 'live fast and die young' expectations of the rock'n'roll culture they virtually created. They are a part not just of our national culture but also our national heritage. The trajectory of events leading up to 1969 is so well known that it needs only to be briefly sketched in. However, it is worth recalling the steps they took and the decisions they made that so affected their path through to that incendiary year.
The Rolling Stones are not, and never were, just a band. They are an institution. They are an industry. They are venerated and scorned in equal measure. They are rock'n'roll outlaws. They are a number of registered companies. They operate as a cohesive whole. They are at odds with each other. Offstage, they can't bear to be in the same room. They are inseparable. And at the end of the long, long day, mention the Rolling Stones and the gnarled faces of two old men will come immediately to mind.
Older today than Churchill was when first elected prime minister, Mick Jagger still maintains pole position on that curious plateau of the ultra-celebrity, his every move, birthday, grandchild and paternity suit duly recorded in print, on film and in cyberspace. Keith Richards, the other side of that glittering coin, is busy outliving all those howling wolves, lizard kings and crawling king snakes. A man indeed, but more legend than mere mortal.
However, it is the dynamic between Mick and Keith that still fascinates, and it is the fulcrum of their partnership that still intrigues. From the outside, Stones fans want to believe Mick is still waiting on a friend. It applies in the same way you want to believe that Edward VIII was happy having sacrificed his throne to marry Mrs Simpson. Or that Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel enjoy each other's company. Or the Everly Brothers. Or the Eagles. Or Lennon and McCartney, when the former was still alive ... Jagger recognised the public fascination in the pair when he talked to Rolling Stone magazine's Jann Wenner a full 34 years after their first proper encounter at Dartford railway station, one of the most significant milestones in the band's – nay, rock'n'roll – history: "People like partnerships because they can identify with the drama of two people in a partnership. They can feed off a partnership, and that keeps people entertained. Besides, if you have a successful partnership, it's self-sustaining."
That enduring on-off, up-and-down, in-and-out relationship is at the heart of any appreciation and understanding of the Rolling Stones. For all the many millions accrued and the gallons of water that have since flowed under the bridge, my bargain-basement Freudian belief is that Mick always envied Keith. Mick was, essentially, a well-brought-up middle-class suburbanite with a strong work ethic. Keith was the naughty rapscallion who didn't give a fuck. Keith would always go as far as he could, out on a limb, in at the deep end, under the cosh. But it was the tenacious Mick who was happy to make the business decisions that ensured the band's future. Without Jagger's motivation, it could be that the Rolling Stones would have found themselves bracketed alongside their long-forgotten Decca labelmates. But Mick diligently crunched the numbers and read the small print, while you get the sense that Keith never was a man to be troubled by detail.
Class was always an issue with Jagger and Richards, as David Hepworth wryly observed in 2018's Uncommon People: "Michael Philip being academically able and the son of a middle-class family, had gone to Dartford Grammar School, which turned out Dartford's next generation of doctors and bank managers. Keith, not being academically inclined ... had gone to Dartford Technical High School, which turned out the people who fixed the cars of the doctors and bank managers."
Anita Pallenberg, who more than anyone had the opportunity to observe that dynamic firsthand, confirmed my belief, telling Victor Bockris for his biography on Keith: "In many ways, Keith was the man Mick wanted to be. Free and easy in his own skin, not uptight like Mick. Tough when he had to be, had a good time, enjoyed drinking, drugs and carousing. Mick envied Keith."
For all the louche decadence associated with the name 'Mick Jagger', the sybaritic Stone has always been canny on so many levels. Mick's sole mention in a dictionary of 20th-century quotations confirms that dichotomy: "It's all right letting yourself go, as long as you can let yourself back in."
Mick & Keith, the Glimmer Twins, Keef and Sir Mick ... they are the old married couple. They are like Groucho Marx when asked if he loved his brother, Chico: "No, but I'm used to him." They are the owners of the corner shop in the nineties BBC comedy Stella Street, in which the characters 'Mick' and 'Keith' forsake rock'n'roll to run a corner shop in Surbiton. Phil Cornwell's 'Mick' fusses over details, ensuring there are sufficient quantities of Daz washing powder, dog food and tinned peaches. And all the while, John Sessions's blithely indifferent 'Keith' necks the JD, unconcerned with the rissoles, and mumbles in that gris-gris patois, beneath which the twang of Dartford is still evident.
For Londoners, Dartford in Kent is remote, but not as far-flung as Liverpool. It sits today inside the M25, but perhaps just a tad too close to Essex for comfort. Billericay and Canvey Island nestle the other side of the Thames Estuary. Kent is the 'Garden of England', the county's rolling hills finding room for hops, apple orchards and strawberry crops for the Wimbledon fortnight. Aside from the Rolling Stones, though, Dartford barely features in the history of these islands, although it does now boast a Mick Jagger Theatre. At the time of writing, there are no plans for a suitable Keith Richards venue; however, in 2015 a plaque was unveiled on the historic railway platform where Mick and Keith reconnected as teenagers. And it is the linking of those two first names that still lends Dartford its status.
Those early lives, chronicled in every Stones book, are now almost embedded in the National Curriculum. Let us focus instead on that epiphanic moment in October 1961, when a teenage Keith locked eyes on the long-playing records from faraway America that an old primary school chum of his clutched under his arm on a windy railway platform, far removed from the bright lights and big city. Much has been made of the moment, but it is worth reviewing, for without it, quite possibly, the 1960s would have turned out very differently.
Mick was dutifully on his way to the London School of Economics, Keith ambling along to Sidcup Art College. But this was no brief encounter on a platform – there was already a history between the two. But, for Keith, it was the treasure trove in Jagger's arms that held him spellbound. On that day, it was Chuck Berry's Rockin' At The Hops and a Best Of Muddy Waters that sent out the signals. This was an unspoken code, which almost made the need for language unnecessary. We can picture the scene: two primary school friends, now 'grown up', probably each puffing away on the first fag of the day. Scarves wrapped to keep out the autumn chill. An edgy, lifted chin, a mumbled "How ya doin'?" A shake of the still conservatively short hair, the scratch of an acne-scarred cheek, a pout from those lips, yellowing fingers scratching through an uncombed barnet. And then the moment of revelation. A glimmer of recognition ...
'Chuck' and 'Muddy' were not names that would have featured in Dartford school registers. Copies of their work would not have been available at the hardware stores where one could purchase LPs by Cliff Richard and Adam Faith. If the area had such a thing as a lending library, it likely would have stocked classical, with – as a nod to Modernism – possibly some 'jazz'.
We all used to do it, carry LPs under our arms, covers outward, to prove to our peers just what cool cats we were. And it is apt that it was music which drew Jagger and Richards together again. It bound them at the hip; it provided them with a future; and it proved to be a lifelong bond. It is hard to convey today, in this age of immediate information, with the entire history of knowledge available at the press of a button or the flick of a switch, just what a parochial world those teenagers inhabited. But, as it happened, the mere glimpse of Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry sleeves was enough: just one look, that's all it took ...
Both Mick and Keith were enchanted and entranced by the music that came across the ocean from the distant United States, whether it was the raw Mississippi blues whipping up from the Delta, or the hard-edged electric blues from Chicago's South Side. Part of that appeal lay not just in the distance of its origin but in its mystery. Those haunted African Americans sang of unimaginable suffering and torment, captivating two teenagers whose main concerns were a lack of cigarettes, sexual congress and the presence of pimples.
It was that sense of mystery and exclusivity that fuelled the early Stones. Just obtaining the records was a struggle; no point in popping along to your local record store – that would entail a fruitless sift through the racks of vanilla-clean Bobby Vee albums or endless trad jazz selections. If you had the energy, Dobell's on Charing Cross Road used to stock US folk and blues in an orange box on the counter, labelled 'Race Records'. I remember jazz musician Chris Barber telling me that he and Alexis Korner almost came to blows over a Robert Johnson 78, given that it was the only copy in London!(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Rolling Stones 69"
Copyright © 2019 Omnibus Press.
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Table of Contents
Part 1 Jigsaw Puzzle 9
Chapter 1 When The Train Come In The Station 11
Chapter 2 Cheltenham, A Diversion 22
Chapter 3 Little By Little 28
Chapter 4 Coke & Sympathy 41
Chapter 5 The Devil Is My Name 55
Part 2 A Storm Is Threatening 69
Chapter 6 Diamonds From The Mine 71
Chapter 7 You Gotta Move 100
Chapter 8 Something Is Happening 109
Chapter 9 The Stones In The Park 121
Chapter 10 The Wizard Of Oz 137
Chapter 11 The Greatest Rock'n'Roll Band In The World 152
Chapter 12 Dancing With Mr D 184
Chapter 13 Gimme Shelter 207
Chapter 14 Let It Bleed 219
Chapter 15 You Got The Gold 250
Chapter 16 Salt Of The Earth 269
Part 3 Aftermath 279
Chapter 17 The Glimmer Twins 281
Chapter 18 The Wild Bunch 316
In Memoriam 329