Rant ‘N’ Roll: Stones Rolling

Longevity is a pretty damn good reason to be thought of as “The World’s Greatest Rock ‘N’ Roll Band,” and although I’ve heard the nay-sayers grumble their snark, how many bands can stay rockin’ in a 48-year span? The Rolling Stones Live 1965: Music From` Charlie Is My Darling’ (ABKCO) is out on CD. If you haven’t seen this documentary when “Satisfaction” had just hit number one prior to a riotous Stones gig in Ireland, go get it immediately because you will get to see rock ‘n’ roll music and the power it used to have to cause young males to get violent. This is what American preachers preached against in the ‘50s and they were right. In ’63, Dylan put it in context: “Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command.” He was right too. Real live rock ‘n’ roll can and did incite riots. It did when it was invented in the ‘50s, and it still did when it was co-opted by British bands like the Stones, the Animals and the Beatles (in 1961 Germany and at The Cavern Club in England). Of course, in the 1970s, rock got corporate. The punks were right too but, with few exceptions, they could hardly play their instruments. The music just wasn’t incendiary or dangerous anymore…except, of course, for Jerry Lee Lewis. And by the 1980s, the genre, as a whole, hardly even mattered. It was still harmless fun, sure, and remains fun today, but in a safe de-fanged and de-clawed kind of way with the notion of rock ‘n’ roll as a changing force for society-at-large laughable: like Robert Johnson scarily singin’ ‘bout a “Hellhound On My Trail” in 1937…now the “hellhound” is on a leash.

Fast-forward from 1965 to 2013, yeah, 48 years later, in England, The Rolling Stones Sweet Summer Sun: Hyde Park Live (Eagle Vision) is no oldies nostalgia show. It’s a lean muscled two hours complete with former Stone lead guitarist Mick Taylor on “Midnight Rambler” and “Satisfaction.” Bobby Keys, the greatest white rock ‘n’ roll saxophone player in history, blows his mighty licks. Keyboardist Chuck Leavell resurrects the ghost of original Stones piano player Ian Stewart [1938-1985]. Throw in back-up singer Bernard Fowler who’s been with the Stones on record and on stage for over 25 years now plus the funky bass-poppin’ Darryl Jones replacing Bill Wyman, and you’ve got a set for the ages which includes “Paint It Black,” “Brown Sugar,” “Sympathy For The Devil,” “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” “Miss You,” “Happy,” “Honky Tonk Women,” “Ruby Tuesday,” “Street Fightin’ Man,” “It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll,” “Start Me Up” and eight others. Jagger is a freak-of-nature, just as animated, and sounding just as good, as he did when the Stones first played Hyde Park in 1969. The backstage extras alone are worth the price of admission. It certainly ain’t revolutionary anymore but it feels good.

But let’s go back to 1965 when the Stones were excitingly covering American blues and R&B and rock ‘n’ roll was still new enough to change the lives of its listeners (including my own at 14). Andrew Loog Oldham, a kid himself, was the brilliant manager/friend who actually had to force Mick and Keith to start writing songs. (In the film, you get to see them write “Sittin’ On A Fence.”) In Ireland, flush with success for the first time, their 13 songs with original lead guitarist Brian Jones (I still say the Jones/Jagger/Richards/Wyman/Watts lineup was their greatest), show a young band drunk on their own power and realizing it for the first time. They cover Soloman Burke (“Everybody Needs Somebody To Love”), Nat King Cole (Bobby Troup’s “Route 66”), Howlin’ Wolf (Willie Dixon’s “Little Red Rooster”), Otis Redding (Allan Toussaint’s “Pain In My Heart”), Aretha’s big sister Irma Franklin (Jerry Ragavoy’s “Time Is On My Side”), Grand Ole Opry Nashville star Hank Snow (“I’m Moving On”) and The Will Bradley Trio (Don Ray’s 1940 “Down The Road Apiece” that they probably heard by Chuck Berry). Sloppy, energetic, blues-drenched, with the sound amazingly preserved, it’s a time capsule just as riveting as James Brown At The Apollo…and that’s sayin’ something.