In 1969, prior to a free concert at London’s Hyde Park, Sam Cutler introduced The Rolling Stones to the 250,000 fans in attendance as “the greatest rock & roll band in the world.” Suffice it to say the epithet stuck and in the 40-plus years since that fateful intro the band has done nothing but prove they’re worthy of the title.
The Rolling Stones have recorded some of the greatest songs in the history of rock and roll: “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” “Start Me Up,” “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” and “It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll (But I Like It).” As of 2012, the band has released 29 studio albums with Exile on Main St. universally regarded as the best. They’ve been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, they’re ranked 4th on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the “100 Greatest Artists of All Time,” and they’ve sold more than 200 million albums.
The Rolling Stones were founded in 1962 by Brian Jones, Mick Jagger, and Keith Richards. The trio was later joined by Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman. In the beginning, Jones was the driving force (he actually named them) but due to his hubris and drug use he was surpassed by Jagger and Richards. In 1969, Jones and the rest of the band amicably agreed that it was time to part ways. Sadly, Jones died a month later. He was replaced by Mick Taylor (his first live appearance with the band was the aforementioned free concert). He was eventually replaced by Ronnie Wood. Wyman left the band in 1993. As of 2012, the lineup consists of Jagger, Richards, Watts, and Wood.
Part of the British Invasion, The Rolling Stones were purposely billed as bad boys to contrast with the squeaky clean image of The Beatles. For example, The Stones didn’t smile on the cover of their first U.K. studio album. Soon, the image became reality as The Rolling Stones actually became the bad boys of rock and roll. Jagger, Jones, and Richards were all arrested for drug possession in 1967; a spectator was killed at the Altamont Free Concert in 1969 (which many called the official end of the decade of the 1960s); and Richards continued to get busted for drug possession well into the 1970s. Besides their behavior, the band also released songs that perpetuated their uncouth image: “Brown Sugar,” “Midnight Rambler,” “Sympathy for the Devil,” “Rocks Off,” “Bitch,” and “Star Star.”
After releasing Exile on Main St. in 1972 the band entered what many critics saw as a slump (although The Stones still released a bunch of great music). This downturn was mainly due to sloth brought on by success and heavy drug use. However, just when The Rolling Stones were about to be written off they released Some Girls. The album was a huge success and reaffirmed them as the world’s greatest rock band.
They continued to make albums into the 1980s but tensions between Jagger and Richards threatened the band’s future. The discord culminated in 1986 with the release of Dirty Work—not their best effort. After tackling solo projects and spending some time apart, relationships within the band improved. The Stones released Steel Wheels in 1989 in what many viewed as yet another successful comeback.
The Rolling Stones have preserved and withstood the test of time. In 2012, the band celebrated its 50th anniversary with shows in London and New York. While they are often derided for being old, the band has always been the best live act in the world. Whether it’s the 1960s or the 21st century, every rock and roll fan wants Rolling Stones tickets. If there was a Mr. Rushmore of rock they’d definitely be on it.