It says much the resilience of The Rolling Stones that the group produced some of their best work during periods of crisis. Their most innovative years between 1966 and 1974, follow by a slow decline. Keith Richard's drugs problems, the lack of a sense of direction and natural on after years on the road all played a part in the rundown. But the Stones battled on.
The 1969 Hyde Park concert was a watershed for the Stones and marked the end of an era of innocence. Jagger, who liked to appear hard and cynica1, was devastated by Brian Jones' death: "I
Am so shocked and, wordless and so sad... “ I hope he is finding peace ", he said later.
There wasn't much peace for the Stones, however. Just a few days after, the London concert
Marianne Faithfull was found unconscious from an alleged over-dose in a hotel room in Sydney, Australia. She had been due to work with Jagger in the movie Ned Kelly, in which he had the starring role. It was claimed she attempted suicide after Mick had tried to end their relationship, and she lay in a coma for a week.
The situation meant Jagger was unable to attend the funeral of Brian Jones, held on July 10 at the church in the quiet country town of Cheltenham, where Brian had once been a choir boy . Brian's epitaph- his own- ran "please don't judge me too harshly”.
It was business as usual for the Stones, the trauma. 'Honky Tonk Women' coupled with 'You
Can't Always Get What You Want', hit Number 1 in the UK charts during July and Number 1 in
the U.S. the following month, where it spent 12 weeks in the charts. The band were determined to carry on with their lives. Mick Taylor had endured a baptism of fire at Hyde Park, but then came the real test.
The Stones’ sixth American tour, their first in three years, was a marathon, during which the band attained the status of heavy rock attraction.
Get what you want
Their first gig, at the State University, Fort Collins, Colorado on November 7, 1969, was a complete sell-out. As the band stormed around the States, weathering complains from the rock critics about ticket prices and protests from right wing political groups, they released a new album, Let It Bleed (London). Recorded in London earlier in the year, it featured minor contributions from both Brian Jones and the new boy Taylor.
All the tracks were Jagger/Richard originals, apart from Woody Payne’s “ Love In Vain” – Let It Bleed revealed both the Stones' greatest strengths and weaknesses.
'Gimme Shelter', 'Midnight Rambler', and 'You Can't Always Get What You Want' were all excellent. They had heartfelt lyrics and terrific tension between Richard's agonized guitar riffs and Jagger's constantly changing, always expressive vocals. 'Midnight Rambler', was a seductive blues number, widely believed to be about The Boston Strangler. With unexpected changes in tempo and menacing rhythm, this was an instant new Stones' classic.
'You Can't Always Get What You Want' had a choir and was given special treatment by Al Kooper -a session musician who bad worked with Bob Dylan amongst others- when Al contributed haunting French horn. Keith Richard unexpectedly took lead vocals on 'You Got The Silver', with a style not as mannered as Mick's. 'Country Honk' was a folksy version of 'Honky Tonk Women', complete with fiddle solo, while the funky 'Monkey Man' had Jagger at his most crazed.
Less impressive was a dismal 'Love In Vain', with dirge-like Jagger vocals, and 'Live With Me', marred by out-of-tune tenor sax- bonking from Bobby Keyes. Taylor only had time to play slide guitar on a couple of tracks, and Brian's contribution was even harder to detect, supposedly percussion on 'Midnight Rambler' and autoharp on 'You Got The Silver'. Singer Merry Clayton made a far more vital contribution to 'Gimme Shelter' -soul power to Mick and Keith's vocals.
Produced by Jimmy Miller, Let It Bleed was a commercial and artistic success, and a great boost to the band's confidence. It marked not only Mick Taylor's arrival in the band but the addition of the American horn section that was featured on several subsequent albums and tours. Yet just as the Stones felt they were on their way up, disaster struck again.
Angels from hell
They had barely recovered from the shock of Brian Jones's death when they bad to face a tragic incident that was to become notorious in rock history, eventually known simply as 'Altamont.' On the same day the new album was released in Britain, December 5, 1969, the band had flown to San Francisco. The Stones were due to give a concert next day at the Altamont speedway track, in Livermore, in front of 500000 fans. Huge traffic jams built up around the area and the band had to be flown in by helicopter. The bill was shared with Santana, Jefferson Airplane, the Flying Burrito brothers and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. During the summer the Stones had employed the British Hells Angels biker gang to “police” their Hyde Park concert, but when their tour manager tried the same policy at Altamont, on the advice of the concert organizers, reckoned without the more aggressive nature of American bikers. When the Stones' fans became unruly, the Angels attacked them with billiard cues and even rode their motorbikes through the audience.
Just as the band began to play “Under My Thumb”, an 18- year old black youth, Meredith Hunter, tried to jump onto the stage. He seemed to be carrying a gun, and a Hell's Angel pulled out a knife and stabbed Hunter to death, right in front of the band. It was decided to continue, with the show, but the whole event was further disrupted by more deaths and injuries. The band could not see all that was happening around them, but the scenes were captured on film for the Stones' tour movie Gimme Shelter. Altamont came to be regarded as, the antithesis of Woodstock. It marked a sad and violent end of the hippie dream of love and peace and a farewell to the Swinging Sixties.
Let it bleed
The band rushed through the remaining numbers of their set before escaping by helicopter. It was the last date of their tour and they left the States to return home comments from “Rolling Stone” magazine about their “egotism” and perceived lack of humanity ringing in their ears. It was whispered that by writing 'Sympathy For The Devil”, the band had- like Led Zeppelin toying with the regalia of swords and sorcery- brought a curse upon themselves.
Whatever the causes, it seemed as if the whole atmosphere around the band was turning bad.
"I thought the show would have been stopped opined Keith later, "but hardly anybody seemed to want to take any notice, The violence just in front of the stage was incredible."
The year ended with Let It Bleed getting to Number 3 in the U.S. and topping the U.K. album charts, knocking off The Beatles' Abbey Road. This was followed by stop- gap live album Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out! recorded at Madison Square Gardens during November 1969. It was their last for London in the U.S. and for Decca in the U. K. The album went to Number 6 in the U.S. in October 1970 and Number l in the U.K. The band then formed their own Rolling Stones label, run by Chess and distributed by the Kinney Record Group.
While controversy raged around The Stones, their personal lives remained in constant turmoil. They seemed possessed by a fanatical desire to keep their careers in over- drive. Jagger was being groomed for film stardom, and during 1970 made his acting debut in Ned Kelly. The bizarre Australian accent he used for the title role was to be the cause of some embarrassed hilarity.
A better performance
He was much better in the surreal and violent gangster movie, Performance, premiered in August 1970. Mick was more at home playing a stoned rock star than an Australian renegade and 'Memo From Turner', sung by Jagger on the movie’s soundtrack album, was a hit in the U.K. in November.
In May 1971 the Stones released the first album on their own label. Sticky Fingers, which yielded yet another smash hit. 'Brown Sugar' quickly topped the U.S. and U.K. charts. The album was packaged in a unique Andy Warhol-designed sleeve, showing a pair of jeans complete with belt and zip fastener. Produced by Jimmy Miller, the songs were brimming with ideas and full of exultant energy.
Keith Richard supplied his celebrated 'knock'em dead" intros on 'Brown Sugar' and 'Bitch', and, vocally, Mick ranged across various moods and grooves, from funk to country to traditional blues. The album went to Number 1 in the U.S. and the acoustic guitar cut 'Wild Horses' reached Number 28. While the Stones celebrated yet another chart-busting success, Jagger took time out to marry his latest girlfriend, Bianca Perez Morena De Macia, in St Tropez, on May 12. It was the society event of the year, but it didn't indicate the Stones' machine had slowed down.
The following year, 'Tumbling Dice' (from Exile On Main Street), was a Top Ten bit in the U.S. and the U.K. Its parent double LP was recorded mainly at the band's own mobile studio in France. Exile... was released May 26, 1972 and topped the U.S. chart for four weeks. With Nicky Hopkins on piano and the brass section in full cry, the band turned in some of their hottest performances since their early R&B days.
The biggest draw
The accompanying tour, their seventh in north America, began in June at Vancouver's Pacific Coliseum, where they played to 17,000 people. During their slog band were greeted by the national press as legends and caused the usual mayhem, as police used tear gas to control crowds. At the Forum, Montreal on July 17, a bomb was planted under a truck by French-Canadian separatists, which destroyed some of the band's equipment. But the show went ahead, as thousands of fans with forged tickets rioted outside the Forum.
The tour ended with a sell-out three nights at Madison Square Garden in New York. "They are the biggest draw in the history of mankind!' afterward enthused -promoter Bill Graham wildly. The drawing power could also be used for benevolent, as well as financial, gain. The Stones played a benefit concert at the Los Angeles Forum, in January, for Nicaraguan earthquake victims.
Jagger himself, courted by movie stars, royalty and politicians, was by now wearing his sexiest outfits onstage, including a white jump suit that left him virtually bare cheated, with not much concealing the rest of him. Bette Midler went to see his shows in New York and tater lusted: 'Oh, how I wanted him!
More legal trouble
During the summer, the Stories endured their usual round of disasters, arrests, and accusations. Keith Richard was arrested at his Chelsea apartment for possessing drugs, a gun and ammunition, Jagger was issued with a paternity suit by singer Marsha Hunt, and fire wrecked Keith's home at Redlands. The Stones were never out of the headlines,
'Somehow the band managed to fit in recording “Goat’s Head Soup”, at Bryon Lee’s dynamic sound studios,' in Kingston,
Jamaica. It was the last album to be produced by Jimmy Miller and it topped the U.K. charts. It featured an outstanding ballad, 'Angie', which was released as a single and topped the U.S. charts in September.
Enter Ronnie Wood
The Stones were back on course. In October 1974, they released its Only Rock'n Roll, which duly topped the charts in the United States, as did the title track. But yet another black cloud was on the horizon. On December 12, following some weeks of rumours, it was announced that guitarist Mick Taylor was leaving.
"After five and a half years Mick wants a change of scene. We are all most sorry that he is going and we wish him great success, declared Jagger.
Taylor explained that he just felt he couldn't go any further musically and insisted there was no animosity between him and the Stones. Many felt he just found life with the world's most famous band too hard to take. Keith Richard was frankly annoyed at his sudden departure: 'What pisses me off is not that he wanted to leave, it's the way he left. We're getting ready to cut our next album and never once did he voice any doubts about continuing with the group. He obviously had a lot of personal problems that are nothing to do with us. I w-as disappointed at him leaving because he's such a great musician."
In May 1975 The Stones began a U.S. tour, with 28-year-old Ronnie Wood from The Faces officially joining the band on guitar as Mick Taylor's replacement. "Woody" sometimes known as 'Smiley," had a happy, easy-going personality. Keith liked him, commenting "Ronnie has a feel which is perfectly suitable for the Stones. For me, he's the perfect guitar player. He's got a great mixture of talent and bullshit. -
The first album featuring Ronnie, “Black And Blue”, was released in April. It was probably their weakest album and Keith Richard bluntly admitted "rehearsing guitar players, that's what that one was about.' The best of the bunch on the album was a simple rocker called 'Hot Stuff' and the ballad 'Fool To Cry'. The rest of the material was uninspired, but the album easily topped the U.S. charts in May 1976.
At the same time, the Stones began a European tour which included five nights at London's Earl's Court Arena. On August 21 they headlined at Knebworth Festival, in Hertfordshire, England where they played a retrospective set of Stones' classics to a 200000 strong crowd.
Changes in the band's organization were completed in 1977, when they signed a deal with Atlantic for U.S. distribution and also signed with EMI in the U.K for their next six albums. It looked like the band's career was secure for the foreseeable future, but after a spate of minor drugs busts and lines, Keith Richard had to face yet more trouble with the law. On February 27, he was arrested by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police at the Harbour Castle hotel in Toronto, along with Anita Pallenberg, and charged with possessing heroin and cocaine. He was remanded on bail, with a possible charge of trafficking. The band were devastated, and Jagger was concerned it would be the end of the Stones if Keith went to jail.
" lf The Rolling Stones wanted to tour badly wanted to go onstage, I think they'll have to. Obviously we wouldn’t if Keith were only in jail for a short period of time, but we can't wait live years, " said Jagger pragmatically.
With the charges hanging over Keith's head, the Stones began a 25-date tour of north America on June 10, 1978. One of the shows, at the New Orleans Superdrome on July 13, was billed as the biggest ever indoor concert, attended by a staggering 80000 fans. It coincided with latest album Some Girls topping the U.S. chart, a release that gave the band US hits with the disco- influenced 'Miss You', and 'Beast Of Burden'. Jagger played a lot more rhythm and lead guitar on the new cuts, and Keith took time out to have a moan about Mick and defend the new album.
"He (Jagger) turns his amp up so loud you can't distinguish what be plays. But he's so intensely trying to be in the band to the point of playing- guitar on everything. “Some Girls” was the most immediate album we had done in a long while, and you can't argue with seven million sales!'
Repay society's debt
Another thing that was to prove difficult to argue with were the drugs charges against Richard, which came to court in October 1978. The guitarist pleaded guilty to possession of heroin, and the- fortunately enlightened - judge imposed a one-year suspended sentence. Keith was also ordered to continue treatment battling his addiction and, as an interesting form of repaying his debt to society, was ordered to play a special concert for the Canadian National Institute For The Blind.
The Stones, and a band Keith put together called The New Barbarians, played the charity concert at Ottawa Civic Stadium, Toronto, on April 21, 1979.
Keith's outfit was more than a one-off number; the New Barbarians, including Ronnie Wood, supported Led Zeppelin at an outdoor gig at Knebworth, England in August. It was Zeppelin's last gig in the U.K. -the group would split after the death of drummer John Bonham the following year The New Barbarians also played their own 18-date U.S. tour. But even with side-projects, it would become clear that the Stones were still on the agenda as a working band.
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