More than just the longest-serving rock band in history, the lives of the Rolling Stones are as fascinating as their music is catchy. Led by Keith Richards’ distinctive guitar sound and Mick Jagger’s inimitable strutting style, the Stones have been helping fans rock out for nearly 60 years, and have sold millions of albums in the process. Can’t get no satisfaction? Try these 42 hard-living facts about The Rolling Stones.
42. Old Time Rock and Roll
The Rolling Stones played their first gig at London’s Marquee Club on July 12, 1962. That year, at the Seattle World’s Fair, Bell introduced their “Space-Age” cordless telephone.
41. Amply Qualified
The bassist for that first Stones show, Dick Taylor, soon left to form his own group. Jagger and the rest of the band auditioned several new bassists before settling on Bill Wyman. They later admitted to giving Wyman the job because he owned his own amplifier. Lucky break!
40. With a Little Help from Their Friends
Despite a perceived rivalry between the two groups, the Beatles were early supporters of The Rolling Stones, helping them find a manager and writing the Stone’s first hit, “I Wanna Be Your Man.”
39. Graphic Materials
Before joining the group, drummer Charlie Watts worked as a graphic designer. He has designed many of the band’s album covers, concert posters, and stage sets.
Early on, The Rolling Stones had a piano player by the name of Ian “Stu” Stewart. Their manager, Andrew Loog-Oldham, felt that Stewart didn’t “fit the image” of the band, and Stewart graciously stepped aside, becoming the band’s road manager. The band continued to include him in recording sessions until his death in 1985.
37. The Sixth Stone
Stewart was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the rest of the band in 1989.
36. Waiting on a Friend
Mick Jagger and Keith Richards first met when they were five-year-olds; they were in primary school together until Jagger moved away in 1950. A chance meeting on a train platform 10 years later revealed the two had much in common, especially a love of the blues and Chuck Berry. Before long, the two were jamming with other local blues musicians.
That chance meeting on the train platform kicked off not only a legendary band but one of the most fruitful song-writing partnerships in history. Together Jagger and Richards have written hundreds of songs, including fourteen of Rolling Stone magazine’s “500 Songs of All Time.” Jagger and Richards were inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in 1993.
34. And Don’t Come Out!
Jagger and Richards might not have written any songs at all had it not been for their manager, Andrew Loog-Oldham. They were running out of good songs to cover, he explained. When this failed to persuade the reluctant Jagger and Richards, Loog-Oldham locked them in a kitchen, refusing to let them out until they had penned an original. The result “Tell Me (You’re Coming Back)” appeared on The Rolling Stones’ self-titled first album.
33. The Dynamic Duo
Two songs which appeared on The Rolling Stones’ debut album were credited to Nanker/Phelge. This was a pseudonym used for songs written by all members of the band. Bill Wyman claims “Paint it Black” was meant to be a “Nanker/Phelge” song that was accidentally attributed to Jagger/Richards.
In addition to writing most of The Rolling Stones’ songs, Jagger and Richards have also produced most of the Stones albums since the 1970s, under the pseudonym “The Glimmer Twins.”
31. Standing Room Only
All these years later, the Stones are still packing them in. Their 2006 concert at Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro drew 1.5 million viewers, either in attendance or through online streaming, making it the most watched concert in history.
30. Who Breaks a Butterfly on a Wheel?
In 1967, both Richards and Jagger were arrested for separate drug-related offenses, facing up to a year in prison. Their arrests caused an outcry in the rock community, and even the stodgy Times, a London newspaper, accused the police of persecution in the curiously titled editorial, “Who Breaks a Butterfly on a Wheel?” The quote actually comes from 18th-century poet Alexander Pope and alludes to a form of torture being used as punishment, implying a sort of overkill. Richards and Jagger were released.
29. To Coin A Phrase…
The Rolling Stones were positioned as a darker, more dangerous alternative to the Beatles throughout the 60s, and the band did their best to live up to the hype, engaging in all sorts of devious, hedonistic behavior. According to popular legend, Bill Wyman literally invented the term “groupie” while on tour in Australia in 1965.
28. Open Windows
In 1995, Windows paid $3 million to use the song in commercials for Windows 95. It was the first time the Stones had allowed their music to be used in an ad campaign.
27. It’s a Gas
The Rolling Stones’ most-played song is “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” which they’ve played over 1,100 times in concert. Bet it’s not such a gas anymore.
“(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” was one of the band’s biggest hits. It spent four weeks atop the US charts and has been covered by nearly 100 artists. But The Rolling Stones almost never released the song…
25. The Vote
The band voted 3-2 whether or not to release the song as a single. The dissenting came from Jagger and Richards himself, who felt the song didn’t have enough commercial appeal. We assume this was just false modesty.
24. Smells Like…Tattoo You?
In 1981, The Rolling Stones embarked on an American tour to support their album Tattoo You. Sponsored by Jovan Perfume for a rumored $4 million, it was the first corporate-sponsored musical tour.
23. A Wyman of Many Talents
Bassist Bill Wyman retired from the group in 1993. In his retirement, he has taken up a variety of hobbies, including metal detecting, writing, and photography, and he’s also toured with his own group, the Rhythm Kings.
22. The Sideman
Wyman’s role in the band has been filled by Daryl Jones, a session musician who had previously played with Sting, Madonna, and Miles Davis. While he is not considered a credited member of the band, he has played on all of their tours and recordings since 1993, and Richards himself has said: “Daryl doesn’t get enough recognition.”
21. Massive Failure
1997’s Bridges to Babylon is the only Rolling Stones album not to break the top five of UK music charts; it peaked at #6.
20. Wise Guy
“Gimme Shelter” is a favorite song of filmmaker Martin Scorsese, and he has used it on soundtracks for his movies Goodfellas, Casino, and The Departed.
19. Fussy Fretwork
In addition to being a great songwriter, Keith Richards is considered one of the best rhythm guitarists in rock music history. To help him achieve his distinctive sound, Richards makes a peculiar alteration to his guitars. Where most guitars use six strings tuned E-A-D-G-B-E, Richards takes the lowest string off, playing on just five strings tuned G-D-G-B-D.
18. Wagging Tongues
Andy Warhol designed the cover for the Stones’ album Sticky Fingers, and this has led many to assume he designed the Stones’ distinctive “Lips” logo. The logo was actually designed by artist John Pasche and was inspired by Kali, the Hindu goddess of creation.
17. That’s Life
The Rolling Stones’ biggest hit of the ‘90s was actually performed by another band. “Bittersweet Symphony” by the Verve—which sampled an orchestral version of “The Last Time”—was nominated for a Grammy and spent three months on the charts. Jagger and Richards threatened to sue for 100%, and they were eventually added to the songwriting credits.
16. Paint it Black
Since 1974, former Faces guitarist Ronnie Wood has handled the Stones’ lead guitar work. Wood is also a critically acclaimed painter, whose art has been sold at the San Francisco Art Exchange.
In 1969, The Rolling Stones headlined a free concert in Altamont. The concert ended in tragedy when security killed a young man named Meredith Hunter. Hunter was stabbed and collapsed while the band played “Under My Thumb” (there’s an urban myth that the Stones were playing “Sympathy for the Devil” when Hunter was killed, but it’s not the case). Seeing the attack from the stage, but not realizing someone had been killed, they stopped playing and started the song from the top. Some have called Altamont “the end of the hippie era.”
14. Street Fighting Men
In an inexplicable move, the Hell’s Angels had been hired to work security for the show. Hunter, who was high on methamphetamines, had been pushed back from rushing the stage once and was preparing to do it again, this time with a pistol drawn, when Hells Angels member Alan Passaro saw the pistol, and went to wrestle it away from him while armed with a knife. Passaro was charged with murder but acquitted when the jury agreed that he had acted in self-defense.
13. Brown Sugar
The Altamont concert marked the first time The Rolling Stones played their hit song “Brown Sugar” live—it had been recorded only two days earlier.
12. Brian Jones
The Stones’ first lead guitarist, Brian Jones, was a talented multi-instrumentalist. He played the sitar on “Paint It Black,” the marimba on “Under My Thumb,” the organ on “Let’s Spend the Night Together” and many more. He also taught Jagger to play the harmonica.
11. Snap Crackle Pop
Before becoming big stars, the Stones recorded a jingle for Rice Krispies in the UK. The television ad was unearthed in 2016.
Called by some critics “the last great Rolling Stones song,” “Start Me Up” has kicked off many of the band’s concerts since it was released in 1981. The song might not have been so enduringly popular had the Stones stuck to the original plan and made “Start Me Up” a reggae song.
9. Traveling at the Speed of Sound
The Copacabana Beach concert was a sign that perhaps The Rolling Stones concerts were getting too big. The “venue” covered more than a mile of the beach—sound technicians had to delay the PA systems by one second for every 1,000 feet, to keep the speakers from clashing and feeding back.
8. Can’t Beat the Beatles
Despite their longevity and massive success, The Rolling Stones are still only the fourth best-selling group of all-time. They sit behind ABBA, Queen, and, of course, The Beatles.
7. Piece of Cake
Richards claims to have written the distinctive guitar riff for “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” in his sleep! He said that he heard the three notes in a dream, and woke up to record himself humming it so he could use it in the future. What have your dreams done for you lately?
6. Old Faithful
Bandmates confirm that Charlie Watts, who has been married to his wife, Shirley, since before joining the Stones in 1963, has always refused the advances of Stones groupies. On a 1975 visit to the Playboy Mansion, Watts spent the whole time in Hef’s games room.
5. Sharp Dressed Man
While he is not the most flamboyant of The Rolling Stones, Watts is considered one of the best-dressed men in music. Once, when an intoxicated Jagger called his hotel room, ordering “[his] drummer” to come out, Watts got out of bed, shaved, polished his shoes, put on a suit and marched down to the hotel lobby, where he punched Jagger square in the mouth before going back to bed. In Richards’ autobiography Life, he claims that Watts yelled back “Don’t ever call me your drummer again. You’re my fucking singer!”
4. The 27 Club
When you’re doing too many drugs to be in The Rolling Stones, you have a serious problem. The band kicked Jones out in 1969 and replaced him with Mick Taylor. Jones died of a drug overdose just a few weeks later, one of many rock stars who died at the age of 27.
3. Oh Bother
Brian Jones spent his last few weeks living at Cotchford Farm, a manor home in East Sussex that had been owned by AA Milne, author of Winnie-the-Pooh. It was there that he drowned in the swimming pool and died on July 3, 1969. While there was speculation and rumors that he was actually murdered, these have been written off by the police as just that.
2. Sad Songs
When recording “Gimme Shelter,” producer Jack Nitzsche decided the song needed a woman’s voice, so he called up session singer Merry Clayton. Clayton was in bed, heavily pregnant, but came down to do the session. As evidenced by the song itself, and the many isolated versions of her vocal track floating around the internet, she truly gave it her all and turned in an iconic performance. Exhausted by the session, Clayton returned home and suffered a miscarriage.
1. Getting Stoned
Throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s, the Stones kept among their entourage a cadre of highly-skilled drug-procurers. Notable among that group was “Acid King Dave” who got the Stones’ acid—obviously. It was later discovered that “Acid King Dave” was actually plant who, in a joint effort of the FBI and MI5, set up the Stones for a massive drug bust.
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