They’ve made just two studio album in the last 15 years – yet more than 40 years after their humble beginnings as an R&B covers band, The Rolling Stones remain the greatest live rock’n’roll experience in the world. Throughout most of the ’60s, they rivalled The Beatles for singles chart supremacy, particularly once Jagger and Richards hit their stride as pop songwriters with “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” in 1965. But while The Beatles disintegrated at the end of the decade, the Stones were only just beginning.
The various drug busts of 1967 threw them off course for a while. But they came storming back in early 1968 with “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” to begin an extraordinary purple patch that reached its peak with 1972’s Exile
On Main Street and coincided with the iconic emergence of Keith Richards as ‘the Human Riff’ or ‘the world’s most elegantly wasted man’, depending on your taste. The combination of the guitarist’s outlaw drug chic and Jagger’s strutting sexual charisma was, in its pomp, pure gold and earned them the soubriquet ‘the Glimmer Twins’.
By the mid-’70s Richards’ drug problems had escalated out of control, jeopardising the group’s continued existence and resulting in a dip in the quality in their recorded output. Into the ’80s Jagger launched a solo career and the bickering between him and Richards once more threatened the Stones’ continuation.
But they discovered an accommodation and embarked on a series of spectacular world tours that, despite a reliance on old material, continue to transcend mere exercises in nostalgia. It would be easy to be cynical about the way every tour is routinely surrounded by speculation that it could be ‘the last time’, resulting in yet another set of box office records. But the Stones remain an unstoppable phenomenon, both as a musical legend and a marketing dream.