Growing up the first two Rolling Stones albums I heard were Undercover and Dirty Work. Now, these won’t ever figure highly on lists of favourite Rolling Stones records, but I have a connection to them because, as is often the case with music, the first album/s you hear from a significant artist will remain a sentimental favourite, even if they are less important in the wider scheme of the artist’s canon.
So, my mum bought those albums when they were released and I thought Undercover particularly was class – and I still like it a lot. Dirty Work I can see is less successful and the fighting that went on within the band around that record and after it suggests that if Steel Wheels had not come about we would not lionise the Stones the way we now do. That’s moot though.
Outside of those albums as a young kid I knew Satisfaction of course and Jumpin’ Jack Flash and Honky Tonk Woman – the sorts of songs that are just always there. On radio, in the background or the foreground, existing as public domain; always around.
However, my first real introduction to the might and worth of The Rolling Stones was courtesy of a road trip. A family vacation when I was about nine years old, we drove the length of the South Island, stopping to base in Oamaru with friends. During a quick stop in Christchurch we were allowed to buy one tape each for the car ride; I selected Pink Floyd’s A Collection Of Great Dance Songs – needless to say the family only tolerated Sheep and One Of These Days in the environment of the car once. My brother chose Rolled Gold – a double cassette that charted the Stones’ hits from 1963 to 1969. It would be the soundtrack to our journeys around the Mainland.
This music was amazing to me – as soon as I heard it. I remember not really digging some of the songs to start with, but more enjoying the fact that my parents liked it – and my brother was learning to appreciate The Rolling Stones, he’s been a lifelong student to their sound ever since. Tracks like I Wanna Be Your Man and Oh Carol sped by and I could hear the allusion to The Beatles, to Chuck Berry, to the earlier blues and R’n’B artists that had informed them and it opened up a whole new world.
And as we clocked up miles on the car the hits just kept on coming, sometimes I recognised them (at that time I spotted It’s All Over Now as being the song from an aftershave ad on NZ TV: “I used to love her/but it’s all over now” had been changed to “Insignia’s got foam and aftershave and talc as well/Deodorant so every guy’s in one all over smell”; so sad that I know that still).
My dad had played a version of 19th Nervous Breakdown in a band in the 60s and was marveling still at the rumble of the bass line as the song fades. Mum turned up the dial when Little Red Rooster began to crow. And I was blown away by Gimme Shelter and Sympathy For The Devil on first listen. I couldn’t believe how great those songs were and some times, these days, I still struggle to comprehend the genius and power of those two tracks.
I would go on to start my own Rolling Stones collection of albums from the 1970s and early 80s, first on cassette, then LP and CD. Eventually going back to the individual albums from the 1960s too.
The music – the best of it – stays with me always, but those 1960s recordings, particularly that actual compilation, Rolled Gold, takes me back to that first big car trip and first visit to the South Island. The music has helped form and hold those memories and those memories are forever soundtracked by Mick Jagger’s white-boy blues holler and harp playing; by The Human Riff; by Charlie Watts’ decision to never play the hi-hat when he is hitting the snare and by that worried grumble of Wyman’s bass.
Watching Shine A Light in the weekend just been I thought back to all of the journeys I have taken with this band and it always comes back to those beautiful South Island vistas and the feeling of sharing a band with the whole family, each member enjoying the sound equally but bringing their own experiences to it.
Outside of that compilation (which for me will always be better than Hot Rocks, Forty Licks or any of the other double Stones discs) my favourite Stones albums are all the obvious ones: Beggar’s Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, Exile On Main Street, Some Girls, Tattoo You – I also love Steel Wheels (because I was so in the zone of listening to the Stones when that album was released) and I really dig Goat’s Head Soup.
I can’t imagine my life without the music of this band. They remain the classic example of the sum being so much more powerful than the individual parts; it has never been about the separate vestiges, but always about the band sound, the engine that rolls on through blues and rock.
When did you first roll with The Stones? What was the trigger? What made you realise that this band was so special? What are your favourite albums?
[If you don’t like The Rolling Stones don’t post a comment. There’s no point].
Between late 2007 and early 2016 I wrote a daily music blog at Stuff.co.nz called Blog On The Tracks. I’m reposting some of the entries here because the discussion is still valid or entertaining or because you might have missed them the first time.
There’s no link for the original post but this was first published in November 2008.