Rolling Stones fans bought a lot of their albums, but for the band to become well known and popular, it took hit singles. So, let’s look at their classic singles from the 1960’s and 1970’s.
The Stones were mostly a blues cover band in London in 1963. Their first major hit in England was Lennon & McCartney’s “I Wanna Be Your Man”. The Stones had asked John Lennon & Paul McCartney for a song, and they gave it to them, because The Beatles were not planning to release it as a single.
The Rolling Stones were not really part of the initial wave of the British Invasion, which started at the end of 1963, and had The Beatles’ explosion in early 1964. It wasn’t until November of 1964 that The Rolling Stones had their first Top 10 hit in the U.S….”Time Is On My Side” (#6). In fact, the Stones tried to tour the United States in June of 1964, before they had any U.S. hits at all, and bassist Bill Wyman called it “a disaster”.
I have a memory of seeing a large newspaper ad for a concert in the Omaha World Herald. It claimed The Rolling Stones were “Bigger than The Beatles”. Bashing The Beatles in 1964, was amazingly wrong headed. It would have been better to say “Good friends of The Beatles” (which was actually the truth). The Omaha concert was infamous for almost no one showing up, and the band being threatened by someone who had a gun.
The Rolling Stones started out wearing matching suits…like Brian Epstein had provided for The Beatles…but The Stones, along with agent & producer Andrew Loog Oldham, realized they needed a change. It was decided The Stones would not emulate The Beatles, but instead foster an image as the bad boys of Rock & Roll. Oldham let them dress individually, and told them not to smile for publicity photos.
More importantly, he urged Keith Richards and Mick Jagger to become songwriters. They soon became an excellent writing team.
By 1965, The Rolling Stones (originally called The Rollin’ Stones after a Muddy Water’s song) were having hits…”Heart Of Stone” (#19), “The Last Time” (#9), and one of the best singles of all time:
Keith Richards says he patterned the beat and feel of the single after Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman”, a #1 hit in 1964. “Satisfaction” has a killer guitar hook, the lyrics went a long way in helping them with their “bad boy” image, and it was simply the biggest hit of 1965. It took The Stones to a whole new level of popularity.
One minor mystery about the recording of “Satisfaction” is why there has never been an official release of a really good stereo version. Even their 2002 re-release of the Hot Rocks collection has a quasi-stereo mix. A great stereo mix exists, because it was available on a radio station promo CD in the 1990’s. I have a copy of it, and it sounds so much better. You can even hear that there’s an acoustic guitar in the mix.
The big hits continued in 1965 & 1966, including “Get Off Of My Cloud” (#1), “As Tears Go By” (#6), “19th Nervous Breakdown” (#2), and “Paint It Black” (#1).
In the latter part of the ’60’s, The Rolling Stones’ biggest hits were “Ruby Tuesday” (#1), “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” (#3), and “Honky Tonk Women” (#1)…great singles!
Unlike The Beatles, who stopped recording together in 1969, The Stones kept rolling in the ’70’s with “Brown Sugar” (#1), “Tumbling Dice” (#7), “Angie” (#1), “It’s Only Rock & Roll” (#16), “Fool To Cry” (#10), 1978 disco hit “Miss You” (#1, their last chart topper), and “Beast Of Burden” (#8).
With The Beatles gone, The Rolling Stones began promoting themselves as “The Greatest Rock & Roll Band In The World”. Why not? They had eight #1 hits, and forty-one Top 40 hits. They’ve been a concert draw for over 50 years! No one thought any Rock Band would still be playing when they were senior citizens. They give “70’s Band” a whole new meaning.
Of course…now they smile!
Update: Drummer Charlie Watts has passed away at the age of 80. It had been recently announced that he was not going on the latest Rolling Stones tour after he had an undisclosed medical procedure. Watts passed away today, August 24h, 2021, at a London hospital. He died peacefully, surrounded by friends and family.