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The 40-Year Odyssey of the Rolling Stones

by Stephen Davis

Pub Date: Nov. 6th, 2001
ISBN: 0-7679-0312-9
Publisher: Broadway

A detailed biography of the Rolling Stones, emphasizing musical minutiae and salacious recollections.

Davis (Jajouka Rolling Stone, 1993, etc.) leaves no “stone” unturned in this close examination of the Stones’ early-1960s formation and rapid dominance of rock culture, despite strife that would end the careers of most. Davis insists, sometimes pretentiously, that the confluence of events that brought together Brian Jones, Keith Richards, and Mick Jagger among postwar British blight represents a quasi-religious, signal cultural moment: “The Rolling Stones story does have a pantheistic mythos about it.” Davis acknowledges the crucial transformation of Missisippi Delta blues into the amplified urban variety played by Muddy Waters and Sonny Boy Williamson, which provoked a late-’50s European cognoscenti cult. It was on this early blues-worshipping circuit that the Rolling Stones formed, out of various cobbled-together R&B combos. Davis hones in on how their distinct personalities—Jones’s curiosity and sadism, Jagger’s raw sensuality and business acumen, and Richards’s dark appetites and assured playing—along with the talents of relatively “normal” drummer Charlie Watts and pianist Ian Stewart, formed a surprisingly adaptive rock-’n’-roll juggernaut. Between 1962 and 1966, they conquered “Swinging London,” and then became British teen sensations—somewhat incongruously, given their borrowed American R&B stylings. The Stones responded to 1960s turmoil with a remarkable series of albums and singles (Let It Bleed, etc.) that competed with Dylan, Hendrix, and the Beatles for rock primacy, despite a descent into debauchery that included Jones’s mysterious death, the murderous debacle of Altamont, Jagger’s participation in the doomed porn-art film Performance, and Richards’s alcoholism and heroin addiction. Yet the ’70s and ’80s saw the Stones become an increasingly profitable, corporate rock warhorse, their personal, legal, and tax difficulties notwithstanding. Davis skillfully recreates this brittle milieu of sleazy fame, in which figures like Andy Warhol, Gram Parsons, Chuck Berry, and Marianne Faithfull appear alongside the Hells Angels, underage groupies, and seemingly every hustler who ever nourished the band’s dark desires.

An engrossing cultural narrative, riddled with bombastic prose.