|The Bad Boys of Rock 'n Roll in 1963|
Today marks the 50th anniversary of the recording of their debut UK single, a cover of the somewhat obscure and uncharacteristic Chuck Berry song, "Come On." Today the Stones are most well known for their classic, timeless original compositions like "Satisfaction," "Paint it, Black," "Jumpin' Jack Flash," "Gimme Shelter," "You Can't Always Get What You Want," and "Miss You." In 1963, however, the Stones were a blues/R&B/ rock 'n roll cover band with an enviable Sunday afternoon residency at the Crawdaddy Club in Richmond, Surrey, specializing in the work of Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, and Chuck Berry. At a time when "Beatlemania" was sweeping the UK, the Stones represented a different trend. They, along with such other bands as Eric Burdon's Animals in Newcastle, Eric Clapton's Yardbirds in Kingston-upon-Thames, and Van Morrison's Them in Belfast, worked to revive and popularize the grittier sound of Chicago blues that had been all but ignored by the general population in the land of its origin. And the Stones quickly proved to be the best of the bunch.
In 1968, after a failed experiment with psychedelia, the Stones began referring to themselves as "the World's Greatest Rock 'n Roll Band." And, with the series of classic albums from that year's Beggar's Banquet to 1972's Exile on Main Street, they proved it. Nowhere is this more clear than in 1978's intense, straight-ahead rock 'n roller, "Respectable," from what is arguably their last "classic" album, Some Girls. No one then, and no one since, could play this song like they did and still do. They simply understand the inner workings of this music like no other artist does. Beatles fans may want to disagree, but I would argue that they deserved that moniker from the very beginning, playing with a grit and instrumental prowess their more popular peers could only hope to achieve. This prowess may only be recognized in inchoate form on their initial recording. But this would change in short order. Listen to their live BBC recordings (officially unreleased even now) of Berry classics "Roll Over Beethoven" and "Memphis, Tennessee," or to their cover of the immortal "Carol" from their first LP, and compare it to the Beatles' recordings of those songs, and you will have all the proof you need. Jagger and Richards may never have been able to write a good "pop" song. So what? They are the definitive rock 'n roll band. May they reign for years to come.