A glorious pictorial record of Mick, Keith and the Stones' 50 years in the music business

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 July, 2012, 12:00am


The Rolling Stones: 50
Thames & Hudson

In the past decade we've been treated to a number of biographies purporting to lift the lid on the inside story of the Rolling Stones and the love-hate relationship between Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Packed with sexual boasts, bitter back-biting and suggestions that 'Mick n Keef', the band's two leading lights, haven't spoken properly in years.

Now, with the 50th anniversary of the Stones' first ever gig at the Marquee Club in London approaching on July 12, it seems it's time for a reunion and mutual slapping rather than stabbing of each other's backs.

Unity is the theme of The Rolling Stones: 50, a sumptuous 352-page picture book with more than 1,000 illustrations that is a hard-core fan's dream. It features photographs as well as concert posters, album covers and bubblegum cards that tell the group's story in a way that words alone can't.

The pictures were selected by Jagger, Richards, Charlie Watts and Ronnie Wood, the band's current incarnation, with each providing commentary on the key moments throughout their career.

Of course, two of those names weren't in the line-up for that first gig. Then, the Stones were a six-piece outfit and while Jagger and Richards were there, the late Brian Jones was their creative force. Others would come and go, with bassist Bill Wyman also becoming an integral early part of the band.

So the concern on reading just these four names as the book's curators is that some of the other luminaries of Britain's greatest rock band may have been airbrushed from history. Thankfully those fears are dispelled as more than half the book is dedicated to its first decade.

There are eight references to 'Brian' in the book, although Jones' mysterious death is only alluded to in Jagger's comments on a poster for the band's gig at Hyde Park in 1969 when he says, 'the bad part was Brian wasn't there any more, which was really sad'.

This book isn't about the career lows so much as the highs, a celebration of the longest-living group in rock'n'roll history. In an interview about the book Jagger says: 'It's a very different group than the one that played 50 years ago. When I think about it, one part of me goes, 'We're slightly cheating', because it's not the same band - still the same name, but it's only Keith and myself that are the same people, I think. I've tried to find out when Charlie's first gig was, but can't. But it's an amazing achievement. It's fantastic and I'm very proud of it.'

Billed as a 'spectacular thank you to their fans all over the world', the book's tone is set in the jointly signed forward, which reads: 'We started out as a blues band playing the clubs and more recently we've filled the largest stadiums in the world with the kind of show that none of us could have imagined all those years ago.'

Early concert posters indicate how times have changed and that fame in those days was hard-earned. Every Sunday the band played the Crawdaddy Club in Richmond, once racing back there along the A3 road after playing the Great Pop Prom on a bill headlined by The Beatles at the prestigious Royal Albert Hall.

The photographs chart their changing image. From their early individualist style and long hair, they were soon neatly turned out in identical natty hound's-tooth jackets at the behest of manager Andrew Oldham, in keeping with the style of the Britpop bands that invaded the world in the 1960s. While The Beatles took America by storm, the Stones had to work at it. 'America was a joke when we arrived but, by the time we left, we had an audience,' Watts writes about their 1964 debut transatlantic tour. 'It was all uphill, but the audience grew every time we went back.'

As the book progresses the pictures morph from black and white images of fresh-faced young men to the weathered complexions of rock'n'roller who hit the highest highs and sunk to the lowest lows.

There are less of the band together, mostly performing live, when even then they appear as a collection of solo stars who happen to be treading the same stage. It tells of strained relations and a band whose music remained the same but who had become a commercial juggernaut, overtaken by giant theatrical shows, and special effects, and supersized screens.

The real treat for Stones disciples is the peek into previously unpublished contact sheets, negative strips, outtakes and draft record cover art across the band's history. The book's cover features the iconic tongue and lips logo that first appeared on the Sticky Fingers album sleeve in 1971 and was designed by Royal College of Art student John Pasche. It symbolised more than a sexual gesture and a nod to their lead singer's extraordinary mouth. It was a gesture signifying their anti-authoritarian roots. Still, the band had the image updated by American graphic designer Shepard Fairey giving it a more modern feel, but without losing its cheeky lustre.

Anyone hoping for more evidence of personal feuds or introspection will be disappointed with this ode to the band's greatness. But those looking to see their story and relive their personal Stones moments will find it a treasure trove. As Jagger notes, many fans date-stamp their lives by a Stones song or gig. If you do, chances are, it'll be in here. Sadly for Hongkongers, their 2004 post-Sars gigs weren't captured. Never mind. That's what memories are for.