Today is the 50th anniversary of the Rolling Stones' first gig – when they were the “Rollin’ Stones” and essentially a blues cover band. They have spent a half century making music, making headlines, making trouble… and making memories. Here are five of mine, some of them formative:
1. “Honky Tonk Women.” By no means my favorite Stones song anymore, but the one that grabbed me by the throat in 1969. I had never heard anything like it – is that a cowbell at the start? What was that guy singing about? Who IS this? A lifetime of musical obsession began with this song.
2. Bitch. I quickly learned to love the sense of danger, the darkness that loomed over the Stones’ best work. And the fact that it made adults crazy. Sometimes, though, this caused problems in the Schaefer house, like when, on Confirmation day, I took some of the cash I had gotten from relatives and ran right to the local record store because the Stones had just released “Brown Sugar” as a single and it was absolutely the most important thing happening in my world on that day. My parents were not happy, but I went, and came back home with my precious cargo. My brother Jerry ran up to me and said, “wow, ‘Brown Sugar’! What’s on the other side?” I hadn’t thought to look yet, so I turned it over, and Jerry, peering over my shoulder, read (out loud) the title of the B-side: “Bitch…” he trailed off, too late. If that day’s ceremony hadn’t already brought me closer to God, my parents would’ve sent me to Him.
3. Hating Mick Taylor. So Brian Jones, I would soon learn, was the band’s original "other guitarist" – but he died, man! And that meant the Stones (how easy it was to start calling them that) needed a new guitarist. The idea that my idols could actually add a new member was a revelation – followed immediately by the knowledge, the certainty that only a 10-year old knows in his deepest heart of hearts, that the universe intended that I, Johnny Schaefer, should take my rightful place as the Stones’ other guitarist. This Mick Taylor guy would have to go. Now, I just needed to get a guitar…
4. The Rolling Stones, live at Madison Square Garden. I’ve always said that everyone should see the Stones, live, before they die. (Over the years, when I said “they” I meant everyone. Now, the meaning of that “they” is more ambiguous.) Anyway, I was in high school when I started going to concerts, and boy did I get lucky with my first concerts. I was already having doubts about the recent Stones work – Mick in puffy pirate shirts singing about wild horses and some chick named Angie? This didn’t sound dangerous! But live, he and the band still brought it.
5. “This Is How A Resurrection Really Feels.” Okay, so I’m borrowing a title here from another band (the brilliant final track of Separation Sunday by The Hold Steady). But by 1978, I was in college and thought I was done with the Stones. I’d discovered punk, and the Stones had released two dreadful albums that suggested they were finished – that they were, in fact, the very thing punk was pushing back against. And that’s when they released Some Girls. The song “Shattered” was the sound of 1970s New York – dirty, dangerous again (at last!), aware of punk but not trying to copy it… This young punk began to have the very un-punky realization that people over 30 might just have something of value to offer…
Check out our podcast with Anthony De Curtis of Rolling Stone. And share your memory, fond or otherwise, of the Rolling Stones.