The newest addition to the Under Review series is a fascinating examination of the Rolling Stones' formative years, covering 1962-1966, as the five-man band worked at a breakneck pace to discover their sound, persona, and ultimate musical direction.
Using three early albums - including the pivotal Aftermath - the doc traces their fairly meteoric success as the first singles began to creep up the British, Australian, and American charts; and while burgeoning Stones fans may look to the doc primarily for information on the pivotal contributions from guitarist Brian Jones, there's an unexpected secondary narrative: the very nature of the British music business during the early to mid-sixties.
The concept of an album - as a distinct work, unified by the stylistic and thematic qualities of the songs - was still a bit of an anomaly in 1962; the interviewed historians and journalists candidly explain the unique business model of British labels, in which great care went into crafting a top single for radio play; when the song began to tumble off the charts, another single was launched, and the process repeated itself. This model basically rendered albums into an early form of double-dipping the consumer, since all of the singles bought by fans were replicated on the LP, with the remaining space padded with cover versions of popular songs - filler material, given a slight tweak via the band's existing style.
The Stones were among the top bands pushed through the system, and later they used it to establish themselves as a hit-making entity. As the doc reveals, the band's early success was simultaneously due to the reputation of their live performances, and a commercial need to crank out singles; as they band struggled to create cover versions of extant hit songs, Keith Richards and Mick Jagger were ultimately forced to write original material, and from that pressure came their signature hits "Satisfaction," "Get Off of My Cloud," and "Paint It Black" - and the inevitable effort to design an album of wholly original material, like Aftermath.
Woven into this sub-narrative is the band's journey from a more overtly blues and R&B fusion band to a rock group retaining elements from both idioms, and the doc contains many rare TV appearances and song extracts from British and Aussie TV music and variety shows. Those unfamiliar with their first singles will find them far removed from the harder tone of later hits, and pretty indicative of the popular sound musicians had to emote within a straight-jacketed two and a half minute time-span, when their creative souls must have wanted to explode with greater passion and individuality. One can easily see why the albums from the late sixties and seventies turned the assembly line system on its side, as bands wrote longer songs, and crafted albums as distinct representations of their mindsets and ongoing creative maturation (or zenith, in other cases).
Related to the Stones' struggle for an identity is second guitarist Brian Jones, who co-founded the band, and unofficially functioned as its leader until, as the journalists uniformly express, he became marginalized as Jagger and Richards became the band's chief songwriters. Jones' stunning blues work, riffs, and the diverse instruments he performed are also given time in several of the archival TV and stage extracts, including his slide guitar work on "Little Red Rooster" - a beautifully intimate performance by the band when contrasted to the screaming Ed Sullivan audience that obliterates a rendition "Nineteenth Nervous Breakdown."
Like their DVD of Led Zeppelin: Origin of the Species, the Stones doc comes with a trivia game, bio notes on the interview subjects, and an extended interviews - here with with Tom Keylock recalling a mini-event with the band in Greece, and a later episode during his years with Bob Dylan; and Keith Altham recalling a bouncing fan at the tail-end of a car.
A great addition to one's Stones collection.
© 2006 Mark R. Hasan