The Rolling Stones’ Six-Decade Career: Looking Through Their Past, Darkly

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The title of the U.S. version of the Rolling Stones’ first album was England’s Newest Hit Makers – but that was almost 60 years ago. Their latest is Hackney Diamonds, a polished, straightforward return to rock n’ roll from a band that helped define it. In between, the Stones released 24 albums, went through three guitarists and have had enough diva arguments to fill several books and documentaries. Leaving no stone unturned, Billboard rolled back the pages to shine a light through the past, darkly.


Street Fighting Band

Reviewing the band’s U.S. debut single, “Not Fade Away,” in the April 11, 1964, issue, Billboard hailed “another hot GB group that proves how deep the R&B roots have gone over there.” “The Redcoats Are Coming” declared a June 6, 1964, headline of an impending Stones tour; in that same issue, a full-page ad trumpeted, “Watch the Rolling Stones crush The Beatles!” In smaller text: “This space has been given, in the public interest, by an advertiser.”

Paint It, Wack

By the Nov. 22, 1969, issue, the Stones had notched five No. 1s on the Hot 100 (of an eventual eight), but Billboard had a heart of stone when it came to their tour. The show worked, “but more because of who they were than what they did,” we wrote. “[Mick] Jagger’s theatrics became trite at times to an audience much older than the teeny boppers who flocked to see him in 1966.” And we must have been out of our heads in the June 12, 1971, issue, where we erroneously reported that “Wild Horses” featured “Keith Richards taking the lead” vocal.

The Last Time?

Billboard was hip to the Stones by the release of Some Girls, saluting their “diffuse yet coherent sense of rhythm and urban angst” in the June 17, 1978, magazine. In the same issue, Billboard embraced what has now become a 45-year tradition: predicting the end of the band. “Also note major tour. Possibly the last.”

Sympathy for the Regional Promoter

The Dec. 9, 1989, Billboard reported on the band’s game-changing Steel Wheels tour, for which the group embraced sponsorships and “a national promotion arrangement,” which “alarmed top regional tour promoters.” In a Billboard interview, Jagger dismissed the concerns: “I like seeing the most efficient way of doing business … It’s not a charity.” Richards agreed — “What do they want, a pension?” — but admitted to being amused by the flood of Stones-branded clothing. “I’m in the rag trade here,” he said.

As Years Go By

Drummer Charlie Watts died in 2021 at age 80, but the band had been reckoning with his mortality during sessions for 2005 album A Bigger Bang as Watts endured cancer treatment. “There’s suddenly Mick and I looking at each other and going, ‘Possibly we’re the only two left of the originals,’” Richards said in the Aug. 6, 2005, issue. But “you don’t talk about that sh-t, you know?” By then, the Glimmer Twins were getting along glowingly. “There are too many pluses for an odd minus to get in the way,” Richards continued. “Maybe it’s called growing up.”

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