Pop Playground
On First Listen: The Rolling Stones

n First Listen is a regular column that forces our regular writers to listen to bands that they’ve never heard—but by all rights should have—and charts the reaction.

The Rolling Stones...really…why do you all bother? Since I was old enough to start exploring music on my own (beyond peer groups and parental vinyl stacks) I knew that investigation, evidence, and research were needed before drawing the kind of black and white conclusions that led to statements like “[insert band name] are shit.” I wouldn’t, or more accurately I couldn’t really get away with calling them irrelevant, despite the fact that I believe their musical legacy would’ve happened anyway and probably by much nicer people. That legacy being that a bunch of privileged pasty back-sided white boys managed to stumble across a formula of crossing black music (specifically blues and R&B;) with guitar pop and, along the way, made a boatload of cash.

In this, the winter of 2005, there just aren’t enough hours in the day to be wasting those precious grains of sand in hunting down the less well-known Stones stuff to see if I’d made a grievous error by dismissing them as an influential ingredient as opposed to a musical force I can enjoy. It’d be hard for anyone to have escaped the songs of the Stones past their teenage years, especially as every couple of years some new wave of denim rockers comes to claim their throne. Like everyone else I did my time enduring one or more of their eighty-four hits/singles/anniversary collections as well as listening to the albums that I ‘needed to…man’. So whilst a cassette from a friend of mine of their early Decca material (songs ranging from 63-69, I believe) is still about as welcome as a rabbit dropping in your raisins, its at least worthy of investigation., if only to reassure myself that Primal Scream’s “Rocks” is the only Stones song I ever need to own.

But despite this hand-plucked selection, I still came swiftly to the conclusion that I had wasted another 90 minutes of my life that I’ll never get back to spend idly contemplating the intermingled fibrous strands that make up the deposits of fluff in my navel.

I’m honest enough to admit that my original dislike of their music was always happily reinforced by their the silly wrinkly redundant rock pig myths that they gladly played up to. It’s always nice to hear that someone you think you really dislike actually is a twat after all. Whether as the bad boys of rock and roll or as elder statesmen of The Canon, they failed to move me from my position, and damn it feels good.

Their oft-celebrated ace in the hole, the playing of Keith ‘the man, the legend, the Scarecrow’ Richards’ still remains a utter mystery to me, and god knows I’ve tried to understand it. I remain in these post-cassette hours totally befuddled by claims of his rhythm guitar prowess. Where’s the funk in his playing? There aren’t any examples here of the peaks, punches, and smoothness that I’d associate with exceptional rhythm playing. Why are my hips dry and motionless? While bands like The Black Crowes are undoubtedly totally in debt to The Stones to me they shake, shimmy, and push much more fluidly than the Stones ever did. An unpopular opinion that I’m sure would get me lynched at either a Mojo or Rolling Stone buffet. While Keith worship perplexes me, the fact that Mick is even tolerated plain annoys me. There’s an audible pomposity in Jagger’s tone evident even in his down-trodden bluesier efforts, which even Eric Clapton hasn’t been able to match for its overwrought self-importance.

The rest of the playing here on exhibit A (whether it be later stuff like “Under my Thumb” or early pop like “I Wanna Be Your Man”) is 95% perfunctory and unexceptional in almost every way, in fact the only exceptional thing about The Stones is the fact that some people still care about this Herman’s Hermits style crap. This incredibly average selection of poppy R&B;, sloppy balladeering, and music bordering on concrete-pastoral-faux-psychedelia that may well have sounded crazily alive in the mid-sixties sounds now sounds like it belongs in that dusty forgotten box of 12” medleys that gets dragged out at wedding receptions.

And if these songs were not so pervasive in rock history and if the band would just give it up then I’m sure—as it is in the case of Jimmy and the Box tops, The Shadows and Jerry Muffin and the Moptopped Fun Boys—that I’d never give them a second thought. As to why they did and still do, I’m drawing a blank and can only think of sarcastic asides of very little merit in attempting to understand why. Post-cassette and a few thoroughly good hard listens later, I’m still sure I’m right to believe, and to mouth off about, The Rolling Stones—who are completely and utterly overrated.

By: Scott McKeating

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Posted 02/08/2005 - 11:23:01 AM by Sotoalf:
 More specifics, please. Other than dismissing Richards' rhythm-guitar prowess and Jagger's vocals I still don't understand why you dislike them.
Posted 02/08/2005 - 12:02:22 PM by OhHeavenlyDog:
 So one of your regular writers has never heard the Rolling Stones before? Regardless of my opinions on said band, that definitely effects how I'm going to regard the credibility of the information on this website from now on.
Posted 02/08/2005 - 12:12:46 PM by Sotoalf:
 Well, that's the point of the column, Heavenly Dog: one of our writers describes his experience checking out a band for the first time.
Posted 02/08/2005 - 12:44:35 PM by janinedm:
 Aw man! Do you hear the same Keith Richards I hear? It's easier to do some sort of punch the downbeat thing and call it funk. Much harder is the ability to give a performance like "Beast of Burden." The guitar line meanders; the instrument is not his enemy or his tool. The rhythm is there, but it's not punchy. I can't hear him counting "one-and-two-and-three-and..." while he plays. Maybe this comes from my own inability to do this on the guitar. It's little surprise they aren't funky... Funkadelic's albums, Free Your Mind and your Ass Will Follow and Maggot Brain didn't appear until the early 70's. Even then, funk is far more nuanced w/r/t guitar parts. Were you looking for white-boy Rufus "Tell Me Somethin Good" Funk? That stuff sucks. Let me tell you a story. Two generations ago, my family was made up of sharecroppers on the southern border of Virginia. I used to go to Halifax, VA for family reunions and listen to them drink and play. Keith Richards plays more like my Grandpa and Great Uncles more than anything you'd likely call funk.
Posted 02/08/2005 - 12:45:08 PM by scottmckeating:
 In paragraph 2 I mentioned: "Like everyone else I did my time enduring one or more of their eighty-four hits/singles/anniversary collections as well as listening to the albums that I ‘needed to…man’." This was based on a cassette of early Decca material which supposedly was going to convince me they weren't shit, an opinion I had gained from cursory listens to the hits.
Posted 02/08/2005 - 01:33:36 PM by janinedm:
 cursury... right... I didn't imply that you didn't hear the song; I implied that you don't know how to listen. Between this and that ridiculous zissou soundtrack review (which Stylus at least had the shame to pull off the homepage), I've decided, based on cursory review, that you guys are somewhat better than Pitchfork but still lacking in aural skills. "Why are my hips dry and motionless?" That's something George Clinton and a case of roofies couldn't solve.
Posted 02/08/2005 - 04:30:51 PM by Amandalucia:
 I would also like to mention that this perfunctory dismissal of the band is based on the "early Decca material." I would posit that if you listen to the very early Kinks Pye records, you would come to the same conclusion, that they sorta suck and are no better than Simon and the Sloppers, but it takes a band a while to mature (duh. To judge the Stones based on these embryonic recordings is a little more than unfair, in my opinion. I like the idea of the series, but the sample has to be representative of their best work. Right?
Posted 02/08/2005 - 04:58:31 PM by hutlock:
 I actually compiled the tape in question so: It covered Decca stuff from 1963 all the way up to 69 and therefore included stuff from key early albums, mid 60s pop stuff (Between The Buttons is my favorite album of theirs by some length), and Beggars Banquet and Let It Bleed as well. Sadly a 90-min cassette can't cover the rest of their career, and the Brian Jones/Decca years are pretty vastly underexposed these days so I went with that stuff. Plus, that is by far my favorite era (although I would extend it to include the Mick Taylor years as well, but again, that just wasn't gonna fit.) To my point though -- It isn't like he just heard the early primitive blues-covering Stones. He got a good cross section of the first major era of the band from a true and lifelong fan. So in this case "very early" isn't accurate. "First phase" is more like it.
Posted 02/08/2005 - 05:06:30 PM by Amandalucia:
 I see. That's good to know. Theoretically, I really like the idea of this column. In fact, I've performed similar experiments on my husband, who grew up completely unexposed to classic rock. He's the only person I've ever known who had never heard "Stairway to Heaven" and his reaction was: "People like this song?"
Posted 02/08/2005 - 05:19:27 PM by hutlock:
 Funny, I have heard "Stairway" thousands of times and I have the exact same reaction! : ) (I do love me some Led Zep, but not that particular song. Not even a little.)
Posted 02/08/2005 - 06:18:25 PM by IanMathers:
 janinedm, the Life Aquatic soundtrack didn't get "pulled off" of anywhere; like every other review we've ever put up it naturally was replaced by newer reviews. It's still in the archive. It was up on the front page as long as the other reviews from that day were.
Posted 02/09/2005 - 02:05:36 AM by ongace:
 bloody good stuff. I have never dug the stones at all, and I have lost count of how many people have tried to convince me they are good after I have told them that. Nice to see someone else has the same opinion for similar reasons.
Posted 02/09/2005 - 02:54:23 PM by idunnowhy:
 well, it's always good to know that your website hires writers who have absolutely no grounding in the history of rock and roll and no ability to appreciate inspired songwriting. I guess in a day and age where our President couldn't even tell you who freed the slaves, this is somehow fitting.
Posted 02/09/2005 - 11:30:14 PM by cwperry:
 You'd never heard the Stones? I hate them too, but this is a joke. I have had it up to here with "music writers" who have zero historical scope. The entire "music criticism" world is an absolute farce at this point in time: I'm taking Stylus off my bookmarks and never returning. You and the fools at Pitchfork can spend the rest of eternity knowing zilch about music, thinking the critic is the most important part of the album, and believing that every Internet-based post-rock wank is important music. Give me a fucking break.
Posted 02/10/2005 - 11:53:49 AM by loveisthedrug:
 Is this a joke? Do you think anyone would pay attention to a literary critic who hasn't read Shakespeare? Well, I guess that's why we will be hearing about the RS for many more decades to come and this so-called "critic" will be forgotten in ..10 seconds from now... what was his name again?
Posted 02/10/2005 - 12:09:26 PM by todd_burns:
 While it hardly bears mentioning at this late time, the purpose of this column is to chart the reaction to each particular writer's first major exposure to a well-known artist. If you've taken the time to look through Scott McKeating's reviews, you'll quickly find that the music that he has talked about for Stylus has little or nothing to do with The Rolling Stones. And, in most cases, the fact that he has never really listened intently to the Stones means nothing when he is reviewing, say, The Game (his last review, I believe.)

Obviously Scott has heard the Rolling Stones, as he mentions in the opening paragraphs of the column. He has never truly listened to them intently because they never meant very much to him. Similarly, I imagine that everyone who has commented here has an incredibly well-known band that I could name that they don't pay particular attention to that would be lay waste to their credibility among their music-loving friends.

As such, those of you criticizing Scott or, even more ludicrously, Stylus for starting this column to examine what it means to encounter a well-known band later in life with all of the baggage that has built up around that band adding to the listen are absolutely missing the point. And the fact that you’re clogging this already messy comments section with your vitriol is pointless.

This column is scheduled to be monthly right now and we have tentatively lined up writers to write about Modest Mouse, Guided By Voices, and Basic Channel. Please take this month, settle down, and see it for what it is—instead of projecting what you want it to be.
Posted 02/10/2005 - 01:21:08 PM by diego.olivas:
 Hello there. This is a very fascinating column. What struck me was the way Mr. McKeating suffered the same reaction to the Stone as I did to Bob Dylan. I had random histories of hearing Mr. Dylan here and there on the radio, snippets from friends, stuff on commercials etc. but I didn't see what the big deal was. I mean I just thought that voice was bad as hell and the lyrics although great weren't jawdropping (if i want great lyrics I'd read poetry sort of thing). But then one day or maybe a couple of music explorations later I started to read that many other artists I sincerely admired such as Tom Rapp from Pearls Before Swine, Scott Walker, hell even David Allen from Gong extremely admired Mr. Zimmerman so I decided to really drop all previous biases against his voice and lyrics and really try to find what essence in his music made it great. A couple of listens to Blonde on Blonde and Highway 61 etc. al. coupled with respectfully proper historical and personal context for this artist provided me the energy to light the light bulb I hadn't before had with this artist and now I really dig him unlike before. There's a reason the Pretty Things and Sparks shit even Ash Ra Tempel's Gottsching really dug the Glimmer Twins; my hope is that Mr. McKeating will one day have proper context from which to derive that. Other than the missive towards the Stones for being rich white dudes copying black artists (but I'm pretty sure they weren't neither rich, the Beatles and them I believe were sons of miner's, nor was it really popular in the early 60's to portray their kind of lifestyle... even more so their kind of music). I'm pretty sure the Stones still see their work as an homage to the great blues and r&b; people who they loved as young kids (most of their early records had a bunch of covers of r&b; and blues they really dug). Anyways, keep this section coming I can't wait until someone describes the first time they heard Yes...
Posted 02/10/2005 - 03:38:27 PM by MEKsLP:
 Obviously no one expects the writter to sit down and listen to everything the stones did before critiqueing their stuff but come back to me after listening to Exile on Main Street, or better yet, Beggars Banquet. I don't believe them to be the best rock band ever and a lot of their singles are repetitive, but anyone that dismisses the greatness of those two albums is fucking idiot in my opinion.
Posted 02/10/2005 - 04:08:41 PM by deamous:
 I'm starting to think the very concept of this column could use some work.
Posted 02/10/2005 - 04:58:38 PM by loveisthedrug:
 Why not then having any regular person write an article about when they lisntened to th VU for the first time, that way I think you would keep your column and your "critics" wouldn't have to embarass themselves in such a pathetic way.
Posted 02/11/2005 - 04:45:51 AM by acid_puppy:
 Correct me if im wrong, but i thought this column was for people who hear something classic that they have never heard before. It seems to me that Mr. McKeating had a hardcore bias against the Stones even before listening to them "intently" for the first time. Maybe next time you should get some and a band they know NOTHING about, so it would really be like the virgin listen. Good idea, though.
Posted 02/11/2005 - 02:42:47 PM by clockoouut:
 I'm not about to critique the concept, because I'm sure it will work in future installments, but Scott really comes off as a biased idiot in this piece. "While bands like The Black Crowes are undoubtedly totally in debt to The Stones to me they shake, shimmy, and push much more fluidly than the Stones ever did." Are you fucking serious? Please stick to Ja Rule articles in the future.
Posted 02/12/2005 - 04:06:58 AM by cleverbeans:
 The fact is, the difference between a critic and a musical pedant, as are half the people reacting to this article, is that a critic has the capacity to put his/her emotional/cerebral reactions to music in a coherent and interesting article. Just knowing that The Blippety-Blahs sounds like The Whatevers doesnt cut it, you have to be able to prove why they sound like each other with words. I would be surprised if half of the naysayers on this board know the difference between the Baroque and Classical periods, yet they listen to Steve Reich and say "Wow, minimalism is way cool!" Just because Mr. McKeating has not listened to The Rolling Stones does not make him less credible as a critic. He has obviously made the effort to correct this gap of knowledge and tell us how listening to them revalues his notions of rock. Its disappointing to me that most readers find name dropping to be more valuable than significant technical knowledge. Perhaps this is due to the punk aesthetic of "as little knowledge as possible!", and there definitely needs to be a balance or we end up with rock orchestrated ice ballets, but it is so embarassing when a birkenstocks and salmon slacks friend of mine can explain why Maroon 5 is so great in technical terms and a majority of my chucks and tight ass jeans friends can't even tell a 4/4 time song from a 3/4 time song. The lesson is don't assume you know everything because you've listened to all of the canonized rock albums. Musical knowledge is a web, not a fucking timeline.
Posted 02/12/2005 - 11:15:37 AM by loveisthedrug:
 Cleverbeans, most of the people posting on this board don't pretend to be critics, I guess some of them are musical pedants but none have the obligation of putting " his/her emotional/cerebral reactions to music in a coherent and interesting article", simply because it's not their job(thank God). But most people can know instinctively when a critic fails to give some minimum insight of what he is listening, why he likes it or dislikes it. It comes as very surprising though that someone would accuse the readers of lacking what the critic should have provided in the first place. I am sure you don't know everything just because you have listened to all the canonized rock albums, but if you think just for a second about writing an article about that kind of music, then it is a must, it should at least be the base underneath your "web"(just in case you fall miserably). Historic knowledge on the subject youre writing about is something even implicit, and the lack of it cannot be an advantage unless you're a genius. That and the fact that the staff defend themselves so humorlessly is something sad.
Posted 02/12/2005 - 05:17:53 PM by Bonefish:
 These are rolling fishes in a barrel. Abscent the baby boom, one doubts their songs would have been so pervasive in "rock history." To consider the Stones at all is to consider their historicism. In fact, a term like "rock history" implies the baby boomers and their heros. Sans that context and considered simply as music, a first time listener could easily write these guys off as overrated.
Posted 02/14/2005 - 04:32:28 AM by NickSouthall:
 I've never heard Yes. Who wants to do me a CDR?
Posted 02/15/2005 - 10:59:10 AM by loveisthedrug:
 It depends, do you work for Stylus?
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