Collecting the Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones have been “The World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band” for so long now that many of their current-day fans were born after they achieved that position.   But in the days of the early 1960s and the “British Invasion” the Stones were still searching for their niche and often playing second fiddle to the Beatles.

Neither the Beatles nor the Stones really matched their public images, but Brian Epstein sanitized the Beatles, taking away their leather jackets and polishing them like cherubs while Andrew Loog Oldham carefully fashioned a tough and surly image for the Stones, deliberately designed to contrast with that of the Beatles.

The Stones began life as an R&B group, Little Boy Blue and The Blue Boys, in which both Mick Jagger and Keith Richard – who had gone through primary school together, lost contact, and re-met on a train in 1960 – were playing. A reel-to-reel tape containing 13 tracks by the group from two separate sets in 1961 exists and may eventually make its way onto a legitimately-released CD. In early 1962 Brian Jones placed an ad in Jazz News, using the pseudonym of “Elmo Lewis,” for musicians to form an R&B band.   Pianist Ian Stewart answered the ad, and Jones met Jagger and Richard through his appearances with Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated.  

The four added Jeff Bradford (on third guitar), Dick Taylor on bass and a succession of drummers to create the embryonic Stones. During this same period Jagger also sang with Korner’s band.   By late 1962 Bradford had left and Bill Wyman (real name: William Perks) had come in on bass from The Cliftons. In January, 1963, Charlie Watts left the drumming position in Korner’s band to join the new band.   They took up residency in the Crawdaddy Club, and this led Oldham to hear them and sign on as their manager. He decided the band didn’t need a piano player, and Stewart was demoted to roadie and backing musician, creating the band’s lineup for the next four years.  

The influx of drugs, both psychedelic and otherwise, into the rock world in the mid-1960s had profound effects on both the music and the musicians. In 1967 the British The News of the World ran an article on drug-using pop stars and named Mick Jagger.   That summer both Jagger and Richard were arrested for drug possession and both spent short periods in jail before their prison sentences were quashed on appeal. Subsequently Richard revealed his heroin use.  

But the worst consequences of both drugs and alcohol were felt by Brian Jones, whom some had credited with being the real driving force behind the Stones, and who most easily fit the “bad boy” image crafted for the group. His self-indulgence was affecting his health. He did little recording in 1967 and that December had to be hospitalized. There psychiatrists found he had suicidal tendencies. His last recorded appearance with the Stones was on the 1968 Beggars Banquet, although rumor has it his contributions were minimal, with both Dave Mason and Eric Clapton putting in (uncredited) guest appearances.   Jones quit the Stones on June 9, 1969, claiming that he could no longer support the band’s musical policy – but cynics believed he wasn’t physically up to a forthcoming tour. Less than a month later, on July 3, he was found dead in his swimming pool, apparently having drowned while under the influence of both alcohol and drugs.

Jones was replaced by Mick Taylor, from John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers – a band through which a number of Britain’s top guitarists moved.   Taylor stayed with the group for five years, leaving in December, 1974.   He was eventually replaced by Ron Wood, who was reluctant to leave his previous group, The Faces, until it self-destructed. Wood “guested” for the 1975 summer tour of the U.S. and officially joined the Stones on December 19, 1975. That line up remained stable for many years.

The Stones have released many albums and singles over the years. They recorded for British Decca, which released them in America on its London label (a label far better known in classical music). Between 1964 and 1972 they released eight U.S.-only albums, which partially overlap the British albums of that period (of which there were 17, the most important of which, like Their Satanic Majesties Request, Beggars Banquet and Let It Bleed, were released on both sides of the Atlantic).

Among the rarities are those copies of the British album, Big Hits (High Tide Green Grass) (TXL/TXS 101), released in 1964, which have a stapled 12” x 12” picture booklet. Then there’s The Promotional Album (RSM 1), which was a promotional-only release in 1969. It’s now ultra-rare. A compilation album, Golden B-Sides (SKL 5165), was test-pressed in 1973, but never released.   Those test pressings are also ultra rare. And in 1975 Decca put together a triple LP box, The History of the Rolling Stones (no catalog number), but cancelled it in favor of Rolled Gold. Some pink-label pressings do exist, however, and these are the rarest records of all. Among its 45s the most valuable and collectible Rolling Stone single is the 1963 “Poison Ivy” b/w “Fortune Teller” (British Decca F 11742) which was withdrawn and never commercially released. But some copies were circulated, possibly for export or record clubs, allowing a few copies to find their way into the collectors’ market.

Beyond rare records, there is much in the way of Stones memorabilia, from tour programs (ranging from $250 to $350 for British programs from 1963 to $15 or $20 for a 1994 “Voodoo Lounge” American program) to autographed items (full group autographs range from $500 to $1,500), to posters, passes, and even a set of trading cards (now valued at over $500) – that it’s best just to check the auction sites and see what is currently available. (29638 bytes)