Consider the main events in that momentous year of highlights and lowlights: founding member Brian Jones announced his (enforced) departure from the band on June 9 then died aged 27 on July 3, drowned in his swimming pool. Two days later the Stones, with Jones' replacement guitarist Mick Taylor making his debut, gave a rusty free concert before an estimated 250,000-plus crowd in Hyde Park, London.

For Humphries, and indeed most rock music fans, a real occasion of note was the release of the highly regarded "Let It Bleed" album on December 5. But then came the debacle of the Altamont free concert in California on December 6, where a fan with a gun was stabbed to death by the Hells Angels. The whole disastrous bad-vibes day came to be seen as one of the events marking the death of 1960s peace-and-love idealism.

It stands to reason that 1969 in Stones' history can't simply be dealt with on a January 1 to December 31 basis, and Humphries spends considerable space detailing the lead-in to his selected year. Latterly, he recounts, the Stones had appeared to be spending more time in the law courts than the studios, with the Establishment out to put the cocksure Stones in their place.

Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were arrested in the infamous Redlands raid on February 12, 1967, Brian Jones was busted in May 1967 and May 1968, and Jagger was copped again, this time with Marianne Faithfull, on May 24, 1968.

This latest arrest happened on the same day that the Rolling Stones released "Jumpin' Jack Flash," the single that launched a comeback after the "psychedelic awfulness" (Humphries) of the "Their Satanic Majesties Request" album in 1967, which just about everyone maligned. Producer Glyn Johns (innocent when it came to the "Satanic Majesties" failure) called it "A complete crock of shite".

Continuing the revitalisation though was the "Beggars Banquet" album, released in December 1968, which further reinforced the band's status. The album stands out, says Humphries, as one of a quartet of truly great albums (the others being the consecutive "Let It Bleed" (December 1969), "Sticky Fingers" (April 1971) and "Exile on Main Street" (May 1972)).

December 1968 also saw the staging of "The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus", filmed for a television special but shelved for 28 years until 1996 because a) the Stones felt their tired performance after midnight had been substandard, and b) Jones had become a barely contributing drugged mess.

As 1969 dawned, then, the band knew they needed something a little bit special to see out the year and the decade. They were not to know, writes Humphries, that they would soon have the field to themselves. Perennially second in the running to the Beatles, the Liverpool Fabs had basically run their course, and by the end of '69 the Stones would have moved to the top of the rock pile.

The follow-up to "Jumpin' Jack Flash" was another winning single, "Honky Tonk Women" with its immediately recognisable cowbell intro, released on July 4, 1969, backed by "You Can't Always Get What You Want". Humphries details the recording session for the latter with 40-plus members of the London Bach Choir squeezed into the Olympic Studios in Barnes.

Jagger also spent time in Australia, stirring up antipathy among the locals who thought it was inappropriate for him to star as their bushranger Ned Kelly in English director Tony Richardson's film. Shooting began on July 12, 1969 and took ten weeks but the finished effort was poorly received when it was released in the second half of 1970.

Humphries himself first saw the band at the end of that year, as a teenager among a restrained audience at London's Saville Theatre. His memory of the occasion is cloudy.

Anyone with a keen interest in the group would know most of this history recalled again by Humphries, such as the chance meeting of Jagger and Richards at Dartford railway station in October 1961 with Richards noticing the LPs under Jagger's arm, the fledgling Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys, the blond boy from Cheltenham, the Crawdaddy Club, the locked kitchen, the sidelining of Ian Stewart, the anti-establishment stance, Charlie-punches-Mick and the rest.

A few tangents are necessary, then, and the author is able to freshen up the well-told story at times, for instance comparing today's version of the band with the ageing gunslingers in Sam Peckinpah's violent 1969 Western "The Wild Bunch", who saddled up one last time as their anachronistic code of honour was becoming out of place.

"Ironically, ‘The Wild Bunch' was funded by Warner Brothers, the same studio still dithering over the release of ‘Performance' [filmed in 1968 and featuring Jagger] around the same time," Humphries writes. The link between the two films was even closer than that, because the studio head who initially got cold feet on what Humphries describes as "a wholly unsatisfactory mix of drug-culture babble, pseudo philosophy and dislocated narrative" was Kenneth Hyman, who had earlier given Peckinpah the money to film "The Wild Bunch" and backed him tooth and nail when the rest of Hollywood disowned the director. "Performance" was shelved for 18 months before being unceremoniously dumped into cinemas in 1970.

The above comes as Humphries wraps up his story post-1969, perhaps at too great a length, for instance giving us the echoes of Marlene Dietrich that he, but probably nobody else, finds in Jagger. Donald Trump, Jay Gatsby, Peter Sarstedt, David Bowie, Blur, Sheryl Crow, Rupert Murdoch and many more all get dragged in, albeit fleetingly, as Humphries pulls in any reference he can find concerning the Stones.

Mostly a thorough and pleasurable read, then, but 1969 is the nub and some of us are old enough to remember it all first-hand, right back to "Come On" in June 1963.


Patrick Humphries is the author of numerous musical biographies including the life stories of Bob Dylan, Nick Drake, Richard Thompson, Lonnie Donegan and Bruce Springsteen. He joined New Musical Express in 1976 and has been writing about music since.


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