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It says much about the evolution of rock music that The Rolling Stones have gone from one-time bad boys – marketed as such to differentiate them from The Beatles - to national treasures, a national institution even. Mick Jagger is now Sir Mick; Keith Richards is the lovable model for Jack Sparrow, even appearing in cameos alongside Johnny Depp.
There always were major differences between the image and the reality: they may have had a bloody good time, but they were never stupid with money and deals. The band enjoyed a reputation for wildness, spawning myths like the Mars Bar thing – ask your dad – and founder member Brian Jones died a rock and roll death in his swimming pool in mysterious circumstances shortly after leaving the band. Legends of their sexual exploits, numerous beautiful girlfriends, the brief imprisonment for drugs offences of Jagger and Richards, and further episodes destined to annoy Daily Mail readers, combined to build an image of rebellion and hedonism.
Quite how Mick Jagger became a male sex symbol, his face one only a mother could love, his skinny figure apparently without a bottom, and raising eyebrows about his declared height of 5’ 10”, is unclear. Whatever the secret, unlike some of their Sixties and Seventies contemporaries they had no intention of ending up penniless. At one point the band left Britain for tax exile in France; Mick Jagger is well-known for his canniness, his personal fortune said to be well beyond the £150 million mark; and from the outset they were smarter than most about music rights and recording contracts, writing most of their own songs, and forming their own record label as early as 1970.
In the end, of course, it’s the music that matters. Formed to play a mixture of Chicago Blues and Bo Diddley–style rock and roll, the band has never lost that bluesy feel at the heart of its sound, even when straying into heavier rock, country-tinged songs, or softer ballads. And this in spite of numerous changes of personnel over the decades, Jagger’s vocals, Richards’ lead guitar, and Charlie Watts on drums effectively the constants (Watts in fact joined the year after the band formed).
Over the years the Stones are said to have sold more than 200 million albums, recording a multitude of songs that have become classics: Brown Sugar, As Tears Go By, The Last Time, Ruby Tuesday, Wild Horses, Miss You, Tumbling Dice, Jumping Jack Flash, and others too numerous to mention. But what makes them a national institution more than anything else is the fact that they seem to have been on tour since the Sixties. I know it’s only very lucrative rock and roll, but I like it.

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