Are the Stones rolling better than ever?

Are the Stones rolling better than ever?

Many people tell me that the Rolling Stones are “too old” and should have retired years ago. In fact, they sound better than bands half their age. 

At age 78, Mick Jagger’s vocals and timing seemed flawless and electrifying during their Sunday evening July 3 show at BST Hyde Park, sponsored by American Express. For more than 2 hours, the Stones rolled out 19 massive songs from the 60s, 70s and 80s that ring true with younger generations of fans who seemed awestruck to watch guys who could be their grandparents rock harder than excellent opening acts such as Sam Fender and Christone Kingfish Ingram.  

Mick remarked that the Stones have now played 203 live shows — just in London — and there was no talk about this being their “last” a la Elton John’s Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour, which graced the BST Great Oak stage on June 24.  

The Stones may be known for “sex, drugs and rock n’roll”, but they are also perhaps the most clever band of all time. Their efficient songwriting and guitar solos don’t require the manic energy of Led Zeppelin’s hardest rock, which almost nobody can achieve at any age. By absorbing musical styles into their own identity, the Stones have built a solid rock machine to outlive genres and eras. On Sunday, the Stones went from the punky “Get Off My Cloud” to the aching ballad “Angie” to the gospel of “You Can’t Always Get” to the country twang of “Honky Tonk Woman” to the disco groove of “Miss You” and the psychedelic “Paint It Black”, and never once did they sound like another band.   

Do they sound better than ever? After the passing of drummer Charlie Watts in August 2021, this current version of the Stones (with Sasha Allen on backing vocals, Steve Jordan on drums and Darryl Jones driving the voodoo down on bass) sound more “African” than ever. The sprawling and spellbinding jams of “Gimme Shelter” and “Sympathy for the Devil” dig deeper into the roots of music from Brazil, the Caribbean and the southern US that inspired Jagger and Keith Richards, two lads from Kent County southeast of London, in the first place. 

Squeezed into a crowd of about 65,000 people, I saw the show with my friend (a playful Laotian in his 50s) and a group of young guys who had just seen Sir Paul McCartney’s epic 3-hour set at Glastonbury. “It’s amazing that this battle between the Beatles and the Stones is still going on, 60 years later,” said Matt, a young bass player who grew up near the childhood homes of Mick and Keith. 

After the finale “Satisfaction”, the crowd were still singing and chanting on their way out of the park, and I got the feeling that this music will never die.

The Stones, who flaunted the social rules from the start, are now defying the “ageism” in western society, where discrimination based on age runs deep in schools, workplaces and media. 

There’s really no need for agism in music. Great songs are like fine wines that taste better the older they get, and the older you get. Unlike athletes whose bodies slow down or break down over time, musicians can improve with age. Jagger is a better guitar player than when you saw him in the 60s and 70s, and it seems to help his vocal pitch and tonality. Paul McCartney is more confident and fluent on piano than he was in the early 1960s when he was busy running away from screaming girls. The vocal harmonies of The Eagles at BST Hyde Park on June 26 could not have been better, even if Don Henley said they might not play London again. 

On a glorious Sunday afternoon, I had the privilege of seeing tennis legends Roger Federer, age 40, and Bjorn Borg, age 66, grace Wimbledon with other legends to celebrate 100 years of Centre Court. Federer, looking spiffing in a suit, said he hopes to play next year, but he might never fully recover from his knee injuries. Even as fans shouted out their love for him, it must have been killing Roger not to play, and he didn’t do a press conference.

A few hours later, there was Jagger, fully 38 years older than Federer, strutting around on stage with the swagger that he and Elvis seemingly injected into the music business. Elvis (if he is dead) reportedly died 45 years ago. Mick, on the other hand, seemingly has no reason to stop touring anytime soon. Catch him if you can, and if you can keep up to him.  

words and images Christopher Johnson Globalite Media all rights reserved