Rock Is Dead pt. 372


Sir Mick Jagger’s been all over the news this week. The Stones’ classic 1972  double album, “Exile On Main Street”, is re-released and remastered with extra tracks.  “Stones In Exile”, a documentary about the making of the LP, premieres at Cannes. The BBC has some radio docs lined up and there’s an exhibition in London of photos from the time . All this in the week of our first coalition government for 65 years. Some circus to go with our bread…
For a Stones’ fan like moi, this is great. It’s my fave album. But it was also the last time the Stones were truly great. At the time the Stones were THE band. Led Zepp filled stadiums but they were the new kids on the block. The Stones had been going 10 years by then and, since The Beatles had split just 2 years before, had become the yardstick by which all other bands were measured. They still represented something cool and dangerous and counter-culture.
Rock was mutating from ’60s teenager into coked-up, young adult ’70s. 40 years on the album marks the point where the Stones stopped being relevant as a new musical force and went from band to brand.  Mick famously never really liked the album. It was recorded in France for tax reasons at Keef’s French ex-Gestapo villa. Keef’s fingerprints are all over the album. It’s dark, druggy and feels dangerous. Mick was always a bit uptight Grammar Skool boy to Keef’s more laisse-rock rebel. Remember Keef slagging Mick for accepting a knighthood? A “bauble” from the Establishment.
Robert Frank filmed a lot of this period as “Cocksucker Blues” and his photos were used on the sleeve. Dominique Tarle hung out for 6 months at Villa Nellcote taking photos. These things cost a lot of money back then: not your average band. This wealth of material, along with the music, means the whole period is preserved in aspic and feeds the legend. 
The Stones now are more like another product of the ’70s – pet rocks. Harmless fun. Their history keeps the band-wagon rolling. It’s a measure of the present state of the industry that a 40 year old album can command so much attention. Sadly, this is as good as it will get. I mean, really, who cares about “Goat’s Head Soup”?
Anyway, amongst all the hoo-ha about the album, Mick made a sharp comment about the Biz. In 100 years of recorded music there was only really a 25 year period where The Artist actually made big money, from about 1970 until  the mid 90s. The Stones were in that window and, indeed, helped to create it. “Well done, lucky you”, said one mildly sarcastic interviewer to Sir Mick.
The industry has changed. The Stones are a Heritage Act. Downloads have shifted the balance from recorded product to the live experience. Bands used to lose money on a tour but recoup costs on album sales. LiveNation now pay the Stones £150million for a 5 year contract whereby they organize tours and merch for the band. Music sales dwindled long ago.
In another 10 years it’ll all be over. Rock as we know it really will be dead. We’re already picking over the bones, as witnessed this week with all the Stones “buzz”. The strangest aspect for me was hearing the “new” single “Plundered My Soul”. It’s an unreleased instrumental track from the original sessions with a vocal done by the Mick of today. It sounds like someone doing an impersonation of the Mick of then. It doesn’t work. But anything new from the vaults helps keep those units shifting. It’s pretty much free money for the Stones too: a top-up for the pensions of these baby boomers.
The one interesting aspect of all this, for a vinyl junkie like me, is that original copies of the album, in good nick, are starting to sell for healthy sums. Classic albums in general are selling for ever larger amounts. People want the Source, the original artifact – to touch relics from the past. And Rock really is dead when it appears on “Antiques Roadshow”…

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