The Rolling Stones: In Praise Of Their Excellent ‘Second Half’
“This is the beginning of the second half,” Keith Richards said, with his typical swagger.
In September of 1989, Rolling Stone ran a major feature on the Rolling Stones, who had just released Steel Wheels. It was their first LP in three years, which back then, seemed like a long time between albums. But they hadn’t toured in eight years (which also seemed like a long time) and rumors swirled that the band was on the verge of splitting up. But the article ended with the above quote from Keith Richards. Many likely rolled their eyes at the idea. By 1989, the Stones had been together for 27 years. The idea that the Rolling Stones would remain intact for 27 more seemed nuts. The Rolling Stones existing in 2016 seemed ridiculous.
After all, the guys were in their 40s. Drummer Charlie Watts was almost 50! They’d all passed the age when Elvis Presley died, at 42. And, with all due respect, by then he was a somewhat embarrassing shadow of his former self. How long could the Rolling Stones possibly still be able to play the incredible shows that they’d been putting on in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s?
A pretty long time, as it turns out. They’ve led the path for aging rockers to do huge shows for enormous audiences. Their concerts aren’t merely good: they’re great. Their latest tour — dubbed “No Filter” — wraps up this weekend, on August 31, in Miami. Every time they announce a new tour, the usual criticism echoes around the web: “They’re only in it for the money!” Sure, they probably enjoy making millions of dollars for doing the thing that they’ve loved for over 50 years. But, with all due respect, a lot of their peers are also at the half-century mark, but none of them — with the exception of Paul McCartney — still can fill football stadiums. If they weren’t a great live band, the Stones would be playing theaters and community centers on package bills. In 2019, every time they hit the stage, they are the best rock and roll band in the world at that moment.
But their second-half greatness isn’t limited only to their shows; their catalog has been excellent and underrated. In some ways, that’s understandable: their new music has had to compete with a discography that was way overstuffed by 1989: they’ve had genre- and generation-defining songs like “Street Fighting Man,” “Sympathy For The Devil,” “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” “Paint It Black” and “Gimme Shelter.” Not to mention “Start Me Up,” “Bitch,” “Miss You,” “19th Nervous Breakdown,” “Undercover Of The Night,” “The Last Time,” “Let’s Spend The Night Together,” “Honky Tonk Woman,” “Brown Sugar”… the list can go on for hours.
But with Steel Wheels, released on August 29, 1989, they proved that they still had gas in the tank. “Mixed Emotions” — the first single — referenced the insults that Mick Jagger and Keith Richards had flung at each other in the press, and in Richards’ case, his Mick-obsessed solo debut, 1988’s Talk Is Cheap. The “Mixed Emotions” video saw Mick Jagger and Keith Richards facing off with their guitars, sharing a mic, singing, “You’re not the only one, with mixed emotions, you’re not the only one feeling lonesome.”
The rest of the album was solid as well: “Sad Sad Sad” was a classic Stones rocker, “Almost Hear You Sigh” was an underrated ballad, and “Continental Drift” was probably the weirdest thing they had done since 1967’s Their Satanic Majesties Request.
The album’s secret weapon was its closing track, the first in a string of beautiful Keith Richards-sung ballads that would follow in the decades to come: “Slipping Away.” After that, 1994’s Voodoo Lounge had “The Worst” (which Richards reprises as a duet on Sheryl Crow’s upcoming album, Threads, due out August 30), Bridges To Babylon had “Thief In The Night” and “How Can I Stop,” 2002’s 40 Licks collection had “Losing My Touch” and 2005’s A Bigger Bang featured “This Place Is Empty.”
It’s not just about Keith’s crooning, of course: the ’90s, ’00s and ’10s featured a string of incredible songs that any rock band would kill to have in their discography: “Love Is Strong,” “Out Of Tears,” “Already Over Me,” “You Don’t Have To Mean It,” “Saint Of Me,” “Out Of Control,” “Rough Justice,” “Oh No, Not You Again,” “Infamy,” and a bunch of others.
“Doom and Gloom,” from 2012’s GRRR! collection was overlooked at the time; earlier this year, it was included in a seminal scene in the highest-grossing film of all time, Avengers: Endgame.
“Doom and Gloom” was one of two new songs on that compilation; the other was “One More Shot,” mostly written by Keith (and originally intended for a solo album). If “One More Shot” ends up being the final new Rolling Stones song, it’s a good one, and a wonderful final bow. But you never know: the whole song is pleading for one more shot. Are they talking to the bartender or to the fans? Who knows: maybe both.
The last Stones album, as of this writing, is 2016’s blues covers album, Blue And Lonesome, which closes with the Stones simmering through Willie Dixon’s “I Can’t Quit You Baby.” That would also be an excellent final bow; Blue And Lonesome is a sweet bookend to the Stones’ debut, 1964’s England’s Newest Hitmakers. Like Blue And Lonesome, it was mostly covers.
But, as Mick showed us via Instagram a few weeks ago, there still may be more to come from the Rolling Stones. In a short video clip captioned “Rocking out new tunes,” we see Mick jamming with (we think) the rest of the band, bashing away at his Fender Strat. Some cynics might ask if the world really needs more Rolling Stones songs. But hey, with a track record like this, they deserve one more shot.