The Rolling Stones have celebrated the 50th anniversary of their first official gig, posing for photos at a London art exhibition and coyly deflecting rumors of an upcoming tour. It’s a safe bet that at today’s genial press gathering, no one referred to a member of the Stones as an early human pithecanthropus erectus.
That one is on us.
Everyone has growing pains, and that includes rock ‘n’ roll bands and the media that cover them. When the Rolling Stones played their first show at London’s Marquee Club in 1962, pop music journalism was still in its infancy. Rolling Stone magazine, for instance, wouldn’t come around until 1967.
The Rolling Stones garnered a major write-up in the Los Angeles Times in 1964, and it wasn’t pretty. In fact, the band’s prettiness -- or lack thereof -- is pretty much all this paper was interested in.
There was no mention of the band’s re-appropriation of American blues or its attraction to the seedier elements of society. There was instead the declaration that two of the band members resembled a pair of less attractive Radcliffe girls -- referring to the Massachusetts women’s college, not the yet-to-be-conceived star of the “Harry Potter” series. The Times also took issue with Stones peers the Pretty Things.
“The Stones are not handsome or even cute, in any of the senses in which those words have been understood until just recently,” Bill Whitworth wrote in December 1964. “One of them looks like a chimpanzee. Two look like very ugly Radcliffe girls. One resembles the encyclopedia drawings of pithecanthropus erectus. The fifth is a double for Ray Bolger in the role of Charley’s Aunt. The Radcliffe girls and Charley’s Aunt wear their hair much longer than the Beatles. A member of a group called the Pretty Things wears his longer still, and has it cut and set in a style calls to mind Clairol ads.”
But Whitworth was far from the only one preoccupied with the Stones’ looks.
In August 1964, Times staff writer Anne Haydon made a brief mention of the Stones, describing the band’s “loose-lipped, loose hipped, long-haired (at least 3 in. longer than George Harrison’s) eccentricity” as one that “frightens parents, thrills teen-agers and makes the Beatles look as crony as a crewcut.”
Finally in 1965, The Times got hip to the Stones -- kind of. Then-editor Charles Champlin profiled the Stones one year after Whitworth compared a member of the group to Java Man; Champlin began his profile by making Mick Jagger defend his look.
“If we had our hair cut,” Jagger said, “we wouldn’t be so nauseatingly attractive now, would we?”
Yet Champlin does describe the band’s sound, in the context of the Beatles, of course. “The Stones’ sound has thus always been earthier, tougher and less complex than the Beatles’ (and their image is sexier, if less romantic).”
The Times’ 1965 profile does put an end to the question of why America was so dang obsessed with the band’s hair. Champlin put the Stones’ creative manager Andrew Loog Oldham on the spot: “In England, the Stones are a mirror-reflection of the audience with their hair and dress, not a novelty. Here the long hair makes them regarded as freaks."
Freaks or not, the Stones have endured. The band members today range in age from their late 60s to early 70s, and there’s talk of the Stones playing some live dates and recording a new album, perhaps in 2013. Drummer Charlie Watts didn’t join the band till 1963, and only Jagger and guitarist Keith Richards remain from the 1962 lineup.
There have already been plenty of rumors shot down about the Stones’ upcoming tour plans, including a report that the group would play England’s Glastonbury Festival in 2013. Yet the likelihood that something will happen is one the band acknowledged at press proceedings around its 50th anniversary.
“There’s things in the works,” Richards told the BBC. “It’s definitely happening, but when I can’t say yet.”
Hopefully, that news doesn’t make any music fans ill. In 1965, The Times quoted an unnamed teenage girl -- and die-hard Beatles fan -- explaining why she would never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever see the Rolling Stones.
“I can’t take three weeks off from school, and if I had to hear a Stones concert, I’d be sick to my stomach for three weeks.”