For over fifty years, the music of the Rolling Stones has been blasted out of our speakers and performed on concert stages across the world. As absolute legends of rock music and the longest continually active band of their generation (if not of all time), the time was ripe for a career retrospective book by the band, for the fans. That moment is finally here with Taschen's officially authorized book, titled simply The Rolling Stones.
I first need to get the obvious out of the way: this is a MAMMOTH work of art, with emphasis on those two words for a reason. The book is absolutely huge, handsomely presented in hardcover with a dust jacket featuring a photo by the legendary Gered Mankowitz from the Between the Buttons cover session on the front and a shot of a massive concert audience on the rear. The book comes housed in a folding cardboard case complete with carrying handle (see photo below). A quick look at the table of contents reveals that, in addition to the gorgeous photos contained within its 500+ pages, there are also some essays on the Stones and large sections in the back dedicated to other aspects of their history. I'll go through these in order as the review progresses, so keep reading...
The book next to its box
This book is an officially authorized photographic history of the Rolling Stones, put together with complete cooperation from the band; this included access to their vast archives in both London and New York City. It spans the period of 1962, when the nucleus of the band first came together, up to the present day. Most of the photos take full advantage of the high quality paper stock and large page sizes and are of such high resolution and clarity that many of them look as though they could have been taken yesterday, never mind decades ago. What makes this book more than just a collection of photographs are the detailed captions that accompany each photograph. These include the year, date (when available), photographer, and a brief explanation from both the photographer as well as the subject of the particular picture. Thus, even as you go through the visual tour of the book, there is information and background for each photo that puts it into context and clarifies what is going on. Sprinkled throughout are the essays, which are interesting enough although they don't really offer anything too new in terms of information that any serious Stones fan won't already know. Additionally, one of the essays is rather annoying in how the author feels the need to simultaneously tear down the Beatles with every compliment he bestows upon the Stones; it's doubly pointless since then as now, both bands have been good friends and were never rivals.
Starting with the earliest photos, the book traces the history of the band from their beginnings as shaggy young men playing blues and R&B in sweaty London nightclubs as they worked their way up the ladder to become one of the leading bands of Swinging London and 1960s rock. From their 1969 American tour to the present, the Stones became larger than life and beyond immersing themselves in now-cliche rock and roll lifestyle, they became the rock and roll lifestyle. We see them go from young, shaggy, wide-eyed young men who cannot believe their good fortune to get paid for making music to the road weary, drug-addled bad-boys of the mid-to-late-1960s over the course of many pages. Most fascinating and also most tragic is witnessing the gradual physical and mental decline of Brian Jones over these same pages. From 1969, when Mick Taylor replaced Brian shortly before his (Brian's) death to the present, the Stones were (and still are) larger than life; this is conveyed perfectly through the pictures. The bulk of the book (I'd estimate ~2/3 of it) focuses on the 1962-1975 era which coincidentally happens to be what I and most Stones fans consider their best era. The remainder of the photographs cover the Ron Wood era in rather rapid succession which is surprising given that this has been the longest-lived incarnation of the band! Indeed, it feels as though once the book gets past the release of the Some Girls album in 1978 it rushes fairly quickly through the rest of their career. There is a paucity of images documenting the 1980s...the Dirty Work album (admittedly, one of their worst) is completely absent from the book. I was also really surprised (and a little disappointed) that there weren't extra photos devoted to sixth Stone Ian "Stu" Stewart, their loyal friend, roadie, and piano player who tragically passed away in 1985. I would have expected numerous photos of Stu when the book got to the point in their history when he passed, especially given the love and admiration they've expressed for him throughout their career. Not something I'm taking major points away over, but a confusing omission nonetheless. Finally, the end of the book has two large sections devoted to Stones history: the first is a detailed chronological list of their history year-by-year starting with the birth of the oldest member (Bill Wyman) and hitting every milestone over the past 50+ years. The second section is a collection of single, LP, and magazine covers from all around the world over the same time span. It's truly a wealth of history and imagery that is almost too much to take in all at once!
Overall, this is an absolutely gorgeous and extremely well thought out, well put together book chronicling one of the most important rock bands of all time. It's nearly flawless...the only things I will knock it for are the aforementioned thin selection of photos from the 1980s and the fact that there are several pages left blank apart from small captions pertaining to photos on the opposite page: I would have loved even more pictures from the archives to fill these pages up. These are minor quibbles, however, and no serious Rolling Stones fan can be without this book. This should be the benchmark by which any band who aspires to put a photographic history together should measure.
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