I love the Rolling Stones. No secret there, I suppose.
They’re one of my go-to bands if ever I want to feel like an (ageing) rebel, drive my Prius a little faster or just party like the rock star I wish I once was.
53 years after their formation, they remain the industry standard for rock rebellion, standing firm – with their thick lips, tousled manes and suspiciously bulging jeans – as the greatest and most balls out survivors in popular music history. A red hot streak of albums from 1968’s ‘Beggars Banquet’ to the seminal ‘Exile on Main Street’ a mere four years later cemented their legacy and created the blueprint from which every other bad boy rock band has subsequently sprung.
It’s been 10 full years since they released a studio album. ‘A Bigger Bang’ was another in a long line. A collection of jagged riffs, forgettable lyrics and nondescript fillers that is best left in the bargain basements.
In fact, the last 32 years have seen them produce 6 studio releases, with about half a dozen tracks worth recalling between them.
Not a great average, I have to say.
But the Stones aren’t about being relevant anymore. They are more than happy to trade off on past glories. And the public lap it right up.
From their much talked about Glastonbury appearance to their magnificent ‘Sweet Summer Sun’ farewell in London’s Hyde Park, they are masters of giving the people what they want.
And what they want is the hits. Lots of them.
And played by the guys — 60% of them anyway — who brought them to us,
50 odd years ago.
Past glories, like I said.
Like a one hit wonder who can still get beers bought for him on the back of a single smash hit.
Yesterday, I compared Celtic Football Club to a Rolling Stones type band, and James asked me to amplify that and write this piece.
It seems to me that there are key similarities.
What we have is a merchandising juggernaut, trading on past success, knowingly retro but constantly angling for your hard earned while dropping in the occasional reference about the regard in which the brand is held throughout the world.
Thinking about it again, in more detail, I think that this is actually unfair.
On the Stones, that is.
They know what they’re about and they know where they’re going.
They don’t have to remain relevant.
They’re the Rolling Stones.
There are amoeba in ponds in Ulan Bator that could hum ‘Satisfaction’.
We are a different case altogether.
We were only briefly ‘the biggest rock band in the world’, and in that respect we’re more like Neil Young, to be honest.
Or we should be. Consistently trying to push the envelope while retaining affectionate links to a once heady past.
Because Young can still surprise and shock, even in his dotage.
He’ll never sell out stadia like The Stones but he’ll pack them in at a more reasonable level and more importantly, never sell out his principles.
He knows his market and adapts when he feels it suits.
He’s influential and relevant, even now, and he probably never compares what he does to The Stones.
We should be aim to be Neil Young.
But that dream is too much of a stretch for our current custodians.
The model they have for us is more like The Drifters, in more ways than one.
The most lasting of the doo-wop R&B bands of the 50’s and 60’s, The Drifters’ legacy is one that’s nowhere near as secure as it should be -or as secure as the previous artists I mentioned – despite being ever present on oldie/hit radio stations.
Constant chopping and changing meant that legendary vocalists such as Clyde McPhatter, Ben E. King and Johnny Moore only rarely reached sustained heights and virtually never together.
Money was a major factor in the regular splintering of The Drifters.
Rather than keep a settled line up, their managers reckoned that if Clyde wanted too much money, they’d release him and get another cheaper version while keeping the name going.
Sometimes it worked (the aforementioned King and Moore being the prime exceptions) but given that there have been over 60 vocalists in various versions, it’s absolutely certain that the quality was diluted.
They may have had their successes but they lacked the stability of a Four Tops for instance; 44 years without a single personnel change, by God! Think what that might have led to for The Drifters!
The Stones themselves — on the rare occasions they’ve had to — have replaced top men with even better ones, even poaching Ronnie Wood from a rival powerhouse, The Faces.
See, they know what our club’s custodians haven’t twigged yet.
Substandard signings diminish the brand and with it the selling power declines.
Look at where The Drifters are playing now.
Clacton and Cleethorpes instead of Las Vegas and Paris Olympia.
Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is that if you set your sights low, changing your personnel regularly by taking the cheapest road, you find that tends to take you to Cleethorpes Winter Gardens, or in Celtic’s case The Aker Stadion, Molde instead of the Nou Camp.
Of course football is a sport, not the entertainment business (though these days, I’m not totally sure the purity of sport is as cherished by the custodians as it should be but that’s for another rant). And granted, we are hampered by Sky’s massive investment in English football but this may be where we’re going wrong. Perhaps we shouldn’t try to compare ourselves to the giants of their league, their Rolling Stones and U2.
Look at the Neil Young’s of the game. The Ajax’s, Benfica’s, The Anderlecht’s.
Sure, they can’t always get what they want — our first Europa tie is against the former Dutch powerhouse — but they rarely sell themselves short in the attempt at self betterment.
None of the sides I mentioned has the cushion of a huge TV deal and they all realise that though their fans are desperate for another ‘Exile on Main Street,’ they’re unlikely to get it.
But it doesn’t mean that they should continually serve up sub par crap like ’Bridges to Babylon’ and expect their fans to pay through the nose for it, just because we’ve obediently kept our end of the bargain, over and over again.
There are plenty of failed businesses who gambled on the continued loyalty of an increasingly choosy public.
Our recent dwindling attendances might be a symptom of a greater malaise.
In short, we need to forget about being the Stones – but just as importantly, stop acting like the short sighted management of the Drifters – and concentrate on being a bit more Neil Young, albeit with a heart of Green, White and Gold.
Bizarre rant over.
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