Rock Music’s Other Favourite 4-Letter Word: Mick

A tribute to the seemingly ageless Rolling Stones frontman.

What makes the Rolling Stones still rock? The answer to that one is easy: Mick Jagger.

The singer, born Michael Philip Jagger, who celebrated his 76th birthday on July 26, has created a brand of his own, thanks to solo albums and side projects outside the Rolling Stones, which is what got him there in the first place.

Fathering his eighth child in 2016 (Jagger became a great grandfather in 2014) or performing with the same energy weeks after an emergency surgical procedure for a heart valve replacement in April this year, the star has not slowed down as the band that he fronts continues its umpteenth global tour.

The ‘No Filter’ tour commenced on September 9, 2017 in Hamburg and will close at Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium on August 31, the very venue where the US leg was to begin on April 20 this year, prior to Jagger’s heart ailment. Ahead of the US part, the tour has already grossed in excess of US$237 million. Clearly, neither ‘Rubber Lips’ Jagger has lost his verve nor his band its appeal, even while newer and younger acts keep cropping.

On the resumption of the ‘No Filter’ tour on June 21, Mick Jagger gave, in Chicago, a performance to remember, less than three months after his operation. You can hardly tell he had undergone a surgery, as the moves he unleashed during the first stop of the revised Rolling Stones‘ North American tour, reminded me of the band’s ’14 On Fire’ tour that I witnessed in Abu Dhabi on February 21, 2014. Writing at the time, in a review, I had described Jagger’s individual performance as having “remained outstanding and freakishly youthful with his swaggering walk intact”. This time around too, Jagger was sprinting, spinning and prancing as only he could, showing that age has not withered his dynamism on stage.

Jagger and the Rolling Stones also performed in Mumbai on April 7, 2003.

That Jagger was going to continue to be himself, surgery notwithstanding, was clear when he posted a video on Instagram in May, a month after his medical ailment was corrected, demonstrating an aerobics routine that men a third of his age would find tiring.

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So what is it that makes Jagger continue to rock?

For starters, there is little denying that he is the most famous member of the Rolling Stones, at least partially due to the fact that he is their singer, but also because he is a celebrity who remains a regular feature in mainstream gossip columns. His “jet-set lifestyle” and presence in the global social world, including in the New York art scene and, in Hollywood, as an actor, (Freejack, Ned Kelly) make him unique among his peers. Mick Jagger will soon return to the big screen in a movie called The Burnt Orange Heresy that premieres on September 7, in which he appropriately plays a powerful art collector.

In all this, Jagger has also been the subject of several songs, such as Maroon 5‘s 2011 song, ‘Moves Like Jagger’. Jagger acknowledged his appreciation of the song in an interview, calling the recognition “very flattering”.

Controversy mostly never hurt anyone, least of all Jagger. His collaborator in the band, guitarist Keith Richards, and him were barely on speaking terms during the ‘80s. While Jagger wanted to move the band in the direction of pop and dance, Richards wanted the Rolling Stones to be firmly rooted in its blues origins, which is precisely what got both one-time school mates back together on that fateful day in 1960 in Chicago. That was when Richards spied Jagger carrying two vinyl albums in hand – ‘Rockin’ At The Hops’ by Chuck Berry, and ‘The Best Of Muddy Waters’ – on a train platform. That led to a conversation about their mutual respect for these Chess Records’ legends, the electric sound that they had begun innovating in Chicago and the rest, as they say, is now history.

Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Photo: Reuters

For those yet not aware, Rolling Stones is named after a Muddy Waters’ 1950 song, ‘Rollin’ Stone’, and the band’s instrumental, ‘2120 South Michigan Avenue’, was the address of the building housing Chess Records, and was recorded for the band’s second EP, ‘Five By Five’.

Cut to 2016 and, having course corrected after their move in the wrong musical direction in the ‘80s, the Rolling Stones rekindled their natural relationship with blues roots by recording ‘Blue & Lonesome’, an album featuring renditions of songs from the likes of Memphis Slim [the title track], Howlin’ Wolf [‘Commit A Crime’], Little Walter [‘I Gotta Go’/’Hate To See You Go’], and Jimmy Reed [‘Little Rain’], among others, with Eric Clapton playing guitar on two of the 12 tracks.

The Rolling Stones juggernaut continues to chug into their sixth decade of rocking and rolling. Their survival is directly connected with their global appeal, enthralling audiences across multi-generations including millennials. This has made them, arguably, the world’s greatest rock and roll band. At some stage of their early career, the band battled with The Beatles for musical virtuosity and star quality and, as a critic once wrote, “the dark side Yin to the Fab Four’s Yang”.

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The Rolling Stones have always been ahead of competition in their foresight as the band launched their very own label in 1970 – after their recording contract with Decca Records expired – which was headed by Marshall Chess, son of Chess Records founder Leonard Chess. Slowly, but surely, the band upped the ante on live performances by moving to venues covering arenas and stadiums. After all these decades, the Rolling Stones remain one of the world’s top draws, which is a great vindication of a band that was once considered “dangerous”, “reckless”, and “decadent”.

The magnetism of Jagger’s charisma remains unabated with the concept of a rock and roll frontman being entirely his creation. He of course took cues and inspiration from soul singers, blues musicians, and even Elvis. Jagger still appears hungry to innovate, even without the Rolling Stones. 2011’s ‘SuperHeavy’ was a collaboration that included our very own A.R. Rahman, on which Jagger sang ‘Satyameva Jayate’ in Sanskrit. Jagger does not want to break away fully from the Rolling Stones which, after all made him a superstar. He keeps returning to it every step that he takes outside, knowing fully well by his unprecedented business acumen that the b[r]and remains his bread and butter.

Essentially, Jagger’s songs remain his single most important tool in musicianship, ranging from down and out rockers to soulful ballads; having said that, blues arguably still is his first love.

While age is certainly no measure for superlative musicianship and for survival, again borrowing from my review on viewing the band live, “much like wine Rolling Stones, as performers, only seem to get better with time…”. Thanks in no small measure to an enigma known as Jagger who sang, even way back in 1964, that ‘Time Is On My Side’.

Parag Kamani is a rock music aficionado.