My Life as a Rolling Stone

BBC, 2022

The Rolling Stones - as you've seen them many times before!

The Word magazine used to have a question on their web site when you signed up: "Beatles or Stones?" (there was also a third option, "actually I preferred The Monkees". It was that kind of humour - I really miss The Word magazine.) But for me, there's never been a question about it: The Beatles released a dizzying array of music in less than ten years, whereas the Stones ... well, put it like this, when I was compiling my favourite songs of the sixties recently, I could add almost all of every Beatles album, but only a song or two at most from each Stones album. 

Now don't get me wrong, there's some classics there - but also an awful lot of dross, frankly. They've produced little music of interest since the early seventies, and nothing at all in the last forty years, something I think they're very well aware of, as a brief look at their set lists over the last few years shows. But somehow this hasn't stopped them becoming the "greatest rock 'n' roll band in the world".

What has always distinguished The Rolling Stones, to my mind, is the incredibly effective way they've publicised themselves. From the very beginning, when Andrew Loog Oldham deliberately set them up as the opposite of those nice, clean Beatles, through to right now and this impeccably stage-managed documentary series, they've always had superb control over their public image, which in many ways has defined the "rock rebel" stereotype.

The format - one episode for each of Mick, Keith, Ronnie and Charlie - manages to cover a lot of history, but it's a curiously incomplete picture. You could count the number of times Bill Wyman was mentioned on the fingers of one foot. Sure, he's not been in the band since 1993, but he was there for all the important moments. A complete history would include him, but this wasn't it. There was maybe five minutes in total featuring Brian Jones, and a minute including Mick Taylor (easily the best guitarist to be a member of the band).

Maybe this wasn't the point, and the idea was tell the individuals' stories. You could be forgiven for feeling that they were being pretty candid - after all, their history is pretty well known and Keith and Ronnie, in particularly, are well known for being rowdy rock 'n' roll bad boys. Conveniently, that means that the documentary can talk fairly freely about their well-known drug use, because that doesn't actually harm their image at all. But what about the women? We don't hear so much about that.

This was an enjoyable series and worth a bit of time to watch, but felt more like a very extended advertisement for The Rolling Stones and their latest tour than a real documentary. There was little new here and nothing that made me want to revisit any of their music. But then perhaps it's not aimed at me.

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