IT’s 1972. The Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Band in the World isn’t merely touring but ravaging America. Dozens of police have been injured and hundreds of fans arrested as a finite kitty of tickets go on sale from coast to coast. The Glimmer Twins – Mick Jagger and Keith Richards – have been jailed in Boston for brawling with a French photographer before being bailed by a Mayor eager to avoid a second Beantown revolution. Richards was by now a heroin addict – which imperilled the liberty and livelihood of everyone around him. The Stones jet was crisscrossing the same big sky country as Air Force One – Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign being in full swing – but its passengers, according to legend (and still-embargoed film), were a smidgen rowdier. Truman Capote has been commissioned to follow and chronicle the tour but all the chaos did nothing to dislodge the writer’s block from which he was suffering. The pricey essay was never penned. He couldn’t see what we see anyway: that Micky’s and Dicky’s planes were both vectoring to victory in the short term but disaster in the long. We’re still sifting through the wreckage.
My essay was to be part lamentation (of what passes for a Hottest 100) and part hearkening back to rock ‘n roll’s grimier days. ‘All Down The Line’ live – from the Exile on Main Street chef-d’oeuvre many regard as the Stones’ and even the genre’s best – would showcase what a band sounds like with nothing but Marshalls, human-tuned guitars, talent and a mile of front. And so it does. But by an amazing coincidence, when I went to verify the first time that former tour manager Sam Cutler described his uncombed quintet as “the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band in the world,” I learned he died last Tuesday in Queensland, aged 80. The likeable Englishman lived a colourful life in a very fast lane but was decidedly his own man. Charlie Watts gave Cutler his seal of approval from the start and that wasn’t something the Wembley Whammer doled out lightly.
As for the famous boast – which the band hated – the Stones lived up to it and then some. Never more so than in the 1969-1974 iteration that included virtuoso Mick Taylor on lead. Three brilliant albums were still to come – Goat’s Head Soup (1973), Some Girls (1978) and Tattoo You (1981) – but by the 1980s the Rolling Stones had become a Rolling Stones tribute band, albeit one whose biggest earnings were still ahead of them. Prior to taking the stage in 1972, a geed up Jagger sat down with TV’s Dick Cavett who asked him if he could picture himself “at the age of 60 doing what you do now.” The audience laughs at the reply. “Yeah, easily.”