The Rolling Stones began their life as an act dedicated to playing the Blues. They were, in effect, a cover band. In the world that Alexis Korner, Cyril Davies, and others helped to create, wherein a "purist" approach to the Blues was the mandate, the Stones came together. But soon enough their path diverged from that of the purists. In navigating this change in direction, the influence of manager and producer Andrew Loog Oldham was substantial.

Perhaps the most important thing Oldham did was to get Mick Jagger and Keith Richards writing their own material. After the first few albums, which featured covers of songs recorded by Chuck Berry, Howlin' Wolf, Bo Diddley, and others, the balance began to shift. Jagger and Richards were soon among the most formidable writing teams in popular music, and they had just the right band to back that material. By the time "Satisfaction" was released as a single in 1965, it became clear that the Stones were putting out some of the most important music of their time, and it was unlike anything else out there.

The lessons in this chapter will address the band's connection to the Blues and their part in reintroducing American Blues and R&B to American audiences. To a greater degree than the Beatles — in part because the Stones carried on recording covers for as long as they did — the Rolling Stones were, curiously enough, ambassadors of American music. Not in the way of a song collector and folk music scholar like Alan Lomax; they did not do this from an anthropological perspective. They simply loved the music and played it. With Oldham a great influence in this area, too, their image was that of irreverent young men: They did what they liked and didn't need to explain it to you.

Perhaps more than any other group, the Stones cultivated a bad-boy image that would become the image most associated with Rock and Roll by the 1970s. Gone were the sunny faces of Herman's Hermits and the Dave Clark Five. The Stones were dark, even menacing. If youth culture was about challenging the parent generation, loving the Stones made the process rather easy. Lessons in this chapter will explore all of this and more, with upcoming lessons analyzing the mid and later parts of the band's career, a time when they were  regularly billed — not casually — as "The World's Greatest Rock and Roll Band."

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The Rolling Stones: Giving America Back the Blues

How did the early Rolling Stones help popularize the Blues?