Like the Colosseum, the Sphinx or the Parthenon, the Rolling Stones are a magnificent ruin. Nowadays nobody goes to see them with any realistic expectation of experiencing them as they were in their legendary heyday, but rather to marvel that such a thing ever existed and that, against all the odds, significant aspects of this historic edifice are still standing at all. Their last truly classic track, ‘Start Me Up’, was recorded back in 1981 and, though their last few albums have been almost quite good, the vast majority of their best work was recorded in their first decade (and the remainder in their second). Yet whenever they can be bothered to embark on one of their spectacular marathon tours, they routinely outsell anybody else unfortunate to be touring at the same time. Beatles, Pistols and Guns N’ Roses may come and go, but the Rolling Stones remain the grand archetype of the rock band, simultaneously as mythic and absurd as the dinosaurs, unicorns and woolly mammoths they have increasingly come to resemble.
They may well have degenerated into self-caricature, but at least they had an unmistakably distinctive self to parody. The list of rock bands who have based some aspect of their approach on that of the Stones stretches beyond the middle distance, with little or no end in sight.
As the subtitle