The Rolling Stones in Israel: Historic Occasion and a Thrilling Musical Experience

The June 4 concert could be fitting compensation for the 1965 fiasco of the Beatles show-that-wasn’t, but there's something ugly about reserving the first batch of tickets for a single cellular provider.

Moshe Kutner
Boaz Shalev
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The Rolling Stones in Tokyo in February.
The Rolling Stones in Tokyo in February.Credit: AP
Moshe Kutner
Boaz Shalev

After all the rumors and years of failed attempts, it’s now official: The Rolling Stones will play Tel Aviv’s Hayarkon Park on June 4 - and it could be the second most significant show in the history of live music in Israel.

First place, of course, goes to The Beatles’ concert-that-wasn’t of 1965, which was canceled by the government out of concern for the tender souls of the concertgoers. That Zionist fiasco has been in desperate need of redress for nearly 50 years, and there’s only one group in the world that can do the job. We deserve some satisfaction, to spend the night together, to paint it black and let it bleed and to find that if you can’t always get what you want, sometimes you can.

The Rolling Stones isn’t only the greatest and oldest band in the world, it’s also the ultimate symbol of rock ‘n’ roll, the dictionary definition of the term, whose repertoire is thick with dozens of wonderful songs without which rock would not be what it is. The overwhelming majority of these songs were written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards over the course of a single decade, from the mid-1960s to the mid-’70s.

But the Stones has maintained its status as the best live band in the world and, if the glowing reviews of its performance at the Glastonbury Festival in England last summer are credible, then its members are in great shape, even if the collective age of its four current members is 280.

Frontmen Jagger and Richards, are icons on account of their long-lived stability, their continuing success and their ability to overcome hardships and obstacles, passing trends and even time itself, which seems not to have affected their lives of constant glamor and success. And as in most of the group’s areas of activity, the branding, the logo, the wrappings and the image were always an integral component of their success and their survival.

As one of the major food groups of rock ‘n’ roll, the influence of the Stones encompasses many decades and many genres, sprawling across the entire map of popular music of the past 50 years. Echoes of the Stones are seen in groups like Pearl Jam, which covered numerous Stones songs, Pussy Galore’s 1986 cover version of the 1972 album “Exile on Main St.” and the Black Crowes and Aerosmith, which in their stage and musical personalities are almost the test-tube babies of founding fathers Jagger and Richards.

In fact, it’s easier to list the rock bands that weren’t influenced at all by the Stones, neither directly nor indirectly, than those who were.

After 52 years, the band has released a total of 29 studio albums, 19 live albums, 30 compilations, 170 singles, 57 videos and just three extended-play singles (EP). While the duo from Liverpool, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, were quick to discover the benefits creative partnership, for Jagger and Richards it took a bit longer. The group’s first three albums contained mainly interpretations of songs by Chuck Berry, Willie Dixon, Sam Cooke and many more, with only a few original songs.

On the band’s first album (“The Rolling Stones,” 1964), only one song was written by Jagger and Richards, “Tell Me (You’re Coming Back).” On both the second U.K. album (“Rolling Stones 2”), which was released about a year later, and the third (“Out of Our Heads”) there were three each. The band’s fourth U.K. release (it was the group’s fifth U.S. album), “Aftermath,” from 1966, was already an all-Stones production, in which all 14 songs were written and composed by Jagger and Richards.

From that moment, the song train never stopped. Jagger and Richards have written 126 songs together, many of which were enormous hits.

The raspy sound of success

In order to stand out in the new world that began to come into shape in the 1960s, The Rolling Stones had to carve out a distinct identity for themselves, and they did so by consciously crafting an image that was the polar opposite of the Beatles: rough, rude and rebellious. The band members modeled their look on Alex and his gang of thugs from the 1962 Alex Burgess novel “A Clockwork Orange,” the basis of Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 film of the same name. It matched the Stones’ wild and scandalous behavior wherever they stayed or played. After being signed to Decca Records, the band went on its first concert tour, in Britain and Europe. The tour marked the group’s move from blues to rock, and the Stones’ popularity exploded.

But it was the release of “Beggars Banquet” in December 1968 that turned the group into a great band. The Rolling Stones reinvented themselves, found their sound, entered the most creative period of their career and changed from a “hit band” into the most destructive band in the world.

Richards bought a new toy, a small cassette tape recorder, with which he amused himself in the downtime on the road. He recorded himself on acoustic guitar, and when he played it back he noticed something interesting: Because of the technical limitations of the small device, the guitar’s sound was distorted into something resembling an electric guitar.

Fortunately, Richards went with his gut and ignored the reservations of his fellow band members: The sound of the pseudo-electric acoustic guitar was absolutely thrilling. Richards’ greatness as a guitarist, and one of the unique qualities of the Stones as a group, is their ability to take that sound and bring it from a hotel room into the recording studio and from the studio to the stadium, without losing the essence, the emotion, the rough beauty along the way.

This discovery, together with Richards’ adoption, a few months later, of open-G tuning, an alternate way of tuning the guitar that gave his playing an even rougher, more ringing tone, became the basis of four album that are at the peak of the Rolling Stones’ creative endeavors: “Beggars Banquet,” “Let it Bleed” (1969), “Sticky Fingers” (1971) and “Exile on Main St.” (1972) .

The most recent reviews from the group’s current tour point to the show in Israel being not only a historic event but also a thrilling musical experience. It will be interesting to see what will happen when ticket sales begin on Sunday, March 30. Will there be a repeat of Leonard Cohen’s last visit, when all 50,000 tickets to the performance sold within a few hours? Presumably yes, even though ticket prices are unusually high: 695 shekels ($200) for regular tickets, 1,790 shekels for “golden ring” tickets and no less than 2,850 for VIP tickets.

And finally, there’s something ugly about the fact that Pelephone cellphone customers get first crack at the tickets, from Thursday morning to Sunday morning, before sales open to the general public. Let’s hope they leave enough for everyone who is dying to see Mick and Keith jumping around the stage in Tel Aviv.

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