Mick Jagger digs to control things. So he took over his band, his business and then the world.
In the dictionary under the word “complex”, there should be a picture of Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger. Because this dude’s greatest achievement is probably that despite him being under the constant scrutiny of the enter planet for half a century, almost nobody knows what he’s about.
Outgoing and demonstrative, sure. A control freak? Apparently. But he’s also got this aloof and distant vibe. We’re pretty sure that’s what the ladies enjoy.
Well, that and the famous, sexually provocative “moves like Jagger” that he displays during the Stones performances that have been going on for those same 50 years. Whatever the reasons are, there have been no shortage of ladies. They have included singers, actresses, models, groupies, left-wing radicals and first ladies of nations.
Biographer Christopher Andersen claims Mick slept with at least 4 000 women. At his peak, the man must have been a machine. Such a machine, in fact, that he may have also shagged David Bowie.
Our guy has had a long and successful innings in the proverbial “game” and fathered his most recent child in 1999, at the age of 56. That was 27 years after he had his first kid.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but Mr Jagger can also be a bit of a cockhead.
To get a handle on the complexities of being Mick, we need to follow
his path from Dartford, the town 26km east of London, where he grew up. Mick went to primary school with a guy named Keith Richards. They later went to different high schools and lost contact. But when they met up again, famously on the platform at Dartford train station, they had both become massive fans of American blues music.
Having found something in common, they became friends, and later moved to London together, sharing a squalid bachelor flat. Mick registered for an economics degree, but one day he and Keith answered an ad in Jazz News magazine for an audition for a new Rhythm & Blues group. The ad was placed by one Brian Jones, a rabid blues head and gifted multi-instrumentalist.
Our Dartford boys cracked the nod, and the group played their first gig on 12 July 1962 at London’s Marquee Club. They called themselves The Rollin’ Stones, after a song by their blues idol Muddy Waters.
Jones’s vision for the group was for them to be hardcore blues evangelists, spreading the gospel of the roots American style to the ignorant British public.
So the band’s first singles were all covers of tunes by the likes of Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly. Their rivals The Beatles even contributed their second single, I Wanna Be Your Man. The Stones’ singles all charted, and their scruffy, bad-boy image caught the attention of British girldom, then accustomed to boy bands in matching suits and bowl cuts.
Ironically, The Beatles were initially far tougher and worldly-wise than the Stones, being older and having just spent two years in the Hamburg red-light district playing to hookers, pimps, gangsters and transvestites.
The Stones’ big breakthrough was their version of Howlin’ Wolf’s Little Red Rooster, which remains the only blues song to ever top the pop charts in the UK – in November 1964.
The band was attracting a passionate following, but there was a finite number of unknown great songs that they could keep finding and releasing. So Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham locked his singer and guitarist in a kitchen and insisted they were not coming out until they’d written a song. The initial results were acceptably non-rubbish, and the Jagger-Richards songwriting partnership was born.
That little hook-up came to full fruition with (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, a UK and US number-one in May 1965.
Here is where it gets interesting. Within three years, Brian Jones had seen the blues cover band he founded and led, turn into a pop-rock group playing original songs. His not-insubstantial ego bruised, he turned to drugs.
This affected his playing. Traditionally, Jones’s contribution had been adding bizarre, unconventional instrumentation to Stones songs, giving them their unique character. The malevolent sitar on Paint It Black? The baroque marimba on Under My Thumb? The recorder on Ruby Tuesday? That’s Brian Jones.
But Jones was not a good druggie. Besides acid and speed turning him into an arsehole, his musical contributions became sparse. Somewhere around 1967, Jagger and Richards began planning the takeover of the Rolling Stones…
However, that would have to wait till after the trial. Thing is, Mick and Keith were far better druggies than Brian. They loved to party and they did it with abandon and flamboyance right across Swinging Sixties London. However, this brought them to the attention of “The Establishment”.
The Establishment were quietly poeping themselves. At this time there was a perfect storm coalescing. The baby boomers were all growing up. They’d been raised in a climate of consumerist pop culture and mass media and they were accustomed to getting what they wanted. Wartime austerity meant nothing to them; they believed anything was possible.
And it appeared the spokespeople of this new generation were scruffy, tussle-haired druggies like the Rolling Stones. God knows they appeared to be turning the youth into screaming, head-shaking maniacs with every show they played. Television was beaming this madness into living-rooms across the western world!
These rock stars were also becoming more outspoken. They were questioning the status quo, and linking up with popular protest movements against the Vietnam War, for instance. They were opposing racism, class discrimination, drug policy and questioning capitalism and Christianity itself… They were also consuming drugs with abandon.
This decadent rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle was hysterically sensationalised by conservative media like News Of The World, which in turn encouraged local police to act against them.
The establishment decided to strike a blow against the counterculture and its exponents. Though the Beatles were also in the vanguard of this movement, they had already each been awarded the MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) by the Queen in 1965. So the UK Police decided to bust the Stones.
The bust took place at Redlands, Keith Richards’s West Sussex country estate 150km southwest of London. Just after 8pm on Sunday, February 12, 1967, 18 coppers raided the place. They found a bunch of shimmering hipsters, including Keith, Mick and Mick’s then girlfriend Marianne Faithfull, all wobbly from a day consuming speed and hallucinogenics. A search of the place found small amounts of contraband.
Mick was charged with possession of amphetamines – apparently four travel-sickness “pep pills” legally bought in Italy. When the remains of a smoked spliff were found in an ashtray, Keith was charged with allowing his premises to be used for the smoking of hemp.
Both were found guilty and sentenced to jail terms. Mick got three months in jail. They were bailed pending their appeal. Fortunately for Mick, William Rees-Mogg, editor of The Times newspaper, and among the highest of the high in the British establishment came to his rescue. In a legendary editorial titled “Who Breaks A Butterfly On A Wheel?” he pointed out that Jagger’s offence was about the mildest drug case one could get. He basically had stay-awake pills without a prescription. Mogg said the only reason Jagger had got such a harsh sentence was because he was a rock star and because of the “criticism and resentment his celebrity has aroused”.
Sure enough, on appeal the charges were quashed. The upper establishment had called the bluff of the reactionary conservatives purporting to act in its name. What then happened is Mick Jagger, blues fan and singer in a rock band with some gangly dance moves, briefly became the spokesman for a generation.
In a surreal, orchestrated British media moment, Jagger was flown by helicopter to a remote country location where he held a televised meeting with four larneys from the British elite. Here the four – Mr Rees-Mogg; a top British Jesuit; a former home secretary; and the Bishop of Woolwich – asked Jagger, “What do the youth want?” in the style of a terrified kidnap victim enquiring about ransom.
Jagger, clad in a sheer caftan and flushed with relief at his recent narrow escape from the law, reckons this, “To have as good a time as possible. Which is what most young people try and do, without regard to responsibilities of any sort.”
Jagger comes across as a polite, well-spoken young man who believes in individual freedom. This frankly bizarre chain of circumstances gave the Stones and Mick Jagger credibility as counterculture rebels, but also as articulate ones. They were anarchists you could talk to.
And so, Mick Jagger, who had basically been bust with four Thinz on him, secured his place in history as bad boy for life and counterculture icon.
In the meantime, real Sixties counterculture movements like the Weather Underground were plotting the overthrow of the US government. The Black Panther Party was pushing a socialist agenda and French strikers were bringing their economy to a standstill.
But as Bob Dylan and John Lennon were also discovering, being a counterculture poster-boy was a thankless task. The mainstream saw you as a demon and the underground called you a sell-out. So, as Mick remarked on The Stones’ Street Fighting Man single, “What can a poor boy do, except to sing for a rock ‘n’ roll band. Cos in sleepy London town there’s just no place for a street-fighting man.”
The rest of Jagger’s career has been a skillful process of moving towards the conservative establishment while cultivating a liberal, revolutionary aesthetic. Of course, he’s not alone there. The same could be said of everyone from Barack Obama to the Chinese communist party.
But no fear. It’s still the late Sixties and Mick’s not even in control of the Rolling Stones yet.
That is accomplished through two nifty strategic maneouvres. First, the band produce the most ramshackle, directionless, drug-addled album of psychedelic self-indulgence in their history. Their Satanic Majesties Request is such a shambles, that their long-time manager and Svengali Andrew Loog Oldham quits in disgust. This leaves the band in control of their own destiny. They produce the album themselves, it’s a mess, but still, it’s self-determination.
Then, realizing they are pretty crap producers, they hire Jimmy Miller, who will produce all the records in the Stones’ golden age – Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, Exile On Main Street and Sticky Fingers.
Soon after Beggars is completed, a deputation of Mick, Keith and Stones drummer Charlie Watts goes round to Brian’s house and fires him, for being useless. By this stage in 1969, he’s had two drug busts of his own, been in a motorbike crash and can barely play any more. Tragically, he dies weeks after leaving the Stones in a mysterious late-night drowning.
In the interim, Oldham has sold some of his interests in the Stones to a new manager, Allen Klein and his record company ABKCO. Klein helps them negotiate a million-dollar deal with Decca, when their contract comes up for renewal.
However, in the course of the relationship, Klein gets the Stones to sign over to ABKCO all rights to the publishing of the Jagger/Richards compositions. Today that accounts for the first 22 Stones albums – everything up until 1971, for which the Stones receive no royalties.
The Stones subsequently sued Klein and hashed out the settlement details in a meeting that Jagger insisted be filmed in its entirety, so little did he trust Klein. The band would never again have a full-time manager.
In the meantime, Keith Richards had taken his personal drug project to a new level of extremism. He had graduated/sunk into a heroin habit and it was all he could do to handle his music responsibilities. The business end of the Rolling Stones came to be controlled by one Michael Philip Jagger.
And Jagger has done a better job of managing the band’s finances than anyone else. “I don’t really count myself as a very sophisticated businessperson,” he once told Fortune magazine. “I’m a creative artist. All I know from business I’ve picked up along the way. I never really studied business in school. I kind of wish I had…”
Jagger began surrounding the band with advisers he trusted implicitly, including a business adviser named Prince Rupert Zu Loewenstein who would be their business manager for the next 35 years.
As the Seventies began, the Stones were liable for vast amounts of tax, but had no money because Klein had the rights to all their music. It was Loewenstein who suggested they leave Britain. While most of the Stones bought homes in France, Jagger became an itinerant, trans-Atlantic drifter, spending time in LA, New York, the South of France and the Caribbean.
Though he had recently fathered a child with the super-sexy and massively afro-ed star of the musical Hair, Marsha Hunt, Jagger married Nicaraguan model Bianca de Macias in Saint Tropez in 1971. They soon had a daughter of their own – Jade Jagger.
As you’d imagine, though, Mick Jagger does not make the ideal husband. Bianca divorced him in 1977, on the grounds of adultery. “My marriage ended on my wedding day,” she once reportedly said.
Mick’s globetrotting saw him become a bit of a trend-surfer, spotting new musical fashions and social movements as they arose. The influence on the Stones’ music became obvious as they continued touring and recording and gradually rebuilt themselves financially.
What is often overlooked is that the Stones are one of the most musically diverse bands in history. They have done lots of blues, sure. But their catalogue also includes country, reggae, R&B, disco, funk, hard rock, proto-metal… In the Nineties, Mick was still trying to convince the Stones to make grunge music, though by then that horse had bolted.
His buddy Keith would later bemoan this growing insecurity, saying, “Why would you want to be anything else, if you’re Mick Jagger?”
The Stones cultural relevance gradually evaporated during the Seventies, at the same time as they took off financially. They basically pioneered the idea of the stadium rock tour in 1969 and Mick gradually refined the business model until they were coining it.
The albums kept coming, though they were less hip, and Mick began fielding fewer calls from the social elite asking him to explain the counterculture. He was more likely to be found hanging with that elite, which by 1977 was hanging at New York disco Studio 54. Here you’d find Mick partying with the likes of Liza Minelli, Cher, Elizabeth Taylor, James Brown and Andy Warhol, while his wife rode a white horse through the club.
Pretty soon Bianca rode off into the sunset, and Mick had taken up with model Jerry Hall, whom he’d convinced to break her engagement to Roxy Music singer Bryan Ferry. Hall was then the biggest supermodel on the planet and a catch of some note. “We made love four times a day,” recalled Hall later in her book, My Life In Pictures. “We were ripping each other’s clothes off.”
The couple stayed together for 22 years, despite Mick’s constantly wandering eye. They had four kids and married in 1990, though the marriage was later annulled.
Control freak though he might be, Jagger in fact dabbled in most drugs you can think of. He just had the strength of will to not let them beat him. Jerry Hall has claimed she was able to wean him off heroin but not off women. He smoked himself miff on Jamaican ganja with Peter Tosh when the latter was signed to Rolling Stones records…
In his recent autobiography Life, Keith Richards tells a story of how Mick once enthusiastically set up a large cocaine score, then returned with a massive stash, which turned out to be heroin!
By the Eighties, Richards was off the smack, but his relationship with Jagger was fraying badly. “The immediate problem was Mick had developed an overriding desire to control everything,” writes Keith. He had also become a socialite and was losing interest in the band.
As the Jagger ego ballooned, Stones albums dwindled and he began releasing solo stuff – dire Eighties pop with drum machines and synths. Richards, now clean, began reasserting himself as a partner in the Stones machine, and this too, jarred with the Jagger control freakery.
By all measures, the mid-Eighties were the Rolling Stones lowest ebb. Albums were poor, they stopped touring… At one show, Mick organized for the band to be billed as “Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones” and group relations sank even lower.
But there was a growing, nostalgic appetite for the Stones, and when Jagger’s second solo record tanked, he realized where his bread was buttered. To teach him a lesson, Richards had also released Talk Is Cheap, a solo record that was hailed as “The best Stones album in years”.
With Mick having learnt a smidgeon of humility, relations with his band members improved and the Stones reconvened for Steel Wheels, their massive 1989 album and tour.
The record featured less musical fashion-watching, and was a return to form. (The video, though, features Mick in aerobics gear) From here, the band basically nailed down what their classic sound was, which hits the people wanted to hear on tour, and they have not deviated from it since.
The tour also pioneered new concepts in touring, going out for longer and the entire tour was booked by one agency, which allowed sponsors to come on board for multi-millions. The formula was perfected in the next tour, Voodoo Lounge, which grossed $320 million, then the biggest tour ever. A Bigger Bang in 2005-2007 cracked half a billion.
All of this leaves Mick Jagger CEO of a business media empire that comprises music, movies, live events, books, exhibitions, digital platforms and more. The man turned 70 this year and is now firmly ensconced in the British establishment, Sir Michael Philip “Mick” Jagger.
As the band heads out again on the 50th anniversary tour, now possibly the longest surviving rock band of all time, it’s time to take stock. The Rolling Stones are now purveyors of corporate retro rock, but a lot of that is thanks to the business savvy and social awareness of their lead singer, the patron saint of hipsters everywhere.
“I don’t regret anything and I’m very fond of all of it,” he says of the band’s hedonistic heyday. “It was a wonderful time. You can paint it in a very dark manner – and, yes, it was quite decadent – but decadence is very enjoyable.”
Ladies of the Lips
Micks’ alleged conquests are legendary, and legion
She was involved in the Redlands bust as a 19-year-old starlet. Battled with drugs, but went on to a rock career of her own.
Hunt was in London starring in the stage musical Hair, when they hooked up briefly. Mother of Jagger’s first child, Karis Hunt Jagger.
A Nicaraguan model and today a human-rights activist. Bore him a daughter, and the sole partner who deemed fit to take on the Jagger name.
A former model associated with the left-wing 1968 movement in West Germany. A German sex symbol who accompanied the Stones on their 1975 tour.
Pamela Des Barres
Champion groupie. Other conquests allegedly include Jimmy Page, Keith Moon and Don Jonson.
The longest relationship of Old Rubberlips’s swordsman-y career. A dinkum supermodel in her day, she made covers of Vogue, Cosmo and other mags. Four kids together.
Later first lady of France. Apparently Mick received an incriminating fax from her while still with Jerry Hall.
On and off for two years in the Nineties, apparently. But Jolie gave Mick a dose of his own medicine and dumped him eventually.
Hung with Jagger on the night she decided to leave her husband, the prime minister of Canada. The two later shared neighbouring hotel suites. Make of that what you will.
Jagger soothed his broken heart from the Angelina break-up with this six-foot Brazilian model. As you do. Mick’s seventh lightie was the result.
Ex-model, fashion designer and Mick’s current lady. Probably taller than you.
This piece originally appeared in FHM.