Lost in the hype that kicked-off the Rolling Stones' 50th Anniversary tour and the wave of newly surfaced band documentaries was the video release of Charlie Is My Darling (ABKCO)—one of most revealing films about the Stones ever made. Through this black-and-white gem, you gain a finer sense of who these musicians were, what was eating them, and why they chose the path not taken from the mid-'60s on.
Filmed during the Stones' second tour of Ireland in September 1965, the film premiered in New York in October 1966 and then disappeared into a net of legal entanglements. Now, for its video release, the film has been beautifully restored and edited, and the results are jaw-dropping—even for non-Stones fans who are curious about the period and why they were special.
The film was the first documentary of the band and easily the most revealing. Filmmaker Peter Whitehead was hired by band manager Andrew Loog Oldham not so much to catalog their daily doings but to acclimate the Stones to movie cameras and media inquisitions—since the Beatles had deftly leveraged both, establishing such navigation as a necessary tool in the British Invasion arsenal.
Most important, the 64-minute film provides a candid and cogent look at the group caught in pop's headlights and not quite sure how to proceed. It airs their doubts, their anxieties and their misgivings—skipping the sex and drugs, which would come several years later as their sallow image ripened. Instead, Charlie Is My Darling—the name of a traditional Scottish song—focuses squarely on the birth of hard rock's first performance-arena band.
Interviews with each of the band's members reveal they all had a fuzzy sense of who they were, why they were together and whether what they were playing was more important than getting a screaming rise out of teen audiences. There is gripping concert footage of the band playing The Last Time, Time Is on My Side and I'm Alright, with Mick Jagger honing his quirky, taunting androgynous stage act. [Pictured above: Charlie Watts]
A quarter of the way through the third song, the rowdy audience surges the stage, making you wonder whether this was encouraged and ignited for the sake of the cameras or whether it was truly spontaneous. Either way, it's a daunting scene, as evidenced by the nervous but steady eyes of band-members. There also are scenes of the Stones backstage ruminating and singing songs by Fats Domino and the Beatles.
From the beginning, the Stones were purposefully positioned as the anti-Beatles—bad boys and the last guys you'd want your daughter to date. And they liked it that way—since the image created a much-needed contrast between them and the seemingly endless pipeline of Liverpudlian hitmakers managed by Brian Epstein.
But if the Beatles were optimistic lads from the flat next door, the Stones were romantically depressive punks, antagonists and enemies of authority figures. Fortunately for the Stones, the Beatles were a bit worn by September 1965. Touring extensively that year in the U.S., the Fab Four had been a raging success but were largely surfing the frenzy, and there was worry about artistic peaking and burnout. Such concerns would be dashed in October and November 1965, of course, with the recording of Rubber Soul, which was released in December. [Pictured above: Brian Jones]
The Stones, by contrast, were just figuring out who and what they wanted to be and why. They had already appeared in the U.S. on the T.A.M.I. Show concert in Los Angeles in December 1964—a dazed albeit intense performance. By the fall of '65, they were starting to come into their own. [Pictured above: The Stones on the T.A.M.I. Show]
Interestingly, from Charlie Is My Darling, it wasn't clear yet who the band's leader was—the charismatic frontman Jagger, who couldn't play an instrument, or the artsy, smoldering Brian Jones, who played guitar. The band's growing pains and unsettled vision clearly were taking a toll and causing them to question whether there was a tomorrow for the band.
Best of all, there are quite a few revelations: All of the Stones in '65 are much shrewder and more analytical and intellectual than you'd imagine. Keith Richards was a far better guitarist than you thought. And Jones (who drowned in 1969) and Charlie Watts seem almost ashamed to be part of the popmania enveloping the group. It was below them.
Only Jagger seems to grasp the purpose and possibility, and that pop can indeed be tweaked to have an edge. Only he senses that their original Delta blues approach has rock chops and additional chapters. What you will find in Charlie Is My Darling that doesn't exist in other Stones films is a strange sort of innocence, a green uncertainty about their mission and a band naturally bent to shake things up as much as possible.
And that's where the Stones' genius rests. In these early years, the band made a conscious decision to provide teens who battled their parents with a soundtrack. The more adults despised them, the more certain the band felt that greater success was imminent.
It's a brand they retain to this day—with relish. According to the Nov. 17 issue of Billboard, the Rolling Stones have perfected the tour, and no other band comes close. Said Bill Zysblat, who has been with the Stones since 1975 and is co-partner of RZO productions, which manages the band: "They've either had an impact on or pioneered every single aspect of touring."
What does this mean? To this day, the Stones and their management team control how tickets are sold, how merchandise is marketed, and how sponsorships work. The Stones get a thick slice of it all, which adds up to quite a pot. Billboard estimates that since 1989, the band has grossed more than $2 billion.
The Stones have come a long way since 1965, and now you know why they're back on tour. Not such a drag getting old after all.
JazzWax clip: Here's the film's trailer...