LONDON — Mick Jagger may need to rethink the words he sang more than 45 years ago — “What a drag it is getting old.”
Thursday marked 50 years since Jagger played his first gig with a band called the Rolling Stones, and the group is marking its half-century with no letup in its productivity or rock ‘n’ roll style. Jagger himself is still the cool, rich frontman of the world’s most successful rock band.
Now in their late 60s and early 70s, the band members celebrated the anniversary by attending a retrospective photo exhibit at London’s Somerset House — and looking to the future by rehearsing for new gigs.
Jagger, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood and Charlie Watts mingled with celebrities from Mick Hucknall to Tom Stoppard at a launch party for the exhibit, which charts the band’s career from their first official photo shoot — young mop tops lined up against a row of red phone boxes — to their monster stadium tours.
“It’s like walking into an old diary,” Richards said.
The band got together 50 years to the day after the young R&B band played London’s Marquee Club. Taking a name from a song by bluesman Muddy Waters, they were billed as “The Rollin’ Stones” — the ‘g’ came later.
The lineup for the gig was vocalist Jagger, guitarists Richards and Brian Jones, bassist Dick Taylor, pianist Ian Stewart and Mick Avory on drums.
Taylor, Stewart and Avory soon left the lineup; drummer Watts joined in 1963 and guitarist Wood in 1975.
The band had its first hit, a cover of Chuck Berry’s “Come On,” in 1963, and soon became one of the world’s biggest and most influential rock acts, rivaled only by The Beatles.
The Beatles split up in 1970, but the Stones are still going strong, something Jagger said he never could have imagined at the time.
“Groups in those days and singers didn’t really last very long,” Jagger, 68, told the BBC. “They weren’t supposed to last. It was supposed to be ephemeral. It was only really Elvis and The Beatles that were the biggest things that ever happened in pop music that I can remember. But even (Elvis) had lasted perhaps less than 10 years, so how could anyone really last?”
Richards told the BBC that his biggest regret in the last 50 years was the drowning death in 1969 of Jones, but that on the whole the band’s career has been “an incredible adventure.”
Music critic John Aizlewood said the Stones’ contribution to rock ‘n’ roll is “immeasurable.”
“They are a founding father of rock music as we know it,” he said. “Other bands have tried and not pulled off that amount of sexiness, allied to a kind of street-fighting menace.”
Aizlewood said the Rolling Stones have endured where other bands have split because “they are smart enough to put the band ahead of the individuals, despite their collective egos.”
He said they also are canny businessmen, and realized early on that “once you get to a certain level, if you maintain your live performance, you can play stadiums forever.”
The Stones have sold more than 200 million records, with hits including “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” “Street Fighting Man” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”
In recent years much of their income has come from touring. Their last global tour, “A Bigger Bang,” earned more than half a billion dollars between 2005 and 2007. And as they enter their sixth decade, more live shows are on the way.
Richards said the band had begun rehearsing, but dates haven’t been fixed.