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Here Come the Rolling Stones Again

April 24, 2019

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The Stones have been called “The Greatest Rock Band in the World” – a description that no one can dispute. They started in 1962 and now, 57 years later they’re still going strong – and still making news. We’ve written about the Stones before because they fascinate us. CLICK HERE TO READ ABOUT THE STONES, PART ONE, AND PART TWO.

The Metropolitan’s program for their ground-breaking exhibit that is of interest to four generations of rock & roll fans 

Last year I ran across an article expertly written by Michael Hann and titled The Art of the Set List in the Financial Times Weekend edition dated 11/24-25. In it he described how various artists create their set lists – or the selection of songs an artist chooses to perform at a concert.

WHAT ARE THE BASIC ELEMENTS?

I’ve always been intrigued by this topic but never felt the need to research or write about it – until now. When you watch a group like the Rolling Stones perform it’s seamless: not too much talk between numbers, just great music with Mick’s over-the-top antics, followed by wild applause from a loyal audience. Sounds simple and straightforward, but it’s not.

RONNIE WOOD AND HIS ART

Michael’s piece describes a number of different artists and their set lists. I’m just going to focus on the Stones because guitarist Ronnie Wood, 71 has just published a book titled The Rolling Stones Set Lists.

Ronnie went to Ealing Art College in London in the 1960s and has been painting ever since. However, it was only when he was low on money that he got serious about it. He says, “During the 1980s, when I was strapped for cash, I thought, “Hang on a minute. I can paint.” I was living in New York and I thought it would get the grocery money coming in. It escalated from there.”

For the book, he collected the set lists that he handwrote for the band’s rehearsals and then for their shows. “At first it was just for fun,” he says, “because I’ve always loved calligraphy. Then, the next thing I knew the band was using them for rehearsals.” The published book captures the huge range of songs the Stones can bring to life on tour – about 80 for a show of 20. Here are a few clues as to the rules of writing a good set list.

ONE: OPEN WITH A BANG

For the Stones, the purpose of a set list is to offer a great number of people the biggest bang for their buck. The running order follows the same rules every night. “The Stones have to open explosively,” Ronnie says. “You play for maybe half an hour before you take your foot off the gas.” Then Keith will sing two songs so Mick has a breather.

The set list for Paris, September 2014 – Photo courtesy of the Financial Times

TWO: DON’T OVERDO EASING OFF

“Then you get back on and gradually build. ‘Midnight Rambler’ will set the scene for the last explosion of songs. Keith is very on-target with pacing,” Ronnie adds. “We can’t do that one there,” he’ll say. “We’ve got to go at warp speed.”

THREE: BRING NEW LIFE TO OLD SONGS

The Stones have played JUMPING JACK FLASH at least 1,150 times, BROWN SUGAR 1,120 times and HONKY TONK WOMEN 1,090 times. How do they do it? “I look at our fans and think, ‘Come on. You have to go in. You’ve got to skinny dip with this one. Jump in the whole way. Our audience is there with their kids, and their kids’ kids – and they’re seeing us for the first time.’ To hear Mick bash out “The Midnight Rambler” in Madison Square Garden CLICK HERE

UPDATE:

We attended The Rock & Roll Exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum on Wednesday, April 10th. It’s titled “Play It Loud” and is at the Met from April 8—October 1, 2019. As the program explains: “For the first time ever (in the history of the world) a major museum is showing 130 instruments of rock and roll alongside posters and costumes.” When it finishes at the Met the exhibit will move to The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame located Cleveland.

Shaun Nelson-Henrick



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