Quick — name a British rock band. “The Beatles” is usually the knee-jerk response, yet most seem to forget the other powerhouse from across the pond: the Rolling Stones. The raunchy, unfiltered foil to the Fab Four’s straight-laced style, the Stones were everything the Beatles weren’t — and became one of the greatest rock bands of all time for it.
But for all their success, the Stones’ ascent to superstardom wasn’t exactly a smooth ride. Life as a rockstar may look like all fun and games, but these rare photos of the Rolling Stones tell an entirely different story about the rise of the “World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band.”
It all began in 1961, when 18-year-old Michael “Mick” Jagger ran into his childhood friend Keith Richards on platform two of Dartford railway station. Noticing the stack of Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters records Mick was carrying, Keith floated the idea of the two jamming together sometime.
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Along with mutual friend Dick Taylor, the duo began exploring their musical talents, eventually recruiting two others to form the Blues Boys. Eager to get themselves heard, the group decided to send a tape of their best recordings to Alexis Korner, a local blues legend.
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Alexis was impressed by the tape, so much so that he invited Mick, Keith, and Dick to join his band, Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated. It was here they’d meet slide guitarist Brian Jones, who had an interesting proposition for the trio.
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Brian was eager to strike out on his own, and with keyboardist Ian Stewart and drummer Charlie Watts in tow, he invited Mick, Keith, and Dick to join him. The trio eventually agreed to leave Blues Incorporated, though Alexis was anything but bitter.
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In fact, Brian was the first person Alexis called when Blues Incorporated had to pull out of a gig at London’s Marquee Club. When a journalist reached out to ask for the group’s name, Jones glanced down at a Muddy Waters album and spotted the song “Rollin’ Stone” — the iconic band was born.
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After some personnel changes, the “Rollin’ Stones” began their first tour of the U.K., a brand new experience for each of them. But even as the group began hitting its stride, Mick and the others never expected what came next.
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Seemingly overnight, the Stones had become Britain’s most popular band, with some polls ranking them higher than even the Beatles. They changed their name to “The Rolling Stones” soon after, though the group’s biggest transformation didn’t come until 1963.
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Under manager Andrew Loog Oldham, the band’s image changed to contrast clean-cut groups like the Beatles. Long hair, unmatched clothes, and a dirty appearance, according to Oldham, made the Stones “a raunchy, gamy, unpredictable bunch of undesirables.”
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This overhaul worked like a charm, though the music they played — mostly covers of aging blues musicians — didn’t really reflect their youthful, rebellious image. That’s when Mick and Keith decided to try their hand at songwriting — and the results were nothing short of historic.
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The Stones achieved their first international hit in 1965 with “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” proving the Jagger-Richards partnership to be a formidable one. Following the release of Aftermath in 1966, the band’s performances were almost entirely centered on its own material.
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The group had now fully come into its own, and with the success of hits like “Paint It, Black” and “Mother’s Little Helper,” the Stones had become an international phenomenon. But the band’s influence went beyond just rock and roll.
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The Stones had firmly established themselves as leaders of the ’60s counterculture, their attitude, sexuality, and energy serving as a statement against the rigid establishment. Unfortunately, “The Man” wasn’t going to take this lying down.
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After years of rumors about the band’s recreational drug use, Mick, Keith, and, later, Brian were hit with drug charges after a police raid at Keith’s home. Though none of them served significant jail time, the band’s reputation was damaged by the scandal.
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In an effort redeem themselves and capitalize on the highly popular Eastern movements of the day, the band released the psychedelic rock album Their Satanic Majesties Request in 1967. But after mixed reception and limited commercial success, the Stones came to a realization: they needed to get back to basics.
The eclectic, bluesy style of 1968’s Beggar’s Banquet did just that, marking a return to form for the band. A year later, Let It Bleed and the iconic track “Gimme Shelter” capped off a strong end to the ’60s for the Stones — the ’70s, however, were a bit trickier.
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Despite the success of albums like Sticky Fingers (1971), Exile on Main St. (1972), and Some Girls (1978), a rift had begun to develop between Mick and Keith. Drug addiction was affecting Keith’s contributions to the band, though even when he was up to tour and perform, Mick was too busy focusing on his solo projects.
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These tensions spilled over into the ’80s; despite carrying out a number of high-grossing tours, band members continued to drift in opposite directions. The Stones looked headed for a breakup — then came the ’90s.
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Putting aside their animosity, the band released Steel Wheels around the turn of the decade to critical acclaim, marking a comeback that promised to be their biggest yet. They toured constantly throughout the decade, breaking records and attracting a brand new generation of fans.
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Through the ’00s and 2010s the band only released a handful of albums — their live performances, however, were some of their best ever. Even after more than 50 years together, the Stones showed no signs of slowing down.
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In fact, the iconic group is still rocking today, having recently headlined Global Citizen’s One World: Together at Home remote concert during the COVID-19 pandemic. Mick also confirmed that the band would be releasing new music in 2020, affirming that despite it all, the Rolling Stones are here to stay.
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Unsurprisingly, the rebelliousness that made the Stones so different from the Beatles has lost a bit of its luster now that the band’s members are all well into their 70s. Yet this defining contrast was actually a lie: while the Beatles endeared themselves to fans with a clean image, their civility was little more than an act.
Rewind a few years, and the Fab Four — who actually had five members at the time — were a wild bar band. Sporting leather jackets, greased up hair, and amplified attitude, the lads attacked the stage more than they performed on it.
Paul McCartney, the only surviving Beatle to witness the full scope of their misadventures, waited decades before disclosing the craziest stories. Understandably, he and his bandmates probably worried their crazy youth could hurt their marketability.
The Beatles emerged as the leading rock group from the rough-and-tumble port city of Liverpool. In contrast to their posh London contemporaries, they were just as hungry for trouble as they were for fame.
Pioneering the Mersey Sound, named after the local river, The Beatles brought back rock music from the brink of extinction. Liverpudlians packed into smoky basements like The Cavern Club to see them tear it up. But the group wouldn’t stay put for long.
As they made a name for themselves, they got an invite for a residency in Hamburg, Germany. This city was even grittier than their own, its streets filled with gangsters and prostitutes. For them, it provided the rush of their lives.
Alas, these gigs paid anything but a fortune. They made pennies, and while room and board was included, they practically lived in a closet. Having to wash and do laundry in the sink made for a severe lack of privacy, which became awkward when girls came over.
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Performing in red light district clubs, The Beatles didn’t have a challenge picking up girls — for a fee or otherwise. But they often had to share the room with others. Reportedly, Paul and John clapped when they witnessed George Harrison lose his virginity.
The boys turned to drugs almost out of necessity. German clubs had them playing for up to nine hours per day, so other musicians recommended a cocktail of pills to keep their energy up. Naturally, they also indulged on complimentary beers for extra calories.
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Fortunately, the hours of practice refined them into world-class artists. The Germans, who would’ve been mortal enemies just a generation earlier, loved the antics of these rock and rollers — until their craziness and lawbreaking got them deported.
The lawbreaking wasn’t limited to one Beatle, either. Authorities shipped George off after discovering he was too young to enter most German clubs, while Paul and Pete Best got arrested for nailing a condom into the wall of their room and lighting it on fire.
Once they reconfigured their lineup and landed a record deal back in England, The Beatles became international stars almost overnight. Fame didn’t upset their party-heavy lifestyle; it just heightened the mania. The party just kept on going.
Many fans couldn’t see The Beatles when they arrived in town, but they could certainly hear them. That’s because hordes of screaming girls chased them wherever they went. The most passionate ones tore at their idols, hoping to rip off a scrap of hair or clothing.
Some Beatlemaniacs would stop at nothing to meet their heroes. When the band visited Los Angeles, a group of teenagers rented a helicopter to fly over The Beatles’ lodging and wave as they sped by.
Never expecting to be so famous, the lads ate up the attention. Plus, between the pandemonium and constant traveling, they could hardly keep track of where they were. They just rocked the stage, raged after the show, and flew off to the next gig.
An ample security force guarded the moptops in blocks of hotel rooms, where they often had to sneak in and out. Besides spending lots of quality time together, they invited select individuals to party with them — though some parties may have been out of their league.
Upon his first meeting with the Brits, Bob Dylan famously introduced them to marijuana at New York’s Delmonico Hotel. High on drugs and celebrity, The Beatles felt invincible. However, there was some blowback.
After John quipped that his band was more popular than Jesus, Christians around the world went up in arms. Southern communities organized bonfires of Beatle records and merchandise. Protests and death threats suddenly made touring a lot less fun.
On top of that, The Beatles were growing exhausted and homesick. The only breaks they had from touring they used to record new albums, so there was little gas left in the tank. At the same time, exciting new technology was shifting their priorities.
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The Fab Four chose to evolve into studio-focused artists, creating music impossible to play onstage, like Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band. Internal drama only continued from there, and The Beatles never went on tour again.
The Beatles officially called it quits in 1970, and yet fans are still digging up new information on their legendary career. These folks aren’t just focused on the music either. Dark rumors still swirl around the band’s most terrible secret.
Drummer Ringo Starr may be the only person who knows the real truth. While he doesn’t like to address it in interviews, one question about a former bandmate still comes up again and again. Ringo admitted that it was a troubled time for the Fab Four.
See, ever since the mid-1960s, rock listeners have had questions about the whereabouts of Paul McCartney. Sure, he and Ringo appeared in public together as recently as 2018, but not everyone is convinced both men onstage were real Beatles.
How could that be? Since Beatlemania erupted on a worldwide scale in 1964, not one of John, Paul, George, or Ringo have been able to go anywhere without being recognized. They reached an unprecedented level of fame.
Everywhere they went, throngs of frenzied girls followed them. But after one 1969 radio broadcast, Beatles fans were screaming for a completely different reason. Many feared one of their heroes had met a grisly end.
One night, Detriot disc jockey Russ Gibb took a call from an anonymous source who claimed that Paul McCartney had secretly died and been replaced with a double. Russ entertained the crackpot for a while but never imagined listeners would believe him.
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In the ensuing weeks, tabloids and reporters began running the story as if it were fact. The “Paul Is Dead” rumors actually started years earlier – back when The Beatles stopped touring and changed their look — but now it had hit the mainstream.
Here’s the myth: Paul was speeding down a long-and-winding road one November night in 1966. Amid the icy conditions, he lost control of his car and veered into a pole, killing him instantly. Before the press picked up the tragedy, the band covered it up.
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Allegedly, manager Brian Epstein predicted that Paul’s demise would sink The Beatles and cause mass panic. So, in secret, he organized a search for a McCartney lookalike. They found their double in a man named William Shears Campbell.
At the same time, the three surviving musicians supposedly wrestled with extreme guilt. They could only bear it by hinting at Paul’s secret death and replacement. Before long, fans claimed to identify clues all over The Beatles’ catalog.
For example, conspiracy theorists thought the band’s alter-ego experiment in Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was all a nod to the cover-up. The Beatles did name drop Billy Shears in “With A Little Help From My Friends,” after all.
Far-fetched as it sounded, a number of fans bought into the story. They pulled out photos of Paul from 1964 and 1967 and claimed there were enough facial differences to prove these were two different men! Naturally, they ignored the effects of aging and facial hair.
The Beatles added fuel to the fire by acknowledging the rumors in their work. For instance, a garbled voice appears at the end of the song “I’m So Tired.” When played backwards, it chants aloud, “Paul is a dead man. Miss him, miss him!”
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In addition, the cover of Abbey Road resembled a funeral procession. John led the way in a minister’s white outfit, Ringo followed in a black undertaker’s suit, Paul signified his death with a cigarette and no shoes, and George wore the blue-collar denim of a gravedigger.
With the Detroit radio broadcast, the “Paul is dead” conspiracy reached its peak. Though after The Beatles broke up in 1970, Paul disappeared from the public eye. Was there some truth to his downfall?
No, not so much. Following the band’s breakup, Paul and his wife Linda retreated to their Scotland farm. He did regular interviews to prove to everyone he was still alive and kicking, but a small group of naysayers just weren’t buying it.
Many hit singles and sold-out tours later, tinfoil hat wearers still insisted that this man simply wasn’t Paul McCartney. They alleged that the same impostor from 1966 was coasting off of The Beatles’ success, as he knew most people would never believe his secret.
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These days, Paul has mostly laughed off the hoax. Maybe the Fab Four shouldn’t have indulged the paranoids out there, but they were mostly just making fun of it. However, he admitted he did get into a crash in 1966.
Fortunately, this accident wasn’t nearly as horrific as the urban legend. The Beatle fell off his moped, resulting in him chipping his tooth. Paul actually grew a mustache shortly after to hide a small scar on his lip too!
As for Ringo, he never suspected his longtime friend of being replaced by a lookalike. That theory is simply too absurd and convoluted, he claims. Plus, The Beatles never could’ve found a quality double — there is only one Paul McCartney.