In memory of Brian Jones.

In the pantheon of elite rock bands who can teach us valuable business lessons, The Rolling Stones of course deserve premium membership.

Their ability to stake out a distinct and defiant look and sound—which they've capably exploited for forty-five years—is a timeless lesson in branding, and no trivial triumph. (This one-time band of outcasts has grossed billions in the last decade.)

What's all but forgotten, however, is that the Stones in their prime were one of the most innovative rock bands around, thanks in large part to the multi-instrumental virtuosity of Brian Jones—until his untimely death forty years ago today.

Brian was the founder, spokesman, and de facto manager of the Rolling Stones—before he was eclipsed by the emergence of Mick Jagger as flamboyant lead singer, Jagger-Richards as songwriting juggernaut, and Andrew Loog Oldham as manager/producer/publicist.

But Brian remained the group's musician-genius-in-residence (every great band has one) whose background in both classical music and blues shone through on the early Stones' performances.

After Brian Jones was bounced from the band (due to declining health and substance abuse—the apparent cause of his death a few weeks later) the Rolling Stones went on to become the archetypal rock band—the gold standard of basic, solid, catchy (and insolent) rock & roll. But what was irretrievably lost, in one man's opinionated view, was their innovation spark plug.

If you listen to the dulcimer and harpsichord on "Lady Jane," the marimba in "Under My Thumb," the sitar on "Paint It Black," the recorder on "Ruby Tuesday," or the slide guitar on "Little Red Rooster" and "No Expectations," you'll have all the proof you need that Brian Jones was a creative deviant whose influence enabled the Stones to be taken as seriously by the critics of the day as the Beatles and Bob Dylan (who, by the way, still raves about Brian's guitar playing).

Requiescas in pace, Mr. Jones.


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23 Comments

  1. Brian always had that *look* -- the coiffed British thing -- that drove us crazy. He had the talent to back it up too. He added so much to both the image and the sound of the band.

  2. Yeah, Brian had the perfect look, blond bangs and all. But he was a true renegade - behaviorally and musically. A sensitive soul who had a hard time of it when he lost influence in the band. That brought on the substance abuse, which made it more difficult for him to keep up with the demands of the band. And the Stones were one of the hardest working bands of that era. The rest was predictable—except for his untimely death.

  3. I hear his musical contributions similarly to the contributions Sir George Martin made to the Beatles.
    His sense of melody haunting, burrowing deep into emotion.

  4. Hey Lawrence, Brian WAS a moody guy, hypersensitive and fragile, they said. Maybe that's why he took to the blues—and to pharmaceutical comfort. Quite a controversy around his end (he was found dead—or nearly dead—in his swimming pool). He seemingly died of drowning while under the influence, but friends claim he was murdered. LOTS of threads to the Brian Jones narrative.

  5. Oh John – every time you do a posting about a Brit band you bring back so many wonderful memories for me. I was born in 1952 and my formative teenage years were in the Swinging Sixties here in England. I was a Beatles rather than a Stones fan though as you know John my favourite Brit band was in fact The Kinks. Ray Davies is/was a genius in my opinion.

    I used to get into gentle scraps with mates about the Stone/Beatles rivalry at school. I loved the Beatles but even then I had a secret admiration for the Stones. Brian Jones death saddened me at the time and I remember hearing the tragic news. I would not have known it was 40 years ago today – that would be 1969 and I would have been 17 and so naive … now I’m 57 and still as naïve.

    Great memories Sir – thank you - and as per the words of the late great Marvin Gaye (no relation by the way) ….

    “And it seems the good they die young, yeah
    I just looked around and he was gone”

    PS Three days to The Eagles concert – can’t wait!

  6. One more thing... after trolling the net for Brian Jones stories just now I'm seeing that a serious case can be made that the poor guy was murdered. But I'll leave that story to others...

  7. Trevor, I think I was more a Stones fan in 1969, but once I started writing songs I began to appreciate the genius of Lennon-McCartney, so now the Beatles are #1 in my book. But I've always looked up to the big 4 Brit bands of the era: Beatles, Stones, Who, Kinks—all graced with excellent songwriting. Ray Davies is certainly a singularity.

  8. I chose my words carefully when I said the Stones belong in the pantheon "of elite rock bands who can teach us valuable business lessons." (I actually think they helped DEFINE rock & roll and therefore belong on a short list of greatest rock bands period, but I understand that some may disagree.) But as far as a band that can impart business lessons, even the Beatles in their day envied the Stones' superior financial management - which continues to this day. And, as I mentioned, their ability to brand themselves early and often was masterful, not to mention their ambition and work ethic (at least in their early years). They were a recording/performing MACHINE in the 60s knocking out hit singles with astonishing regularity and releasing 2 to 3 hit albums a YEAR. Who does that now?

  9. music fans in my generation wouldn't put the stones in any pantheon of rock gods -- they had some hits maybe 30 or 40 years ago but not much since -- but give them some props for endurance.

  10. The Rolling Stones' tours gross over $100 million each year so they're probably doing something right.

  11. I love the way you use the video's in your blog. Watching the bands play brings the entry alive!

    When you write your book I think you'll have to have a corresponding web page that the reader can go to that let's him/her pop up video!

    Gerri

  12. Was Brian Jones on the live album "Get your Ya Ya's Out?

    Was Brian Jones at the Altimont concert?

    Russ Harvey

  13. Jane, even if their recording product of late doesn't compare to their early work, the fact that they're still doing it—and putting on good shows—says something for them. And I'd rather see THEM at the top of the heap income-wise than most of their competitors. They've always maintained their musical roots.

  14. Russ, Brian was gone by the time the Stones performed at the ill-fated Altamont concert in California (which some folks consider to be the end of the short-lived Woodstock era!). Jones died in July, 1969, and Altamont was in December, 1969. I was just reading about that concert from the Grateful Dead's version of events (in Scully's "Living With the Dead"). They recognized it as a disaster-in-the-making and refused to play.

    "Get Yer Ya Ya's Out" was a live album of concerts in 1969 that the Stones performed AFTER Brian Jones died. I presume that Jones's replacement, Mick Taylor, in some cases played Brian's old parts.

  15. There's an interesting parallel with my favourite band, Pink Floyd. Syd Barratt was also a founder, leading light, maverick, handsome devil who was bounced from 'his' band.

    Business parallels: obvious, but think Steve Jobs. Sacked by Apple, who subsequently went to the point of oblivion until they swallowed their pride and invited him back.

    Business question: allying the brand to a personality is a risky strategy. Is it worth it?

    I wonder what might have happened to the Floyd and the Stones if, sometime in the late '70s, they'd got back together if Brian had lived and Syd not been so ill.

  16. "Allying the brand to a personality is a risky strategy. Is it worth it?" Hard to avoid of course in the early years. But Apple must eventually figure out how to survive post-Jobs, unless he cracks the age code.

    I'm not as familiar with PF as I am with the Stones, but the Stones' brand was firmly centered around Mick before Brian left the band, so they were clearly able to prosper without him. But had Brian lived to return to the band years later, I'm sure his presence would have been immediately felt in their recordings. I don't think Brian ever met a musical instrument he didn't like.

  17. I remember the shock of Brian Jones' death vividly - after all, "our" rock bands were immutable and immortal, weren't they, plane crashes aside? But in retrospect, I wonder if what I would regard as the greatest and most original of the Stones' music (and including the greatest rock track of all time) from Beggars Banquet and Let It Bleed, could ever have seen the light of day if Brian Jones had still held sway over the group.

    And yet, even today, if I summon up a mental image of the Stones, it's still just the original five from the cover of Aftermath. including Jones.

  18. You say "requiescas in pacem" - but isn't the correct Latin "requiescant in pacem"?

    - Your Friendly Pedant

  19. YFP: I believe requiescas is necessary because it's 2nd person singular in this case ("may YOU rest in peace") rather than requiescant which is 3rd person plural ("may THEY rest in peace"). I majored in classics in college (which of course is a prerequisite for a blogging career). On the other hand that was over 40 years ago, so I can't claim infallibility. But I was trained well in verb conjugations by the late, great Father Keane S.J., my Latin teacher at Boston College High School. Requiescat in pacem ("may HE rest in peace").

  20. Geez, I blew it on the Latin (as I now discover 15 months later) on my previous comment. It should be "pace" not "pacem." ("Pace" — to those keeping score at home — is of course the Ablative case, which should be used with "in" instead of "pacem" which is the Accusative case.) I had it right on the original post. I hope Father Keane forgives me. Requiescat in pace.

  21. You may get a Pass in Latin but you get a Fail in Math. Today is 14 not 15 months later.
    - Your Friendly Pedant

  22. YFP: Sorry, I should have specified that I was using the Mayan calendar. You obviously are stuck in a Eurocentric view of the world.

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