Pop-rock contemporaries

I find it interesting that it's almost impossible not to be influenced by what's fashionable in music. Keith will tell you Not in a million years. But whether it's coming through me, or through Don Was, or through Charlie, or through the air-conditioning, the Rolling Stones do get influenced by what's going on. It doesn't mean you have to be slavish to it.

                                                   - Mick Jagger, 1994

From the 1960s onwards, it becomes harder to catalogue the Stones' influences. As a band which has changed and evolved with its times at the same time that it has remained true to its own identity, the Stones have been influenced by a lot of their contemporaries and various trends throughout their 4 decades of existence. Nevertheless, some names do stick out as having had a particularly noticeable influence.

Among the Beatles, Otis Redding, Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, the Everlys, the Temptations, and Elvis were albums of Chopin's 19 Waltzes, Rossini, and Segovia.

                                                   - Reporter for Rolling Stones Monthly visiting
Keith's new house Redlands, 1966


THE BEATLES  (1960-1970)

I was always very respectful about Mick and the Stones. But (Mick) said a lot of sort of tarty things about the Beatles, which I am hurt by, because, you know, I can knock the Beatles, but don't let Mick Jagger knock them. Because I would like to just list what we did and what the Stones did 2 months after, on every fuckin' album and every fuckin' thing we did. And Mick does exactly the same - he imitates us. And I would like one of you fuckin' underground people to point it out. You know, Satanic Majesties is Pepper. We Love You, man, it's the most fuckin' bullshit, that's All You Need Is Love. I resent the implication that the Stones are like the revolutionaries and that the Beatles weren't. If the Stones were or are, the Beatles really were, too. They are not in the same class, music-wise or power-wise, never were. I never said anything, I always admired them because I like their funky music and I like their style.

                                                   - John Lennon, 1970

Lennon was prone to exaggerating, but he is certainly right that the Stones on a few occasions followed musical trends and developments that the Beatles had spearheaded. But then again, the Stones were influenced by many other artists and genres in the '60s, such as Bob Dylan and soul music.

In the 1960s, the Stones were living in an era of fast-developing studio technology, of tremendous cultural change and upheaval, and of growing changes within the music industry (artists' greater control of their material, more complex songwriting, etc.). Amidst all this change and innovation, the Beatles and Stones were influenced by each other as well as by all the trends that succeeded one another in a very short time: soul music, folk and folk rock, psychedelic music, back-to-the-roots music (blues-rock, country rock), etc.

In my opinion, the Beatles were probably the most innovative of all these artists, but their own innovation also rested on an incorporation and opening to all these different influences. As an R&B based band, the Stones had developed a sound and style which set limits as to how far they could change and innovate while still retaining their musical identity. Nevertheless it was probably the period of their career, especially the years 1966-67, where they were the most willing to change their style to such a radical degree.

As the top artists of their day, not only commercially but as statesmen for their generation, artists like Bob Dylan, the Beatles and the Stones, listened to one another's albums and were all influenced by each other, leading to a friendly competition that was artistically fruitful for all.

The Stones first became aware of the Beatles early on, in the spring of 1963 when the Beatles, "those Northerners", were becoming a sensation across the country. The Stones could not help but be impressed by the Beatles' ability with melody and harmonies and songwriting and arrangement.

Keith liked the Beatles because he was quite interested in their chord sequences. He also liked their harmonies, which were always a slight problem to the Rolling Stones. Keith always tried to get the harmonies off the ground but they always seemed messy. What we never really got together were Keith and Brian singing backup vocals. It didn't work, because Keith was a better singer and had to keep going, oooh, ooh ooh (laughs). Brian liked all those oohs, which Keith had to put up with. Keith was always capable of much stronger vocals than ooh ooh ooh.

                                                   - Mick Jagger

Later influences, however, probably were very specific and limited. Strings on As Tears Go By, for example, which the Beatles had first done on Yesterday, or using the sitar on Paint It Black which the Beatles had done on Norwegian Wood. Probably the most obvious attempt by the Stones to follow in the Beatles' tracks were in their attempt to make a psychedelic concept album (Their Satanic Majesties Request) following the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper. But psychedelia was also in the air for everyone, and the Beatles had been influenced also in the making of their concept record by the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, notably. Musically, therefore, the Beatles' influence was there, but was much less than that of the Stones' blues and rock & forebears.

(The Beatles) were perfect for opening doors... When they went to America they made it wide open for us. We could never have gone there without them. They're so fucking good at what they did. If they'd kept it together and realized what they were doing, instead of now doing Power to the People and disintegrating like that in such a tatty way. It's a shame. The Stones seem to have done much better in just handling success.

                                                   - Keith Richards, 1971


THE DRIFTERS  (1953-     )

Along with the Coasters, the Drifters are possibly the greatest doo-wop group of the rock & roll era. As their music evolved, they became more and more sophisticated, evolving from a straight-ahead R&B/doo-wop group to a black pop band with sophisticated melodies and arrangements. They boasted some of the strongest lead vocalists of their time, Clyde McPhatter and Ben E. King among others. Their hits included Save the Last Dance for Me, There Goes My Baby and This Magic Moment.

The Stones did not cover them until 1964, however, with Under the Boardwalk, which the Drifters, now Ben E. King-less and on their last legs as makers of classic pop music, had just released that same year. It was surely an attempt on the Stones' part to encroach on more "pop" territory in the hopes of selling more records.

BOB DYLAN  (1941-     )

Perhaps a bigger influence on the Beatles, the Stones were nevertheless also influenced by Dylan. In 1965-66, just as Mick and Keith started to become more prolific songwriters, their sound on several songs (more jangling guitars for one thing, mid-tempo as opposed to fast rock or slow blues) appears influenced by folk-rock: I'm Free, Gotta Get Away, etc. In more general but also more significant terms, the Twins' ability to write and sing about matters about that offered comment on society (Satisfaction, Mother's Little Helper, 19th Nervous Breakdown, etc.) was definitely something that had been "allowed" by the example that Dylan had given.

Mick, Keith and Brian all listened to Dylan's records in those days. Legend has it that when Keith and Mick were busted for drugs at Keith's home in February 1967, Bob Dylan's Blonde on Blonde album was put on as the cops were leaving.

Whatever these sweet young things who dig Dylan say, I bet they don't understand much of what he is doing. We play a lot of his LPs, Brian and I, and quite a lot of his lyrics don't mean anything to us. I have nothing against Dylan or Donovan but I'm sick to the back teeth about the characters who are just climbing on a craze, that think they can make quite a fortune.

                                                   - Keith Richards, c. 1965

(Brian) was into Dylan too, very early on. He was the only one of us who hung out with Dylan for a bit.

                                                   - Keith Richards, 1971

Though more specific Dylan influences on the Stones are harder to detect, there was a period, circa 1966 to 1968, when Mick's writing was characterized by a wordiness that he later eschewed in favor of a more direct and simple style. Songs like Who's Been Sleeping Here? on Between the Buttons or Jigsaw Puzzle on Beggars Banquet, are characterized by a lyrical effusiveness that Mick has rarely matched. Mick admitted to admiring Dylan in those days, and it was a period where he read a lot of poetry and was involved, as with a lot of his 60s compatriots, in "expanding his horizons" and being interested in become more cultivated and expressing those qualities in his lyric writing.

Dylan might also have influenced the Stones in that he was the artist who originated a "back to the basics" approach with his all-acoustic December 1967 album, John Wesley Harding. The following year many rock artists, including the Beatles and the Stones, started backing away from psychedelia and exploring acoustic music again and the roots of rock and roll.

From a more strictly musical perspective, Dylan has had little specific influence on the Stones, although Keith and Ronnie (Ronnie who has covered Dylan songs on his solo albums) still express appreciation for the acoustic finesse and taste of Dylan's early music, especially Dylan's first two or three albums that covered folk-blues tunes.

In 1995, the Stones started performing an excellent cover of Dylan's classic Like a Rolling Stone, which they included on the live album Stripped and have been performing ever since.


Without bearing a tremendous influence on the Stones, Motown artists like the Miracles and the Temptations were R&B/pop bands that the Stones respected and had affection for in the 1960s and beyond. The Stones recorded a cover of the Temptations' My Girl, which was written by Smokey Robinson (and released in 1967 on the Flowers album). The Stones met the Miracles in October 1964 when they performed in Santa Monica with numerous other artists for a TV special.

In 1981-82, the Stones worked out an excellent version of the Miracles' Going to a Go-Go, which they played throughout the tour and became a small hit for them in 1982, appearing on the live album Still Life.

THE SHIRELLES  (1958-      )

One of the most successful groups of the girl group era, the Shirelles performed several classics of the genre between 1960 and 1963, such as Will You Love Me Tomorrow? and Baby It's You. The Beatles were big fans of theirs and covered their material. Most probably under the Beatles' influence, the Stones performed the Shirelles song Boys in 1964, marking the only time they covered girl group material.

THE TEMPTATIONS  (1960-     )

Along with the Supremes, the Temptations were the best Motown act of the 1960s, achieving a unique performance style and a constancy of excellent hit records. The Stones have evidently enjoyed the Temptations' music, for they have consistently paid them homage throughout their career. In 1967, their Flowers album included a discarded cover of their hit My Girl. More spectacularly, the Stones recorded excellent covers of the Temps' Ain't Too Proud to Beg and Just My Imagination in 1974 and 1978, the latter becoming an unqualified Stones classic, played regularly on the Stones' 1978 and 1981-82 tour. Though they did not record it, in 1994 the Stones reworked a version of I Can't Get Next to You, which they performed sporadically throughout the Voodoo Lounge tour.


Achieving virtually no commercial success in their lifetime, the Velvets have enjoyed a posthumous legend as one of rock's most influential bands, in sound and attitude basically anticipating the whole pre-punk and punk movements of the 1970s and all "alternative" pop and rock thereafter. Based on a musical association between Lou Reed and John Cale, the band's classic albums were released between 1967 and 1969, each one radically different but all espousing the same willingness to experiment musically and lyrically without any compromise (lyrically bleak and avant-garde subject matter, musical primitivism and avant-gardeness as well), as well as excellent songwriting. Too much ahead and out of step with their times to gain public appreciation (their albums barely charted), the band nevertheless already had converts within musicians' circles.

The Stones were definitely aware of the Velvets. Before joining the band briefly for their first album, German singer Nico was signed by Andrew Oldham in 1965 and Brian contributed to her first single. Brian was still hanging out with her in 1967, attending the Monterey Pop Festival with her. Though the Stones were not tremendously influenced by the Velvets, in later years Mick confessed that they were "inspired" by the guitar lick on the song Heroin for their own Stray Cat Blues in 1968.

I mean, even WE'VE been influenced by the Velvet Underground... I'll tell you exactly what we pinched from (Lou Reed) too. You know Stray Cat Blues? The whole sound and the way it's paced, we pinched from the very first Velvet Underground album. You know, the sound on Heroin. Honest to God, we did!

- Mick Jagger, 1977

Written by Ian McPherson, 2000.
Like all files on Time Is On Our Side, it is the exclusive intellectual property
of Ian McPherson and cannot be duplicated, in any form, without his authorization.

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