WHEN ASKED TO describe Mick Jagger, Keith Richards famously replied, “He’s a nice bunch of guys.” On this birthday, let’s celebrate all of them. There have been so many Mick Jaggers over the years, with their different highs and lows. Here’s a salute to the 80 Coolest Mick Jagger moments: a mere 80 of the countless moments when Mick reminded us all why he’s the ultimate rock star. He’s always been the most visible of rock stars — but also the most mysterious, the most slippery, the one you’ll never figure out no matter how hard you try. This is Mick at his most seductive. Mick at his most decadent. Mick at his most comical. But it’s all Mick defining the outer limits of rock & roll cool. Let it bleed, now and forever.
“Doncha Bother Me” is the bitchiest moment on the 1966 classic Aftermath — which is quite an achievement. Mick sneers at all the London parasites, hangers-on, imitators, fame-suckers, assuring them that they’ll never catch up to him. Ever the innovator, he also makes sure they can’t lay a finger on his intellectual property.
There is practically nothing going on in this tune except Mick staring into a mirror and falling deeply in lust with his own lascivious charms, which is why he can sound so self-parodic yet so authentically lecherous at the same time. (Like so many of his sex songs, it’s all about him, with barely a glance at his alleged muse.) By the end, Mick’s screaming, “I’m the burning bush! I’m the burning fire! I’m the bleeding volcano!”
The Stones dress in drag for the cover photo, but the record’s even wilder. Mick sings, “You take your choice at this time/This brave old world, or the sliiide to the depths of decliiiine!” Youth everywhere decide, “I’ll take the depths of decline, please.”
Two giants of Sixties alienation: Jagger vs. Godard. It seems like the perfect collaboration: the French film rebel and the ultimate Band of Outsiders. “Godard is a very nice man,” Mick tells Rolling Stone in 1968. “I mean, I’ve seen all his pictures and I think they’re groovy.” Jean-Luc films the Stones in the studio on two momentous nights — he gets amazing footage of them writing and recording “Sympathy for the Devil.” Unfortunately, since he knows nothing about pop music and has no idea what he’s just seen, he cuts up the footage and splices it into a painfully dull student-protest drama, One Plus One. At the premiere, Godard complains that the Stones ruined his film and urges the audience to demand their money back. He gets escorted out by security after punching the producer.
Mick’s Studio 54 obsession pays off in “Emotional Rescue,” a comedy goof that somehow flukes its way to the top of the charts. He knocks it off late one night, just for kicks and giggles, ad-libbing an outrageous falsetto-disco vamp on electric piano, with Woody on bass and Charlie on drums. He makes up the arched-eyebrow sex monologue on the spot, promising, “I will be your knight in shining aaarmooour.” To his shock, it blows up into an international dance hit. As he tells Rolling Stone, “It’s just one of those recording-studio things. You would never really write a song like that in real life.”
The Stones have already planned their famous free gig in London’s Hyde Park, in the summer of ’69. But tragically, their ex-bandmate Brian Jones spoils their plans by drowning in his pool. (As Pete Townshend tells Rolling Stone at the time, “A normal day for Brian.”) So Mick turns the concert into a big farewell. He takes the stage in a frilly white-lace blouse, shushes the crowd, and reads poetry to them. It’s Shelley’s “Adonais,” his 1821 elegy on the death of John Keats. (“He hath awaken’d from the dream of life.”) Thousands of butterflies get released from the stage. Nobody but Mick could have committed so fully to this moment, and nobody but Mick could have pulled it off.
A throwaway outtake they gave up on years ago gets slapped into “Start Me Up” and — surprise! — turns into one of their biggest anthems, with Mick sneaking his filthy bits past the censors. To this day, you hear this song on the radio with Mick leering, “You made a dead man come!”
A lethal satire from Flowers, a concept album about all the hip young scenesters flocking around Mick in the London of 1966: artists, models, groupies, socialites, phonies, speed freaks, poseurs. Mick has nothing but bad news for these people. “Ride On, Baby” kisses them off, with Brian Jones’ harpsichord-and-marimba groove. The music is glam but ominous, as Mick moves in for the kill, sneering, “By the time you’re 30, gonna look 65/You won’t look pretty and your friends will have kissed you goodbye.” How can this song hit so hard yet remain so obscure all these years?
Not the sentimental type. His voice in “Dandelion” is so seductively sullen, yet so mournful, as he sings for a new audience of hippie peace-and-love believers he can’t quite talk himself into joining. But it could be a premature epitaph for Brian Jones. One of his most genuinely poignant songs.
The change has come. It’s the Seventies, and Mick is so awash in debauchery he can barely enunciate his words, creating a hypnotic haze with the incantation, “It’s just that demon life has got me in its sway.” The younger, more innocent Mick in the band — new guitar recruit Mick Taylor — plays all the guitar himself, making “Sway” the Stones song that’s officially too decadent for Keith.
Carly Simon definitely chose the right backup singer for her Number One smash “You’re So Vain.” Mick proves why he’s Mr. Love in Vain — because he’s so in love with being vain. You can hear him singing along with Carly in the chorus — “You’re so vain! I bet you think this song is about you! Don’t you? Don’t you? Don’t you?” Mick sings the way you can only sing if you sincerely believe every song is about you.
He’s got the toughest job in this legendary concert film: He has to go on after James Brown. The Stones begged to play before JB, since nobody in showbiz could top his “Night Train” dance, or his “Please, Please, Please” routine of fighting his way back to the microphone. But Jagger jumps out there and boogies for his life, mincing and swiveling through “It’s All Over Now.”
The record company gets squeamish about a song called “Starfucker,” so they change the title to “Star Star.” But Mick dishes the dirt in this ode to a Hollywood party girl burning her way through the lead guitars and movie stars. “Ali MacGraw got mad at you for giving head to Steve McQueen” makes the lawyers so anxious, they have to clear it with McQueen — the movie star is flattered. But the line about her banging John Wayne is so dubious, they bury it under overdubbed gibberish.
Of all the Rolling Stones masterpieces, Exile on Main Street is the one with the most iconic origin story: Desperate to get away from England, the band goes into tax exile, holing up in a French villa to record down in Keith’s dirty, filthy basement. The aura of decadence seeps right into the grooves. You can hear the spirit of Nellcote from the manic guitar buzz of “Rip This Joint” to the outlaw country of “Sweet Virginia” to the late-night fear sweat of “Casino Boogie.” Rock & roll sleaze is never the same.
One thing that always sets Mick apart from other rock stars of his generation: He’s never been the least bit afraid to get in on the joke. In “Beast of Burden,” he goes toe to toe with the Divine Miss M for a burlesque dance-off that starts in her dressing room. (Bette: “Won’t you stay to hear me sing your song? I sing it better than anybody!” Mick: “Well, almost anybody.”) But their slapstick romp on the dance floor deserves to be as famous as his duet with Bowie.
Nobody’s ever described Mick better than Greil Marcus in his classic Mystery Train: “His songs are loud, brutal and mean, containing feelings you like to pretend you do not have, recollections you would like to forget, and temptations that up until now you have wisely avoided.”That’s all here in “Satisfaction,” where he’s just another product of the leisure-industrial complex, defined by mass media and cigarette ads and sexual consumerism.
Michael Lindsay-Hogg directed this revolutionary clip of Mick leading the Stones through their new hit. The Prince of Darkness dances up to the camera, war paint on his face. He does his insolent stare right into your eyes and steals your very soul. His green velvet suit is open in front, with a tattoo of a clock on his chest. He does all the Mick moves you’ve seen so many times, but never scarier than they are right now. Charlie and Bill are done up in mascara. Mick and Brian glower in their shades. It’s the most jolting footage of Mick in action, even though there’s no nudity, no violence, nothing at all but him lost in this song. He’s here to ruin your world. He’s here to warp your mind. He’s up to no good and he absolutely means it.
One night in Amsterdam, a tipsy Mick calls Charlie’s hotel room in the wee hours to ask, “Where’s my drummer?” The mild-mannered Charlie just hangs up the phone, gets dressed up in his finest suit and tie, shines his shoes, even puts on cologne, heads to Mick’s room, knocks on the door — and punches him in the face. Charlie warns him, “Don’t ever call me your drummer again. You’re my fucking singer.” Mick never pulls that again.
The Gimme Shelter doc is famous for the Altamont nightmare, but the most shocking moments come earlier on the Stones’ U.S. tour, as Mick bumps and grinds through “Midnight Rambler.” He slithers in his skintight black catsuit to announce, “I think I burst a button on me trousers. I ‘ope they don’t fall down. You don’t want my trousers to fall down, now do you?” The fans explode like they’re having one big simultaneous orgasm.
The most infamous rock-star bust of the Sixties: Mick, Keith, and Marianne Faithful are coming down from an acid trip at Keith’s country mansion Redlands when the cops come crashing in. The tabloid headlines scream, “Naked Girl in Stones Party” and “Nude Girl in Fur Rug!” The drug squad includes two female cops — one for Marianne, one for Pattie Boyd Harrison, but George and Pattie slip away from the party just in the nick of time. The rumor that the cops walked in on a sex orgy involving a Mars chocolate bar? Not true. However, Marianne is authentically and extremely naked, having just bathed, and draped in a fur rug. The cops fail to notice Keith’s cocaine, because they have no idea what it is — but they confiscate his stash of hotel soaps. Mick gets busted for a couple of measly speed pills. The bust and subsequent drug trial immortalizes the Stones’ legend as foes of the establishment.
Just when it looked like the Stones were going to fade away into professional rock smarm, Mick saved their bacon with Some Girls, an album of mega-bitchy songs about losing his mind in New York City, in the aftermath of his marriage. It’s their most Mick-dominated album — and their all-time bestseller. In the hit “Miss You,” he faces up to the kind of heartbreak he’s spent his life dancing around, wandering through the city, shuffling barefoot through the street, with total strangers asking, “What’s the matter witchoo, boy?”
The movie begins with Mick and Anita in the heat of passion. And as actors, these two are extremely devoted to the spirit of cinema verité. So they make the sex extra realistic by … maybe not quite faking it for the camera. The day they film these scenes, on the other side of town, her boyfriend Keith Richards is in an understandably dark mood. The song he writes that day? “Gimme Shelter.”
A comedy genius dance-off. Two of the proudest rock divas ever face off to strut their stuff, both out for blood. Jagger and Bowie try to top each other, stealing each other’s moves, wiggling their jazz hands and shaking their asses. Funniest moment: While David does his prancing, Mick bends down to grab his beer, takes a swig, then goes back into battle with Bowie. Who wins? We all do.
The Stones give thanks to their public for all the support, after their 1967 drug bust, with backup Beatle vocals from John and Paul. They go literary for the video, re-enacting the 1895 sodomy trial of Oscar Wilde. Mick goes on trial for crimes of forbidden passion, while Marianne Faithfull plays his lover Lord Alfred Douglas. Keith, of course, plays the judge.
This honky-tonk hoedown groove gets raunchier as it goes along, as Mick tarts it up with his sluttiest schoolgirl gasps over Keith’s guitar. He urges you to rest your weary head on his breasts, and ends up begging you to splash your bodily fluids all over him. In 1969, when the Stones’ music was full of dread and doom, “Let It Bleed” was a moment where the sex drive could win out over the death drive. Even if the song gives you the suspicion that Mick Jagger’s one true erotic obsession will always be Mick Jagger.
The Jamaican legend scores a U.S. reggae hit with a Motown remake, dueting with Mick. (It came out on Rolling Stones Records.) It’s some strange chemistry — the most solemn of the Wailers, with Mick in prancing-fop mode? But it works. In the video, when Mick busts out his “Buster Keaton on poppers” shimmy, even Tosh can’t help cracking a smile.
On the eve of the Stones’ historic U.S. tour, Mick calls a press conference where a reporter asks, four years after “Satisfaction”: “Are you more satisfied now?” Mick has the perfect reply: “Financially dissatisfied. Sexually satisfied. Philosophically trying.” Now that’s a rock star.
Countless singers over the years have done things to the sacred rock & roll mantra “oh yeah,” but nobody’s ever made it sound filthier than Mick. In just two syllables, he welcomes you into the decadent nightmare that is Exile on Main Street, the most rock & roll of all rock & roll albums and a complete tour of the Mick universe at its most morally depraved. He makes “oh, yeah” sound like a warning — but also an invitation you can’t resist.
How does Mick Jagger celebrate leaving Brixton Prison on bail, after his drug bust? He goes straight from jail to a bash where he sips an iced vodka and lime, while announcing to the press, “There’s not much difference between a cell and a hotel room in Minnesota. And I do my best thinking in places without distractions.”
Please allow him to introduce himself. He’s a man of wealth and taste. The essence of Mick Jagger is all here in this six-minute epic. His madman bravado. His seductive sneer. His androgynous glimmer. His satanic majesty. The way he cackles, “Mmmmmean it!” That conga beat. That “hoo-hoo” chant. The way he whoops along with Keith’s out-of-nowhere guitar solo. But most of all, the way he keeps daring you to chase him through that funhouse of mirrors he has for a soul, trying to figure him out, trying to hang a name on him, trying to guess the nature of his game. This song sums up why he’s the most elusive and unknowable of rock stars. But it also sums up why he’s the one who’s kept the whole world obsessed for all these years. Pleased to meet you. Hope you guessed his name.