The Stones at 50, still satisfying

From left: Charlie Watts, Keith Richards, Bill Wyman, Mick Jagger, and Ronnie Wood in “Crossfire Hurricane.”
Rolling Stones Archive/HBO
From left: Charlie Watts, Keith Richards, Bill Wyman, Mick Jagger, and Ronnie Wood in “Crossfire Hurricane.”

On the occasion of its 50th anniversary, what do you get the band that has everything?

In the case of the Rolling Stones, who are celebrating this golden milestone, they actually have a few gifts for their fans.

While guitarists Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood have hinted that more tour dates may be in the offing in 2013 — and recent rumblings, including a Paris club date, do feel like the band warming up — the only shows the group had on the books at press time are two gigs at the O2 Arena in London later this month and two at the Prudential Center in Newark in December, all of which sold out instantly, even with a top ticket price of $750.


Meanwhile, Stones fans can stroll down memory lane and take a peek into the future with a trio of new/old offerings from the band: two documentaries and a three-disc hits retrospective featuring two new tracks called “GRRR!”

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For a band that has been packaged and re-packaged as often as the Rolling Stones, it’s nearly miraculous that all three pieces have something worthwhile to offer.

The biggest, flashiest bang in the Rolling Stones’ fourth-quarter juggernaut is the documentary “Crossfire Hurricane,” premiering on HBO on Thursday at 9 p.m.

Stones diehards aren’t likely to learn much of anything new in terms of chronology, but the film is still a must-see. It is an astonishing document — culled from existing and previously unreleased sources — edited masterfully, illuminating the familiar tale in new ways, with all of the living principals offering new audio-only interviews that play over vintage footage.

Given that the band members are listed as producers, it’s admirable that “Crossfire Hurricane,” directed by Brett Morgen, isn’t only a victory lap or a nostalgia-fest. There is certainly myth-burnishing going on, but not everything in it is flattering, and the members also seem open to epiphanies of hindsight.


There are many enduring images and lines: bassist Bill Wyman recalling the “flood of urine” that would trickle down the aisles as young female fans got lost in the mania; Mick Jagger’s audible regret about the handling of Brian Jones’s departure from the band; the violence and chaos of the early shows, with young audience members being thrown to the ground by overwhelmed security and others turning their devotion into onstage attacks; the sprawling bacchanal of hotel rooms, dressing rooms, planes, and recording studios.

Irish Photo Archive
The Stones in 1965 (from left): Brian Jones, Charlie Watts, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and Bill Wyman in a scene from “Charlie Is My Darling” DVD.

There are also a number of riveting performances, including an epic “Midnight Rambler.”

The film roughly covers 1962 to 1978 — certainly the band’s most important and exciting period but hardly the whole story — and is subtitled “The Rise of the Stones,” which would seem to imply a sequel. If it were as captivating as “Crossfire Hurricane,” it would be welcome.

The quieter of the two new films is actually an old film, “Charlie Is My Darling: Ireland 1965,” available now on DVD. Clocking in at just about an hour, the newly restored documentary captures the band, with great intimacy, on a tour of Ireland in the days following the rise of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” to the top of the charts.

“Crossfire Hurricane” borrows some of the more chaotic footage from this film, but it is the smaller moments that entice: Jagger and Richards good-naturedly stumbling their way through Beatles and Elvis tunes during their downtime (they really didn’t know the words to “Eight Days a Week”?), a priest proclaiming that the Stones themselves aren’t amoral and are in fact “quite good,” the band of babyfaces out cold on the flight home.


It has a smaller scope but is a beguiling snapshot of its time.

“One’s brought up to think that pop music is a very ephemeral thing,” said Jagger at the start of “Charlie,” noting the band members figured they’d probably be around for only a year or a year-and-a-half.

Instead, as he notes as a much older man in “Crossfire Hurricane,” the Rolling Stones went from being “the band that everybody hated to the band everybody loves.” From anti­heroes to institution.

But when you strip away all of the stuff surrounding the band that draws focus in the documentaries — the sex, the drugs, the mayhem, the glamour — you’re left with what people fell in love with, the rock ’n’ roll.

“GRRR!,” out Tuesday, takes care of that piece of the history.

The three-disc set compiles all of the familiar classic rock radio staples — “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” “Brown Sugar,” “Miss You,” “Start Me Up” — with an emphasis, unsurprisingly, on the bountiful ’60s to early -’80s releases most fans already own.

The carrot here is a pair of brand new tunes that, impressively, show that the band still has some gas in the tank.

“Doom and Gloom” is an urgent jam with Jagger manically recounting a fever dream, complete with zombies, a funky groove, and crazy little eruptions of guitar that are tangles of heat and inspiration.

If “One More Shot” is a plea from the band to give them another chance, they’re on the right track with this retro-riffer that finds Jagger down on his knees, begging us please, overheating in his desperation to be taken back.

Like the films, the songs may not tell us anything new, but they are more than adequate reminders of why we cared in the first place.

As Jagger observes in “Crossfire,” “You can’t stay young forever.” These two tunes, however, prove that the obsessions of youth can remain vital with the proper application of heart, heat, magic, and craft.

Sarah Rodman can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @GlobeRodman.