The Rolling Stones still rockin' 50 years after debut

This recent photo supplied by the Rolling Stones shows the group posing during a photo shoot. The group celebrated Mick Jagger's 62nd birthday by announcing the release date for their first studio CD in eight years. "A Bigger Bang" will be released Sept. 6, the Stones announced Tuesday, July 26, 2005. They are, from left to right: Charlie Watts, Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, and Ron Wood. The Stones kick off their world tour Aug. 21 at Fenway Park in Boston. (AP Photo/The Rolling Stones, Mark Seliger)

(CBS News) The Rolling Stones played their first gig 50 years ago today at a music club - now a bank - on Oxford Street in central London.

And since then, The Stones have been doing the same thing - the same way.

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A photo exhibition has been assembled detailing their half century as a band. They were in the beginning, just another British band playing American rhythm and blues, taking their name from a Muddy Waters song. But they had something most of the others didn't - in fact, they had several somethings.

Journalist and author Andrew Mueller explained, "(The Rolling Stones had) a combination of good luck and extremely good management, probably in equal proportions. A lot of it is down to basic dumb luck, being able to keep a core group of people alive and together."

The "alive" part may be the most significant. The Stones lived lives - or so we were told - of spectacular excess, the models of rock 'n' roll self-abuse. And no one more than Keith Richards - whose survival from half-a-lifetime of substance abuse is an anomaly of medical science, although he's philosophical about it now.

Richards has said, "You can't describe your own wildness. ... You're a bunch of guys thrown in at the deep end. No one else had been through situations like that before, so you had to make the whole thing up as you went along. ... It was fun."

But not all of them survived. Brian Jones - an original member - died soon after being kicked out of the band in 1969.

But they were a triumph of counter-marketing - the bad boys to the Beatles' mop-top goody-goodies. It wasn't an accident.

Mick Jagger said, "In those days, what the press portrayed as wild was actually, in our world now, quite tame. But those days, people were very easily shocked."

And while The Rolling Stones consumed whatever they consumed, the public consumed their music. The band has 22 original studio albums, many compilations and live tour albums. They haven't just been a band. They've been an industry.

Mueller said, "The Rolling Stones are a brand, they're a logo, they're like Coca-Cola, they're like LEGO, they're like any sort of incredibly successful universally recognizable brand. They've established this thing that they do, they've deviated from it very, very, very little and they've carried on delivering it reliably. That's what they do."

What they do is promote. If you're going to launch a tour called Bridges to Babylon, do it in a 1957 Cadillac on the Brooklyn Bridge, driving into the Babylon of Manhattan. It's bound to attract a crowd asking the question that's been asked over and over: "Is this going to be your last tour?"

Richards has answered that question this way: "Yeah, this and the next five."

Yet, all the promotion in the world won't work if you haven't got the product to sell. The Stones have had that rare combination of critical and commercial success. Some have said their best work came in the first, not the second, 25 years, but who's counting? The oldies are still the goodies. That's why they were inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame in 1989.

Jagger said in his acceptance speech, "It's ironic that you see us here on our best behavior, but we're being rewarded for 25 years of bad behavior. But there was also a bit of music on the side."

There was also a little animosity on the side. Along with Jagger, Richards was the band's other creative force. Yet the two had a well-publicized falling out.

Richards told "CBS Sunday Morning" in 2010, (Jagger) had set himself a separate agenda, that didn't include any of us and riding on the Stones' fame to do it, and I thought that was a cheap shot."

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And when Richards accused Jagger of selling out for accepting a knighthood, Jagger had a cheap shot of his own, saying, "He's like a bawling child who didn't get an ice cream.'

Still, the two managed to keep their professional relationship - and the band - intact.

Jagger has said, "I mean, The Rolling Stones, we have lots of, any internal group of people always have varying relationships with each other, so the dynamic changes."

"My job is to turn Mick on," Richards said. "If I can turn Mick on, then Mick can turn the world on."

And so, still apparently, can The Rolling Stones.

So The Rolling Stones are 50 - and now they're talking about performing again this fall. Jagger is 67, Richards is 69. Charlie Watts is 71. Ronnie Woods is 65. Once they were the personification of the sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll lifestyle. Now, well, they're still rock 'n' roll.

  • Mark Phillips
    Mark Phillips

    Mark Phillips is CBS News senior foreign correspondent, based in London.