The Man Who Discovered the Stones


I’m the sort of person who must always be reading something. In the can, if there’s no magazine, then it’s the ingredients on the toothpaste tube. And, when listening to music, at least in the days of universal vinyl, it would be the record jacket. I still scan the booklets of CDs, etc, but it’s all just too tiny to spend any serious time with. Whereas, one could hold a record jacket and stare at it for hours. Consequently, you would get to know the contents of some record sleeves  (especially the early ones, which didn’t contain much information), very well indeed.

Out of Our Heads by the Rolling Stones was a record like that, and from that 1965 album I took away two very interesting names. One was the songwriting credit  “Nanker Phelge“, which later turned out to be some sort of filthy pseudonym for “Jagger-Richard” . The other was Andrew Loog Oldham, the subject of today’s post (he was born in 1944).

Oldham was practically a baby when he discovered the Rolling Stones in 1963, after stints as a publicist for the likes of Bob Dylan (first U.S. tour) and The Beatles.He studied carefully at the feet of Brian Epstein, and conceived the idea of an “anti-Beatles”, a bad boy group to balance out the more angelic Fab Four. Not to slight the tidal wave of talent that is the Rolling Stones, but who can say what would have happened to them if Oldham didn’t go for them? At the time they were just one of dozens of young aspiring blues and rock ‘roll bands crawling around Britain. It was Oldham who crafted their image. I always think of the early Stones as falling somewhere in between the Artful Dodger and Bill Sykes – -an impression created by Oldham. After all, Jagger was attending the London School of Economics at the time!

It was Oldham who commissioned Lennon and McCartney to craft the Stones’ first hit (“I Wanna Be Your Man”), and Oldham who encouraged the Stones to write their own songs. It was Oldham who negotiated the Stones’  ownership of their own music (including the recordings) from the very beginning. And  Oldham who, in addition to being their manager, was the titular producer of their records through 1967, a credit that the Stones have subsequently disparaged. (If it wasn’t Oldham, I’d like to know who was responsible for their early records, because I certainly do like the sound).

That disparagement is what prompts the forceful tone of this post. I think Jagger and Richards are among the greatest songwriters of the 2nd half of the twentieth century. They very well know that….but what if they had never written a song? Oldham also discovered and managed Marianne Faithfull, Nico, The Small Faces, and many others, thus overseeing a stable that would provide much of the soundtrack for Swinging London. In 1965, the Stones hired Allen Klein to be their co-manager; he bought out Oldham a year later, although Oldham remained on as producer for a few more months. Drugs and legal problems alienated him from  the group he made famous. He produced in the U.S. for a few years and then moved to Columbia (the country, not the record label) in the mid 1980s.

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