“I give the Stones about two years,” a 20-year-old Mick Jagger remarked to an interviewerinJune of 1964. Fifty-four years later, the quote has become one of the wrongest predictions in music history, as the Rolling Stones gear up to once again hit the road in 2019, adding to their legacy as rock ’n’ roll’s resident avatars of parodic longevity. In the summer of 1964, though, it would have been totally reasonable to wonder if the Stones even had two more years in them. Jagger and Keith Richards had only just recently begun writing original songs and hadn’t had an American hit yet. They were still a year away from “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” their first No. 1 in the U.S., which would kick off a run of eight Top 10 singles in less than two years. And they were four years away from Beggars Banquet, the album that would revitalize their careers and, to no small degree, alter the trajectory of a genre.
One could argue until the cows come home over what the greatest album of 1968 is: Lady Soul, Music From Big Pink, The White Album, Electric Ladyland, and Astral Weeksall deserve a place in the conversation, to name just a few. But Beggars Banquet, which turns 50 years old this week, might have been the most consequential. It was the first work to show that a rock act could reinvent itself in the face of irrelevance, the first great “comeback” album of the genre, and the earliest indication that rock ’n’ roll lives might be capable of something like second acts. At the end of a year that saw an explosion of double albums and single tracks that took up the better part of an LP side, all adorned with ever-newer forms of sonic gadgetry that promised musical corollaries to other consciousness-expanding materials of the day, it was a mostly acoustic album steeped in blues, folk, rockabilly, and other, more inscrutable influences that it felt like the band had conjured from some ragged musical beyond. It was mature, painstaking, and ferociously intelligent, all things the Stones had rarely been previously accused of being. It was, weirdly, from a band who’d spent their early years as the music’s foremost exemplars of incorrigible youth, a road map toward something like adulthood that didn’t involve quitting the road and gradually disintegrating, a route their more-famous countrymen had recently taken. The Rolling Stones are now in their sixth decade of touring behind the slogan of the “World’s Greatest Rock ’n’ Roll Band.” Beggars Banquet was the first work that rendered this claim credible.