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Music

How the Redlands drug bust made the Rolling Stones the world’s most dangerous rock band

@TylerGolsen

The Rolling Stones were always viewed as troublemakers to the establishment. Whoever crowned themselves the keepers of good morals were aghast at the Stones, with their unkempt hair, loud rock music, and refusal to wear ties. It might seem quaint now, but back in the mid-1960s, the band were actually turned away from hotels and restaurants for their long hair and lack of formal attire. But it wasn’t their looks that made them the bane of conservative pundits.

By the mid-1960s, drugs were an open secret within the music industry. On both sides of the Atlantic, artists were turning on with various different substances, whether it was the classic beatnik allure of marijuana or the new mind-expanding effects of LSD. It wasn’t as though The Beatles and The Who were seen as squeaky clean individuals, but their purported drug use hadn’t permeated the tabloids to a major degree yet.

It was an article from The News of the World entitled “Pop Stars and Drugs: Facts That Will Shock You” that took the sensationalist fever of celebrity drug use to a new level. The first edition of the series of stories was focused on Donovan, and the singer was shocked to see his home raided a short time later. On February 5th, the paper ran a second edition of the story, this time focusing on The Rolling Stones.

The scoop alleged that Mick Jagger had displayed various drugs while partying at London’s Blaise’s club earlier in the year. It actually turned out that the Stone, who was followed by a reporter that night, was Brian Jones. Nevertheless, the Stones were primed by British police for a raid of their own, thanks to the Dangerous Drugs Act of 1965 allowed an unprecedented level of search and seizure to be employed by the authorities. Following a tip-off from a chauffeur on February 11th, infamous Detective Sergeant Norman Pilcher gathered a squad together to raid Keith Richards’ recently purchased home in Sussex, Redlands.

Pilcher had acquired a reputation for his eagerness to bust celebrities with drugs. He would go to any lengths in order to meet his goals, including underhand dealings and illegal trades with informants. He was the epitome of the establishment that was being rebelled against by the counter-culture, and he was the one responsible for Donovan’s raid only a week prior. Now, Pilcher had his sights on two of the biggest pop stars in the world: Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.

Little did the police know that the occupants of Redlands had been coming down from an acid trip at the time. “There’s a knock on the door, I look out the window, and there’s this whole lot of dwarves outside,” Richards recalled. “I’d never been busted before, and I’m still on acid”. The results were less than sensational: a few discarded weed roaches, Jagger’s amphetamine pills, and some heroin. But it was enough to get the Stones rung up on drug charges. Jones reportedly phoned Richards to say he was on his way to the house, but Richards told him to stay away.

In the months that led up to Jagger and Richards’ trial, relations between Jones and the rest of the band members became strained. Jagger blamed Jones for flaunting his drug use in public, and when Jones, Richards, and Jones’ girlfriend Anita Pallenberg absconded to Morocco to avoid the press, Pallenberg and Richards began an affair that would blossom into a decades-long relationship. Jones was now on the outside looking in, and he responded by falling deeper into drug use.

The press attention was massive, but in a surprising turn, the Stones actually gained public support. The consensus view was that Jagger and Richards had been targeted both by the police and by the media. As a result, op-eds and public campaigns began to advocate for their freedom, including a famous article written by the usually traditionally-minded journalist William Rees-Mogg that invoked the phrase: “Who breaks a butterfly on a wheel?”. The Who recorded covers of ‘The Last Time’ and ‘Under My Thumb’ in order to help the Stones make bail, but by that point, Jagger and Richards were already free men. Richards spent one night in jail, while Jagger avoided any prison time.

“When we got busted at Redlands, it suddenly made us realize that this was a whole different ball game and that was when the fun stopped,” Richards recalled in 2003. “Up until then, it had been as though London existed in a beautiful space where you could do anything you wanted.” Marianne Faithful, who was present and infamously had to cover herself with a fur rug during the raid, posed in her autobiography that the bust was the impetus for The Rolling Stones’ notorious public image.

The Redlands bust wound up being a line of demarcation in the history of The Rolling Stones. This was no longer a band that was slightly more edgy than their contemporaries. These weren’t ragamuffin misfits singing old blues songs. From the second Jagger and Richards got out of jail, The Rolling Stones were the world’s most dangerous rock band.

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