There are few figures in rock and roll as tragic as Brian Jones. A founding figure of The Rolling Stones, Jones is widely seen as an original member and the pulsating heartbeat of the band. It seems only fitting that today we look back at six songs that defined his career.
Brian Jones was a blues junkie. The guitarist was an avid record collector and the driving force behind the band’s unique direction; even Jones came up with the band’s name while on the phone to a promoter, picking the choice from a classic Muddy Waters song. Within a few years, however, he would exile himself with heavy drug use, and it would eventually lead to his death in 1969.
He began as one of rock and roll’s most unique and dynamic guitarists. Jones and The Stones were not only grabbing the attention of Britain’s bubbling R&B scene. They soon grabbed the attention of America with Jones front and centre alongside Keith Richards and Mick Jagger — they were a deadly trio.
Jones guided the band toward their psychedelic acid rock phase and was a keen driver of The Rolling Stones’ adoption of new and interesting instruments, always pushing the group to the cutting edge of pop music. Sadly, it was a push that Jones also found himself on the wrong end of.
As the group’s singles suffered a slow decline as the sixties faded out, it appeared as though external pressure was changing the band’s make-up. From the outside, the issues were creative, but inside The Rolling Stones’ inner-circle, the problems forming on the horizon were very much personal and could set The Rolling Stones on a course for destruction.
Brian Jones’ position within the group was gradually deteriorating. As well as his issues with substance abuse refusing to go away, the creative conflicts between Jones and Keith Richards were cutting, with the blades sharpened by Richards’ pursuit and courting of Jones’ fiancee Anita Pallenberg the previous year.
Jones’ contribution on the band’s albums dwindled and his position within the group was soon given away to Mick Taylor just weeks before Jones’ tragic death, a time when he was found at the bottom of his swimming pool on the grounds of the home he’d built from his time with the Stones.
Below, we’re looking back at six of the guitarists defining moments.
Brian Jones’ six definitive songs:
‘Paint It Black’ (1966)
The Aftermath album holds much of what made Brian Jones so vital to The Rolling Stones’ iconography. Prior to the record, the Stones had been a copycat act, happy to take the Delta blues back to Dartford. Once Aftermath arrived, it was confirmed that The Rolling Stones were here to stay.
There was one song which typifies this change of approach, it sees Jones not only introduce the sitar to the song but provide the rumbling percussion which rolls in like thunder on the track.
’19th Nervous Breakdown’ (1966)
Another corker from Aftermath, the Stones’ first landmark record, sees Jones provide an unhinged bass note on the song which has often been cited as deriving from Bo Diddley’s ‘Diddley Daddy’. The album also saw Jones use instruments like dulcimer, marimba, koto and sitar to compound his visionary style.
’19th Nervous Breakdown’ was the band’s first single of the landmark 1966 year. Despite the album using so many non-traditional instruments, this one is pretty straightforward but sees Jones’ riff ring out above everything else.
‘Under My Thumb’ (1966)
Another song from Jones’ best album with the band Aftermath it sees the guitarist put out his most famous riff on the fantastic ‘Under My Thumb’. Jones snakes across the airwaves with intoxicating ease.
It’s a hint at the band’s future, and their continued evolution of expression as the restless Jones continues to contribute and creates some of the band’s most menacing sounds. Jagger later shared on the track in a 1995 interview: “It’s a bit of a jokey number, really. It’s not really an anti-feminist song any more than any of the others… Yes, it’s a caricature, and it’s in reply to a girl who was a very pushy woman.”
‘Mother’s Little Helper’ (1966)
One of the Stones’ most beloved songs sees Jones once again dominate the track with one of rock ‘n’ roll’s greatest riffs of all time. Keith Richards may have been coined ‘the Human Riff’, but Jones had his hand in a fair share and this one on a 12-string slide.
The song saw Jones also pick up the tambura, an Indian instrument that can be thanked for the tune’s continuous drone. It acts as the perfect musical backdrop for the song written about the adoption of prescription drugs in households.
‘Ruby Tuesday’ (1967)
Another song from 1966, released the following year, is the band’s classic ‘Ruby Tuesday’. It was a number one in the US and number three in the UK and confirmed The Rolling Stones’ presence in the pop music scene.
Released as the B-Side to ‘Let’s Spend The Night Together’, the song has become a bone of contention within the fans. Bill Wyman and Keith Richards have both stated that Jones contributed to their composition, but Marianne Faithfull believed it was Jones’ entirely. However you look at it, it’s a corker.
‘No Expectations’ (1968)
Near the end of his time with the Stones, and sadly with us at all, Jones began to push his experimentation to new heights. He was determined to fiddle with rock’s previously held boundaries and even on some of his last recordings Jones is keen to push it towards the cutting edge.
On Beggars Banquet, Jones final full record with the band before being chucked out of the group, the guitarist is keen to add more strings to his bow. As well as his usual guitar duties, Jones plays mellotron, sitar, harmonica and tambura. On ‘No Expectations’ Jones goes back to basics and gives the blues slide guitar its final, fitting, last starring role.