Ron Simon

Curator, Television and Radio

July 17, 2012

Jagger Learning to Move Like Jagger

by Ron Simon

As the Rolling Stones celebrate their fiftieth anniversary this month, Mick Jagger has been memorialized as the enduring swagger of rock. His aura has been summoned up in a number of recent songs, most notably Maroon 5's "Moves Like Jagger." But as I look at the sixties performances of Stones, I am impressed how Jagger's live performance evolved and intensified over time. Jagger was not a natural performer; he willed his stage alter ego into existence with much hard work.

The Beach Boys and Bob Dylan are also commemorating golden anniversaries this year; their stage presences have not altered that much over the decades. Mike Love of the Beach Boys has pretty much been doing the same emoting and hand gestures since the beginning. Dylan relies on radically different phrasing and arrangements to make the concert experience fresh each tour. On the other hand, Jagger has always been conscious of his body as a physical enhancer of the song's meaning. When he is at his best, the singer and song become one. But it was not like when he started out.

The early appearances of the group contradict the bad boy mythology of the Stones; Jagger and even Keith Richards seem so tentative, even naïve. One of the great additions to the Stones' television archive is their performance on The Mike Douglas Show from June 1964. Here they perform a set of four numbers—two sung live, two prerecorded—that introduce their brand of American rock and blues to a Cleveland audience. Mick has a collegiate vibe, laboring to both sing the song and throw in a few dance moves. His little shuffle produces the requisite screams from his teenage audience, but seems extraneous to the music. Jagger and his mates are clearly a work-in-progress.

The line from the opening number, Chuck Berry's "Carol," summarizes the work ethic of Jagger: "I'm gonna learn to dance if it takes me all night and day." One of the dirty secrets that Jagger's girlfriend of the mid-sixties, model Chrissie Shrimpton, was sworn never to reveal was how much time that the lead singer spent posing and prancing in front of a mirror. The Stones manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, encouraged any bad behavior for publicity, but he drew the line at such purposeful narcissism.

The Rolling Stones' six appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show from October 1964 through November 1969 document how Jagger finally broke loose and discovered his stage identity. Critic Greil Marcus noted in the recent DVD collection of these game-changing shows that you "see the band grow into their music and themselves, and you can see them rise to the challenge of their times." Here are some short clips of the songs performed over five years, and you clearly experience how Jagger is gaining confidence in his performing abilities to connect with the audience.

Christopher Andersen reveals in his new biography of Jagger that the singer wanted to engage his inner Marilyn Monroe during his act from the get-go. The screen siren died when the Stones were just beginning in the summer of 1962; Mick became obsessed with channeling the seductress, fascinated with the possibilities of androgyny in his professional and private lives. Little of that gender bending is apparent when the Stones were establishing themselves during the Satisfaction years. Mick was more interested in achieving a number one record.

Ironically, tumultuous 1968 proved to be a year of introspection for the Stones after the debacle of drug busts and Their Satanic Majesties Request. They left mind-altering experimentation behind, returning to their blues roots with the release of their signature album Beggar's Banquet. For Jagger it was a personal liberation. With a year off from touring, the schoolboy transformed himself into a pop artist, with some diva mixed in. He was no longer just singing his songs; he was creatively embodying them, dramatically feeling the music in every muscle of his lithe body. As you watch this inaugural performance of "Sympathy for the Devil" on David Frost's show in November 1968, you see Mick erasing the line between performer and song. Having vigorously studied the moves of Nureyev and James Brown he transported the pop song into another realm, while even incorporating the come hither allure of Marilyn. Jagger has learned to move like JAGGER.

  • Ron, November 26, 2012 at 4:22 pm

  • Interesting and I loved the vintage footage. 

    I'd be interested in seeing a similar piece about Jim Morrison, who started out so shy he sang with his back to the audience.

    slfisher, November 25, 2012 at 3:11 pm

  • Today, July 26th, is Mick Jagger's birthday so we wish him the best. To answer your question Eric, we know that Mick and the Stones studied James Brown up close at the groundbreaking TAMI Show in December 1964. Mick gave one of his best early performances following the incomparable Brown. They also went to see Brown in concert. Jagger and Russian dancer Rudolf Nureyev had a long friendship that has been documented in biographies of both artists. Mick was certainly consious of Nureyev's artistry, as evidenced by this 1972 quote: "Me and Nureyev have flaming rows about whether it takes more talent and discipline to be a ballet dancer or a pop singer."  I did not know of the Marilyn Monroe connection until reading the current biography, but it makes sense as you study Mick.

    Ron, July 26, 2012 at 5:21 pm

  • Interesting take on Jagger, How do we know that Jagger actually studied those people? Maybe it was just the drugs.

    Eric, July 26, 2012 at 6:52 am


Ron Simon

Curator, Television and Radio


Ron Simon has been a curator at The Paley Center for Media since the early 1980s. He is also an adjunct associate professor at Columbia University, New York University, and Hunter College, where he teaches courses on the history of media. Simon has written for many publications, including The Encyclopedia of Television and Thinking Outside of the Box, as well as serving as host and creative consultant of the CD-ROM Total Television. A member of the editorial board of Television Quarterly, and a judge on the George Foster Peabody committee, Simon has lectured at museums and educational institutions throughout the world. Among the numerous exhibitions he has curated are The Television of Dennis Potter; Witness to History; Jack Benny: The Television and Radio Work; and Worlds Without End: The Art and History of the Soap Opera. He also discovered such lost programs as the live Honeymooners and the only video performance of the Rat Pack.


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