#471: She’s A Rainbow by the Rolling Stones
Michael Philip Jagger was born in Dartford, Kent, England, in 1943, some 18 miles east of London. Though his father and grandfather were both teachers by profession, and he was encouraged to be a teacher, the boy had different aspirations. “I always sang as a child. I was one of those kids who just liked to sing. Some kids sing in choirs; others like to show off in front of the mirror. I was in the church choir and I also loved listening to singers on the radio–the BBC or Radio Luxembourg –or watching them on TV and in the movies.” In 1950 Mick Jagger met Keith Richards while attending primary school. They became good friends until the summer of 1954 when the Jagger family moved to the village of Wilmington, a mile south of Dartford. The pair bumped into each other at a train station in 1961 and resumed their friendship.
Keith Richards was also born in Dartford, Kent, England, in 1943. From the age of two Keith sang along with his mother to songs on the radio in perfect pitch. Richards maternal grandfather, Augustus Theodore “Gus” Dupree, led a jazz band named Gus Dupree and His Boys. Dupree played saxophone, fiddle and guitar. It was his maternal grandfather who gave young Keith his first guitar. He also introduced Keith to the British Music Hall genre, a cousin of American Vaudeville. Keith took an interest in music while attending Dartford Technical High School for Boys from 1955 to 1959. He was recruited to be part of a trio of boy sopranos who performed at Westminster Abbey as part of a special concert for Queen Elizabeth II. Keith became interested in rock ‘n roll, skiffle and rhythm and blues. Richards remembers playing tunes by Johnny Cash and “Blue Moon Of Kentucky”.
When Richards and Jagger met each other one spring morning in 1961 at the Dartford Train Station, Jagger was at the London School of Economics. Mick was studying to become a journalist or a diplomat. But Richards noticed what Jagger was carrying with him on his way to school, two record albums. One was The Best of Muddy Waters, and the other Rockin’ At The Hops by Chuck Berry. Keith was impressed and invited Mick to his home for tea that afternoon. Richards and Jagger were part of a cohort of young men who were not being drafted into the British Army. In 1957 the British Government decided that men born after October 1, 1939, would not be drafted into the National Service. And by November 1960 the last men were called up for service. Dave Clark of the Dave Clark Five would comment “We were the first generation that wasn’t drafted. The thing about getting drafted when you were eighteen was that’s the most important time of your life for freedom of expression. For so many, that period was cut short, and you were told what to do, where to go, what to be. Then you got out of the service, got married, and worked a job in a factory. That was it. Had the government not stopped the draft there would have been no Dave Clark Five, no Beatles, no Stones.”
In addition to studying at the London School of Economics, Mick Jagger was part of a band called Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys. Richards was soon invited to join them. Another member of the band was Brian Jones. Lewis Brian Hopkins Jones was born in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England, in 1942. From the age of four he suffered from asthma. When he was fifteen his parents bought him a saxophone. And for his seventeenth birthday they gave him an acoustic guitar. Author Bill Wyman recounts how in the summer of ’59, Jones’ 14-year-old girlfriend, Valerie Corbett, got pregnant. Jones is said to have encouraged her to have an abortion. But she rejected his suggestion and wanted nothing more to do with him. Valerie carried the child to term and placed the baby up for adoption. Jones left school as a result of the scandal of getting a teenage girl pregnant. He left home, and travelled the rest of the summer across northern Europe. During this period, he lived a bohemian lifestyle, busked with his guitar on the streets to earn some cash, and lived off others charity.
In November 1959, Brian Jones met a young married woman named Angeline. The pair had a one-night stand and Angeline got pregnant. Angeline and her husband chose to raise the baby, Belinda, born on August 4, 1960. Jones never learned about her birth. In 1961 Brian Jones began going steady with Pat Andrews, who gave birth on October 22 1961, she gave birth to his third child, Julian Mark Andrews. Jones fathered several more children in the following years given birth by Linda Lawrence (July 23, 1964) and Dawn Molloy (March 1965).
Brian Jones placed an advertisement in Jazz News, a Soho publication, on May 2, 1962, for musicians to audition for a new R&B band. Ian Stewart was the first musician to reply to the ad. Ian Andrew Robert Stewart was born in 1938 in Pittenweem, a fishing village in Fife, Scotland. He learned piano from the age of six, and added banjo soon after. “Stu” was demoted by the Rolling Stones’ band manager to road manager and session musician on their recordings. Jagger and Richards auditioned and were added to the band. Bass guitarist Bill Wyman was added to the band, replacing a temporary musician. Wyman was born William George Perks Jr. in 1936 in suburban London. He took piano from age 10 to 13, and later learned to play guitar. He went by the stage name Lee Wyman for awhile, until he switched to Bill Wyman while with a band in 1961 named the Cliftons. In 1964 he legally changed his surname from Perks too Wyman.
Jagger, Richards and Jones moved into a flat in September 1962. A final member of the band, drummer Charlie Watts, joined in January 1963. Born in London in 1941, he learned to play drums when he was thirteen after his parents gave him a drum kit. He was part of a jazz band called the Jo Jones All Stars from 1958 to 1959.
The Rolling Stones first gig was at the Marquee Club in London on July 12, 1962. At that first show, the group was billed as the Rollin’ Stones, a tribute to a song “Rollin’ Stone” by Muddy Waters. The band’s original lineup consisted of Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones and keyboardist Ian Stewart. Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts would formally join in January of 1963, and Stewart officially left the band in May ’63. Stewart continued on as the Stones’ road manager and occasionally played with them both on tour and in the recording studio until his death in 1985. When the Rolling Stones began playing gigs around London in 1962, the notion that a rock & roll band would last five years, let alone fifty, was an absurdity. After all, what could possibly be more elusive than rock & roll, the latest teenage fad? Besides, other factors made it unlikely that such a momentous occasion would ever come to pass. “I didn’t expect to last until fifty myself, let alone with the Stones,” Keith Richards says with a laugh. “It’s incredible, really. In that sense we’re still living on borrowed time.”
“You have to put yourself back into that time,” Mick Jagger says about those early days when he and Keith and guitarist Brian Jones roomed together and were hustling gigs wherever they could find one. “Popular music wasn’t talked about on any kind of intellectual level. There was no such term as ‘popular culture.’ None of those things existed. But suddenly popular music became bigger than it had ever been before. It became an important, perhaps the most important, art form of the period, after not at all being regarded as an art form before.”
The Rolling Stones’ first US tour in June 1964 was, in Bill Wyman’s words, “a disaster.” “When we arrived, we didn’t have a hit record [in the USA] or anything going for us.” Their #3 single in February ’64 in the UK, “Not Fade Away”, only climbed to #48 on the Billboard Hot 100 and stalled for two weeks at #13 in Vancouver in May of that year. But in November 1964 “Time Is On My Side” climbed to #6 in the USA and #1 in Vancouver for two weeks. In April 1965 “The Last Time” climbed to #2 in Vancouver and #9 on the Billboard charts. The Rolling Stones were finally establishing a following in North America. Their next two singles, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and “Get Off My Cloud”, were both #1 hits here in Vancouver and in the ‘States. The hits kept coming through 1966-69 with #1 songs in Vancouver including “Paint It Black”, “Ruby Tuesday”, “Jumping Jack Flash” and “Honky Tonk Women”.
During this streak of Top Ten hits in Vancouver (BC) and elsewhere, they released “She’s A Rainbow”. It was the debut single release from their studio album Their Satanic Majesties Request. The album’s title is a play on the “Her Britannic Majesty requests and requires …” text that appears inside a British passport.
“She’s A Rainbow” is a song co-written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. The song begins with a Carnival barker calling out to passersby “Alright there, now listen very closely for how to play the game. I’ll tell you how to do it. Now luv, all you gotta do, luv, is when the whistle’s blown, I want you to give one spin, one spin only on your ball. Any prize, take what you like. One winner, one prize, the pick o’ the stall. Are you all ready ?”
The opening phrase “she comes in colours” was taken from the 1966 single by the American psychedelic rock band Love’s “She Comes In Colors”. In Love’s song you can tell she comes in “colors” because of the clothes she wears. In the Rolling Stones’ “She’s A Rainbow” the “lady” dresses in blue, and gold. This woman “shoots her colours all around.” And so Jagger and Richards use the simile of a rainbow to describe her. They liken her to a “queen in days of old,” a sunset and a sail. The latter to describe her face, which is “so fair and pale.”
Humorous and ambiguous devices are employed in the recording. These include strings playing out-of-tune and off-key towards the end of the song. And the bandmates sing their “La La’s” like little children. Additional personnel on “She’s A Rainbow” included John Paul Jones on strings, who joined the New Yardbirds in the summer of ’68. That band changed its name to Led Zeppelin by October.
“She’s A Rainbow” was part of a fad of psychedelic pop-rock songs between 1966 and 1970 that were populating the pop charts. On January 13, 1968, when “She’s A Rainbow” peaked at #2 on CKLG in Vancouver (BC), the #5 song was “Wear Your Love Like Heaven by Donovan. He began his song similarly with reference to colours “Colour in sky, prussian blue/Scarlet fleece changes hue/Crimson ball sinks from view…” The #4 song was “Green Tambourine” by the Lemon Pipers, adding more color to the survey. And “Judy In Disguise” by John Fred & His Playboy Band was a song based on a mondegreen (or mishearing) or the Beatles “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”. John Fred thought they were singing “Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds.” Eric Burdon and the Animals were singing about the rock concert “Monterey”, and the avant-garde “Some Velvet Morning” by Lee Hazelwood and Nancy Sinatra added to the psychedelic vibe on the CKLG Boss 30 in January 13, 1968, at #25.
“She’s A Rainbow” climbed to #2 in the Netherlands, #3 in Switzerland, and #8 in Austria. It did not chart in the UK. In North America “She’s A Rainbow” climbed to #1 in Toronto, Vancouver (WA) and Schenectady (NY), #2 in Vancouver (BC), #3 in San Diego and Akron (OH), #4 in Honolulu, #5 in Los Angeles, Manchester (NH) and Cincinnati (OH), #6 in Bakersfield (CA) and Buffalo (NY), #8 in Saginaw (MI) and Winnipeg (MB), and #9 in San Francisco and Tulsa (OK).
While on their 1969 tour, documentary film makers Albert and David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin shot footage of The Rolling Stones at Madison Square Garden, the Hell’s Angels violence at the Altamont Free Concert and photo shoots for the cover of the album Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out The Rolling Stones in Concert.
In the period between “Honky Tonk Women” in the summer of 1969 and “Brown Sugar” in April 1971, The Rolling Stones had just one song played on AM pop radio in Vancouver. “Gimmie Shelter” was not released as a 45 RPM, but still got airplay in Vancouver and a few other radio markets.
The band celebrated fifty years in 2012. They kept charting Top Ten hits through to 1989. These have included “Brown Sugar”, “Angie”, “Miss You”, “Start Me Up” and “Emotional Rescue”. In 2019 the Rolling Stones scheduled their No Filter Tour, with 17 concerts on their itinerary. Mick Jagger had to have heart surgery, and so the tour was postponed until June 21, 2019, at Taylor Field in Chicago. The final concert was at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami on August 31st.
January 13, 2020
Albert and David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin, Gimme Shelter, Maysles Films, 1970.
Marc Meyers, “The Rolling Stones at the Altamont Speedway,” Wall Street Journal, November 16, 2010
Daniel Kreps, “The Rolling Stones Bio,” Rolling Stone, New York, NY
“Mick Jagger On The Apocalyptic ‘Gimme Shelter’,” NPR, November 16, 2012
Simon Wells, Butterfly On A Wheel: The Great Rolling Stones Drug Bust, (Omnibus Press, 2011).
Tony Sanchez, Up and Down with The Rolling Stones: My Rollercoaster Ride With Keith Richards. (John Blake, 2011).
Rich Cohen, The Sun, The Moon & The Rolling Stones, (Spiegel & Grau, 2017).
Victor Bockris, Keith Richards: The Biography, (Da Capo Press, 2003).
David Fricke, “100 Greatest Guitarists: Keith Richards #10,” Rolling Stone, December 3, 2010.
Bill Wyman, Rolling With The Stones, (Dorling Kindersley, 2002) 19.
Scott Jones, “Being Brian Jones’s Son is the Greatest Thing that Never Happened to Me,” Daily Mail, UK, July 24, 2013.
Andy Greene, “Rolling Stones Announce Rescheduled Dates For 2019 ‘No Filter’ Tour,” Rolling Stone, May 16, 2019.
“Boss 30,” CKLG 730 AM, Vancouver, BC, January 13, 1968.
For more song reviews visit the Countdown.