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Words by Mr Dan Cairns

Read almost any woman's account of a first meeting with The Rolling Stones when the band were trying to establish themselves in London 50 years ago, and what strikes you is the subtext, the real business taking place between the printed lines. Even in Ms Marianne Faithfull's description of her initial encounter at a party with Mr Mick Jagger, as he then was - noting his greasy hair and bad skin - that subtext is there. Picture such a scene: in walk five rake-thin, unkempt, just-out-of-bed young men, their hair a mess, cigarettes clamped between fingers or lips, their jeans skin tight and delineating everything. "Ew", go the girls, recoiling (and straining to get another look). But privately, they are nursing other, altogether more basic thoughts. Which can be boiled down to: phwoar.

Then imagine going down to the Crawdaddy Club in Richmond to watch the band perform. They make a sound that is utterly alien to most white people's ears - raw blues, with lyrics of barely concealed carnality, delivered with a cacophonous swagger and a libidinous snarl. This is not The Beatles, wearing matching suits and confiding that they want to hold your hand. No, this is something different, darker, more unsettling. This is, not to put too fine a point on it, music as sex - precisely what had first impelled the five teenagers to hunt down American imports by artists such as Muddy Waters and Mr Chuck Berry and set about trying to reproduce their sound.

In the five decades since The Stones first sent a shiver - and a thrill - up the spine of British youth, as the monochrome 1950s gave way to the swinging 1960s, any number of bands have sought to replicate their swagger. And not one of them, not The Strokes, not The Libertines, not Kings of Leon, has come close. If the years have not been entirely kind to The Stones - the band's steady decline as recording artists - they have failed nonetheless to dilute the impact of that original brand. A brand later trademarked, of course, in the form of those unmistakably suggestive lips and tongue.

The Rolling Stones - 50 is published on 12 July by Thames & Hudson.

Peruse the images above: Mr Richards sunning himself in the garden of his Sussex home, ciggy in hand; the band taking tea on a sun-dappled summer lawn; Sir Mick and Mr Richards in suits and ties, in the back of a Bentley. These photographs fool nobody. There is surely something stronger than tea in those cups. It is unlikely that that is a straightforward cigarette.

Our fascination with the band endures, even if we are sometimes discomfited by the spectacle of weather-beaten sexagenarians still insisting on strutting their stuff on world tours that are now little more than corporate sponsor-fests with a bit of riffing thrown in. What stops us from turning our backs? I think it is because that original musical necromancy, that whiff of menace and danger, that sense of a group of people living by a different set of rules, still holds a fascination. Young pretenders may bid for their crown, but they are mere footnotes, delusional, pale imitations. Maroon 5 had one of the biggest singles of last year with a song that was a paean to Sir Mick's dancing. Put it this way: there is unlikely to ever be a hit single called "Moves Like Doherty". The Rolling Stones, then: 50 years on, the original, and still the best.

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