Primer: The Rolling Stones, over at the AV Club. Go read it, you'll never have to bother with my lame, Rolling Stones-blogging ass again.
The Rolling Stones 101:
Unlike their classic rival, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones aren't frozen in time. Their body of work spans several decades, covers numerous musical eras, and varies widely in quality as the band aged, changed members, and attained incredible wealth. Exactly when and where you come at The Stones will define how you see the band. If you were born in the '80s or '90s, Mick Jagger has always been a preening, somewhat ridiculous dinosaur, shaking his wrinkled ass for graying baby boomers at $200 a ticket. It isn't a pretty picture, nor wholly representative of a band that's been making records for nearly 45 years.
Like the American bluesmen they emulated, The Stones have continued making music well into their 60s. They've been pilloried as much as praised for sticking together, but that's nothing new. As early as 1969, in the middle of the band's prime, people railed against The Stones for not breaking up already. (Rock writer Nik Cohn famously wished the band members would die in a plane crash before their 30th birthdays, so they could stay forever young.) It's a silly argument, because the greatness of what The Rolling Stones created could never be overshadowed, even by a hundred late-career cash-in tours. Any statement to the contrary is quickly refuted by the first 10 seconds of "Jumpin' Jack Flash," which still are as hard, exciting, and vital as any moments in rock 'n' roll.
UPDATE: Hyden wrote an interesting followup.
I have a (not terribly well-developed) theory that The Stones have made the most interesting and entertaining “bad” albums of any major artist in rock history. (At least that I can think of.) Before I proceed with this, let me define the word “bad” here. I don’t think The Stones have ever made a bad record in the way, say, prime period Creed is bad. Give me a poorly regarded Stones record, and I’ll pick out a couple of killer tracks.