In 3 songs, Stones say a lot


February 6, 2006


When the Rolling Stones performed on his show in 1967, Ed Sullivan was wary of giving network air time to such lewd hell-raisers, and he famously made them change the lyrics of "Let's Spend the Night Together."

There is no small irony in the fact that four decades later, rock's one-time baddest of the bad boys are viewed as safe, non-controversial entertainment for half-time at the Super Bowl, which is still reeling from a glimpse of Janet Jackson's breast in 2004.

This year, the show got all the controversy out of the way long before kick-off. After pundits pointed out that the median age of the Stones is 62, the NFL abandoned its plan to ban anyone over 45 from dancing in the middle of the tongue-shaped stage.

And when other critics wondered why the producers tapped a bunch of Brits rather than homegrown talent from one of America's greatest music cities, Aretha Franklin quickly was recruited to sing the national anthem, with Aaron Neville and Dr. John helping her out and giving a nod to hurricane-battered New Orleans.

As for the Stones, they delivered a succinct but fiery three-song set that found them doing much more than simply going through the motions.

"Start Me Up" was a predictable opener, and you knew they had to close with "Satisfaction." But if you remember what the song is really about, the latter takes on added resonance in the midst of the year's biggest orgy of advertising excess.

"When I'm watchin' my TV/And that man comes on to tell me/How white my shirts can be ... I can't get no satisfaction," Mick Jagger sang with a bit more sneer than usual. And the tune ended in a wonderfully raucous jam with Ron Wood and Keith Richards playing a minute of sheer punk-rock dissonance and clatter.

In between, the Stones bettered Paul McCartney at last year's show by playing an actual recent song -- "Rough Justice," the strongest from the 2005 album "A Bigger Bang" -- and they even poked a little fun at themselves.

"Here's one we could have played at Super Bowl I," Jagger said in introducing "Satisfaction," originally released in 1965.

The group's biggest cop-out was something that only a hardcore Stones fan noticed, but it was undeniable: Jagger emphatically went mute and cut off the last word of the one mildly licentious line in "Start Me Up." (You know, the one about the dead man.)

Well, at least the Stones are consistent: They were willing to bend for Sullivan in '67, and they happily censored themselves in 2006, lest they offend anyone watching Super Bowl XL -- several hours of men violently hurling themselves at each other in the name of good, wholesome family entertainment.