You could tell she was different from the other Rolling Stones groupies. In her beige fur jacket, tight sweater and Ossie Clark mini skirt, she looked nothing like the usual Swinging Sixties models — all knee socks, babydoll dresses, heavy eyeliner and thick mascara — when she turned up backstage in Munich in 1965.
Everything about her suggested experience, from her hard-to-place accent to her hand-made leather gladiator sandals. Her first words were perhaps not, in the context of the Sixties, surprising. ‘Want to smoke a joint?’ she asked the band. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards eyed her suspiciously. They’d never done drugs before. The only coke they’d had was mixed with rum.
She glanced at Brian Jones. ‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘Let’s do that. Come back to the hotel.’ The woman followed the Stones to Berlin the next day. Their tours were girlfriend-free zones, yet here was Brian flaunting his bewitching new lover: the hedonistic, beautiful, multi-lingual, 23-year-old German/Italian model and actress Anita Pallenberg.
‘The first time I saw Anita, my obvious reaction was ‘what the f*** is a chick like that doing with Brian?’, remembered Keith. Anita herself would later provide the answer. She had been, she said, attracted to his emotional intelligence and to his delicate looks. ‘Sexually, I like girls as well as men,’ she said, ‘and Brian seemed to combine both sexes for me at the same time.’
Anita, the partner of Brian Jones (pictured together in December 1966) and later Keith Richards
Rolling Stone Keith Richards and his girlfriend Anita Pallenberg, 9th December 1969
Sixty years ago there were rockers but no rock stars — the concept simply hadn’t been invented. Compared with cosmopolitan Anita, the Stones were like five grubby adolescents, awkward and hopelessly naive.
Jagger, then 22, slouched like a teenager on stage. Richards still wore trousers bought by his mother. ‘Except for Brian, all the Stones at that time were really suburban squares,’ Anita would tell a biographer many years later.
Yet in the span of a few years they’d be the unassailable superstars we know today. And they got all their strut and glamour from four women: Anita, the partner of Brian and later Keith; and Marsha Hunt, Marianne Faithfull and Bianca Jagger, partners of Mick.
These were the women who opened the doors to art and literature, who introduced them to their friends in politics and high society, who provided inspiration for the songs. The Stones were never so strong as when in their orbit.
But the women themselves would ultimately pay a high price to be the consorts of rock gods. Caught in the vortex of the biggest rock band in the world, they struggled hard to maintain their identities. Their own music contracts dried up. Money ran out. Their reputations were sullied.
Marianne, at first used as a foil to the Stones thanks to her virginal image, was later humiliated after being found draped only in a fur coverlet during a drug bust. So intolerable was the pressure that she nearly took her own life.
Bianca fled the totalitarian state of Nicaragua only to be trapped by Mick, a totalitarian husband. Anita’s own outrageous behaviour more than equalled Keith’s — but while he was celebrated, she was mocked and demeaned.
I believe it’s time to start questioning this received wisdom and narrative. It’s time these four women were given their rightful place in rock history.
After the infamous meeting in Munich, Brian soon found himself half of the Sixties’ hottest, most intoxicating couple. He and Anita were mad, bad and dangerous to know, tearing around London in Brian’s black Rolls-Royce and mesmerising the world’s Press.
Fellow rocker, The Who’s Pete Townshend, declared himself blown away by the pair who, he said, seemed to be ‘living on a higher plane of decadence’ than anyone he’d ever met.
Under Anita’s influence, Brian reinvented his look, styling himself in Edwardian ruffles, William Morris prints and Oscar Wilde frills. At identical heights and weights with matching fair hair, it was easy for them to swap clothes. They spent hours trading jewellery, scarves and velvet trousers. ‘When Brian turned up in Anita’s outfits,’ wrote Marianne, ‘it was the beginning of glam rock.’
After the infamous meeting in Munich, Brian soon found himself half of the Sixties’ hottest, most intoxicating couple. He and Anita (pictured) were mad, bad and dangerous to know
Mick and Keith were in danger of being left behind. Until now, the London scene had been dominated by late-Fifties rockers in grotty leather jackets, brawling in pubs. But a new aesthetic was emerging. Suddenly it was hip to read poetry, to talk about cosmology and conceptual art.
With her continental background and keen social instincts, mixing crowds came naturally to Italian-born Anita. Through her, the Stones were soon hobnobbing with her aristocratic hipster friends as well as old Etonian art dealers and politicians. The fascination was mutual — and unlike anything seen before in British society.
‘How Anita came to be with Brian,’ wrote Marianne, ‘is really the story of how the Stones became the Stones. She almost single-handedly engineered a cultural revolution in London by bringing together the Stones and the jeunesse doree [gilded youth].’
In 1966, Anita and Brian were photographed for Vogue. But all was not well with rock’s first couple, whose relationship had descended into violence.
In the early days their fights had a childish quality. He would tear up her books on mysticism and magic, she would set fire to his Scalextric. But before long it was not unusual to see Anita covered in bruises.
The end of their relationship came during a trip to Cannes. ‘It simply wasn’t worth it any more,’ she said. ‘I was fascinated by his talent, but all the side-effects weren’t worth it. Brian didn’t like the fact that I was working [as an actress and a model]. So when I came home with this big fat script, he tore it in half. Jealousy.’
Anita hadn’t been interested in Keith at first — skinny and painfully shy, crouched over his guitar and averting his gaze. He had none of Brian’s fallen angel hipness, yet in his own quiet way, Keith was more comfortable with Anita’s self-possession and his natural reticence made him more than happy to take a back seat. ‘She knew everything and could say it in five languages,’ he said. ‘She scared the pants off me.’
Keith and Anita would remain together for 13 years, becoming the parents of three children. In her orbit, he blossomed.
‘Keith was really a shy little guy — couldn’t come out of himself,’ remembered Anita. ‘And I had all this kind of Italian energy and outgoing personality, so it was really easy for me. And somehow it finally came out. He started to write songs and sing them himself. I thought it was wonderful.’
Like Brian before him, Keith seemed to turn androgynous, yet somehow more potently sexual. An aura of brooding malevolence began to emerge: headbands, black eyeliner, spiky bracelets and talismanic pendants.
‘Look at pictures of Keith before and after Anita,’ wrote rock journalist Rob Sheffield. ‘It’s like the difference between Buddy Holly and Jack the Ripper.’
He was coming into his own now, delving deep into his creative self. He no longer clung to Brian or Mick. Thanks to Anita, Keith tapped into something that would keep the band more relevant than their flower-child peers.
Jumpin’ Jack Flash, which he wrote at their country home in Sussex, came out in May 1968 with a promotional film featuring the band in gothic gear, most of which belonged to Anita. It topped both the British and American charts.
Though he had resented her at first, even Mick appreciated how Anita refreshed and galvanised the band. He started to pay more attention to her and even sought out her approval. ‘Mick seemed to delight in Anita’s sharp mind,’ wrote Stones associate Tony Sanchez. ‘Once, I heard Anita listen to a tape of Stray Cat Blues as Jagger patiently waited for her to tell him (as all the other lackeys had done) how brilliant it was.
‘Crap!’ she said. ‘The vocals are mixed too high and the bass isn’t loud enough.’ Mick was so unused to hearing someone dare criticise his work that he at once went back to the studio and had the number remixed.’
Only a fool would call Anita a muse. She was so much more than that — the central axis of the band. ‘At the rock ‘n’ roll round table occupied by the Stones,’ wrote the pop culture writer Robert Greenfield, ‘Anita is key. Whoever possesses her has the power.’
She had come into the Stones’ lives a year before Anita, at a drunken record label party. All four Beatles were there along with the Stones, pranking around like ‘spotty schoolboys’, she remembered. ‘My God,’ she’d thought. ‘What awful people.’ Then just 17 and a convent schoolgirl with dreams of being a singer, she’d gone to the event with her older boyfriend, John Dunbar.
She was approached by flamboyant Stones manager Andrew Oldham. ‘You have a contemporary face. I’m interested in you,’ he told her. ‘I can make you a star.’ Marianne dismissed the meeting, but a week later a telegram arrived with a Decca contract attached.
Like Anita, Marianne was of European origin — her mother was the Austrian aristocrat Baroness Eva Erisso. She was also sophisticated and well educated, and had once set her sights on Cambridge or the Royal Academy of Music to study classical singing. Although at first attracted to Keith — she would later confess that ‘the best night of her life’ had been one spent with him — Marianne fell in love with Mick during a song festival in San Remo, Italy.
For the media it was an irresistible story: young love, the rebel wins the angel, against the chic backdrop of continental music.
Unlike Brian, Mick was conventional to the core — Swiss bank accounts and Sunday crosswords, with a lust for the upper class. Before 1967 the books on his bedside table were only James Bond novels. All that changed when he met Marianne. ‘I taught him to open up to a whole new world — theatre, dance, pictures, furniture, fabrics, architecture,’ she wrote.
Marianne fell in love with Mick during a song festival in San Remo, Italy (pictured together c.1967)
Mick had never been to the ballet, so Marianne took him to several performances of Marius Constant’s Paradise Lost at the Royal Opera House. Naturally, Mick fell in love with Rudolf Nureyev, whose stark, flamboyant features resembled his own.
His sexually charged style inspired Mick’s stage antics and the ballet’s shocking finale — Nureyev leaping into a lipstick-red mouth — would appear repeatedly on later Stones tours. Ultimately the red lips became the band’s cheeky logo.
Mick hung on Marianne’s every word — she even got him interested in the history of lace. Through her, Mick met poets and artists. When the American poet Allen Ginsberg came to town she invited him to their Marylebone flat. Ginsberg perched at the foot of their bed, with Marianne and Mick naked inside it.
It was at these times that Marianne could see Mick’s boundaries break before her eyes. Here he was, the loutish playboy, chatting naked with a poet 17 years his senior about William Blake and the Marquis de Sade.
Marianne wasn’t just his girlfriend, she was his creative partner. ‘One of the things Mick liked about me was the way we discussed his ideas for his songs.
‘I was more educated than he was. I was very good with words. And when Mick was working on the words for a song, he’d go over them with me.’
When Marianne lent him her copy of Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master And Margarita, Mick latched on to the book’s apocalyptic themes and harnessed them into his 1968 hit single Sympathy For The Devil. ‘I think Mick did some of his best work in the period we were together,’ Marianne observed years later.
His songs seemed so much more important than the pop songs she sang — songs she didn’t even write. ‘It made me feel that I was doing something creative.
‘I think women can slip into that. Living through a man. Letting somebody use them and not thinking that it’s at all strange.’
At the time she didn’t question whether she should be credited for her work. But she would later tell an interviewer: ‘Now I think it’s very odd that I put myself at his disposal like that.’
Sister Morphine, a track she co-wrote with Mick and Keith in 1969, was the death-knell of their relationship. ‘I lost heart. I couldn’t stand it and broke away,’ she said. ‘I could see that the undisputed champion and winner of the rock ‘n’ roll stakes was going to be Mick. I would just have had to accept my fate and be Mick’s muse. The role of a muse is one of the acceptable ones for women, but it’s terrible.’
It was at this point, as the relationship finally fell apart, that she and Anita became casual lovers, taking baths together and trying on each other’s clothes. ‘I had a great deal more in common with Anita than with Mick,’ wrote Marianne.
Years later Marianne admitted to having loved Anita. ‘I would have done anything for her,’ she confessed.
MARSHA & BIANCA
Raised by women, the black American singer Marsha Hunt was intelligent, educated and independent, with zero interest in the sort of lifestyle the Stones embraced. Arriving in Britain in 1966, she worked her way around London’s blues scene before being offered a part in the iconic Sixties musical Hair.
In 1969 she appeared on Top Of The Pops wearing hotpants and a bolero top which revealed her breasts each time she raised her arms. ‘One reason I did it was because I was tired of English roses,’ she explained.
It was this departure from the English rose chanteuse that caught Mick’s eye and he asked her to appear in a promotional shoot. Marsha said no.
Mick, always encouraged by a woman’s refusal, was hooked. He showed up unannounced at her flat after midnight, grinning sheepishly in the doorway. He seemed like a lost schoolboy you’d invite in for tea — which is what Marsha did. That night they laughed so much she feared they’d wake her roommate — the sort of laughter that had long been absent from Mick’s life, with his constant worries about the band, women and lawyers.
Raised by women, the black American singer Marsha Hunt was intelligent, educated and independent, with zero interest in the sort of lifestyle the Stones embraced
To Marsha he seemed inexplicably lost, and she could tell that Jagger, the world’s most famous rock star, was desperately lonely. Why was he so open with her when with others he was often distant and aloof? Whatever the reason, Marsha sensed that he needed to confide in her.
And although she had been sleeping with him since night one, she saw him as more of a friend than a lover. Mick admiringly referred to her steadfast reliability as ‘butch’. The side he showed her was gentle, vulnerable and sincere. Marsha would go on to become pregnant with his first child and thus play a key role in his life.
But by the time their daughter Karis was born in 1970, Mick was already in thrall to the woman who would become his first wife.
Raised in the twilight of Nicaragua’s crumbling oligarchy, Bianca Perez-Mora Macias was as far from the Sixties zeitgeist as you could get. She had no interest in acid, druids or mysticism.
Everything about her was angular and severe, from her cheekbones to her politics. She was everything Anita couldn’t stand. Mick fell in love instantly.
Bianca was different to any girl he had ever been with. The blatant vulgarity of rock culture shocked her — her preference was for lawyers and politicians.
Swiftly, she became Mick’s new confidante and he relied on her support. The Stones’ Goodbye Britain tour of 1971 was ramshackle rough — just the way Anita and Keith liked it. But Mick needed consistency and control, and Bianca provided it.
The shows were wildly erratic with frequent delays, often resulting in angry booing audiences. Mick would feign nonchalance, then privately collapse into Bianca’s arms. But the relationship was not to last. Shortly after their marriage in St Tropez, he began sleeping with Anita and in 1976 he met the young Texan model Jerry Hall, his future partner and the mother of four of his children.
Mick Jagger, singer with The Rolling Stones pictured together with Bianca Perez-Mora Macias (Bianca Jagger) at their civic wedding ceremony in Saint Tropez, France on 12th May 1971
When Bianca told him about a book she was working on about nutrition, ‘I thought he was going to say ‘that’s wonderful’. Instead he said: ‘Why do you need to write a book? Why throw away a year of your life?’ Mick is in some ways a misogynist,’ she said.
‘I don’t know if he’d be too happy if I were that successful. Men don’t want you to be independent, because then you will escape them.’
Finally in control of her life after years of heroin addiction, Marianne released an album in 1979 called Broken English which became a huge seller and she went on to enjoy a successful career, collaborating with artists such as Damon Albarn and Nick Cave.
Anita also got clean and studied for a textile degree at Central Saint Martin’s, later becoming a respected fashion designer before her death in 2017.
She lives on through her swashbuckling rock-and-roll style, routinely referenced by designers. Kate Moss, Alexa Chung and Courtney Love all cite Anita as their prime style icon.
After two decades of singing and acting, Marsha turned her attention to writing, penning six novels, two memoirs and a book about Jimi Hendrix, and in 1995 founded the Saga Prize for black British novelists.
Bianca became a humanitarian campaigner, work which she continues to this day, and is the recipient of numerous prestigious awards.
The end of the Stones’ golden age had come in 1972, with the release of their album Exile On Main Street. It was all about the concerts now and the brand.
In the end it was the creative women who surrounded them who, as the decades have proved, were the real rebels, progressives and mavericks.
Their rightful legacy endures, undimmed.
- Adapted from Parachute Women by Elizabeth Winder, to be published on July 27 by Hachette, £25. © 2023 Elizabeth Winder. To order a copy for £22.50 go to mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3176 2937. Free UK delivery on orders over £25. Promotional price valid until 30/07/2023.