08/06/2005 08:54 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Rolling Stones and Corporate Whores

The Rolling Stones catalogue has just been released on iTunes, and a quick perusal of it makes a few things obvious.

1) They used to be really good.
2) Now, they suck.
3) It's very likely that they've put out more greatest hits albums than albums of new material.
4) They are corporate whores.

Actually, I don't mention #4 because of iTunes, but because of the excruciatingly bad Ameriquest ads all over television at the moment. They feature a guy in a suit who's supposed to be in the front rows of a Stones concert—and boy, there's a telling image—although I think the crowd is actually superimposed on footage of the Stones playing. He's talking about how Ameriquest, which is a mortgage company, is sponsoring the new Rolling Stones tour.

This is such a bummer for so many reasons....

I guess there's a certain appropriateness to the fact that a rock and roll tour by a group of sexagenarians is being sponsored by a mortgage company. But for the consumer, what exactly does sponsorship mean? Other than a barrage of poorly-produced ads?

The Rolling Stones were the first band ever to have a tour sponsored. Back in 1981, after a deal with Schlitz beer fell through, Jovan Musk (also high on the list of deeply uncool sponsors) paid the band $500,000 to underwrite the tour. Since then, Budweiser and Sprint have paid significantly more.

The band originally explained this sell-out as a way of keeping ticket prices down, but that's a rationale they don't even try to throw against the wall anymore, because they know it won't stick. Every time they hit the road, the Stones charge the highest ticket prices in the world of music—face value for Stones tickets is often in the hundreds of dollars.

If these guys have managed their money well, they must all be worth in the nine figures. And yet, they constantly debase what's left of their reputation ( through sponsorship, playing corporate gigs and birthday parties, licensing their songs to Microsoft, etc.) in their lust for lucre. How much money do they need to be happy?

The idea that rock 'n roll is free of commercial corruption has, of course, never been true. But there are degrees. There are still artists like Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young and Tom Petty, who a) don't accept sponsorship and don't license their music, and b) manage to keep their ticket prices down nonetheless.

I'm weird, but I have this naive idea that greed is wrong (which is one reason I can't watch "The Apprentice"). It often feels like a losing battle, and maybe it's just because I'm a writer, so I have to rationalize my relative poverty. But it also makes me really appreciate people who could make a lot of money by selling out yet feel the same way.

Next on the musical whore list: Sheryl Crow...