Centenary Pop Culture


The image of Mick Jagger in front of his beloved DB6 epitomises the decade that, more than any other over the past century, signaled a seismic change in British society, writes Jon Savage

Photographs by Gered Mankowitz

With that now famous pout already perfected, a youthful Mick Jagger poses for Gered Mankowitz with the DB6 in the summer of 1966

With that now famous pout already perfected, a youthful Mick Jagger poses for Gered Mankowitz with the DB6 in the summer of 1966

It’s the perfect high sixties image: a long-haired, exotically dressed young man sitting informally in front of a beautiful top-of-the-range sports car. It’s in a mews somewhere, either in New York or London. The background drapery and ladder gives the whole shot a stagey air, as though the young man sitting cross- legged on the cobbles has just seen someone else’s expensive car and cheekily popped into the frame. But he does own it, and that is the crux of this drama.

'Mick was in an excellent mood all day. We hung out and took a load of silly images of him generally taking the mickey out of the 'at home' format' - Gered Mankowit

“Mick was in an excellent mood all day. We hung out and took a load of silly images of him generally taking the mickey out of the ‘at home’ format.” - Gered Mankowit

In the early summer of 1966, Mick Jagger celebrated his new wealth by splashing out an estimated £25,000 on a brand new Aston Martin DB6, at that time the marque’s latest, state-of-the-art tourer. (It had been launched the previous autumn.) He was the lead singer of The Rolling Stones, who at that point were second only to The Beatles in terms of fame and international success. In outrage and rebelliousness, they were without peer.

The Rolling Stones had begun by covering American R&B and blues songs, but that had a limited shelf life. Pushed by manager Andrew Loog Oldham, they began to write their own material and there then ensued an extraordinary sequence of self-penned hits. Between spring 1965 and early summer 1966, the Stones had four number one hits and a number two in the UK. In the US they had six top tens and three number ones. All were written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.

By spring 1966, the money was beginning to flow in. Still only 22, Mick Jagger was becoming very rich. Behind the rebellious image, he was also — if you watch Peter Whitehead’s documentary of the Stones’ brief autumn 1965 Irish tour, Charlie is My Darling — a self-aware and canny young man who was, at the same time, becoming a key member of the new pop aristocracy.

The shot was taken in by Gered Mankowitz in June 1966 in a London mews, just off Baker Street: Jagger had recently moved into a flat in Harley House, near the top end of Harley Street, between Marylebone Road and Regent’s Park. The idea was to show The Rolling Stones “at home”, a then standard fan magazine trope. Still only a teenager himself at the time, Gered was the closest photographer to the group. He remembers that “Mick was in an excellent mood all day. We hung out and took a load of silly images of him generally taking the mickey out of the ‘at home’ format.”

The registration number of the DB6 is KJJ4D — the number for 1966

In a contact sheet from the shoot, you can see more details. The registration number of the DB6 is KJJ4D—the number for 1966. It has wire wheels and the distinctive, aerodynamic Kammback rear end. Jagger is dressed in the height of fashion: a short, pin-striped double-breasted jacket (Twenties gangster style) with slightly flared flannel trousers, topped off with a wide-collared shirt and a hand-made kipper tie. He is obviously proud of his new purchase.

The generally distributed image shows the power of selection. In the contact sheet, Jagger is placed standing in or near the car or sitting in the boot. He runs through a variety of expressions: amused, wistful, even vaguely bored. The final pose has the look familiar to those who loved and hated the Stones in 1966: full-lipped, with a full stare and the hint of a frown. It’s both arrogant and narcissistic: it says, “I make no excuses for who I am. I am entitled to own this car. I am entitled to do what I want.”

In the 21st century, images of young men with expensive cars are two-a-penny. The footballer with his top-of-the-range, limited edition Merc or Beamer—almost never a British model—is beyond a cliché. But in 1966, this was something very new: the fact that a young man from a non-elite background could own such a car was surprising enough, but when twinned with such an attitude, it was positively subversive, if not inflammatory.

The cover of Time magazine’s memorable "Swinging London" issue

The previous generation of pop stars—such as Cliff Richard and Billy Fury—had been grateful, if not subservient, to their social superiors. If you look at any early 1960s film, like Cliff’s The Young Ones or Fury’s Play It Cool, you’ll see a lot of forelock tugging. No such accommodation was offered by the Stones: they were surly, rude, obnoxious and flagrantly lacking in redemptive qualities. They were Punk before the event, creatures of the Teenage Id.

Around the time that the DB6 shot was taken, the Stones’ latest record was at the top of the charts. “Paint It, Black” was a blast of nihilism, a howl of anguish and rage set to a relentless, driving beat. The prominent use of sitar did not portend transcendence, but rather added an abrasive, exotic texture to a song that continued, and extended, the group’s run of sarcastic, hostile 45s: “The Last Time”, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”, “Get Off of My Cloud” and “19th Nervous Breakdown”.

“The mid-Sixties pop groups were part of a wider social change in which restrictive and moralistic attitudes were relaxed”

This manic assertion went hand in hand with international recognition. The month before “Paint It, Black” topped the charts, Time magazine produced its famous “Swinging London” issue. This ratified the process that had begun in 1964, when the extraordinary, unprecedented global success of The Beatles helped to rebrand the UK not as a fading empire, but as Pop Island, a place where youth from across the classes could be creative, famous and rich. For the first time, youth was not stifled but prized.

Die-cast DB5 from Goldfinger Corgi models of Aston Martin cars from the Bond films Die-cast models from Skyfall

Die-cast models of some of the Aston Martins featured in the Bond film series

It was The Beatles who changed the mould. Once successful, they did not relapse into cabaret or light entertainment, but continued to change and grow—like the good art students they had been. If the Sixties saw the full introduction of the American teenage ideal to the UK—the idea of youth as an autonomous consumer rather than a mini-adult or a soldier—then the musicians of the day were going to reflect teenage qualities in their music and art. The Rolling Stones’ position in the marketplace were that they were the anti-Beatles, so they were even more uncompromising in their propagation of teenage attitudes. There was much discussion of youth values in 1966, or lack of values: the opinion of many adults was summarised by the book title Just Me and Noboby Else, a popular study of youth attitudes published that year. To many people, Mick Jagger embodied that kind of selfishness and lack of empathy.

Playboy bunnies on the Aston Martin stand at the 1966 London Motor Show

To this extent, both The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were cultural revolutionaries. It’s hard to remember now just how much Britain was still in thrall to Victorian values during the mid-Sixties: knowing your place, kotowing to authority, living a life dictated by church morality. Whatever they actually thought about these issues—and most of them couldn’t wait to shake off these restrictions—the major Sixties pop groups embodied the future: they both sang of and enacted a new kind of freedom.

For example, until the mid-Sixties, high performance cars were usually modelled with young ladies and, indeed, Aston Martin’s appearance at the 1966 London Motor Show was enhanced by some Playboy “bunnies”; the Playboy Club had opened that year. In contrast Mick Jagger embodies a new kind of masculinity: dandyish, androgynous, at home with being the object of desire. (Although in Jagger’s case, this did not extend to any let-up in the misogyny of songs such as “Stupid Girl” and “19th Nervous Breakdown”.)

The mid-Sixties pop groups were part of a wider social change in which restrictive and moralistic attitudes were relaxed. The period saw major changes in the laws relating to divorce, gender equality, and homosexuality, as well as a new definition of what it was to be young. Most Fifties teenagers had succumbed to traditional adulthood by their early twenties, but the generation coming of age in the mid-Sixties broke new ground. Adolescence wasn’t just a phase, it was a way of life.

These freedoms—and their downside—might be familiar today, but in 1966 this was new and exciting. Even though there were very few people who were actually able to live in this way, freedom from Victorian values became an object of aspiration among many teenagers and this breakthrough triggered the major changes of the late-Sixties and beyond. By then, of course, owning an Aston would have been something about which you’d have been a little more discreet.

Paul McCartney at the wheel of his DB6 with a fan Dave Clark with an E-type Jaguar John Lennon in a psychedelic mini, owned by fellow Beatle George Harrison

Paul McCartney at the wheel of his DB6 with a fan; Dave Clark with an E-type Jaguar; John Lennon in a psychedelic mini, owned by fellow Beatle George Harrison

In 1966, it was still possible to be a cutting-edge teenage star and to own a beautiful, elite car. At that point, there was no apparent contradiction. In Swinging London, everything was fused together in the promotion of a nation: fashion, music, architecture, club life—even the capital city. Sarcastic teenage attitudes could go hand in hand with flagrant spending: indeed, that was part of the point, that youth culture was the spearhead of the consumer society within the UK.

As a British marque, Aston Martin had an integral part in this rebranding. It had been thrust into the forefront of Britishness when a DB5—then the latest model—was featured in the third James Bond film, Goldfinger, premiered in September 1964. That same year, Beatles Paul McCartney and George Harrison bought the same model: a substantial endorsement from the biggest group in the world. In early 1966, McCartney also acquired a DB6.

There were other famous pop star cars: the Mini Cooper (John Lennon), the Rolls-Royce Phantom V (John Lennon, Brian Jones), the E-type Jaguar (most famously in the cover shot for the Dave Clark Five’s Catch Us If You Can album). But the Aston Martin was the most iconic of the lot, radiating speed, luxury, futuristic styling and Britishness.

In 1966, the modernity of Mick Jagger and the Aston Martin DB6 were perfectly matched. Pop culture had become unitary, centralised and futuristic. The medium was the Top 30 and that’s where you heard it, squeezed into two- or three-minute songs. Groups like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Yardbirds and The Who were all breaking new ground in technology, subject matter and attitude. They all seemed to be moving faster than anyone else.

Yet 1966 was also the year that the extraordinary forward thrust of Sixties pop culture began to slacken. The pace was killing. The demands of success were tiring out the culture leaders: The Beatles gave up touring in August, and disappeared from the public eye. Ray Davies of The Kinks had a nervous collapse, while even Jagger was briefly hospitalised for “exhaustion” in the early summer—soon after the Aston Martin photo. And the groups’ arrogance was beginning to stoke adult hostility.

In his second volume of autobiography, 2Stoned, Stones’ manager Andrew Loog Oldham remembers how, in 1966, “you could sense the change and chaos on the horizon. There was a backlash coming. The Stones spending more time at home—framed by a perception of wealth with a non-stop life of chauffeurs, loafers, Rolls-Royces, Aston Martins, shopping, clubs, clothes, mates, hangers-on and dolly birds—was going to get on the proverbial British tit, and it would only be a matter of deadlines before the UK press would suss the mood of a nation and reflect it”.

There’s another photo of Mick Jagger and the DB6 from that year, but it’s quite different. It shows an irritated looking singer — very much the pop star in his velvet trousers, late mod haircut and white shoes — talking to a policeman with a motorcycle helmet: the DB6 has been involved in a collision with a Ford Anglia belonging to the Countess of Carlisle in central London, near Jagger’s Marylebone flat. The passenger-side rear door and back wing is badly dented.

Jagger talks to a policeman beside his damaged DB6 after a collision in central London in 1966

Jagger talks to a policeman beside his damaged DB6 after a collision in central London in 1966

Within a few months, both Jagger and Keith Richards were arrested on drugs charges, after a sting sponsored by the News of the World. The newspaper had recorded Brian Jones pontificating about drugs in a nightclub, but published his statements under Jagger’s name. When the reasonably abstemious Jagger sued, the paper informed the police about a possible drugs party at Keith Richards’ Sussex home, Redlands, and the arrests ensued.

After that, The Rolling Stones were pariahs. Jagger and Richards were tried and convicted in June and July 1967, and their case became a cause célèbre, a national talking point. The Stones became symbols of the generation gap that had opened up on the topics of drugs, war and teenage rights. Whether they believed it or not, the Stones were leaders of the underground, and would be irrevocably associated with youth culture as it became more political and more divisive.

Five decades since Gered Mankowitz shot Mick Jagger and his Aston Martin DB6 on a light-hearted summer’s day in London, this photo can now be seen to symbolise the Sixties at their zenith. It’s a perfect combination of youth, style, speed and wealth, and it represents a moment of unselfconscious fusion that would soon dissipate under the weight of generational expectation and its backlash. The year 1966 was complex enough, but in some ways things were still simple. Perhaps that’s why this iconic picture of man and machine is still so modern.