Does the title ''The World's Greatest Rock & Roll Band,'' once bestowed, remain applicable in perpetuity, like ''President'' or ''Mayor''? That's just one of the questions raised by According to the Rolling Stones, a handsome, weighty new tome filled with vintage pics and off-the-cuff reminiscences by Mick, Keith, Charlie, Ron, and others. By most yardsticks, the Stones could have once legitimately laid claim to being rock's top dogs. These days, however, at best they're venerable journeymen capably plying a familiar trade; at worst, shameless nostalgia merchants pandering to those old enough to remember when they seemed truly dangerous.
Still, folks have been cutting these fellas slack for years, and ''According to...'' covers so much territory so engrossingly that one is willing to continue doing so. Curiously, the book feels more satisfying than any of those tell-alls by friends and ex-employees. While authorized bios tend to be compromised, the colloquial, here's-the-way-we-remember-things flavor of the Stones' recollections makes this a must-read. (Despite appreciations by everyone from ex-J. Geils Band singer Peter Wolf to USA Today critic Edna Gundersen, guitarist Mick Taylor -- a Stone for six years -- is oddly MIA.) There aren't real bombshells here but, to their credit, neither do the bandmates attempt to whitewash the ebony marks on their legacy. Would you expect any less of the guys who gave us ''Paint It Black''?
And we mustn't forget the photos. Turn to virtually any page and you'll lose yourself in a rock fantasy: Here are the boys in '63, grinning awkwardly on a London street; here's Mick in '69, looking like a dissolute young god; here's Ron in '75, smoking a cigarette like it's the most enjoyable activity ever. And check out Keith -- in '64, '68, '72, '75, '83, '91, and so on -- looking sublimely, elegantly wasted! Sure, it's only rock & roll, but we like it. Yes we do!