IN the middle of another seasonal X Factor melodrama, when the business of pop is at its most corporate and calculating, the last thing you need is the Rolling Stones reminding you of the industry's relentless money-syphoning side.

The bare facts aren't encouraging: the Stones, celebrating their 50th anniversary, have repackaged their greatest hits for what seems like the tenth time. The cover of the new album, Grrr! features a gorilla with the trademark lapping tongue, and more than anything he reminds you of the drumming gorilla from that Cadbury's advert. There are only two new songs. Though they might be OK live (the Stones, in concert, are a formidable proposition), you instinctively know they won't be joining the canon of Stones classics.

The anniversary is being marked with just five concerts – two in London, three in the US – with ticket prices that, in London at least, start at £90 and go up to £950 for a VIP package. Keith Richards says prices are "about right to us"; Ronnie Wood says rehearsals and staging have already cost them a few million quid: "We feel no bad thing about ticket prices," he insists. "We've got to make something."

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For all this, there's something about the Stones' history that keeps you watching. The new documentary, Crossfire Hurricane – part one of which was screened on BBC 2 last weekend – reminds you of the startling effect they had on 1960s culture. I like Nick Kent's recollection of the moment he first saw them, in 1964: "Just hair, big lips and a collective aura of rampaging insolence," he writes. The birth of the 1960s culture as an "oasis of unbridled hedonism", Kent adds, began the moment they walked onto the stage. That sounds about right.

The best of the Stones music, too, has an edge unblunted by time. Gimme Shelter, 19th Nervous Breakdown, Jumpin' Jack Flash, Sympathy for the Devil, Street Fighting Man, Paint It Black, Tumbling Dice. The great albums, too: Exile on Main Street, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers. It's a remarkable legacy (enshrined in Richards's colourful memoir) and if the Stones themselves have found it hard to live up to, wandering in and out of fashion over the years, it says much that they're still with us, still able to renew themselves and still being discovered afresh by new generations.