Two Stones Reminisce, but Not in Tempo : The legacy of myths and hits are dissected by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards
It was easy to tell from the length of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards’ answers which one was more interested in talking about the Rolling Stones’ past.
Jagger, nursing a slight cold in his dressing room before the first of the band’s two sold-out concerts at 50,000-capacity R.F.K. Stadium, was good-natured enough to give his reactions to a reporter’s list of 10 favorite Rolling Stones songs.
But Jagger’s brief answers--no more than a frown on one occasion--reflected his dislike of what he calls the media’s “mythological” approach to the band whose place in rock is rivaled only by the Beatles.
By contrast, Richards, in a separate backstage interview, was far more enthusiastic when reminiscing about some of the classic Stones songs. Like Jagger, he feels it is essential to keep playing new material to avoid being viewed as simply an oldies revue. Unlike his songwriting partner, however, Richards, 45, isn’t uncomfortable talking about the Stones’ legacy.
“You don’t go around all the time thinking about it,” Richards said. “But every once in a while on stage, when you’re having a great night, you think, ‘Jesus, this has been an amazing band.’ ”
Jagger, 46, may share that enthusiasm some days, but not on this particular one. “I’ve seen too many people trapped by their past and destroyed by it--destroyed as people and as musicians,” Jagger said. “The media makes it easy for you to fall into that trap, especially the older journalists because they have this mythological approach to the band.
“I’ve noticed it in the interviews on the tour and I don’t want that burden. I don’t want to spend my life having to live up to someone’s idea of the ‘importance’ of the Stones,” he added, a bit impatiently.
“We could (fuel) that mythology by making ourselves less accessible, refusing to do interviews and act like we were some kind of elusive gods. But you also have to work against it on a personal level. You have to refuse to believe the myth and refuse to lean on your success. You have to go out and earn the success on the new tour.”
Like most pop performers, Jagger and Richards balked at coming up with a list of their own favorite Stones songs, but they agreed to comment on a list of my 10 favorites--including how they rate the song and what memories may be associated with it. The 10 songs are listed chronologically.
A No. 1 single in 1965.
JAGGER: “Very obvious choice, but it is still a real good song. It has to be up there on my list. The thing I remember is the combination of the drum and the guitar lick . . . a great sound. That’s the thing about the record. It’s not just the song, it’s the great sound . I knew right away that was something special . . . that if we were around for a long time, it would be with us.”
RICHARDS: “It was one of my great blind spots. I didn’t recognize it as a great song when we wrote it. In fact, I thought of it as filler. We really literally cut it because we had to be out of the studio that night and back on tour, and we needed another track. It was just so simple in a way and that whole fuzzbox seemed a bit gimmicky. When they said it was going to be the first single out of that bunch of sessions, I remember objecting. It took me a long while to say, ‘Yeah, that’s really a good record.’ ”
‘Out of Time’
From the “Flowers” album (1967).
JAGGER (frowning). “. . . It’s just not very good.”
(Jagger’s reaction was so drastic, I changed the selection to a more upbeat song from the same period when going through the list with Richards.)
‘Let’s Spend the Night Together’
From “Flowers . “
RICHARDS: “That song and ‘Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby,’ were both variations on a piano riff I had going. ‘Mother,’ in fact, was the first song I wrote on the piano and it was a big breakthrough because it told me I could write on the piano as well as the guitar. So, both songs have a good place in my memory.”
‘Sympathy for the Devil’
From “Beggar’s Banquet” (1968) .
JAGGER: “It was interesting because of the subject matter, which was real unusual for pop. The song was one of the first times I wrote all of the melody, though Keith really helped me with the tempo and arrangement. I was reading Baudelaire or some other poet and I just decided to write on that subject. It’s definitely one of my favorites.”
RICHARDS: “It was amazing to watch the metamorphosis of that song. It started off like a Bob Dylan tune, very folky, but it didn’t sound quite right and we kept poking around with it. By the time the record was finished, I was really pleased. That would be quite high on my list.
‘Honky Tonk Women’
A No. 1 single in 1969.
JAGGER: “I remember being with Keith in Brazil and writing it. It started as a pure country song, the way ‘Country Honk’ is on the ‘Let It Bleed’ album. All the really popular songs are hard for me to rank because you’ve heard them so much over the years. But I do like that one. I still enjoy singing it.”
RICHARDS: “Great for its sound. That’s another record which is interesting for the way it developed. It was written like ‘Country Honk,’ but then we were saying, ‘Let’s just change it around a bit'--and it was amazing to watch it become something altogether different. It would definitely be in my Top 10.”
‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’
From “Let It Bleed” (1969).
JAGGER: “Pretty high for me. It has stood up very well.”
RICHARDS: “Great song, beautiful song. Mick wrote that and it just fell in. He had the lyrics and the chord sequence. It was just a matter of pulling out the sound and adding a choir and French horns. As a song, I’d place it very high.”
From “Sticky Fingers” (1971).
JAGGER: “A good song, but a bit weepy.”
RICHARDS: “Very proud of that. I was hanging with Gram Parsons at the time and he later recorded the song. Lots of feeling in the song and in the record. I came up with the chords and the chorus and Mick filled in the verses. Real high for me.”
From “Sticky Fingers . “
JAGGER: “Good rocker. It’d be in my top half, I suppose.”
RICHARDS: “It was Mick’s idea and it was pure elation to play on it. We did it in Muscle Shoals (Ala.) and the song just flowed out . . . so easy . . . an amazing session. Every time you hit a special groove or riff, it’s like finding something you never knew was there. But it feels so natural, so right--as if it has always been part of you. After it’s over, you think you’ll never come up with something quite so special again, but then it does come and it’s always like magic.”
From “Sticky Fingers . “
JAGGER: “One of my attempts at writing a country song. Good fun, not meant to be taken too seriously.”
RICHARDS: “A little bit of Hank Williams there. Maybe Gram Parsons had something to do with it as well. Gram and I used to listen to country music all the time. Country has always been a much larger part of rock ‘n’ roll than most people think. It adds another flavor to the music, gives you more room to maneuver.”
From “Exile on Main Street” (1972) .
JAGGER (shrugging): “I can’t quite understand the appeal of that song. It’s good, I suppose, but not great, nowhere near the top for me.”
RICHARDS: “I love that one. It’s funny some of the songs you are picking were not all that successful at first. ‘Can’t Always Get What You Want’ was the backside of a single. ‘Sympathy’ wasn’t a huge hit and ‘Tumbling’ came off of ‘Exile,’ a double album which was universally panned as being murky and indulgent. But four years later critics began holding it up to us and saying, ‘Why can’t you work like this again?’ But this was always a classic for me . . . the way it cracked in, a beautiful riff. There’s something about all the songs you have mentioned that makes them difficult to talk about because they almost slip off your fingers without you realizing it, they’re so natural.”
‘Start Me Up’
From “Tattoo You” (1981) .
JAGGER: “I like it very much, a very good rocker. The funny thing is it was a track we ignored for a long time because it veered off into this reggae thing. When we were making ‘Tattoo You,’ I went back to the early takes of ‘Start Me Up’ and I found this one version and wrote the words.”
RICHARDS: “I always divide our songs into the rockers and the ballads, and this is one of my favorite rockers. ‘All Down the Line’ is another. We did like 45 versions of ‘Start Me Up’ and 44 of them were reggae. We must have spent all night working on the song in that reggae vein and then--just for a break--tried it a different way, just for a change of pace, and then gone back to the reggae style. It was years later when we found this (the rock) version again.”