Sir Michael Philip Jagger was born in Dartford, Kent, England on July 26, 1943. He turns 78 today. I thought we might take a look back at some of his work with Keith Richards and the Rolling Stones that has stayed with me over the years. Even with an hour’s worth of the music, however, I know we are like giraffes munching on the top of the trees.
Even though I find myself suffering a few of the infirmities of age, I still think like a 16-year-old, or like I did as a 16-year-old. I am naturally contrarian. I hate having a line shoved down my throat. I don’t trust authority. I will never get over Dylan or the Beatles, but Mick’s work with the Stones supports my frame of mind.
The Stones started as a blues cover band and helped familiarize many of us with the great American blues and soul artists. One day in 1963, the Beatles sold the Stones on recording the Lennon/McCartney number “I Wanna Be Your Man” as a single. It worked out for the Stones and seemed to have the effect of encouraging them to write their own music.
Forgive me for omitting your favorite songs, knowing less than I should, and making any errors that have crept in below. This is just for fun. I haven’t even included all my own favorite songs. Mostly skipping over the hits, I want to highlight a few cover songs and originals that have made an impression on me.
“Route 66” is off their first album, I enjoy their version even if its betrays Mick’s unfamiliarity with Winona (Arizona). When in doubt, slur the words.
In the United States we got an elegant version of Chuck Berry’s “Around and Around” on the aptly titled 12 x 5 album. They had mastered the vocabulary of rock and roll.
“She Said Yeah” is another cover, this one from December’s Children (And Everybody’s). Written by Sonny Bono and Roddy Jackson, the song had originally been recorded by Larry Williams, one of John Lennon’s favorite American artists. Sonny also co-wrote the Searchers’ hit “Needles and Pins,” wherein we learned that the correct pronunciation of “pins” was “pin-zuh.”
“Ruby Tuesday” was released in 1967 as the B side of “Let’s Spend the Night Together.” This is a Jagger-Richards original that showed off their impressive flowering as songwriters.
With Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, and Exile on Main St., the Stones hit their stride. All four albums were produced by the late Jimmy Miller, who was an essential contributor to their excellence. My friend Judy Miller, the former New York Times correspondent, lovingly remembered her brother in the memoir The Story and in the column “Mr. Jimmy.”
Jagger and Richards were writing great rock and roll songs. “Street Fighting Man” is one of them from Beggars Banquet. Speaking of attitude…
There are few weak tracks on these four albums. “No Expectations” is another good Jagger-Richards number from Beggar’s Banquet.
Jimmy Miller also produced “Honky Tonk Women” for the Stones in 1969. Jimmy played the cowbell — in just the right amount. By this time the Stones had incorporated country, blues, and soul music into their songwriting. It was a monster single.
Let It Bleed is great from beginning to end — beginning with “Gimme Shelter”…
And ending with “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”
But I don’t want to pass over “Monkey Man.”
“Moonlight Mile” is off Sticky Fingers, the album with the Andy Warhol cover. I wish I still had my copy.
I don’t think there is a better number on Exile than “Tumbling Dice.”
“Sweet Black Angel” is another good one.
Leaving the 70’s, “Waiting on a Friend” came as something of a surprise. It seemed to leave the poses behind.
The Stones are of course a great live band that featuring Mick as the front man. They put fantastic touring bands together for their live shows. “Just My Imagination” is a classic Temptations’ number from the live-in-performance film Shine a Light, filmed at the intimate Beacon Theater on New York’s Upper West Side.
“Sweet Virginia” is a number they rescued from Exile for the live album Stripped.
“Eazy Sleazy” is Mick’s most recent recording, this one with Dave Grohl. He explains that he “wanted to share this song that I wrote about eventually coming out of lockdown, with some much needed optimism – thank you to Dave Grohl for jumping on drums, bass and guitar[.]” The optimism may be premature, but the attitude survives.