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John Mayer Talks Sting, Gwen Stefani, and the Best Lyric of All Time

The Grammy-winning singer-songwriter confesses undying love for Lionel Richie, Debbie Gibson and Gwen Stefani

April 3, 2003
john mayer 2003
John Mayer during rehearsal for the 45th Annual Grammy Awards in New York.
M. Caulfield/WireImage

John Mayer by the numbers: six feet four, twenty-five years old, 2.5 million albums sold, one Grammy. "I don't have the Grammy yet," Mayer says. "It will be here soon. I'm going to put a 40-gig hard drive in it, a fire-wire port and a little speaker. I'm turning it into an MP3 player." It's "Your Body Is a Wonderland" – the second single from his major-label debut, Room for Squares – that won him the Grammy for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance, beating out his idol, Sting, and one of his early supporters, Elton John. Mayer is a motormouth from Connecticut who's been touring relentlessly for most of the past three years. With a live album and DVD, Any Given Thursday, just out, he's settling into new Manhattan digs to begin work on another record. "New York's a great equalizer for someone like myself," he says. "Coming off this Tilt-A-Whirl for the last two years – there is no special treatment here.

It's, 'Fuck you! Get in line with the rest of us!' It's New York City."

What's the first record you ever bought?
Rock and Roll Over, by Kiss. I traced that album cover many times. But the first LP I bought with my own money was Debbie Gibson's Out of the Blue. "Only in My Dreams," "Shake Your Love" – she was writing and producing that shit in her garage! That's unrivaled even today.

Who is the greatest singer-songwriter of all time?
History tells me Bob Dylan. That's the answer I want to give you. Artists like Dylan and Robert Johnson are unequivocally great, but I listen to it under an archival light, like I'm going to a library. So, personally, it's gotta be Sting.

How would you answer the claim that post-Police, Sting sucks?
I can name just as many great Sting songs as Police songs. Just as many. He's great at being consistent. Even if it's not your cup of tea, it's stayed not your cup of tea in the same way it's not your cup of tea, while getting better at being not your cup of tea for the last fifteen years, ya know? Sting just makes sense to me. He's coming from a jazz place. It's got a rhythmic swing. It's brilliant stuff.

What's on your iPod?
I don't download music, but I do have an iPod. That's probably not the norm, but it's due to the fact that I can afford to go to Virgin Megastore and spend $300 on twenty CDs. I collect music. I think downloading has stolen more from the love of collecting music than it has from artists. I don't know how to download. I tried to find songs, but I never fucking can. It always says "connecting" or "waiting in line." You wait in line longer on any of these file-sharing things than at a Virgin.

When's the last time you went to Virgin? And what did you buy?
About a week ago. I took every Bonnie Raitt album out of there, and bought Hall and Oates' greatest hits CD. That shit changed my life. Changed my life all over again.

If you could put together a dream concert, who'd be on the bill?
Do I close?

Sure. Who should open for you?
All right – Mayerfest. I'd put Stevie Wonder on it, with the Roots backing him up. Then I'd put on the reformed Police. I think they're getting back together.

What's your favorite Behind the Music?
Alice Cooper. On Behind the Music, the traditional decline of the artist happens about thirty-four minutes into the show. Do you know what caused Alice Cooper's decline? Alice drank too much beer. That's all! Not beer mixed with heroin. Alice Cooper, with the blood and guts and the gore onstage – his only devil was beer. Just had too much barley. Too many hops.

What songs make you dance?
Justin Timberlake's "Like I Love You" – the louder it gets, the better it gets. And what I believe to be the best dance song of all time, Lionel Richie's "All Night Long," and in parentheses, "All Night." You can feel the warm summer night. You can hear the crickets calling and answering.

Who's the hottest female rocker?
Oh, my God, Gwen Stefani. I was late on the SS Stefani. I didn't make it to the dock in time. But now I'm on it big-time.

You're still too late.
That's OK. I'm on it. She's the perfect combination of bulldog and daisy. Absolutely amazing. She has a sweetness to her that never leaves, even when she's crawling around the stage like a spider. I don't even mean it in a "Boy, would I want to bang Gwen Stefani" way. But I sure would want to grab her ass.

What's the best lyric of all time?
Well, I think that the best song is Jeff Buckley's "Lover, You Should've Come Over." But then there's the best line of all time, which isn't in that song. Bruce Springsteen wrote it, and it's the reason that he should have won Album of the Year. I love Norah [Jones], I think Norah is amazing. But in "My City of Ruins," where he sings, "There's tears on the pillow/Darling, where we slept/You took my heart/When you left" – it's the greatest line ever.

You think?
If you don't respond to that, you are an android and you should be melted.

This story is from the April 3rd, 2003 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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Song Stories

“Try a Little Tenderness”

Otis Redding | 1966

This pop standard had been previously recorded by dozens of artists, including by Bing Crosby 33 years before Otis Redding, who usually wrote his own songs, cut it. It was actually Sam Cooke’s 1964 take, which Redding’s manager played for Otis, that inspired the initially reluctant singer to take on the song. Isaac Hayes, then working as Stax Records’ in-house producer, handled the arrangement, and Booker T. and the MG’s were the backing band. Redding’s soulful version begins quite slowly and tenderly itself before mounting into a rousing, almost religious “You’ve gotta hold her, squeeze her …” climax. “I did that damn song you told me to do,” Redding told his manager. “It’s a brand new song now.”

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