"We had the hook line with nothing to set it to for a long time," Keith Richards explained in the Rolling Stones' London office. "Then Mick wrote most of the lyrics and it was like putting two or three songs together. The chorus fit into place."
What the Stones had on their hands was "It's Only Rock and Roll" (subtitled "But I Like It") – a celebration of the genre that is their first single to be the title song of an LP. It is also their longest single, clocking in at just over five minutes. "It's very hard now to realize the ones before were so short," Richards explained. "Onstage they're longer. We didn't realize how long this one was until after we recorded it. We tried to edit it, take out a chorus, but it just didn't work. Some tracks you can cut a verse from and forget it, but we couldn't on this one."
The group was forced to consider the time factor when preparing the It's Only Rock and Roll album. "You can only put 25 minutes on a side before you lose bottom and lose top (sound quality). The album has five tracks a side. We had to lose one track, no way around it, and it's still 23 minutes on one side and 24 on another, coming close to the mark of losing quality."
"It's Only Rock and Roll" stands in direct contrast to the ballad "Angie," the last Stones single to be released around the world, although "Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)" was issued in the U.S. "I was very much surprised 'Angie' did so well," Richards admitted. "It was Number One in the U.S. and Europe. We decided we wanted to do something different, and it worked. Maybe a lot of people bought it that would never buy a Stones LP. With this one we're going straight for the heart of Stones Country. The album is uptempo rock & roll, too, only two ballads."
The new single is the first to credit production to the Glimmer Twins, Jagger and Richards in transparent disguise. "It was a name we had around for a long time," Richards said, smiling, "and since we produced this ourselves we needed a name to use, not just our own names. People ask us to do something and think it'll sell with our name at the end, but you've got to be aware of why people are asking you."
"Through the Lonely Nights," the B side, will probably suffer the fate of most overlooked flips, but Richard was not disturbed. "B sides do tend to get neglected. It's a shame. But I'd rather have a neglected track than one that wouldn't have been heard. 'Through the Lonely Nights' was recorded for Goats Head Soup and didn't make it on, and unless it was the B side this time it wouldn't have been heard."
The single has yet to make its concert debut, but Richard's hopes for future appearances are ambitious. "I think we'll probably be doing the States in the spring. Before then Mick and I would like to go to the places we've never been before, the Third World and behind the Iron Curtain. Rock & roll seems afraid to go outside its well-trodden path, which is actually only a small part of the world. We'd like to play some of the other places."