Twenty-one albums on, Keith Richard is back in Richmond, the Thameside London suburb where the Rolling Stones first played the local clubs 12 years ago. This time he's staying at Ronnie Wood's place, pouring out the Jack Daniel's, chatting with visitor Jimmy Page, toying with the dagger he carries in a leather sheath and playing for his guests the final mix of the Stones' new LP, It's Only Rock and Roll.
With Jagger sporting a recently smoothed down image, it seems left to Richard, with his tangled hair and earring, to project the Stones' air of disrespectful menace. It's a characteristic that has been examined at length in three books recently, none of which got the group's seal of approval. J. Marks's Mick Jagger: The Singer Not the Song drew from Jagger " . . . fiction, but at least he admits it." Bob Greenfield's S.T.P.: A Journey through America with the Rolling Stones scored a similar rating from Jagger – "that's got a lot of fiction in it as well."
But it was Tony Scaduto's Mick Jagger: Everybody's Lucifer that drew the most scathing comments: "All pure fiction . . . " Jagger has said, "most of it the stoned ramblings of Marianne Faithfull's nostalgic fantasies." Richard is equally caustic. "I've only read excerpts, though Mick's told me about it. I can't bring myself to listen to somebody verbally raping Marianne Faithfull because she'll say anything. I mean, the guy writes about Jagger and doesn't even approach me, who has known him longer than anybody else apart from his mother and father."
Richard's attention, though, is mainly on the new album. All the songwriting credits, as usual, go to Jagger and Richard, with the exception of a reworked version of the Temptations' "Ain't Too Proud to Beg." Richard says the album's overall quality is "a step forward – not just marking time. Sometimes you feel you've done an album where you're not really doing anything further, you're not taking things beyond what you've already done. You're just in one kind of groove and you feel you just want to stay in that position . . . Goats Head Soup, to me, was a marking-time album. I like it in many ways but I don't think it has the freshness that this one has. Listening to it a couple of months ago and comparing it to this one that's how I felt."
Work on It's Only Rock and Roll began a year ago at Munich's Musicland Studios a few weeks after the end of the band's European tour. That studio was picked because the Stones, as nonresidents (with the exception of Jagger), can't stay long enough to record in England and didn't want to travel Stateside to work. Recording began with only a handful of songs already written. "Rock & roll can't be planned or prepared," says Richard. "You can have a few basic structures though. I wrote maybe three of the songs in the studio just warming up before the rest of the guys arrived and Mick had a couple that he had ready . . . and that's the way it goes. I'm not the sort of person who sits down at home with a guitar, writes a whole song and says, 'That's how I hear it,' because I play in a band and leave it up to them to tell me how it should go for them."
For the first time since Their Satanic Majesties Request, the Stones have worked in the studio without producer Jimmy Miller. "I think we'd come to a point with Jimmy where the contribution level had dropped because it'd got to be a habit, a way of life, for Jimmy to do one Stones album a year. He'd got over the initial sort of excitement which you can feel on Beggars Banquet and Let It Bleed. Also, Mick and I felt that we wanted to try and do it ourselves because we really felt we knew much more about techniques and recording and had our own ideas of how we wanted things to go.
"Goats Head Soup hadn't turned out as we'd wanted it to – not blaming Jimmy or anything like that, because there's no one to blame. But it was obvious that it was time for a change in that particular part of the process of making records." Andy Johns, the engineer, also was unable to finish the sessions, due to ill health. Taking over was Keith Harwood, who had worked with the Stones before and who has more recently been involved with Bowie's live recordings in the U.S. and with new albums for Humble Pie and Led Zeppelin. "The album's got that strong old material on it," Harwood says by way of comment. "It reminds me of the time I first met them back in the mid-Sixties."
Richard believes that the album's enthusiasm was due in part to the Stones' starting sessions just after two months on the road. "We were really hot and ready just to play some new material. We booked a couple of weeks, went in and cut about half the album with Billy Preston on keyboards. Then we split and came back again after Christmas for another two weeks, this time with Nicky Hopkins on piano, and by the end of those two weeks we'd cut enough tracks for the album plus half again. Then we had to choose which ones we were going to work on vocal-wise. So we made a short list of about 12 or 13 tracks and then in April, I came over to England to meet Mick and we finished off writing those that hadn't been completed lyric-wise, because a lot of them had been written in a very loose framework to start with – maybe just a chorus a hookline or something.
"You see, even when we're not actually in the studios nobody has actually forgotten about it . . . you're thinking about it all the time. You're at home listening to a rough cassette mix of it thinking how you want to put the whole song together because maybe you've got it on this very thin thread, maybe just a hookline, and you've got to expand the song in a particular way, both in the way you want it to go and in what you want to say. When you've got a certain kind of track only certain kinds of lyrics are going to fit that feel, that sound, so you've got to put it together. What's great is when they come together, when the lyrics and music all come at once. That's a joy but a lot of times it's really painstaking work.
"Then we got on and did the vocals and I left Mick for a couple of weeks to do his solo vocals, because he often comes up with his best stuff alone in the studio with just an engineer. Then he doesn't feel like he's hanging anybody up. While Mick was doing this I got a call from Ronnie Wood . . . "
Richard went down to Wood's home, initially to check out Wood's album, which he was recording in his basement studio, then stayed to add guitar overdubs and finally lived there for a month and wrote two songs for the album. "I really got involved and Mick was calling up saying, 'I've finished my vocals. Come and help me out . . . do some harmonies and do some vocals.' I had to say, 'Hang on, I've just written a couple of songs down here for Woody and I want to get 'em down!' – which I did, pretty quickly."
The Stones' album sleeve features a painting by Belgian artist Guy Peellaert, who visualized the Stones in his Rock Dreams book dressed variously as hookers, SS troopers, partying decadents, entertaining pirates and jaded heroes. This time they appear in various stages of dishevelment, descending a stone staircase lined by a horde of garlanded maidens, apparent victims of a time warp – the Rolling Stones arriving in ancient Rome.
"It's something you can really get into, because at first it just looks as though all of those women are adoring the Rolling Stones, but then you notice that the people on the top left are into these chicks on the right and there are other chicks who're completely into a different bag, the ones who've seen it all. I mean, I see Bill Wyman in drag all over the place."
Following the album's release Richard will return to his winter home in Switzerland where Jagger will join him for another burst of songwriting – with a January recording date in mind, either for a single or contributing toward an album. "I would like to work on the road a lot more," muses Richard. "I like playing live because for me it helps everything else. It helps me write songs, it helps me improve my playing, it gives me ideas and it stimulates me. But I have to respect the fact that there are other members of the band, say Bill and Charlie, who have a need for a really stable home life in one place. They need that anchor, whereas my old lady and myself are very nomadic sort of people.
"There'll almost definitely be a spring tour in America, maybe a little more relaxed than last time – not so many one-nighters. Maybe we could split it up a bit because every time we go back we play bigger and bigger stadiums. If we have to play these big places obviously we'll have to do it but if possible we'd like to do what we experimented with last time in L.A. in playing a small place like the Palladium as well.
"The reason that we haven't done more live gigs recently is because until this album comes out we haven't really got any new material to lay on anyone. We've only got the same old show that we've been doing for the last couple of years and we don't want to repeat ourselves anymore."
This story is from the December 5th, 1974 issue of Rolling Stone.