The next record was Aftermath, which has "Paint It, Black," "Under My Thumb" and "Stupid Girl." Does that stand out in your mind at all?
That was a big landmark record for me. It's the first time we wrote the whole record and finally laid to rest the ghost of having to do these very nice and interesting, no doubt, but still cover versions of old R&B songs – which we didn't really feel we were doing justice, to be perfectly honest, particularly because we didn't have the maturity. Plus, everyone was doing it.
[Aftermath] has a very wide spectrum of music styles: "Paint It, Black" was this kind of Turkish song; and there were also very bluesy things like "Goin' Home"; and I remember some sort of ballads on there. It had a lot of good songs, it had a lot of different styles, and it was very well recorded. So it was, to my mind, a real marker.
Why does "Under My Thumb" work so well?
It's got Brian playing these marimbas. That riff played on marimbas really makes it. Plus, the groove it gets in the end of the tune. It speeds up, actually. And it becomes this kind of groove tune at the end. It was never a single, but it was always a very well-known album track. And then it became a thing feminists fastened on.
Illegitimately, you think.
It's a bit of a jokey number, really. It's not really an anti-feminist song any more than any of the others.
It's more caricaturish than it is about real women.
Yes, it's a caricature, and it's in reply to a girl who was a very pushy woman.
No, I don't think so.
Also, on that same album you've got "Stupid Girl," which is a really nasty song.
Yeah, it's much nastier than "Under My Thumb."
What was going on in your life when you were writing songs like "Stupid Girl"?
Obviously, I was having a bit of trouble. I wasn't in a good relationship. Or I was in too many bad relationships. I had so many girlfriends at that point. None of them seemed to care they weren't pleasing me very much. I was obviously in with the wrong group.
Your pain worked out well for the rest of us.
[Laughs] The pain I had to go through!
Then you did "Between the Buttons." What do you think of that album?
Frank Zappa used to say he really liked it. It's a good record, but it was unfortunately rather spoiled. We recorded it in London on four-track machines. We bounced it back to do overdubs so many times, we lost the sound of a lot of it.
Does that record mean a lot to you?
No. What's on it?
It's nice. "Connection" is really nice.
Yeah, the first song I ever wrote completely on my own for a Rolling Stones record. "My Obsession," that's a good one. They sounded so great, but then, later on, I was really disappointed with it. Isn't "Ruby Tuesday" on there or something? I don't think the rest of the songs are that brilliant. "Ruby Tuesday" is good. I think that's a wonderful song.
It's just a nice melody, really. And a lovely lyric. Neither of which I wrote, but I always enjoy singing it. But I agree with you about the rest of the songs – I don't think they're there. I don't think I thought they were very good at the time, either.
You then did "Their Satanic Majesties Request." What was going on here?
I probably started to take too many drugs.
What do you think about "Satanic Majesties" now?
Well, it's not very good. It had interesting things on it, but I don't think any of the songs are very good. It's a bit like Between the Buttons. It's a sound experience, really, rather than a song experience. There's two good songs on it: "She's a Rainbow," which we didn't do on the last tour, although we almost did, and "2000 Light Years From Home," which we did do. The rest of them are nonsense.
I listened to it recently, and it sounds like Spinal Tap.
Really, I know.
Was it just you trying to be the Beatles?
I think we were just taking too much acid. We were just getting carried away, just thinking anything you did was fun and everyone should listen to it.
The whole thing, we were on acid. We were on acid doing the cover picture. I always remember doing that. It was like being at school, you know, sticking on the bits of colored paper and things. It was really silly. But we enjoyed it. [Laughs] Also, we did it to piss Andrew off, because he was such a pain in the neck. Because he didn't understand it. The more we wanted to unload him, we decided to go on this path to alienate him.
Just to force him out?
Yeah. Without actually doing it legally, we forced him out. I mean, he wanted out anyway. We were so out of our minds.
After it came out and it was kind of a chunk record, how did you consider it?
A phase. A passing fancy.
You followed up with "Jumpin' Jack Flash."
We did that one as a single, out of all the acid of Satanic Majesties.
What's that song about? "Born in a crossfire hurricane..."
It's about having a hard time and getting out. Just a metaphor for getting out of all the acid things.
And it did bring you back. You launch this golden era: Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main Street.
Let's start with Beggars Banquet, a record that you could not have predicted from your earlier work. It had extraordinary power and sophistication, with songs like "Street Fighting Man," "Salt of the Earth," "Stray Cat Blues" and "Jig-Saw Puzzle." What was going on in your life at this time?
What were you listening to and reading?
God, what was I doing? Who was I living with? It was all recorded in London, and I was living in this rented house in Chester Square. I was living with Marianne Faithfull. Was I still? Yeah. And I was just writing a lot, reading a lot. I was educating myself. I was reading a lot of poetry, I was reading a lot of philosophy. I was out and about. I was very social, always hanging out with [art-gallery owner] Robert Fraser's group of people.
And I wasn't taking so many drugs that it was messing up my creative processes. It was a very good period, 1968 – there was a good feeling in the air. It was a very creative period for everyone. There was a lot going on in the theater. Marianne was kind of involved with it, so I would go to the theater upstairs, hang out with the young directors of the time and the young filmmakers.
Let's start with "Sympathy for the Devil."
I think that was taken from an old idea of Baudelaire's, I think, but I could be wrong. Sometimes when I look at my Baudelaire books, I can't see it in there. But it was an idea I got from French writing. And I just took a couple of lines and expanded on it. I wrote it as sort of like a Bob Dylan song. And you can see it in this movie Godard shot called Sympathy for the Devil [originally titled One Plus One,] which is very fortuitous, because Godard wanted to do a film of us in the studio. I mean, it would never happen now, to get someone as interesting as Godard. And stuffy.
We just happened to be recording that song. We could have been recording "My Obsession." But it was "Sympathy for the Devil," and it became the track that we used.
You wrote that song.
So that's a wholly Mick Jagger song.
Uh-huh. I mean, Keith suggested that we do it in another rhythm, so that's how bands help you.
Were you trying to put out a specific philosophical message here? You know, you're singing, "Just as every cop is a criminal and all the sinners saints"...
Yeah, there's all these attractions of opposites and turning things upside down.
When you were writing it, did you conceive of it as this grand work?
I knew it was something good, 'cause I would just keep banging away at it until the fucking band recorded it.
There was resistance to it?
No, there wasn't any resistance. It was just that I knew that I wanted to do it and get it down. And I hadn't written a lot of songs on my own, so you have to teach it. When you write songs, you have to like them yourself first, but then you have to make everyone else like them, because you can force them to play it, but you can't force them to like it. And if they like it, they'll do a much better job than if they're just playing 'cause they feel they're obligated.
They get inspired.
And then you get inspired, and that's what being in a band's about rather than hiring people. But I knew it was a good song. You just have this feeling. It had its poetic beginning, and then it had historic references and then philosophical jottings and so on. It's all very well to write that in verse, but to make it into a pop song is something different. Especially in England – you're skewered on the altar of pop culture if you become pretentious.
The song has a very strong opening: "Please allow me to introduce myself." And then it's this Everyman figure in history who keeps appearing from the beginning of civilization.
Yeah, it's a very long historical figure – the figures of evil and figures of good – so it is a tremendously long trail he's made as personified in this piece.
What else makes this song so powerful?
It has a very hypnotic groove, a samba, which has a tremendous hypnotic power, rather like good dance music. It doesn't speed up or slow down. It keeps this constant groove. Plus, the actual samba rhythm is a great one to sing on, but it's also got some other suggestions in it, an undercurrent of being primitive – because it is a primitive African, South American, Afro-whatever-you-call-that rhythm. So to white people, it has a very sinister thing about it.
But forgetting the cultural colors, it is a very good vehicle for producing a powerful piece. It becomes less pretentious because it's a very unpretentious groove. If it had been done as a ballad, it wouldn't have been as good.
Obviously, Altamont gave it a whole other resonance.
Yeah, Altamont is much later than the song, isn't it? I know what you're saying, but I'm just stuck in my periods, because you were asking me what I was doing, and I was in my study in Chester Square.
After Altamont, did you shy away from performing that song?
Yeah, probably, for a bit.
It stigmatized the song in a way?
Yeah. Because it became so involved with [Altamont] – sort of journalistically and so on. There were other things going on with it apart from Altamont.
Was it the black-magic thing?
Yeah. And that's not really what I meant. My whole thing of this song was not black magic and all this silly nonsense – like Megadeth or whatever else came afterward. It was different than that. We had played around with that imagery before – which is Satanic Majesties – but it wasn't really put into words.
After the concert itself, when it became apparent that somebody got killed, how did you feel?
Well, awful. I mean, just awful. You feel a responsibility. How could it all have been so silly and wrong? But I didn't think of these things that you guys thought of, you in the press: this great loss of innocence, this cathartic end of the era.... I didn't think of any of that. That particular burden didn't weigh on my mind. It was more how awful it was to have had this experience and how awful it was for someone to get killed and how sad it was for his family and how dreadfully the Hell's Angels behaved.
Did it cause you to back off that kind of satanic imagery?
The satanic-imagery stuff was very overplayed [by journalists]. We didn't want to really go down that road. And I felt that song was enough. You didn't want to make a career out of it. But bands did that – Jimmy Page, for instance.
Big Aleister Crowley...
I knew lots of people that were into Aleister Crowley. What I'm saying is, it wasn't what I meant by the song "Sympathy for the Devil." If you read it, it's not about black magic, per se.
On that same record you did "Street Fighting Man." Tell me a bit about that.
It was a very strange time in France. But not only in France but also in America, because of the Vietnam War and these endless disruptions.
Did you write that song?
Yeah. I wrote a lot of the melody and all the words, and Keith and I sat around and made this wonderful track, with Dave Mason playing the shehani on it live.
It's a kind of Indian reed instrument a bit like a primitive clarinet. It comes in at the end of the tune. It has a very wailing, strange sound.
It's another of the classic songs. Why does it have such resonance today?
I don't know if it does. I don't know whether we should really play it. I was persuaded to put it in this tour because it seemed to fit in, but I'm not sure if it really has any resonance for the present day. I don't really like it that much. I thought it was a very good thing at the time. There was all this violence going on. I mean, they almost toppled the government in France; DeGaulle went into this complete funk, as he had in the past, and he went and sort of locked himself in his house in the country. And so the government was almost inactive. And the French riot police were amazing.
Was this written in response to having seen what was going on with the students in Paris, a direct inspiration from seeing it on television?
Yeah, it was a direct inspiration, because by contrast, London was very quiet....
Sleepy London town?
Isn't "No Expectations" on that record?
It's got that wonderful steel guitar part.
That's Brian playing. We were sitting around in a circle on the floor, singing and playing, recording with open mikes.
That was the last time I remember Brian really being totally involved in something that was really worth doing. He was there with everyone else. It's funny how you remember – but that was the last moment I remember him doing that, because he had just lost interest in everything.
"Let It Bleed"?
Yeah. What's on that? It was all recorded at the same time, these two records.
What do you mean? Those two records were recorded back to back?
Some of them were recorded on one and spilled over to the next.
It's got "Midnight Rambler," "Love in Vain," "You Can't Always Get What You Want." This seems to be one of the bleakest records that you made. The songs are very disturbing, and the scenery is ugly. Why this view of the world? The topics are rape, war, murder, addiction....
Well, it's a very rough, very violent era. The Vietnam War. Violence on the screens, pillage and burning. And Vietnam was not war as we knew it in the conventional sense. The thing about Vietnam was that it wasn't like World War II, and it wasn't like Korea, and it wasn't like the Gulf War. It was a real nasty war, and people didn't like it. People objected, and people didn't want to fight it. The people that were there weren't doing well. There were these things used that were always used before, but no one knew about them – like napalm.
Are you saying the Vietnam War had a heavy influence on this record?
I think so. Even though I was living in America only part time, I was influenced. All those images were on television. Plus, the spill out onto campuses.
Who wrote "Midnight Rambler"?
That's a song Keith and I really wrote together. We were on a holiday in Italy. In this very beautiful hill town, Positano, for a few nights. Why we should write such a dark song in this beautiful, sunny place, I really don't know. We wrote everything there – the tempo changes, everything. And I'm playing the harmonica in these little cafes, and there's Keith with the guitar.
That's a kind of end-of-the-world song, really. It's apocalypse; the whole record's like that.
Whose idea was it to do the Robert Johnson song "Lore in Vain"?
I don't know. We changed the arrangement quite a lot from Robert Johnson's. We put in extra chords that aren't there on the Robert Johnson version. Made it more country. And that's another strange song, because it's very poignant. Robert Johnson was a wonderful lyric writer, and his songs are quite often about love, but they're desolate.
"You Can't Always Get What You Want"?
It's a good song, even if I say so myself.
Why is that one so popular?
'Cause it's got a very sing-along chorus. And people can identify with it: No one gets what they always want. It's got a very good melody. It's got very good orchestral touches that Jack Nitzsche helped with. So it's got all the ingredients.
Anything else you can think of on "Let It Bleed"?
I think it's a good record. I'd put it as one of my favorites.
Partners for Life
What about your relationship with Keith? Does it bug you, having Keith as your primary musical partner? Does it bug you having a partner at all?
No, I think it's essential. You don't have to have a partner for everything you do. But having partners sometimes helps you and sometimes hinders you. You have good times and bad times with them. It's just the nature of it.
People also like partnerships because they can identify with the drama of two people in partnership. They can feed off a partnership, and that keeps people entertained. Besides, if you have a successful partnership, it's self-sustaining.
You have maybe the longest-running song-writing-performing partnership in our times. Why do you think you and Keith survived, unlike John Lennon and Paul McCartney?
That's hard to make even a stab at, because I don't know John and Paul well enough. I know them slightly, same as you, probably, and maybe you knew John better at the end. I can hazard a guess that they were both rather strong personalities, and both felt they were totally independent. They seemed to be very competitive over leadership of the band. The thing in leadership is, you can have times when one person is more at the center than the other, but there can't be too much arguing about it all the time. Because if you're always at loggerheads, you just have to go, "Ok, if I can't have a say in this and this, then fuck it. What am I doing here?" So you sort of agree what your roles are. Whereas John and Paul felt they were too strong, and they wanted to be in charge. If there are 10 things, they both wanted to be in charge of nine of them. You're not gonna make a relationship like that work, are you?
Why do you and Keith keep the joint-songwriting partnership?
We just agreed to do that, and that seemed the easiest way to do it. I think in the end it all balances out.
How was it when Keith was taking heroin all the time? How did you handle that?
I don't find it easy to talk about other people's drug problems. If he wants to talk about it, fine, he can talk about it all he wants. Elton John talks about his bulimia on television. But I don't want to talk about his bulimia, and I don't want to talk about Keith's drug problems.
How did I handle it? Oh, with difficulty. It's never easy. I don't find it easy dealing with people with drug problems. It helps if you're all taking drugs, all the same drugs. But anyone taking heroin is thinking about taking heroin more than they're thinking about anything else. That's the general rule about most drugs. If you're really on some heavily addictive drug, you think about the drug, and everything else is secondary. You try and make everything work, but the drug comes first.
How did his drug use affect the band?
I think that people taking drugs occasionally are great. I think there's nothing wrong with it. But if you do it the whole time, you don't produce as good things as you could. It sounds like a puritanical statement, but it's based on experience. You can produce many good things, but they take an awfully long time.
You obviously developed a certain relationship based on him as a drug addict, part of which was you running the band. So when he cleaned up, how did that affect the band? Drug addicts are basically incompetent to run anything.
Yeah, it's all they can do to turn up. And people have different personalities when they're drunk or take heroin, or whatever drugs. When Keith was taking heroin, it was very difficult to work. He still was creative, but it took a long time. And everyone else was taking drugs and drinking a tremendous amount, too. And it affected everyone in certain ways. But I've never really talked to Keith about this stuff. So I have no idea what he feels.
You never talked about the drug stuff with him?
No. So I'm always second-guessing. I tell you something, I probably read it in Rolling Stone.
What's your relationship with him now?
We have a very good relationship at the moment. But it's a different relationship to what we had when we were 5 and different to what we had when we were 20 and a different relationship than when we were 30. We see each other every day, talk to each other every day, play every day. But it's not the same as when we were 20 and shared rooms.
Can we talk about Brian Jones for a second here?
Sure. The thing about Brian is that he was an extremely difficult person. You don't really feel like talking bad about someone that's had such a miserable time. But he did give everyone else an extremely miserable ride. Anyway, there was something very, very disturbed about him. He was very unhappy with life, very frustrated. He was very talented, but he was a very paranoid personality and not at all suited to be in show business [Laughs].
Hmm. Show business killed him?
Yeah. Well, he killed himself, but he should've been playing trad-jazz weekends and teaching in school; he probably would have been better off.
What was Brian's contribution to the band?
Well, he had a huge contribution in the early days. He was very obsessed with it, which you always need.
Obsessed with the band?
Yeah, getting it going and its personality and how it should be. He was obsessed. Too obsessed for me. There's a certain enthusiasm, and after that it becomes obsession. I go back to my thing about collecting: It's nice to collect stamps, but if it becomes obsessive, and you start stealing for your stamps, it becomes too much. He was obsessed about the image of the band, and he was very exclusionary. He saw the Stones as a blues band based on Muddy Waters, Elmore James and that tradition.
I don't think he really liked playing Chuck Berry songs. He was very purist. He was real middle class; he came from one of the most middle-class towns in England, Cheltenham, which was one of the most genteel towns in the most genteel area of England. So his whole outlook and upbringing was even worse in the gentility fashion than mine.
What started causing tensions in the group among Keith, you and him?
[Brian] was a very jealous person and didn't read the right books about leadership [Laughs] And you can't be jealous and be a leader. He was obsessed with the idea of being the leader of the band. You have to realize that everyone in a band is all more or less together, and everyone has their own niche, and some people lead in some ways, and some people lead in others. He never could understand that; he never got it, and he was kind of young. So he alienated people. And as I say, he was very narrow-minded in his view of music, and, really, Keith and I had been very catholic.
But did you take away the leadership of the band from him?
He had never had the leadership of the band to take away; if you're the singer in the band, you always get more attention than anyone else. Brian got very jealous when I got attention. And then the main jealousy was because Keith and I started writing songs, and he wasn't involved in that. To be honest, Brian had no talent for writing songs. None. I've never known a guy with less talent for songwriting.
What did he have talent for?
He was a guitar player, and he also diverted his talent on other instruments. His original instrument was the clarinet. So he played harmonica because he was familiar with wind instruments.
Did he give the band a sound?
Yes. He played the slide guitar at a time when no one really played it. He played in the style of Elmore James, and he had this very lyrical touch. He evolved into more of an experimental musician, but he lost touch with the guitar, and always as a musician you must have one thing you do well. He dabbled too much.
Does he deserve the kind of mythological status that he has among hard-core Stones fanatics?
Well, he was an integral part of the band, and he – for whatever it means – was a big part of it.
Can you describe your falling apart?
It happened gradually. He went from [being] an obsessive about the band to being rather an outsider. He'd turn up late to recording sessions, and he'd miss the odd gig every now and then. He let his health deteriorate because he drank too much and took drugs when they were new, hung out too much, stayed up too late, partied too much and didn't concentrate on what he was doing. Let his talent slide.
Did you fire him, finally?
How was that?
Not pleasant. It's never pleasant, firing people. But it had to be done because we felt we needed someone, and he wasn't there. He wouldn't come to the studio. He wouldn't do anything. We felt we couldn't go on. In fact, we came to a point where we couldn't play live. We couldn't hold our heads up and play because Brian was a total liability. He wasn't playing well, wasn't playing at all, couldn't hold the guitar. It was pathetic. Of course, now I suppose we would have had him admitted to rehab clinics and so on, but those things, unfortunately, in those days were not the path. He tried lots of doctors, but they just gave him more pills.
Do you feel guilty somehow about it all?
No, I don't really. I do feel that I behaved in a very childish way, but we were very young, and in some ways we picked on him. But, unfortunately, he made himself a target for it; he was very, very jealous, very difficult, very manipulative, and if you do that in this kind of a group of people, you get back as good as you give, to be honest. I wasn't understanding enough about his drug addition. No one seemed to know much about drug addiction. Things like LSD were all new. No one knew the harm. People thought cocaine was good for you.
I'm going to quote you something Charlie told me: "Brian Jones had a death wish at a young age. Brian's talent wasn't up to it. He wasn't up to leading a band. He was not a pleasant person to be around. And he was never there to help people to write a song. That's when Mick lost his patience. We carried Brian Jones."
That's straight to the point, isn't it? Whether he had a death wish or not, I don't know. He was a very sad, pitiable figure at the end. He was a talented musician, but he let it go and proved to be a rather sad precursor to a lot of other people. Why this should be, I don't know. I find it rather morbid, but it does keep happening, with people like Kurt Cobain. Why? Does this happen in accounting, too? Is this something that happens in every profession, it's just that we don't read about the accountants? I think the answer is, yes, it does happen in every profession – it's just played out in public with people like Brian and Kurt Cobain.
How do you think Brian died? There's been a lot of speculation.
Drowned in a pool. That other stuff is people trying to make money.
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