Mick Jagger, it seems, cannot sit still. Seated behind a console at the Power Station in New York, Jagger is fidgeting with strips of paper that have the song titles for his new solo album written on them. Over and over, he rearranges them, in search of the ideal sequence. Then, once the master tapes are cued up and clicked on, he's out of his chair — tail shaking, lip-syncing, playing air guitar, even winking. For someone so notoriously blase offstage, this guy seems pretty keyed up.
Why is Mick Jagger so excited? Mainly because his first solo LP, tentatively dubbed She's the Boss, is due out soon, and it's the forty-one-year-old singer's boldest attempt yet to establish an artistic identity for himself apart from the Rolling Stones. Jagger's previous attempts at acting and screenwriting have been flops, and his general lack of interest was all too noticeable during the promotion of the Stones' last studio LP, Undercover, which sold disappointingly. But with the active encouragement of the Stones' new label, Columbia, Mick says he finally started thinking about his solo debut.
"Atlantic would just say, 'Okay, we have another Stones album,' and then wait eighteen months," he explained. "Whereas CBS would say, 'Hey, Mick, you know, we want you to do two solo albums.' So I thought, 'Wow, they really want me to do it. Okay, I will.'"
Of course, it's not just his record that's fueling his good mood these days: he's an involved father to his three daughters, Karis, 13 (by singer Marsha Hunt); Jade, 13 (by Bianca Jagger); and the infant Elizabeth Scarlett (by Jerry Hall). He and Jerry tend to the sprout, but the eldest two have been dispatched to British boarding school. "New York is a terrible place to bring up kids," he mourns.
Right now, though, his album is foremost in his thoughts, and justifiably so: while its raucous, unhinged spirit is certainly reminiscent of the Stones' work, its sound is more aggressively contemporary, from the rhythm-section fury of "Just Another Night" and "Running Out of Luck" to the wild wit of "She's the Boss" and "Lucky in Love." The album is further proof that Jagger, unlike most forty-plus performers, can stake out contemporary musical territory without embarrassing himself.
In our two sessions, Jagger proved a surprisingly appealing Stepping Out subject. He is, of course, the most written-about living performer in the history of rock & roll, and is quite adroit at deflecting overly pungent inquiries. He can be gracious (he shakes your hand when he meets you . . .) and brusque (. . . but not when he says goodbye). It is, after all, business — something Mick Jagger is very good at.
So I heard that Paul McCartney wanted to play on your record — on a track ["Hard Woman"] that already featured Pete Townshend.
Well, I was doing some overdubs with Peter in London, and Paul was working on Broad Street. Actually, it was this disco thing he was working on.
The disco version of "No More Lonely Nights"?
Yeah, which I haven't heard since.
You're a lucky man.
[Laughs] I've got to be careful you don't get me bitchy, because if I get bitchy, it's all going to come out. [Pause] Yeah, Paul kind of . . . but I'd done all the tracks by then.
He came in with a bottle of cognac or something?
It was my birthday, that's why! It was really nice. Paul has always been very polite and nice to me. He said, "I've never done a disco mix before," and I kind of very patronizingly said, "Oh, well, wow." [Laughs] I mean it's true, I was doing them in 1978: "Miss You," with Bob Clearmountain.
Of course, he was doing solo records in 1970. Why a solo record now? What made the timing right?
I had just finished doing the Stones album, and it hadn't come out; I'd just done a bunch of videos; and I just wrote a bunch of songs very quickly when I was in the Caribbean. So I did some demos, and the demos kind of worked well.
Traditionally, solo albums by people who are still in groups have been born of frustration.
It wasn't from any great frustration. I was, you know, feeling in the mood for it, and I thought, "Stop talking about the solo record you might do one day." I didn't think about it too much, to be honest. I just went ahead and did it.
When did you let the rest of the band know that you were planning to do it?
As soon as I was planning on doing it. They knew contractually that CBS had said, "We want you to do this," and I said, "Well, do you mind if I take this time out?" For instance, Bill [Wyman] has done like four solo albums, and Ronnie [Wood] has done a lot of solo projects. And Keith [Richards], he's done, maybe not very many records, but he did the [New Barbarians] tour with Ronnie.
I think that the Stones didn't want it to be a shit record: "Mick, don't make a shit record, because that's going to reflect on us." And I said, "No, if it's a shit record — if I think it's shit, and CBS thinks it's shit — it won't go out."
There were stories that they were furious.
I don't think they were furious about it, because we talked about it. I talked about it with Keith, and he said, "Hey, if you want to do it, go ahead. Don't forget you're taking a chance." I said, "Well, yeah." You know, you've got to take chances in life. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Are you a chance-taking sort of guy?
Well, I think I've gotten a little bit too safe. I'm not saying the Rolling Stones are safe, but there was always Keith to fall back on, and there were a lot of safety nets.
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