Stepping Out: Mick Jagger Goes Solo

Mick Jagger Releases a Solo Album but says it's not the end of the Stones — Yet

Mick Jagger Rolling Stones
Steven Meisel
Mick Jagger on the cover of Rolling Stone
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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.

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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.

Were you happy with the last record, Undercover?
Yeah, I liked it. It didn't sell perhaps as much as I would have liked, though it sold over 2 million copies — I shouldn't really complain. There was plenty of stuff on it that was mine: "Undercover," "She Was Hot." Keith contributed to all that stuff. Some was completely his. But it wasn't like I was frustrated with it because it wasn't my material.

There will be speculation, I guess, that your solo record means the Stones are winding down.
I don't think so. I mean, we're going into the studio in January, and we're planning a tour for next year. Ronnie said so on MTV! [Laughs] Who am I to say there isn't going to be?

Just to press the point, say five or ten years down the road. . .
Well, forget it! [Laughs] I don't want to think about it!

I mean, there can't really be a Rolling Stones when you're all fifty.
No, I don't think so either. So, maybe subconsciously, I'm thinking, "Hey, I better do it now." I don't want to wait until I'm that old to do it; it seems silly.

It must have been fun to work with new musicians for a change.
Yeah. I started off with Sly [Dunbar] and Robbie [Shakespeare] and all the people I knew, really. We had Jeff Beck, and we had Jan Hammer at the beginning, and then I had Chuck Leavell and Eddie Martinez — he's a guitar player. So that was sort of the beginning, and then later on we had Michael Shrieve on one track. And on the ballad ["Hard Woman"] we had Tony Thompson — he was with Chic. Herbie Hancock did some overdubs. And Pete Townshend played acoustic guitar.

Album Review: She's The Boss'

Nice to give the guy a little work now and then.
Yeah. [Laughs] Keep him away from his publishing business at Faber and Faber.

Did you write these songs the way you usually write material for the Stones? Don't you normally headbang with Keith a bit?
Usually, I hit them around with people, with Keith. Sometimes I write them all down and say, "Hey, this is it." Or sometimes I'll say, "Well, this really can use a bridge." This time I really tried to have them done. I got them much more ready than I would have with the Stones, because with the Stones — with any band — the great advantage is that they all kick the tunes around for you. You can't really expect guys that you've got in to do that. But even though I got the demos down, it didn't matter, because the guys that I worked with were very involved. They weren't going, [bored] "Oh, yeah, thanks." In that way, it wasn't really that different from working with the Stones.

How did you pull together the producers, Bill Laswell and Nile Rodgers?
Bill's a real kind of thinking guy — I like the stuff he did. Obviously, I didn't want to make a hip-hop record, and Bill wanted to make a rock & roll record. And so we sat around, talked about musicians, and the idea sort of fell into place. And then Nile was working with Jeff Beck on his album. So then when he finished that, I said, "Maybe it's good to do some tracks with Nile." And I'd written a few different songs. I said to Bill, "I'm going to play them to him," and it went from there.

Did you want it to sound different than the Rolling Stones?
Well, you got to remember that a lot of this stuff is kind of subconscious with musicians. I knew it was never going to sound like the Rolling Stones, and the great thing about it was the mystery: I was throwing elements together, and I didn't know what was going to happen — nor did the musicians. And they were having fun. All of them were really up for it.

For you as a vocalist, what's the difference between singing with a guy like Beck and singing with Keith and Ronnie?
Not a tremendous amount of difference really. I mean, Jeff's very much a lead player; he doesn't like to play parts over and over, which Keith and Ronnie would do. That's a great difference. But I had Eddie to play the parts. And then the similarity is that very few guitar players will play the same solo twice, so you better get it. You know, there's a certain point where you've got to catch that heat, that flash.

Obviously, I know Keith and Woody much better than I know Jeff, though I've known Jeff for years. But I'm not quite as attuned to him or the other musicians when they're really on, whether this guy will play forever like this and get better and better, or whether he's just going to do it once and go, "Well, that's it, guy. You didn't get it. Goodbye."

How did Beck turn out to be?
Very patient. And very hard-working. I went home at like two in the morning, and he was still in there. That's not bad.

Have you thought about videos yet?
Yeah. While I was writing the songs, I was thinking of videos. I was thinking visually a little bit more than normal.

Some people think that's a dangerous trend.
I think it's good. Not all lend themselves to visual treatment, and I'm not saying I wrote or rewrote or changed or whatever. But when you start to get a cinematic approach — when you have something down, and you think about it — it does bring certain images. I mean, the creative thing works in a very odd way. How do you write a song? I don't know. It comes out, and it's a miracle really. It just comes out, and you have these visual images, and you think, well, let's carry them a little bit further and make them a little more cinematic or something.

You know, "Lucky in Love" and "Running Out of Luck"? Before, I would maybe have had to change it: "Oh, I can't have two songs with luck." I use that, so that becomes a kind of slightly thematic thing, if I want to use that for a video.

You almost have a Prince-type piano attack on "Just Another Night."
Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. Bill [Laswell] did that. And I think we did it well before "When Doves Cry." It was almost contemporary. See, I'm a big Prince fan, I'm not gonna hide that. He was on our '81 tour — you know what happened to him?

He comes on for five minutes, they throw two cans at him, and he leaves.
I mean, he was supposed to do four or five more gigs. He was big then already. He wasn't any kind of thing I discovered under a bush.

That was a tough time for cross-pollination of audiences.
Well, I think it was just the clothes really. The underwear. [Laughs] The underwear! It wasn't the singing or the style or anything like that.

Didn't you think he was a prima donna for not hanging in there and taking the heat?
To be honest, I never saw what happened. I don't think it was really serious. I don't think he was hurt. I mean, hey, they throw a lot of cans anyway. I mean when I go on, they throw everything [laughs].

I went to see him in Detroit, and his audience is all fourteen-year-old girls clutching their Instamatic cameras and screaming their heads off. He ends with this tremendous version of "Purple Rain," but everybody is filing out. And the third night in Detroit he just started screaming at them.
You get these funny audiences. It's got to change the way you act and the show you do. I remember with the Stones, we used to play for a college crowd, and we were used to mature people. They were older. And to go from that to playing for the thirteen-year-olds with the Instamatics who are just screaming and not knowing any of the tunes, really, is kind of weird, you know? The Stones went through this whole phase where we got really bored playing, because all they wanted to hear were the hits, and they didn't want to know about the blues, and we were feeling very blues purist.

How do you decide what to play on tour these days?
The things that excite me to play are either newer songs we've never done or old ones but done slightly different than we've done before.

Like the way you did "Under My Thumb" on the last tour?
Yeah. Obviously, I won't want to do that again, because I've done that a hundred times. And when you play outdoors or even the big arenas, you tend to keep the shows exactly the same. You can't just throw in a number like you're in a club, because you have 90,000 people, the lights and the sound and all that, and it's just such a production. At the beginning of the tour, the set tends to be long, and you shorten it a little bit. You see what goes down well and what doesn't. If a number's bombing, even if you're enjoying it, you tend to leave it out.

What sort of stuff doesn't go over well?
They don't like ballads, for one thing. They don't want to hear them. Not from us. We play anything that's slow, they start to go for the hot dogs.

What recent shows did you like? Did you see Springsteen this time?
Yeah, I saw Springsteen in his long stint at the Meadowlands [in New Jersey].

Did you stay for the whole show?
[Pause] Oh, yeah. [Laughs] Sure, through the bear and everything. I liked it. I thought the band sounded wonderful; I thought he sounded wonderfully well. It was better than when I saw him the last time around. I thought the drums sounded fantastic. I took the kids also. To tell you the truth, the kids did not like it very much.

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Did you and the kids catch the Jacksons show?
I wasn't around. I wasn't in the neighborhood. Some real hard-rock people — people that I wouldn't imagine liking it — said they liked it very much. They [the kids] didn't go either. I don't think they wanted to. I think they're too old already.

What did you think of all the Jacksons' business problems?
I only know what I've read in the newspapers. I don't want to be an expert, but I think the ticket price was too high. I think Michael knew it. I think it was terribly disorganized at the beginning — it was a joke. I mean, everyone went through this in the Sixties. You don't put ticket prices — ticket prices are $17.50 or whatever it is — I mean you don't . . . twenty, thirty dollars . . . you don't do that. I don't think it's very complex. You don't rate more than the regular ticket price. If you have a very expensive show, you might add a dollar.

When did you get involved in the real nuts-and-bolts side of touring?
I think when I had to, like 1969, I think. Especially post-Altamont . . . I was really into the tour before then. I kinda let that one go. I thought that was all San Francisco and Bill Graham and the Grateful Dead, and . . . I'm not making excuses. Of course, a lot of it was my fault, blah-blah-blah. But to that point in time, there wasn't really — I hate to use the word, but I think it's a good one — there was no industry really. It was all very amateur night: there were a few professional promoters, and fewer honest ones. So the artist had to become interested.

We had gone to Australia, and there was no roof, and it was 110 degrees. So I remember telling Rod Stewart, "Say, Rod, when you go down there, don't forget to take a roof, and put it in your contract. I mean these guys don't give you a roof!" [Laugh] So I got interested in that. You can't get yourself too involved, because you gotta play.

What were your impressions of Michael Jackson when you worked with him?
I thought he was really professional. You know, sings his ass off — he's real easy.

I thought "State of Shock" was great.
A lot of people didn't like it. I think it could have been much better produced, but you know, I enjoyed doing it. I like doing the duets occasionally — I did one with Peter Wolf, Carly Simon, Peter Tosh. . .

You and Willie and Julio, I'm sure. . .
[Laughs] Hey, yeah, we'll get it together . . . that was a hilarious one. [Hysterically] Willie and Julio!

Did you see Duran Duran when they came?
No: I saw them personally; I didn't go to their show. The kids went.

Did they like it?
Loved it. My children's boyfriends dress like Simon Le Bon, wear the makeup, you know. It's hilarious.

Do you like their records?
Who?

Duran Duran.
[Closes eyes, smiles, remains silent for fifteen seconds.]

Uh, right. . .
[Laughs] C'mon, Chris, gimme a break!

I know I've got another question here. . .. Here we go: Do you go back and listen to your old records?
Yeah, sometimes. Most artists might once in a while, when the band might get together. But I don't think many people do. There might be a time when it's probably good to hear them, like when we go on the road. Go and research all the stuff and say: "Hey, that's really a good song. We could do that this way," or "We never did that onstage."

You've mentioned "Shattered" as a song you're particularly proud of.
Yeah, I think that's really good, it's kinda unusual. There's quite a few songs on that album [Some Girls] I think are good. I still like things like "Miss You." I think that has a directness and feeling. The whole album has something in it.

At the time, you thought it was the best record you had done since Let It Bleed.
Yeah, I think it probably is. I mean, Tattoo You was full of some good material — some of it was quite old, and some not old. I think "Start Me Up" was good.

That was just sitting around in a vault?
Well, it was from Emotional Rescue. It was just sitting there, and no one had taken any notice of it. There were like forty takes. What happened, I think, is we made it into a reggae song after, like, take twelve, and said, well, maybe another time. I used take two. And I found it, put it together . . . it was one of Keith's sort of tunes . . . I wrote the lyrics, put it on, and Keith said, "I can't believe it, it's just wild."

There are two new books about the band that have just been published: 'Symphony for the Devil,' by Philip Norman, and 'Dance with the Devil,' by Stanley Booth. Have you read either of them?
You know, I really haven't. First of all, I'm not really interested in reading books about myself; there are a lot of books out there I'd like to read rather than books about me or the Rolling Stones. The Stanley Booth one perhaps would be good to read. At least Stanley Booth did actually know the Rolling Stones, and I know Stanley Booth. Where Philip Norman doesn't know the Rolling Stones; I wouldn't know him if he walked in now. I read some extracts from it, with the sensationalist stuff in it. It looks pretty cruddy, what I read.

Both books do recount some of the seamier sides of the Stone's activities sex, drugs, the works. Is it difficult for you as a parent to think about your kids reading some of that stuff?
I can't do anything about it.

How do you feel about it?
How do I feel about it? I don't know really — I haven't really thought about it. You're throwing the question at me kinda as a bit of a curve. Ummm, I really haven't thought about it. I guess they know most of it, and I think it's not particularly — I don't think it's very good for them. Ummm, I mean, that's one of the things I have to put up with. I mean, they have to put up with. It's a little unfair for them. But I suppose all kids have to put up with their parents.

Frequently, the allegation is made that a lot of people who meet up with the Rolling Stones wind up in trouble: fucked up, dead, with drug problems or something like that. And there's the implication that the band somehow is a malevolent force that destroys people's lives. What's your response to that?
Ummmm, I think it's unfortunate if it happened. I would not like to think of myself as someone who would take somebody on purpose, or even not on purpose, and make them into something. . . you know, ruin their life. What's inevitable is that there are breakdowns in relationships, people have problems. . .. I mean, most [people] in the artistic community have severe kinds of problems with drugs and stress. It happens not only in the music community, and show business generally is a high-stress occupation. Yeah, there's no doubt that's happened. I don't want to pick on anybody, but what about the Pretenders, you know? I'm not pointing fingers. But it seems to be something that comes along in that way of life, and over a long period of time there are bound to be some casualties. It just happens. Maybe I'm being real cynical; I don't want to be.

I'm just thinking, who did I personally damage? Who did I actually do over?

Brian Jones?
Brian Jones? No way, Jose. I disclaim on that one. As a group, I'm sure there's many. But, me personally, I'm trying to think . . .

Marianne Faithfull?
Marianne, you know, she nearly killed me, forget it! I wasn't going to get out of there alive, Marianne Faithfull and Anita Pallenberg! I mean, help!

Do you ever see her?
Marianne, yeah, I see Marianne. I see her around, like you say. I haven't seen her properly for a little while. Since she broke up with her old man — I saw her then. She was really upset, and I talked to her a little.

And then Anita, I haven't seen her for a while. She's sort of gone straight, and she's in London. When I saw her last, I didn't recognize her. She looked pretty good.

Speaking of cleaning up, Ron Wood went into a drug detox center in England, right?
Yeah. Sounded horrible to me, the one he went to. This guy rang me up, screaming,'cause Woody had given them my name. This guy yelled at me, 'cause Woody checked out. Like, "It's your fault he left." Hey, it was my idea to get him in there.

Was it?
Well, I'm sure I wasn't the only one.

There's a bunch of bands now that make a point about their being real clean.
Aaah, there was always the clean-living kid next door. That's how the Beatles were sold. That's how Frankie Avalon or Elvis was sold. Fact or fiction. I'm not accusing Boy George of being a drug addict. But, honestly, I'm afraid journalism has a lot to answer for. Responsible journalism is a very good thing, but irresponsible journalism . . . we have a lot of it. More in the U.K. than here.

Now Duran Duran can't get really upset about that. They think it's really bad if people write, "Duran Duran was all drunk." They were saying to me, "So we were all drunk, but we're such a teenybop group. We didn't really ask for that; that's what we got. And if they write about that, then people go out and they copy us, and we don't want that. We think it's irresponsible [journalism]." Well, it's not irresponsible to write about it in, like, [sotto voce] your magazine, but in a newspaper with sensationalist headlines . . .

Well, you're planning to set the record straight on your own life by writing an autobiography. Word has been that your first draft wasn't juicy enough for the publishers. What's the story?
I didn't really want to put out the book in the way that the first draft was. It was too flip. They [the publishers] wanted to put it out. They wanted to pay me the money, and I just said, "No, not this time. Let me get some more stuff on it."

I didn't have any problem remembering . . . I mean, you can't remember every detail. What's more difficult to put into perspective is like the Seventies. Much easier to put the Sixties into perspective than the Seventies.

What is your perspective on the Sixties?
Wait to read the book! [Laughs] It's really complex, though, you know? Obviously, it's a personal one. But also one of the society I found myself in when I was growing up. I was kind of a late grower-up. People didn't grow up at fifteen then; they grew up when they were twenty. The way that they changed, and the way that America changed, and your own personal experiences, and how that worked, and also the overview you've got now: what society was like and all those millions of examples of things that makes the mosaic up for the real picture.

Sort of an edge. . .
Yeah, well, you got very aggressive and very frustrated, you know. With not being able to hold the reins and the obviously stupid things going on. The ripoffs. And all the politics and the social upheaval that was happening all over the world. There's a lot of social stuff in there that's never really been looked at. And I talked to people who really want me to get that right. You know, professors and stuff, not bullshit artists.

What's hard about the Seventies?
Well, you know, it's just closer, and it was a time of retrenchment a little bit. It doesn't sort of fit quite so well. And I was getting older and what was happening? Was I just kind of going along in the groove of it or the momentum that was already there? I don't know. I just haven't got the keys to it yet.

Moving up to the Eighties, how do you view the rise of conservatism, both here and in the U.K.?
I think it's awful. I don't like all this religion stuff involved. Traditionally, in England, we really don't. The wives don't get involved either [laughs]. I hate to sound chauvinistic about it; it's just a different approach. Of course, wives and family have great influence, but they're not up there so visibly as they are here.

What about your own family? Are any of your daughters following in your footsteps?
Well, I like to watch them move and see if they can play, you know. My oldest (Karis) plays the harp. It's kind of amusing to watch. Not an instrument of instant carryability. It's tough. Tough on the fingers and the back when you wanna move it. But she likes it. She plays piano also.

Now, the littlest one, I bought her a xylophone. Yeah, they love all that. It's one of those things that you hit it and it doesn't make a musical noise, but a ball goes jumping up in the air.

How old is she now?
Seven months.

It must be fun to have her.
Yeah, it's fun, you know. It is fun. And then my brother has six kids. They're not all his, but they're his family. So they come over and it's like insanity.

Do you counsel them at all like your typical daddy?
You have to counsel them a little bit all the way through, you know. It's good if they come and talk to you, but obviously kids don't like to really talk . . . I really shouldn't talk about them too much, because when they read it, they'll become embarrassed.

Okay. One last thing: if the record does well, what will you do?
I don't know really. I'd be real happy if it does well. I'd be happy if people like it and they like the kind of direction — if they appreciate it and they just enjoy the record. I hope it sells, but you can't guarantee. I've been around long enough to know that.

Ah, but what if it's really successful . . .
Yeaaahhh! I'm going to move to the East Side! Is that your question? [Laughs.]

This is a story from the February 14, 1985 issue of Rolling Stone.

From The Archives Issue 441: February 14, 1985