The Rolling Stones were in an odd place in their career when they laid down “Memory Motel” in March of 1975. Guitarist Mick Taylor had recently bolted and they’d yet to hire a replacement, though they were working with both Ronnie Wood and Wayne Perkins to see how they fit with the group. “It was really a toss-up,” Keith Richards wrote in his memoir, titled Life. “It came down to Wayne and Ronnie.”
Perkins and Wood both play guitar on “Memory Motel,” while Keith played electric piano alongside Billy Preston on acoustic piano. It was an unusual setup for the band, and it produced a result unlike anything else in the group’s catalog. Not only is it one of their longest songs, clocking in at 7:08, but it’s also one of the few times that Mick and Keith shared lead vocals. It’s credited to Jagger/Richards even though Mick basically wrote the song himself.
It was inspired by an actual motel in Montauk, Long Island. Jagger has never revealed the identity of “Hannah Honey,” but many have speculated that he’s singing about Carly Simon. She does indeed have a “slightly curved” nose, but her eyes are blue and not hazel. Three years earlier, he sang backup on her song “You’re so Vain” and is one of the many people rumored to have inspired it. “Memory Motel” may have been his response song, but neither of them are ready to admit to it.
“Memory Motel” appears on 1976’s Black and Blue, which even Jagger has dismissed as a second-tier Stones record. “Everyone was using drugs, Keith particularly,” he told Rolling Stone in 1995. “So I think it suffered a bit from all that. General malaise. I think we got a bit carried away with our own popularity and so on. It was a bit of a holiday period. I mean, we cared, but we didn’t care as much as we had.”
Many fans disagree and the reputation of Black and Blue has grown over the years. “Memory Motel” remains a fan favorite, though they’ve only played it three times in the 2000s. It was much more common in the 1990s. The most memorable one came on July 15th, 1998 in Amsterdam, when Dave Matthews Band opened up for them. Dave came out for “Memory Motel” and sang it with Mick and Keith, which you can watch right here. This version appeared on the 1999 live album, No Security.