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Hot Stuff From Mick and Keith

The Stones talk about their new live album, the pressures of rock-stardom, and the new bad boys of the English music scene.

Rolling Stones Keith Richards Mick Jagger Charlie Watts Ron Wood

The Rolling Stones in New York City, New York circa 1977.

Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

NEW YORK—Mick Jagger – looking almost anonymous in his black-leather flak jacket and jeans – settles into a back table at his favorite Chinese restaurant here and, armed only with chopsticks, prepares to fend off questions about the Rolling Stones‘ reappearance in the public eye.

The Stones have returned with a flurry, bringing with them Love You Live, the long-awaited live album, plans for a new studio LP and an American tour next year, yet another Canadian controversy and a spate of Jagger pronouncements on other subjects.

But first, along with the appetizers, Jagger wants to get the new album out of the way.

“A lot of alien journalists have said to me,” he says, ” ‘Oh, you just did this live album ’cause it’s the last album in your contract or something.’ I mean, wow, I worked harder on this album than I do on a studio album. I’m not boasting or anything, but I did and Keith did work harder mainly because it’s a double album. It was not in any way a throwaway thing. It was really important, ’cause we had made only one really live album before [Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out], so this one had to be good. I mean people have annoyed me a bit by intimating that it’s the last album. Jesus Christ. Nine months of listening to the Rolling Stones is not my idea of heaven.”

With chopsticks waving in the air for emphasis, he buries his nose in the menu: “Got to do a radio interview in an hour. I just got back from England and I did a week of interviews: ‘What do you think of punk rock? Who are you fuckin’?’ Da-da-da-da-da. I did that for six people a day for five days. They all ask the same thing – in different languages. The Japanese said, ‘What do you think of love?’ I said, ‘Oh, you mean who am I goin’ to bed with? My wife, of course.'”

The Stones had listened to about eighty hours of live shows before picking material from Paris in 1976 and Toronto in 1977. Some of the songs, I comment, sound completely different from the versions done during the 1975 Tour of the Americas.

“Different from what?”

Well, “Tumbling Dice” in Paris almost becomes a gospel song.

“Oh yeah, it does. You see, we’ve got so many ways of doing ‘Tumbling Dice’ – I mean, which one do you pick? And we decided to go with the latest shows rather than the American ones because I just preferred to put out the things we recorded later, rather than earlier. I mean, I did listen to things we did in 1973 and I contemplated at one point – I’m not sure if the rest of the band contemplated – but I contemplated putting on a version of ‘Angie’ which had Mick Taylor on it, ’cause it was so good, you know. But we decided to just keep it to the most recent stuff, which I think is a decent approach.

“What we tried to do is make the sides have to stand up on their own. I mean, ’cause people aren’t going to pay a hell of a lot for a live album. So each side should stand on its own, have a pacing just like the show has a pacing.”

I mention that there is a moment before the encore – “Sympathy for the Devil” – when what sound like gunshots are heard. That was, I assume, a very deliberate inclusion that gives the song a very menacing tone.

Jagger smiles: “Oh, that was just on the tape. Cherry bombs goin’ off.”

But it sounds as if the explosions were mixed way up on the album.

Jagger smiles widely: “I maybe turned it up a little. Are you ready to order?”

After the next studio album (tentatively to be recorded in Paris starting in October), what will the Stones’ plans be?

“Oh, there are definite tour plans. We haven’t booked the halls, I mean one doesn’t book the halls yet. We hope to tour the U.S. in the spring, when the studio album’s out, and then I’d like to tour Australia and Japan.”

But, I remind him, the Stones’ lead guitar player and co-writer is going to trial in Toronto in December.

“Oh well” – another wave of the chopsticks – “it rests obviously on the fact that Keith will still be roaming the streets of New York as he is at the moment. I think one’s gotta be positive and you’ve got to hope positively that Keith gets off. Apart from that, everything is hypothetical. I can hypothesize about it forever but I mean that I’m just taking it that Keith will be a free man and free to do what he’s paid to do.”

There could be, I say, a slight hitch that might influence the Canadian courts: in a recent Montreal Star interview, Robert Frank claims that Keith Richard was shooting up in the film Cocksucker Blues.

Jagger becomes positively livid: “Frank seems a silly, sick person, and he seems to be trying to ruin Keith’s life. I don’t know what’s the matter with him. When I next see him, he’s going to get a piece of my mouth. Keith is not shooting up in the movie. It’s untrue and why in the world should Frank say a thing like that? He’s a silly . . . ”

He regains his composure and continues: “Why doesn’t he go and make another movie and shut his face? That’s five years. What’s he been doing for the last five years that’s been so important? Is he so dead, has he no inspiration? I – it was my idea to make the movie, not his. He was just paid to film what I told him to do. He wasn’t the only person taking pictures. Danny Seymour shot half that movie. I shot a lot of that movie. I mean, he was just a hired cameraman. He did not edit the movie. I mean, it is not his movie, you know, thanks very much, and he should shut his mouth and go away and see if he can make a better movie. And we paid for it; it’s our movie. So he can go to hell. We’ll do what we like with it.

“If I want to go and shred it in the shredder or if I went to put it in general release, it’s up to me, it’s not up to him. I’m sorry, that’s the way we run this country.”

The Rolling Stones’ country?

“Well, that’s the way America is. You pay for what you get. He wouldn’t have made that picture if it hadn’t been for us having the idea to make that picture and paying for it and telling him what scenes to shoot. I’m not saying he didn’t do anything, but he’s coming on like the downtrodden beatnik artist being beaten by capitalism. Well, he can go fuck. Wasn’t his idea to do it. That’s the end of that.”

We eat in silence for a moment, chopsticks clicking away. I ask about the Stones’ future: With the live album finally out, there’s no pressure and . . .

“That’s not true,” Jagger says. “There’s lots of pressure.”

From within or without?

“Both. There’s a lot. There’s pressure from the band ’cause they want to work and make the best music they can, ’cause that’s what they’re interested in. Then there’s pressure from without; we’ve said we would make four new albums. So we will. None of it’s got anything to do with money, oddly enough. I mean it translates itself into money, but none of us are greatly concerned with making money.”

Then, is it pressure from the public?

“No, I’m not interested in that. I don’t know what they expect, how can I possibly know? I just try to make the best music I can. I must say that honestly – without being rude to any member of the record-buying public – that that’s not what pushes me to write songs. No, your first obligation is to your own self to do the best for your self, to your conscience or whatever you want to call it. You may be letting yourself down in the eyes of other people, your group, your peers, your musician friends, you know, but it’s because you don’t know what they want. And they change all the time anyway; it’s an ever-changing fuck, people, isn’t it? One doesn’t know who they are. . . . Just try and write a few hits anyway.”

What about your staunchest critics, the English punk rockers? They say . . .

Jagger interrupts again, obviously delighted: “Oh, my punk-rock answers? I’ve got hundreds of ’em.”

Well, Johnny Rotten is on the cover of Rolling Stone, and he says you should have retired in ’65.

He should retire next year, then. He should definitely give up next year ’cause he ain’t never gonna be the same once he’s been on the cover of Rolling Stone, is he? He was on Top of the Pops [in England] – that’s the only pop show on television, and I do mean pop – and therefore they were accepted by the BBC. And people wrote into the music post and said, ‘Well, that’s the end of the Sex Pistols, they’ve copped out.’ “

Jagger forges ahead: “I think the Sex Pistols have copped out. Now they’re on the front of Rolling Stone. That’s a real cop-out. I mean, if I were Johnny Rotten, I wouldn’t do either. I wouldn’t even talk to Rolling Stone. I’d tell them to go fuck themselves. But that’s not important. The important thing is the Sex Pistols are all right, and all that. Not a bad band, not the best, but I really like this band. I wish that – I don’t care what Johnny Rotten says about me. Everything Johnny Rotten says about me is only ’cause he loves me ’cause I’m so good. He says nasty things about me, he has to, ’cause I’m – along with the Queen, you know – one of the best things England’s got. Me and the Queen.

“I really wouldn’t do those things he’s doing ’cause in a year the Sex Pistols are going to be like – ’cause things happen much quicker these days.”

Right. Now it doesn’t take four years of playing clubs to become successful.

“Yeah, but they’ve got something different, in a way, they’ve got lots of energy, and that’s what rock & roll needs. And I would prefer to hear those bands than a lot of shit that goes on the Hollywood rock awards.”

Pretty abysmal, I say.

Jagger signals for another beer, obviously warming to his topic. “I love Peter Frampton, but him as an all-around entertainer – to me it’s a joke. I think it’s stupid for Peter Frampton to do comedy sketches with robots in Hollywood. And I like Peter. If he walked in right now I’d say, ‘Oh, hello Peter, come sit down and have some shredded beef.’ But I don’t mind having a go at Peter Frampton, fuck him. And that silly Olivia Newton-John with that daft Australian accent; what do they think they are, film stars or something?

“They don’t have to do that dumb shit. I mean, at least do it with class. I mean, Warren Beatty does it better, doesn’t he? What a bunch of bullshit. This is rock & roll, that’s what I’m saying. I feel more in sympathy with Johnny Rotten, I’m sorry. I would never do that shit, either. I mean, people call me jet set and all that shit or call me nice but I would never do that shit . . . I know which side I’m on.

“I mean, to see people that I know and really quite like doing it makes me feel even worse. And all their fucking bow ties, who in the fuck do they think they are? Stupid. The rock awards should be people playing, not all this pouncing around with script cards and bow ties on, huh? There’s nothing wrong with Hollywood, but, Jesus, that’s bullshit. Waiter? Check, please.”

The previous day, in the offices of Rolling Stones Records at 75 Rockefeller Plaza, Keith Richards had been a bit quieter than his compatriot Jagger. He was happy about the new album: “I’m glad you see it as a ‘greatest hits live’ because the only difference you can offer with a live album – since ninety percent of the material has been recorded before – is that difference between the studio and just how the band deals with it onstage without any of the overdubs. If it’s there, it’s there, and if it’s not, then there really isn’t any point for it.”

Besides having to pick out the best of forty shows to put on one record, wouldn’t there be another problem – mixing the audience sound?

Richards smiled at that and opened a Coca-Cola.

“Uhm. The audience, they’ll be pleased to hear, had an awful lot of time spent on them. We listened to hours of the audience tracks, and those are the things you forget about when you say, ‘Oh, yeah, you’ll do a live album.’ I’d rather make four studio albums any day.

“The lucky thing about a live album is that if you do get a good show, it tends to be pretty good all the way through. The mainstay of the album is probably the second or third show in Paris. Most of the material comes from that, so then it’s really trying to get the rest of the sound to match up to that show.”

Richards was more somber in discussing his pending trial in Canada, saying it may or may not be postponed and that he will deal with it when he has to deal with it: “I don’t let it bother me, really, I just try to get on with what I have to do.”

Robert Frank’s Montreal Star interview, on the other hand, was obviously disturbing Richards: “I’m just amazed that Robert Frank hasn’t got something better to get on with than touting some five-year-old movie. I wanted it to come out five years ago because I’d rather have it out than have people listing what scenes are in it and coloring it whatever way they want to color it.

“The movie is actually a lot more hilarious, because basically what it does for me is put in some of everybody’s idea of what a documentary movie is. Since it’s in black-and-white and because the camera wobbles a bit everybody thinks, ‘Wow, this is for real, man!’ And all the time people are going around with clapperboards saying, ‘Take two.’ Everything is so obviously set up. There isn’t a scene in that movie where somebody isn’t banging on a microphone and saying, ‘Okay, ready, sound!’ It is so obvious a movie is being made and everybody on the screen is doing what they are doing to the camera. It is all set up and not even the clapperboards have been cut out, yet people say that because it’s black-and-white and it wobbles, that it’s real. It’s a movie!”

But, since Frank lists in the Star such scenes as snorting, shooting up and copulating, could such press damage Richards’ case in Canada?

Richards shrugged: “Those seem to be more Robert Frank’s preoccupations than anybody else’s. I should hope that the judges are aware of the press and what they do and what they are capable of, and be able to look at things more objectively. I have learned to live with it and I hope the judge lives with it as well. He must be aware of the dangers of being influenced by it because it is all gossip-column stuff, and that is where it belongs.”

On another sort of press, Richards actually sounded affectionately nostalgic: the English punk articles.

“It’s a real feeling of déjà vu. All you have to do is delete the words ‘Sex Pistols’ and write in ‘Rolling Stones’ and you’ve got the same old press as you had fifteen years ago – exactly. It is funny, because they’ve manipulated the press in England, they’ve made them play the same old games they played with us. Piss on the floor and watch them all come running; would you let your daughter marry one? It’s hilarious. They puked at the London airport; we pissed in the filling station.”

This story is from the November 3rd, 1977 issue of Rolling Stone.


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