For most of his forty-five-year career, Mick Jagger has had one songwriting partner: Keith Richards. But outside of the Rolling Stones, he has teamed up with Jeff Beck, David Bowie, Peter Tosh and Bono; gotten production help from Rick Rubin and John Lennon; and scored a movie, Alfie, with Dave Stewart. A new collection, The Very Best of Mick Jagger, gathers Jagger’s favorites, including killer solo cuts (“Don’t Tear Me Up”), unreleased gems (“Too Many Cooks”) and even a track from a shelved 1992 blues album he cut with an L.A. club band. Click through to read what Jagger had to say about some key tracks.
“Just Another Night” (1985)
The lead single from Jagger’s 1985 solo debut, She’s the Boss, was the most successful of his career, reaching Number Twelve on the Billboard Hot 100 — but the singer isn’t crazy about it. “It has that Eighties sort of slur from the recording techniques they used then,” he says. “That big echoey backbeat. It was the first days of sample drum machines and stuff, which is now considered very wrong.”
“Too Many Cooks (Spoiln the Soup)” (Unreleased, 1973)
John Lennon led a weekly series of jam sessions during his infamous “lost weekend,” a debauched eighteen-month period when he separated from Yoko Ono and moved to Los Angeles. Jagger sat in on some of the Sunday sessions at L.A.’s Record Plant, taking the vocals on this funky Willie Dixon cover — which also features Harry Nilsson on backing vocals, Al Kooper on keyboards and Cream’s Jack Bruce on bass. “It was a pretty crazy time for John,” says Jagger, “but he did some interesting things. He wasn’t always lost.”
Jagger asked Bono to sing on this track because it had a strong gospel vibe. “I had to go seek him out in this little town in Germany [where U2 were on tour],” Jagger says. “We cut it at this little hotel in the middle of the woods. He had a terrible cold. If the shoe had been on the other foot, I would have told him to come back in a week, but he was so sweet about it and did his best to sing. In the end, he sounded great.
“God Gave Me Everything,” (2001)
Jagger says he envisioned writing with Lenny Kravtiz, but when he arrived in Miami he found Kravitz had completely written and recorded the music, leaving Jagger to come up with the lyrics and melody. “I think it’s an interesting way of doing it,” Jagger says of the process. “He was playing everything himself, which I think is great, so he doesn’t have to think about any other musicians.”
“(You Gotta Walk and) Don’t Look Back” (1978)
For Peter Tosh’s 1978 debut for Rolling Stones Records, Bush Doctor, Tosh duetted with Jagger on a reggae rendition of this 1965 Temptations cover. “Peter was an edgy guy and was frustrated a lot of the time,” Jagger says. “Bob Marley got so big, and that probably annoyed him.” The two performed the song together on Saturday Night Live. “I wore this ridiculous outfit,” Jagger says, “a pink cap and lots of tape all over me. I don’t know why — red sticky tape.”
“Checkin’ Up on My Baby” (Unreleased, 1992)
Jagger cut this raw Sonny Boy Williamson cover with an L.A. club band called the Red Devils, which he discovered while in town recording Wandering Spirit. Over two afternoons, they laid down a dozen or so traditional blues numbers that evoked the Stones’ earliest recordings, but the songs were never released. “It was like being back in 1963 and singing blues on Tuesday nights,” Jagger says. “It has a nice roll to it.”
“Don’t Tear Me Up” (1993)
Jagger recruited Rick Rubin to produce his third solo album, Wandering Spirit, after hearing the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Blood Sugar Sex Magik. “We had quite a few rows,” Jagger says of the producer. “I respect his opinions, but when we disagreed I said, ‘It’s my record, I’m singing it, and it’s my opinion that counts.’ ” Despite the tension, Jagger was pleased by the final result — especially on this tender ballad. “All the instruments and the vocals sound quite close to you, there’s very little reverb,” Jagger says. “It’s the antithesis of the ‘Just Another Night’ sound. The fashion swung in the complete opposite direction.”
“Charmed Life,” (Unreleased, 1992)
The version of this song that appears on The Very Best of is a remix Jagger commissioned Ashley Beetle, an English producer, to do based on an old demo. Jagger gave Beetle a stripped-down version of the track, with just guitar and drums on it, and instructed him to create something unique. “It wasn’t supposed to be rock; it was supposed to be a dance track,” Jagger says. “It was completely different to everything else on there.”