Now that Keith Richards’ memoir “Life” has been released, it will probably stand as one of the definitive books (along with the Rolling Stones’ 2003 autobiography “According the Rolling Stones”) on how the Rolling Stones’ biggest hits were written. After all, guitarist Richards and lead singer Mick Jagger are the only two original members of the band who co-wrote the Rolling Stones’ most famous original/non-cover songs. So when a book comes along like “The Rolling Stones: The Stories Behind Their Biggest Songs” (written by journalist Steve Appleford), it is almost seems a like non-essential side dish to a more substantial main course.
“The Rolling Stones: The Stories Behind Their Biggest Songs” (which went on sale on November 2, 2010), is a repackaged, retitled and slightly updated version of Appleford’s 1997 book “It’s Only Rock’N’Roll: The Stories Behind the Rolling Stones Songs,” which was revised and republishd in 2001 under the title “The Rolling Stones: Rip This Joint: The Stories Behind Every Song.” (NOTE: The 2010 version of the book has also been published under the title “The Rolling Stones: The Stories Behind the Biggest Songs,” replacing the word “their” with the word “the.”)
Selection of Stones Music
The most glaring flaw of this 192-page book is that it excludes all of the band’s songs released after the 1976 album “Black and Blue.” The subtitle of the book should really be “The Stories Behind the Tracks on Rolling Stones Studio Albums From 1964 to 1976.”
A book that is supposed to be about the Rolling Stones’ biggest songs but does not include any of the singles from the classic 1978 album “Some Girls” and does not include the 1981 hit “Start Me Up” is a book that does not have a lot of credibility.
The “Some Girls” album is considered by many critics to be the last outstanding Rolling Stones album. But even if it hadn’t been such a critically acclaimed album, it had the hit single “Miss You,” which was an international smash. (It is also the Stones’ most recent No. 1 single in the United States.)
“Start Me Up” (another one of the band’s most successful hits, reaching the Top 10 in many countries) was released on the band’s 1981 “Tattoo You” album, but the song was actually recorded during the Stones’ sessions for the “Some Girls” album. “Start Me Up” is such a fan favorite that the Stones have been performing the song at most of their concerts since 1981.
Some other Stones songs released after 1976 that were Top 20 hits in multiple countries include 1980’s “Emotional Rescue,” 1983’s “Undercover of the Night,” and their 1986 cover version of “Harlem Shuffle.” Since the author inexplicably chose to have the book only be about Stones songs released before 1977, the stories behind these Stones hits are not included in the book.
Remember, the title of the book says that this is supposed to be a book about the Rolling Stones’ biggest songs, not a book about what the author thinks are the band’s best albums. So all of the band’s biggest hits should be included.
The 2010 version of the book does not add much information from the previously published versions, except for the updated discography at the end, which lists 2008’s “Shine a Light” as the most recent Rolling Stones album, and 2010’s “Plundered My Soul” as the most recent Rolling Stones single. (The discography does not list reissues.)
But even the discography has some noticeable flaws. The list of Rolling Stones singles does not include promo singles that weren’t for sale but were released to radio and, in many cases, made it onto airplay charts and would therefore qualify as a hit song.
There is a select number of compilations listed in the discography, which are described as “a selection of the better collections” of the Stones’ greatest hits. Yet curiously, the excellent “Hot Rocks 1964-1971” compilation is not on the list, but the skimpy 10-song “Made in the Shade” (which only included the band’s hits from 1971 to 1974) did make the cut on the list as one of the “better” Stones compilations.
Quality of Research
There really isn’t anything in this book that people can’t find in other books or articles about the Rolling Stones. It’s almost as if the author just took a bunch of articles and books about the Stones and pieced the stories together to make his own book. (No one in the Rolling Stones was interviewed for the book, although backup musicians Bobby Keys and Jim Price were interviewed.)
Although there are some interesting anecdotes, the quality of the research is inconsistent. In some descriptions of a song, the author says how the song was musically structured from start to finish and who was the dominant songwriter. In other descriptions of a song, the author just recounts a backup musician’s version of how the backup musician played on the song. Other descriptions of an individual song don’t really tell how the song was written or recorded but basically give the author’s review and/or opinion of what the song means.
One example of the latter is the author’s description of 1973’s “Angie,” one of the Rolling Stones’ best-known ballads. Instead of telling how Jagger and Richards wrote the song and the real story of who really inspired it, Appleford says in the book that if you listen to how Jagger sang the song, you can infer that the song might have been written about Jagger’s former lover Marianne Faithfull. (Faithfull was among the people interviewed for the book.) The author even weirdly mentions the “white silky threads” that Jagger is wearing in the music video for “Angie,” as if what Jagger wore in the music video has any bearing on what the song means or how it was written and recorded.
People can now get the real story about “Angie” straight from the source: In Richards’ memoir, he says that he wrote “Angie” while he was in a clinic trying to kick his heroin addiction, while his live-in girlfriend at the time, Anita Pallenberg, was about to give birth to their second child, a daughter whom they would name Dandelion. The couple did not know at the time that the baby would be a girl.
Richards says that the song is not about any particular person, and he chose the title name “Angie” randomly. He also says there was no way of knowing at the time that years later, Dandelion would want to go by the name Angela. Richards’ telling of how “Angie” was written debunks the longtime myths/speculation that the song was about Faithfull, Angie Bowie (David Bowie’s wife at the time), Pallenberg or Angela/Dandelion Richards.
Since “The Rolling Stones: The Stories Behind Their Biggest Songs” is an updated 2010 version of a previously published book, you would think that the updated version would include new information about Stones songs that came out in 2003 autobiography “According to the Rolling Stones” (giving credit to the original source, of course), but that is not the case here. There are many missed opportunities to revise the book with more updated information about the songs from better sources.
The book also has some editorial errors, including a few minor spelling mistakes. However, the most noticeable error is a caption for a 1970 picture of Richards, Pallenberg and their son, Marlon, misidentifies Marlon as Dandelion (a.k.a. Angela), the former couple’s daughter. Marlon was a toddler at the time the photo was taken and wearing a unisex outfit, but any die-hard Stones fan knows that Angela has rarely been photographed in public with her parents. The photo (on page 109 of the book) is also a picture that has been in many other books about the Stones, so that kind of mistake is just an example of how the book could have used better editing and research.
The Bottom Line
“The Rolling Stones: The Stories Behind Their Biggest Songs” is an incomplete, outdated and unevenly researched book that does a major disservice by not including stories about Rolling Stones songs that were released after 1976. If you are someone who wants to collect every book you can about the Rolling Stones, and if you do buy this book, then try to get it at a discount, because it’s not worth the full price. But for casual fans who are more selective about which Stones books they buy and/or read, there are better and more credible stories about the Rolling Stones’ biggest songs in the autobiography “According to the Rolling Stones” and in Richards’ memoir “Life.”