The Most Underrated Song on Each LP by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards
Mick Jagger is the headline grabber, the spotlight guy, the one girls chase after. Keith Richards, on the other hand, was never any of that. Their solo catalogs only make these distinctions clearer.
On the surface, Richards' successes were the most surprising. He isn't much of a singer. He isn't much to look at. He isn't even that much of a guitar player, really — more scroungy tics and oddball strums than virtuoso. But as the following list of his most underrated songs shows, something emerges that's often bigger than the sum of those parts.
Conversely, there's a rangier feel to Jagger's records, often in direct opposition to Richards' steely focus on the rootsy influences that always animated the Rolling Stones. Jagger tends to dabble along the margins of his muse, taking the opportunity to try on different genres while working with a series of guest stars.
Along the way, these personal discographies said something quite personal. Stones fans could be left looking for any trace of the band on Jagger's albums – and any hint at musical adventure with Richards. Still, there are times when both of them made the case for working outside of the strictures of the Rolling Stones, and on more than one occasion their group was strengthened by the duo's time away.
This look back at the most underrated song on each Mick Jagger and Keith Richards LP deals with only their individual recordings. So, we left out 2011's SuperHeavy, since that album was too collaborative to be considered a true Jagger solo project. We also limited the list to studio recordings, meaning Richards' excellent Live at the Hollywood Palladium didn't make the cut either. Here's how the rest lined up.
"Lonely at the Top"
From: Mick Jagger's She's the Boss (1985)
A dud single released between the Top 15 hit "Just Another Night" and the should've-done-better "Lucky in Love," "Lonely at the Top" didn't even chart – belying its Stones-related pedigree. Jagger originally demoed the track during sessions for 1980's Emotional Rescue, so Keith Richards is given a rather jarring cowriting credit on the opening track of Jagger's first solo album. Like so much of She's the Boss, however, this update is a bit too glossy, a bit too self-conscious and a bit too rushed sounding. That it's still one of the best things on the album is telling, as Jagger seemed to have wandered into a solo career without much direction. "It wasn't from any great frustration," he admitted in a 1985 talk with Rolling Stone. "I was just feeling in the mood for it."
"Peace for the Wicked"
Form: Mick Jagger's Primitive Cool (1987)
As relations with Richards deteriorated, Jagger began sending messages in solo songs: The Side Two-opening "Kow Tow" and "Shoot Off Your Mouth" both felt like they were squarely aimed at an on-again, off-again musical partner who was openly grousing in the media. As with the frankly ridiculous video for its lead single "Let's Work," Jagger tends to jump from one genre to the next on his second album – and that, too, seemed like its own kind of rebuke. "Peace for the Wicked," however, represented a rare Stonesy moment and proof that Jagger could still dig down into the grease-popping grooves that helped him to fame alongside Richards. Critics were unmoved, and fans stayed away in droves – eventually leaving Jagger open to talk of a reunion. Richards provided a powerful musical nudge.
From: Keith Richards' Talk Is Cheap (1988)
Richards' long-awaited solo debut opened with "Big Enough," a nasty funk number that reset the entire known Stones universe. He'd never wanted to step out on his own but felt boxed in by Jagger – who chose to refocus on his solo career rather than tour in support of 1986's Dirty Work. The resulting Talk Is Cheap was a laconic, utterly charming stroll through a string of personal influences that also included rockabilly, Memphis soul, reggae-fied rock and Louisiana-inspired roots music. Richards remained conflicted: "In the back of my mind, doing a solo record meant a slight sense of failure," he told Rolling Stone at the time. "The only reason I would do a solo album was because I couldn't keep the Stones together." Ironically, this one had the opposite result: Jagger, no doubt noting that his erstwhile collaborator now had a gold-selling Top 40 hit of his own in both the U.K. and U.S., promptly made his way back into Richards' life.
"Hate It When You Leave"
From: Keith Richards' Main Offender (1992)
Richards' second pass felt more comfy, less focused. He dove more determinedly into groove-centered songs, rather than the Chess Records-style city blues that the Rolling Stones have so long been associated with. On first listens, that seems to soften the edges of Main Offender, but riffy songs like "Hate It When You Leave" are meant to be lived with. The coiled danger and flinty emotions of his debut unravel into an almost trance-like vibe. Jagger was still listening, too, as Richards' solo turns again provided the framework for terrific Stones songs that followed: "Almost Hear You Sigh" emerged from the Talk Is Cheap sessions, while "Wicked as It Seems" from this album set a dark template for their next single, 1994's "Love Is Strong."
"Hang On to Me Tonight"
From: Mick Jagger's Wandering Spirit (1993)
Jagger was famously reluctant to sing slow songs, despite Richards' encouragement. ("I like ballads," Richards told Rolling Stone in 2002. "You get a better rock 'n' roll song by writing it slow to start with and seeing where it can go.") Instead, Jagger always seemed more inclined to dance and preen than to pull back any significant layer to reveal an honest truth. But that's what makes those rare moments when he does, like "Hang On to Me Tonight," so very resonant. Wandering Spirit featured blessedly few outside voices and a serious rock producer in Rick Rubin. This provides a sturdy, largely unembellished foundation for Jagger's typical solo experimentalism. "Hang On to Me Tonight," a raw plea for human connection, is the beating heart at its center.
From: Mick Jagger's Goddess in the Doorway (2001)
Rolling Stones fans should skip directly to "Lucky Day," a lip-smackingly salacious aside. It's maybe the best thing on a confusing, too-slick retrenchment for Jagger that's defined by needless celebrity hand-holding courtesy of everyone from Lenny Kravitz and Wyclef Jean to Bono and that guy from Matchbox Twenty. (Jagger tried to get Missy Elliott involved, too.) Together, they create another uneven attempt at sounding "contemporary," something his main band always seemed to do with far greater ease. Pete Townshend reportedly encouraged Jagger to release these songs as a solo album, saying the early demos didn't sound like Stones songs. That was certainly true but not necessarily in a good way. "Lucky Day" provides a rickety bridge back.
"Nothing on Me"
From: Keith Richards' Crosseyed Heart (2015)
As with the best of his Rolling Stones-rejuvenating solo work in late '80s, "Nothing on Me" comes off like a loose, late-night confession. (Maybe he's talking to Jagger, maybe to one of the women who followed him into ruin, maybe to the very drugs that should have ended him long ago.) No, it's most certainly not new ground, as every successive Richards album followed a now-familiar template – from their ramshackle rootsy ambiance to the presence of many of the same collaborators. At the same time, however, songs like "Nothing on Me" were also never so calculated as Jagger became, never so commercial. Instead, there's a kind of comfort-food ease to this track. Richards' could-give-a-shit demeanor is still all over the map – kinda rock, kinda R&B, kinda Americana – but the result is another small but completely identifiable triumph from this pirate-smiling rock savant who somehow remained standing.
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