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Imagining the Rolling Stones Without Keef


Today in The New York Times Janet Maslin reviews Marc Spitz’s new book, “Jagger: Rebel, Rock Star, Rambler, Rogue.” She liked the book, and so do I. It argues against the prevailing and increasingly boring theory that Keith Richards is the Stones’ main claim to authenticity, the soul of the band, the principal force of their sound and songcraft, and that Mick Jagger is a shallow socialite poseur. If you were persuaded by Keith Richards’ strong attitudes in his memoir, “Life” — which has sold a million copies worldwide in under a year, according to a recent statement by its American publisher — you may believe in this theory yourself.

I understand that Mr. Jagger and Mr. Richards have been writing songs together since 1964. I like the way Mr. Richards has worked with the other guitarists in the Stones, and I like that when their gigs are flagging he turns his back on the audience, places himself in front of Charlie Watts’s bass drum and bears down on the groove. But sometimes I imagine a fantasy version of the Stones in which Keith Richards is not a member.

Mr. Spitz’s book doesn’t go too far into it, but there are a number of Stones songs allegedly written entirely — words and music — by Mick Jagger alone, or with other people who are not Keith Richards, or with minimal input from Keith Richards. They are not trifles: they’re among the Stones’ greatest, an alternate canon.

For amusement, here’s at least a partial list, an album’s worth.

Much of the information comes from Jann Wenner’s interview with Mr. Jagger, published in Rolling Stone in 1995. Other sources include Mr. Richards’ Life; a 2001 book of interviews with the band members, compiled by Dora Loewenstein and Philip Dodd, called “According to the Rolling Stones”; timeisonourside.com, which compiles various band members’ public comments about every track the Stones recorded; and the database compiled by the Swiss researcher Felix Aeppli, online at aeppli.ch.

“Yesterday’s Papers” (Mr. Jagger, in Wenner interview: “The first song I ever wrote completely on my own for a Rolling Stones record.”)
“Sympathy for the Devil” (Wenner interview: Mr. Jagger asserts that he wrote it himself, and Mr. Richards suggested it be played in “another rhythm.”)
“Street Fighting Man” (Wenner interview: “I wrote a lot of the melody and all the words, and Keith and I sat around and made this wonderful track…”)
“Brown Sugar” (Wenner interview: Mr. Jagger asserts that he wrote it all.)
“Moonlight Mile” and “Sway” (Wenner interview: Mr. Jagger asserts that he wrote both with the guitarist Mick Taylor; in Life, p. 283, Mr. Richards concedes that “Moonlight Mile was all Mick [Jagger]’s.”)
“Star Star” and “100 Years Ago” (according to Mr. Taylor’s and Mr. Richards’ comments quoted at timeisonourside.com)
“It’s Only Rock and Roll” (“Life,” p. 369)
“Miss You” (Wenner interview: Mr. Jagger asserts he wrote it with Billy Preston)
“Some Girls,” “Respectable,” “Lies,” “When the Whip Comes Down” (Wenner interview)
“Emotional Rescue” (written mostly by Mr. Jagger with Charlie Watts and Ron Wood, according to timeisonourside.com)
(by Ben Ratliff)