Mick Jagger Critical Essays


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Mick Jagger 1944– Keith Richard 1943–

Jagger—British songwriter, singer, musician, and actor.

Richard—(Also Keith Richards) British songwriter, singer, and musician.

Jagger and Richard are the longest-running songwriting team currently active in rock, as well as one of the most successful. Their biting, sexually provocative lyrics combine with stinging rock 'n' roll to earn the Rolling Stones the title of "The Greatest Rock 'n' Roll Band in the World," in the opinion of many critics and fans.

Jagger and Richard were childhood friends, and decided to form a musical group while both were at art school. The original band also included Brian Jones on guitar, Bill Wyman on bass, and Charlie Watts on drums, and they took their name from a classic Muddy Waters's blues song. The Rolling Stones were originally a blues-based band, borrowing heavily from Howlin' Wolf, Waters, and Chuck Berry. Jagger and Richard's first songwriting efforts were unexceptional, and most of their first albums were filled with covers of blues standards. Suddenly, they began writing some of the most vital rock songs of the mid-sixties. "Get Off of My Cloud," "Under My Thumb," "19th Nervous Breakdown," and especially "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" demonstrate their contempt for traditional values, highlighted by Jagger's snarling vocals and the band's hard-driving rhythms. The inevitable and endless comparisons to John Lennon and Paul McCartney eventually proved pointless, for each team created a different style of rock music, with the Stones's nose-thumbing at society and preoccupations with sex gaining a surprising amount of popularity.

Beggar's Banquet marked the height of social consciousness in Jagger's and Richard's writing. "Sympathy for the Devil," "Street Fighting Man," and "Salt of the Earth" all discuss the theme of man's inhumanity to man. This was to be one of the Stones's last major social commentaries, perhaps because of their reaction to the 1969 Altamont Speedway tragedy, where a black man was beaten and stabbed to death by a group of Hell's Angels at a Stones concert. This incident is documented in the film Gimme Shelter. For this or other reasons, Jagger and Richard varied their songwriting output in the seventies. Songs like "Brown Sugar" and "Star Star" are throwbacks to their mid-sixties songs about women, but their decadence was much more overt in the new songs. This decadence also carries over into lyrics about drugs, such as "Sister Morphine" and "Dead Flowers." However, Jagger and Richard established themselves as fine balladeers with "Moonlight Mile," "Angie," and "Till the Next Goodbye," all slower, more introspective songs. They even dabbled with disco in "Hot Stuff" and "Miss You." Whatever the musical content, the lyrics still seem to dwell on their usual themes: sex, women, love, and drugs.

Despite numerous drug busts, Jagger's leaves of absence to make movies, and rumored breakups, Jagger and Richard always seem to return with a series of strong songs. In fact, they seem to thrive on adversity, creating their best work at the worst of times.