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Diving into the Rolling Stones anthem 'It's Only Rock and Roll (But I Like It)'


In 1974, The Rolling Stones had spent over a decade in the limelight and yet still felt they weren’t given the respect they deserved. In some quarters, their music was looked down upon as meaningless rock ‘n’ roll, which they responded to in an anthemic fashion on ‘It’s Only Rock and Roll (But I Like It)’.

The track was both a defence and a celebration of The Rolling Stones’ swashbuckling attitude toward music. Mick Jagger felt it didn’t receive the respect it deserved compared to other genres, and he wanted to shine a light on the power of rock ‘n’ roll, which was sneered at too frequently for his liking.

Jagger originally recorded the track at Ronnie Wood’s house before the guitarist became a member of The Rolling Stones, and it was a clear indication of their incredible chemistry. The pair nailed the song in a night, and on the original version of the track, Kenney Jones played the drums, Willie Weeks was on bass duty, and David Bowie helped with backing vocals.

On the track, Jagger decries how he was depicted in the music press and how nothing he does will ever be worthy enough of their critical praise. He sings, “If I could stick my pen in my heart, And spill it all over the stage; Would it satisfy ya, would it slide on by ya, Would you think the boy is strange? Ain’t he strange?”

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When Jagger wrote the track, he was fuelled purely by spite and his disdain for journalists who gave The Stones a rough time. He felt nothing they did would be considered artistically credible enough, and the singer was also tired of everything they released being compared to their early work.

He once explained: “The title has been used a lot by journalists; the phrase has become a big thing. That version that’s on there is the original version, which was recorded half in Ron Wood’s basement if I remember rightly. It was a demo.”

Jagger also noted how they paid tribute to one of the ultimate forebearers of the genre: “It’s a very Chuck Berry song, but it’s got a different feeling to it than a Chuck Berry song. You can’t really do proper imitations of people. You always have to start out by imitating somebody. In painting, some famous artist always starts out by being an impressionist. And then they become the most famous abstract artist.”

In the Stones’ compilation album, Jump Back, Jagger reiterated his comments about the song being born from anger at journalists and said the original idea stemmed from “our public persona at the time”. It was his defiant way of saying he wasn’t prepared to take sh*t any longer from the press and was fighting back with his middle finger in the air.