Despite being one of his generation’s most well-paid, most widely-adored and wholly blessed actors, Robert Downey Jr.’s taste for music doesn’t sit within the mainstream as you might expect. The storied career of RDJ may sound like a rock and roll number crafted in the back of a Hollywood dive bar, but the truth is, the self-confessed “nerd” has always saved the more objectionable side of his life for his love of weird and wonderful music. But one Rolling Stones album changed his life forever.
“Music has sometimes been important to my acting, but most of it has been quite obscure,” the actor once said. It’s an obvious connection that can be seen throughout his roles, with almost all of his on-screen performances being flecked with a dose of rock and roll.
When gathering the favourite songs of any artist, performer or lowly music lover, it has to be said that those lists are changeable. Some will morph over decades, incorporating new shades of a life well-lived; other lists will mutate overnight, bringing the poison of punk or the healing nature of jazz into the nucleus of one’s life. However, there are some records which land with a heavy thud in our lives and change them forever. For Robert Downey Jr, one of those albums was The Rolling Stones’ record Let It Bleed.
The swaggering poise of the Stones is no better seen than on their 1969 album Let It Bleed, a record which would define the band forever and arguably define the 1970s at large. With Mick Taylor holding down lead guitar and Jimmy Miller behind the mixing desk, the Stones couldn’t lose no matter what they decided to do, whether it was country or blues or samba or rock and roll.
An LP that has ‘Gimme Shelter,’ ‘Midnight Rambler,’ ‘You Got the Silver,’ and ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ is an album that will never be discounted by Stones fans. The album certainly had an impact on the young Robert Downey Jr, who, aged only six years old, remembers seeing the impressive album cover and hearing the music change his life forever. It was Downey’s father who introduced the boy to a classic record shortly before he offered him his first joint and showed him his favourite cut film La Grande Bouffe.
Speaking to The Guardian, Downey Jr, recalled the experience: “I remember staring at the album cover and thinking how strange it looked, and how this music had an angelic quality to it,” he says.
But the album had a big influence on the actor: “As it turned out, the album’s arranger, Jack Nitzsche, knew my dad, and Let It Bleed would be on repeat alongside Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, Art Pepper, Charlie Mingus and Artie Shaw. All of them influenced me hugely, but I’m six. So what else am I into?”
Few six-year-olds can appreciate the swashbuckling brilliance of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards in their heady pomp, but not many six-year-olds are Robert Downey Jr.