It’s hard to imagine a world without the creative pairing of Keith Richards and Mick Jagger, a duo who have imprinted a significant cultural impact with The Rolling Stones that few others can compete with.
The Glimmer Twins, as Richards and Jagger are affectionately known, with a songwriting partnership dating back all the way back close to 60 years, began penning tracks for their self-titled debut solo album in 1964. However, with very few of their early creations deemed good enough for their supremely high standards, the pair went away and feverishly honed their craft.
The group’s first two records were a work in progress. The band were learning their sound and did what most artists tended to do in the early to mid-sixties and began relying on cover songs of famous R&B standards in a bid to establish their name and show they knew their stuff. However, for the lead single for 1965’s Out of Our Heads, The Stones finally felt confident enough to share a song that they had penned themselves—that song was ‘The Last Time’.
Making the first piece of new material their lead single from the album was a genius move, allowing the Stones to enter the charts in Britain straight away at number one. This track was famously inspired by a 1955 gospel song called ‘This May Be The Last Time’ by The Staple Singers. There is some controversy regarding the song, however, given its similarities to The Staple Singers effort. However, the R&B group didn’t receive any royalties for the track.
From the outside looking in, it appeared as a rather hypocritical turn of events given the fact that years later indie group The Verve would sample an obscure orchestral version of this very same track recorded by The Andrew Oldham Orchestra in 1966 on ‘Bittersweet Symphony’—a sour situation which led to Verve frontman Richard Ashcroft signing away 100% of the royalties.
This issue, however, was finally resolved in 2019 when Ashcroft revealed the rights had been signed back to him. The musician had also provided support for The Rolling Stones in 2018 in Manchester and Edinburgh despite the legal battle they were embroiled in.
In the 2003 book According to the Rolling Stones, Keith Richards wrote about how the song was a turning point for the band: “We didn’t find it difficult to write pop songs, but it was VERY difficult – and I think Mick will agree – to write one for the Stones,” he said.
“It seemed to us it took months and months and in the end, we came up with ‘The Last Time’, which was basically re-adapting a traditional gospel song that had been sung by the Staple Singers, but luckily the song itself goes back into the mists of time. I think I was trying to learn it on the guitar just to get the chords, sitting there playing along with the record, no gigs, nothing else to do.”
Richards continued: “At least we put our own stamp on it, as the Staple Singers had done, and as many other people have before and since: they’re still singing it in churches today. It gave us something to build on to create the first song that we felt we could decently present to the band to play… ‘The Last Time’ was kind of a bridge into thinking about writing for the Stones.”
That bridge would lead to one of the most fruitful careers in modern music. “It gave us a level of confidence; a pathway of how to do it. And once we had done that we were in the game. There was no mercy because then we had to come up with the next one. We had entered a race without even knowing it.”
Below listen back to The Rolling Stones’ starting pistol.