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(Credit: Bent Rej)

Music

Keith Richards on doing drag with The Rolling Stones

@SamWKemp

Glance over the sleeve of The Rolling Stones’ 1966 single ‘Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow?’ and you’ll see a photograph of Mick Jagger and company dressed head to toe in drag. These days, the iconic rock ‘n’ roll group are remembered as occupying the more macho side of the rock band spectrum. This reminds us that ’60s rock thrived on subverting such binary oppositions as masculine and feminine. Just consider Mick Jagger’s performance style: he’s always been a peacock, a chorus-line dancer and a madame. David Bowie understood this when he described Jagger as the “mother figure” of British rock music: “He’s a mother hen to the whole thing, Bowie added. “He’s not a cock­adoodledoo; he’s much more like a brothel-keeper.”

In his book Keith Richards on Keith Richards: Interviews & Encounters, Richards explained how the photograph came to be: “Jerry Schatzberg took the picture and Andrew [Oldham] ordered a truckload of costumes and Brian [Jones] just laid on me this incredible stuff,” he recalled. “He just said, ‘Take this'”. Britain was not a friendly place to anything outside the norm in the 1960s. Thankfully for Richards the rest of the Stones, the streets were fairly empty when they took the photographs: “We walked down from Park Lane in that gear and we did the pictures,” Richards continued. “It was very quiet, Saturday afternoon, all the businesses are shut but there’s traffic.”

Dressed in the highest of high heels, The Rolling Stones wandered London’s streets, stopping at various locations to pose for the camera, all while hauling Bill Wyman around in a wheelchair. Once the photographer was satisfied, they began taking off their clothes only to realise they had nothing on underneath: “It took a while to get this picture and going back, what do you do?” Richards said. “Do you take half the stuff off and walk back … or do you keep it on?”

To save themselves the trouble of walking around in nothing but their skin, The Rolling Stones decided to keep their outfits on and headed to a nearby bar for a drink: “We sat there and had a beer and watched TV and no one said anything. But it was just so outrageous because Bill stayed in his wheelchair and Brian was pushing him about.”

On release, ‘Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow?’ soared to the top of the US Billboard Charts, rising to number nine on the Hot 100 and staying on the charts for seven weeks. It was also a hit in the UK, bagging the number five spot and staying there for eight weeks. With its exuberant horn section and pounding drums, the single is evidence of just how underrated The Stones’ early work is. Make sure you check it out below.