When The Rolling Stones’ guitarist Keith Richards announced he would be releasing his memoir, chronicling the highs and lows of one of the preeminent rock stars of all time, the running joke was “could he remember any of it?”
It was a fair assumption, after all, it is well known that Richards was perhaps one of the heaviest abusers of narcotics during his pop music pomp. As the leading guitarist for one of the biggest bands on the planet, it was almost expected. Having once boasted staying up for 9 days straight and also writing ‘Satisfaction’ quite literally in his sleep, how much Richards could put down on paper was widely questioned.
Naturally, as Richards had done throughout most of his life, he showed up and delivered the goods. The book contained a sprawling account of his time both on and off the road and is one of our favourite rock memoirs around. The book is full of revelations that would give certain stars an entire career, while for Richards they act as funny tidbits. Like the time he and John Lennon took an LSD road trip to Lyme Regis or when he once became the live-in nanny of a young child while on tour in Australia. It really is all in here.
Debauched tales are all well and good but the book actually hangs on one thing and one thing alone—music. For Keith Richards, his book Life was about the very thing that kept him going all these years, the same thing that likely sees him seemingly defying odds and continuing to survive. Music is everything to Richards and in the book, he mentions around 280 songs that have held some significance for him.
Now, thanks to one avid reader ‘miller.eh’ who has compiled the entire playlist, we can get lost in the same songs which inspired one of the greats. These are the songs that soundtrack Keith Richards life.
Of course, there are a number of Elvis Presley songs on the list and while he did offer an unbridled taste of rock ‘n’ roll for those British kids across the pond, Richards was far more interested in the band. Perhaps more precisely in the skills of his primo-guitarist, Scotty Moore.
Though he was never the technical player Jimmy Page is, for instance, Moore could certainly make your toes tap, and to Richards that is about as good as it gets. Speaking with RS, he told the magazine, “Scotty Moore was my hero. There’s a little jazz in his playing, some great country licks and a grounding in the blues as well. It’s never been duplicated. I can’t copy it.”
Also included in the mammoth playlist is Little Richard with whom Keith has also shared some great times. Of course, it simply wouldn’t be a list of influential songs without Chuck Berry, arguably one of Richards’ ultimate heroes. “When I started, all I wanted to do was play like Chuck [Berry]. I thought if I could do that, I’d be the happiest man in the world,” Richards once remarked of the iconic rock and roller.
Speaking with Rolling Stone he shed some more light on the moment Berry spoke to him and the performance he gave on a landmark film. “When I saw Chuck Berry in Jazz on a Summer’s Day as a teenager, what struck me was how he was playing against the grain with a bunch of jazz guys,” the avid jazz-lover himself, the dissent sparked life into an idea for Richards.
“They were brilliant — guys like Jo Jones on drums and Jack Teagarden on trombone — but they had that jazz attitude cats put on sometimes: ‘Ooh… this rock and roll…’ With ‘Sweet Little Sixteen,’ Chuck took them all by storm and played against their animosity.” He continued “To me, that’s blues. That’s the attitude and the guts it takes. That’s what I wanted to be.”
If you continue down the playlist you will come into contact with some of the vital touchpoints which turned a kid from Dartford with a penchant for the Delta blues into one of the most well-known rock stars of the last two centuries. That’s because the playlist doesn’t just offer only a ream of 12-bar blues bombshells, it also toys with the other loves in Richards’ life, country music and reggae.
Perfectly worked in alongside these avenues of musical discovery are also Rolling Stones songs which Richards talked of. It feels a charming way to see how these influences intertwine with one another, formulating the myth and legend that still stands on most stages with a smile on his face and his guitar round his neck.
These aren’t just the songs which feature in Keith Richards’ Life they’re also the songs that are his life. They are woven to create the tapestry of Keef we know and love today.
Take some time off and listen to the ultimate Keith Richards playlist.