Rolling Stones Keith Richards live in Germany, 1965
(Credit: Bent Rej)

From Chuck Berry to Etta James: The 8 songs Keith Richards couldn’t live without

There aren’t many institutions in British rock and roll that outstrips The Rolling Stones’ unstoppable guitarist and all-round rock star Keith Richards—in fact, we can’t think of more than two, one being Mick Jagger. Back in 2015, the guitar-slinger came face-to-face with the other and met his match when he was invited on to the BBC’s Desert Island Discs.

On the show, Richards, like many before him, is asked to imagine himself on an inescapable desert island, equipped with only a few luxury items including a book and something fun (he picks a machete). Luckily, the island does have one necessity for any diehard musician like Keef, it has a jukebox filled with the eight songs of your choosing. Below, we’re taking a look at the chat and bringing you his eight song choices, AKA the songs Keith Richards couldn’t live without. It’s a naturally eclectic mix.

Rock and roll may have started in the American deltas but The Rolling Stones, guided by avid blues consumers Mick Jagger, Brian Jones and Keith Richards, did a very good job of establishing the genre on both sides of the pond in the 1960s with their searing performances and powerful recordings. It’s a trait that they’ve extended into this century too with an unstoppable continuation of their “it’s only rock and roll but I like it” ethos that sees them continue touring to this day, filling stadiums and selling records as easily as they did in those first moments.

It’s an ethos that Richards has always held close to his heart alongside an unfathomable rebellious streak. Before detailing his favourite tracks to the radio show host Kirsty Young, the singer offered some glistening glimpses into his life off stage too. You can listen to the full interview below and get a double dose of what makes Keith Richards so widely treasured.

It seems rebellion was in Richards’ blood since the very beginning as the guitarist details: “The school said ‘you have to go down a year because you haven’t done your chemistry’ [because he’d spent too much time on being in choir]. There was no fairness here. Suddenly you’re 13 and you’re down with the 12-year-olds. So that’s when it started to ferment.”

While the streak of rebellion will never truly leave ‘Keef’, the guitarist did also reflect on the image which has followed him around throughout his career and how, now, it doesn’t feel so appropriate. “The image is like a ball and chain. I do love old Keith, and I do love the way people cotton on to him. It’s one part of me and a lot of that’s in the past. I’m growing up, or rather evolving. I suppose with grandchildren I suddenly realise I’m in it for the longer haul.” We’re very glad he is because nobody is quite like Keef.

Rolling Stones' Keith Richards Piano, Denmark, 1965
(Credit: Bent Rej)

The first choice for the anarchic guitarist was a no-brainer: “‘Wee Wee Hours’ Chuck Berry, first off a great inspiration to me, and I thought also that I would like to hear something that is not obviously Chuck Berry, to be surprised. And it’s always surprised me this track, such a supple blues, almost Nat King Cole in style with the brilliant piano of Johnny Johnson.” It’s a startling first pick to keep the sun-baked days at bay and also shows that while Richards may be perceived as a wild man of rock, he’s done his homework on the subject.

The Rolling Stone then takes presenter Young back to his formative years and highlights the influence his parents had on him during those precious childhood moments. Most notably he ability to find “a half-hour of great music” on any BBC dial. The second disc paid tribute to that constant searching for music with Hank Williams’ ‘You Win Again’, Richards admitting: “I couldn’t live without a bit of Hank.”

Richards then pays homage to other stalwarts Aaron Neville, Etta James and Freddie Scott with picks of some of their more notable numbers ‘My True Story’, ‘Sugar on the Floor’ and ‘Are You Lonely For Me’ respectively. While Richards’ love of rhythm ‘n’ blues is known to any who have heard a lick of The Rolling Stones, he then selects a reggae classic with Gregory Isaacs ‘Extra Classic’, as it reminded him of a special time.

“Gregory Isaacs, well many many years I lived in Jamaica and I’ve always thought that Gregory was one of the best songwriters that came out of that island and a sweet singer,” he said. “There was a sense in the seventies in Jamaica that gave me a reminder of the early sixties in England, that something was happening,” he added, before concluding: “‘Extra Classic’ was a song where I met my old lady, so I thought I’d carry that through.”

Richards then makes a very deliberate nod to his musical chops by selecting Nigel Kennedy and the English Chamber Orchestra’s ‘Spring from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons’. “Suddenly I got classical. I was agonising about this as Mozart was my man. But I found out while reading some of his letters that the only good word he had to say about any composer in the world was Vivaldi.” The singer muses in his deep gravel tone that being on a desert island would mean “no seasons” so he’d pick Vivaldi’s ode to spring.

The final choice was back on track as Richards picks up Little Walter’s “Top of the line Rhythm and Blues, Little Walter. If I’m on a desert island I’m just thinking ‘where’s the highway?'” And so it ends, Keith Richards’ Desert island Discs, a collection of songs that The Rolling Stones’ guitarist could never live without.

Keith Richards 8 favourite songs of all time:

  • Chuck Berry – ‘Wee Wee Hours’
  • Hank Williams – ‘You Win Again’
  • Aaron Neville – ‘My True Story’
  • Etta James – ‘Sugar On The Floor’
  • Freddie Scott – ‘Are You Lonely For Me’
  • Gregory Isaacs – ‘Extra Classic’
  • Nigel Kennedy and the English Chamber Orchestra – ‘Spring from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons’
  • Little Walter – ‘Key To The Highway’

Listen to the full episode below:

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