It’s far from a stretch to picture Keith Richards bedraggled in an assortment of wispy rags of clothing, swigging some dusty rum bottle, and proclaiming with a scathing slur: “You will remember this as the day that you almost caught Captain Keith Richards being complimentary.” In fact, the rocker has such little time for reverence that he once famously snorted his own father’s ashes.
Thus, with that in mind, it isn’t really surprising that you don’t often find him sucking up to his fellow acts for the sake of it. Richards doesn’t do much for the sake of it. Half measures are as foreign as a Chinese cheese sandwich to him too. Nevertheless, the disgruntled high-seas sailor of classic rock always retains a degree of good cheer when he embarks on his scathing lambasts.
Below we have curated a collection of some his most cutting appraisals. From slamming Led Zeppelin to ridiculing the Bee Gees, and even levelling a critique against the usually unimpeachable ‘Fab Four’ these are Richards’ finest scathing assessments of his contemporaries. But don’t worry, it isn’t just cynicism, even The Rolling Stones have met with his silver tongue.
10 Keith Richards scathing classic rock assessments:
The Bee Gees high-pitched voices seemingly has Richards thinking they were intoning adolescence a little too literally with their act. When Rolling Stone asked the star guitarist what he thought of the band, he wasted no time in stating: “Well, they’re in their own little fantasy world.”
Continuing: “You only have to read what they talk about in interviews… how many suits they’ve got and that kind of crap. It’s all kid stuff, isn’t it?” Nevertheless, the Bee Gees might argue that at least those suits are velour, and that kid’s stuff sits firmly in the top ten biggest selling records of all time.
Richards has had a multitude of thoughts regarding The Beatles over the years and most of them pertain to thinking that they went rapidly downhill. “I think The Beatles has passed their performing peak even before they were famous,” he once opined.
And he levelled a similar criticism at Sgt. Peppers, “I think they got carried away. Why not? If you’re the Beatles in the ’60s, you just get carried away—you forget what it is you wanted to do. You’re starting to do Sgt. Pepper. Some people think it’s a genius album, but I think it’s a mishmash of rubbish, kind of like Satanic Majesties.” Naturally, the fact that his own band copied it will have some people claiming it undermines his statement.
“I saw them at the Dylan gig on the Isle of Wight and I was disappointed,” Richards said of The Band. “Dylan was beautiful, especially when he did the songs by himself. He has a unique rhythm which only seems to come off when he’s performing solo.”
Adding: “The Band were just too strict. They’ve been playing together for a long, long time, and what I couldn’t understand was their lack of spontaneity.” Perhaps that’s because most of the time they were playing to someone else’s lead.
Ironically, Dylan once had an on-stage spat with The Rolling Stones because he was unhappy with their backing when they collaborated. As Black Crowes frontman Chris Robinson recalled: “The Stones don’t jam; they don’t deviate […] they go around the chorus, and then they come up to Bob’s turn. So, the band brings the [rhythm], and Bob goes to the mic and doesn’t sing it.”
Richards was a little more measured when it came to Led Zep, that is unless you are Robert Plant. “I played their album quite a few times when I first got it, but then the guy’s voice started to get on my nerves. I don’t know why; maybe he’s a little too acrobatic,” he opined.
Nevertheless, he did reserve some praise for the band. “Jimmy Page is a great guitar player,” he added, “and a very respected one.” In fact, he even went a step further in another interview and stated: “To me, Led Zeppelin is Jimmy Page if you want to cut the story short.”
Remarkably, Richards also fell into the oft-misunderstood Bowie trap too. He credited the Hunky Dory track ‘Changes’ as a classic, but quickly added: “I can’t think of anything else he’s done that would make my hair stand up.”
Later taking an even more scathing turn when he commented: “It’s all pose. It’s all fucking posing. It’s nothing to do with music. He knows it too.” Well, no shit Richards, but how many people had the creative ingenuity to pose as an androgynous alien rather than another cliched snarling rock star?
Prince bestrode the 1980s like a little colossus and changed the colour of the era with his expert musicianship, did he ‘Keef’? “An overrated midget,” Richards dismissed. “Prince has to find out what it means to be a prince. That’s the trouble with conferring a title on yourself before you’ve proved it.”
Continuing: “His attitude when he opened for us… was insulting to our audience. You don’t try to knock off the headline like that when you’re playing a Stones crowd. He’s a prince who thinks he’s a king already. Good luck to him.” Yeah, break a little leg, mate.
Now, in a cutting review that seems fitting of the platinum jubilee, perhaps Richards’ most cutting ‘you shouldn’t laugh but you can’t help it insult’ was levelled at Elton John who he called, “An old bitch… his writing is limited to songs about dead blondes.”
John was determined not to be outdone and his response is also comically commendable. “It would be awful to be like Keith Richards. He’s pathetic. It’s like a monkey with arthritis, trying to go on stage and look young. I have great respect for the Stones but they would have been better if they had thrown Keith out 15 years ago,” the Rocketman rallied.
Metallica and Black Sabbath
Before we get into his hatred of Black Sabbath and Metallica, perhaps the music that he loves could explain it all. “What I love about reggae,” Richards explains in the recent Under the Influence documentary, “is that it’s all so natural, there’s none of this forced stuff that I was getting tired of in rock music.” He then goes on to clarify, “Rock ‘n’ roll I never get tired of, but ‘rock’ is a white man’s version, and they turn it into a march, that’s [the modern] version of rock. Excuse me,” he adds humorously, “I prefer the roll.”
This might help explain why he commented: “Millions are in love with Metallica and Black Sabbath. I just thought they were great jokes… I don’t know where Metallica’s inspiration comes from, but if it’s from me, then I fucked up.”
Where do you begin with the amount of fun that Richards has poked at his fabled frontman? Musically, he failed to reserve a spot for him on his 20 greatest singers list, despite putting himself in there. But worse still, he once wrote: “Marianne Faithfull had no fun with his tiny todger. I know he’s got an enormous pair of balls- but it doesn’t quite fill the gap.” Perhaps he had to resort to playing Sticky Fingers?
Thus, in the interest of balance, it seems necessary to conclude things with the praise he reserved for his pal Tom Waits to prove that he does have a softer side. “There’s nobody in the world like him.” Speaking to NPR’s Fresh Air, he spoke of their time working on Waits’ iconic Rain Dogs together, stating: “We wrote songs together for a while and that was fun [but] he doesn’t really remember anything or write anything down. So, you play for an hour and he would yell across the room, ‘Scribe!’ And I looked around. ‘Scribe? Who’s the scribe?’ And he’d say it again, now pointing at me.”