The Rolling Stones had a tried-and-tested method for creating songs: jam until something good came out. While Mick Jagger and Keith Richards often brought the basic elements of a song into the studio with the band, the changes made to arrangements, lyrics, and keys would often happen spontaneously. Tracks like ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ and ‘Can’t You Hear Me Knocking’ were completely different before the rest of the band got a hold of the basic tracks and revamped them into their classic forms with extended jams and new improvisations.
While messing around in the studio during the sessions for Some Girls, the basic idea for a new song came up. It was a rocker with a slight reggae feel, and Jagger’s improvised lyrics eventually got the song labelled ‘Never Stop’. The Stones continued to hammer away at the arrangement, but eventually, frustration took over when a proper feeling couldn’t be achieved.
“It was one of those things we cut a lot of times; one of those cuts that you can play forever and ever in the studio,” Richards later commented. “Twenty minutes go by and you’re still locked into those two chords … Sometimes you become conscious of the fact that, ‘Oh, it’s ‘Brown Sugar’ again,’ so you begin to explore other rhythmic possibilities. It’s basically trial and error. As I said, that one was pretty locked into a reggae rhythm for quite a few weeks. We were cutting it for Emotional Rescue [sic], but it was nowhere near coming through, and we put it aside and almost forgot about it.”
Although the reggae versions of ‘Never Stop’ weren’t up to the band’s standards, a few up-tempo rock versions of the song were jammed by the band before abandoning the song completely. When engineer Chris Kimsey began digging through the band’s archives for potential new material, he came across the rock versions of ‘Never Stop’ and proposed to Jagger that the demos could be fleshed out into a full song.
“Including run-throughs, ‘Start Me Up’ took about six hours to record,” Kimsey observed. “You see, if they all played the right chords in the right time, went to the chorus at the right time and got to the middle eight together, that was a master. It was like, ‘Oh, wow!’ Don’t forget, they would never sit down and work out a song. They would jam it and the song would evolve out of that. That’s their magic.”
It’s not certain if this version of ‘Never Stop’ was one of the takes that Kimsey pulled from the vault, but it certainly seems like it. Charlie Watts’ drums sound almost identical, but the key of the song is slightly different and Jagger’s vocals are completely improvised, mumbles and all. Still, most of the basic elements of ‘Start Me Up’ are present in ‘Never Stop’, barring the single most important part of the song: Richards’ signature riff.
Check out the demo recording of ‘Never Stop’ down below.