Few writing partnerships can boast a 50-year relationship. In fact, few partnerships, in general, have lasted as long as the relationship between The Rolling Stones’ singer Mick Jagger and guitar gunslinger Keith Richards. Their time together in one of the biggest bands the world has ever seen may be well documented but the singer and guitarist, who together wrote some of the Stones’ most longstanding songs, have been friends for far longer than you might imagine.
The moment two artists meet to form something special is worth remembering and for Jagger and Richards, it is a story lifted straight from a Richard Curtis rom-com. It not only involves a chance meeting but a recognition of their previous lives together and even a connecting piece of memorabilia too. It truly is like the beginning of a love affair and, if you’re honest, that’s what Jagger and Richards have always been a part of.
The Glimmer Twins, as they became affectionately known for their star-spangled style, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were a songwriting force to be reckoned with. Though not always equipped with the subtlety of some songwriters, what they lacked in perceived kudos from the intelligentsia they made up for in foot-stomping, hip-swaying, party-starting rock and roll. It became the crowning achievement of The Rolling Stones — they could make anyone dance.
In truth, we didn’t dawdle on the pair’s triumphs within The Rolling Stones, chances are you not only know them all but have them stacked on your vinyl shelf. Instead, we’re taking a trip back to 1940s of grey England and the outskirts of London where two children would become friends and, in time, legends. Jagger’s remembering of it, and the times that surrounded their connection, provide an enticing read.
A 1995 interview with Rolling Stone gave the leading man of the publication’s namesake the chance to really open up. Despite never being a fan of rehashing the past, knowing how two behemoths of rock met is always a temptation too irresistible to turn down. It begins with the kind of thing your grandparents say about each, “I can’t remember when I didn’t know him,” which pulls at your heartstrings.
“We lived one street away; his mother knew my mother, and we were at primary school together from [ages] 7 to 11,” continued Jagger. “We used to play together, and we weren’t the closest friends, but we were friends.”
It wasn’t as simple as all that though, “Keith and I went to different schools when we were 11, but he went to a school which was really near where I used to live,” he explained, adding: “But I always knew where he lived, because my mother would never lose contact with anybody, and she knew where they’d moved. I used to see him coming home from his school, which was less than a mile away from where I lived.” It would seem that things were simpler back then.
Childhood friends may be one thing but jumping to being bandmates is a whole other thing entirely and not a leap made without proof that the dual ideas would be respected. Jagger also shared how they went from mates to bandmates too. “This is a true story – we met at the train station. And I had these rhythm & blues records, which were very prized possessions because they weren’t available in England then. And he said, ‘Oh, yeah, these are really interesting’. That kind of did it. That’s how it started, really.” A shared love of music which would radiate throughout their careers.
“We started to go to each other’s house and play these records,” continued the ‘Brown Sugar’ singer. “And then we started to go to other people’s houses to play other records. You know, it’s the time in your life when you’re almost stamp-collecting this stuff. I can’t quite remember how all this worked. Keith always played the guitar, from even when he was 5. And he was keen on country music, cowboys. But obviously at some point, Keith, he had this guitar with this electric-guitar pickup. And he played it for me. So I said, ‘Well, I sing, you know? And you play the guitar.’ Very obvious stuff.”
It may have been obvious to them but the combination of Richards’ innate love of the guitar and the belief in its power to bring people together would only be accentuated by Jagger’s expressive and unique style of showmanship. “I used to play Saturday night shows with all these different little groups. If I could get a show, I would do it.”
Adding: “I used to do mad things – you know, I used to go and do these shows and go on my knees and roll on the ground – when I was 15,16 years old. And my parents were extremely disapproving of it all. Because it was just not done. This was for very low-class people, remember. Rock & roll singers weren’t educated people.”
Little did they know that Jagger would be doing his own educating of the masses for decades to come and, forging a new path for alternative music with his close friend right beside him.