Considering everything thrown at The Rolling Stones throughout their rollercoaster career, one which has seen them both drink from the fountain of wealth and fight through unimaginable suffering, they’ve taken each milestone in their stride with suitable rock and roll style. At one point, however, the band came close to accepting that their tenure was no more.
The Stones had already endured the death of Brian Jones, their former founder and enigmatic leader. Even though he’d left the band weeks before his passing, it still rocked them to their core, and The Stones found a way to plough on. The 1970s were equally full of difficulties, but characteristically, they discovered a way to put their discrepancies aside for the sake of the band’s survival.
However, the cracks began to show on their 1983 album, Undercover, when Keith Richards and Mick Jagger no longer had the same creative ideas for the band. Chris Kimsey, who co-produced the album, later told The Independent: “That was the worst time I’d ever experienced with them. We recorded a lot of it in Nassau [Bahamas], then mixed it in New York at the Hit Factory. I would get Mick in the studio from like, midday until seven o’clock, then Keith from like, nine o’clock till five in the morning.”
He added: “They would not be together. They specifically avoided each other. Mick would say, ‘When’s he coming in? I’ll be there later’. After about a week, it was killing me. And it was such silly things, like one would say, ‘What did he do?’ And I’d play a bit, and the other would say, ‘Get rid of it’.”
Things then worsened when Mick Jagger decided that if he was going to make the art that he desired, he’d need a new vehicle to do so, a decision that prompted him to sign a solo deal with CBS. The changing of the seasons was much to the irritation of Richards, who still yearned for the return of their early days, and struggled to cope with The Stones no longer being Jagger’s priority. On top of that, in an interview, Jagger brutally said: “It’s ridiculous. No one should care if the Rolling Stones have broken up, should they? I mean, when the Beatles broke up, I couldn’t give a shit. I thought it was a very good idea. With me, people seem to demand that I keep their youthful memories intact in a glass case specifically preserved for them.”
Additionally, drummer Charlie Watts, who was the trusted sensible head of the group, who, against all odds, managed to keep The Stones ticking over while everything shattered to a million pieces around him, sadly succumbed to heroin addiction. From 1982 until 1989, the band stayed off the road, and it looked like they’d never tour again. Recording commitments meant that they had to reconvene in the studio for 1986’s Dirty Work, and the relationship between the band was almost non-existent.
In fact, for large parts of the recording process, Jagger was absent, and Richards had to be the leading light to ensure that the ship didn’t sink. Understandably, the album turned out to be a faux pas, a project that left the future of The Stones hanging by a thread. After the guitarist dipped his toes into the world of solo artistry in 1988 with Talk Is Cheap, The Rolling Stones came back together a year later for Steel Wheels with a renewed vigour.
Somehow, the pair managed to leave their problems in the past, proving that their creative bond is eternal. Even though for the majority of a decade they couldn’t bear the sight of one another, remarkably, Jagger and Richards managed to return from the brink not just as friends, but as a creative force.