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Credit: Bert Voerhoff

The Rolling Stones song that Mick Jagger sang as a joke

Country music is an essential pillar to the unique sounds and stylings of The Rolling Stones. The band that embraced Chicago blues, wayward psychedelia, roots rock, and Chuck Berry-style rock and roll also had a fondness for the dulcet tones of the Bakersfield sound. When Keith Richards formed a bond with former Byrds guitarist Gram Parsons, who at the time was pushing country further into the rock world than anyone else, it only solidified the band’s dedication to reproducing all kinds of uniquely American-rooted musical genres.

Mick Jagger was well aware of his distinct lack of country music bona fides. Richards cracked, and weary voice was ideally suited for the genre, but Jagger’s flamboyant strut and hard-edged bark wasn’t quite as adept at singing those types of songs. He simply didn’t have the necessary twang, which shouldn’t be a surprise for a young man raised in Kent. So instead, Jagger decided to mix in elements that he had perfected: over-the-top showmanship and a hint of absurdity.

“I love country music,” Jagger told Rolling Stone, “But I find it very hard to take it seriously. I also think a lot of country music is sung with the tongue in cheek, so I do it tongue in cheek. The harmonic thing is very different from the blues. It doesn’t bend notes in the same way, so I suppose it’s very English, really. Even though it’s been very Americanised, it feels very close to me, to my roots, so to speak.”

Jagger is speaking with Jann Wenner, founder of Rolling Stone Magazine, back in a 1995 retrospective called “Mick Jagger Remembers”, and here he’s talking specifically about ‘Dead Flowers’, the southern-fried heroin-referencing cut from the band’s 1971 classic Sticky Fingers. ‘Dead Flowers’ wasn’t the first time the band had dipped into the country world: ‘Country Honk’ was explicitly modelled after the genre, while elements of country can be found in ‘You Got the Silver’ and ‘Dear Doctor’. But ‘Dead Flowers’ did represent an embrace on Jagger’s part of the sillier and less serious delivery that he would utilise on band’s future country material like ‘Far Away Eyes’.

The ‘Country’ songs we recorded later, like ‘Dead Flowers’ on Sticky Fingers or ‘Far Away Eyes’ on Some Girls, are slightly different (than our earlier ones),” Jagger said in 2003. “The actual music is played completely straight, but it’s me who’s not going legit with the whole thing, because I think I’m a blues singer not a country singer – I think it’s more suited to Keith’s voice than mine.”

Country music would return to the band’s repertoire, colouring classic tracks like ‘Sweet Virginia’, ‘Torn and Frayed’, and ‘Winter’, and would have a permanent effect on the band’s musical growth. But even if the Stones could put together an entire album on country music, Jagger would likely baulk at the idea. A jokey country song every now and again is all that the band needs.

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