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Music

The song Keith Richards wrote that was inspired by "panties"

Keith Richards may appear grizzly to the world at large, but peer behind the layers and you’ll find a deeply sensitive individual, damaged by broken friendships, lost loves and unrealised dreams. In one of his memoir’s more moving passages, Richards recalls the tears he swallowed upon hearing about the death of his infant son, Tara Jo Jo Gunne

Richards responded to the news the only way he knew how: by performing. “If I just sit here with this idea, I don’t know what I’ll do,” Richards admitted. “Maybe it was just a sense of self-preservation… it was a rough, rough thing. I had a feeling this is a show and I must go on stage. I’ll worry and grieve and think about this all after the show”.

This wasn’t the first time he let his feelings guide his creative muse, and Richards had used The Rolling Stones as an outlet for his emotions since the sixties. Take ‘Ruby Tuesday’, for example. Superficially, the song calls attention to dying embers of love, but the lyric was a deeply personal one for Richards to write, and despite all the flourishes that beef up the arrangement, it is the narrative that draws listeners into the song. 

“It was probably written about Linda Keith not being there,” laughed Richards in an interview. “I don’t know, she had pissed off somewhere. It was very mournful, very, VERY Ruby Tuesday and it was a Tuesday.”

For his part, Mick Jagger contributed virtually nothing to the song, barring the vocal delivery. It didn’t affect his passion for the song. “‘Ruby Tuesday’ is good,” Jagger revealed. “I think that’s a wonderful song. It’s just a nice melody, really. And a lovely lyric. Neither of which I wrote, but I always enjoy singing it.”

If the song has a co-writer, it’s Brian Jones, a multi-instrumentalist the Stones had utilised to help diversify their output. The sitar that cements ‘Paint It, Black’ was Jones’ finest contribution, but ‘Ruby Tuesday’ features a gorgeous recorder line that more than compensates for the lack of guitar heard on the track. Bridging the gap between Beatle and Stones fandom, Jones contributed a saxophone to Paul McCartney’s barmy, ‘You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)’

Besides Richards lyrics, Jones’ recorder helped to put ‘Ruby Tuesday’ in the echelons of pop. The Beatles had just unveiled ‘Eleanor Rigby’, The Kinks had released the similarly stark ‘Sunny Afternoon’, and artists were being pushed to compose works of a more mature nature. In only two years, British pop had jumped from the bounciness of ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ to the pummelling ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’, so it was proving harder and harder for acts to rise up to the challenge. 

The shimmering ‘Ruby Tuesday’ features on Between The Buttons, an otherwise unfocused, occasionally patchy, collection of songs. In any other year, Between the Buttons might have sufficed, but compared to Revolver, the album sounds paltry, derivative, lightweight even. 

But it does demonstrate the band’s development as an outfit, and the band -particularly Richards – were delving into their past experiences to beef up their albums. They no longer depended on a hook or a stormy vocal to deliver a belter of a track- they just had to be sincere in their intentions. 

“That’s one of those things – some chick you’ve broken up with,” Richards recalled. “And all you’ve got left is the piano and the guitar and a pair of panties. And it’s goodbye you know. And so it just comes out of that. And after that you just build on it. It’s one of those songs that are easiest to write because you’re really right there and you really sort of mean it. And for a songwriter, hey break his heart and he’ll come up with a good song.” 

Normally, a songwriter needs to look at a photograph to be reminded of their loved ones, but Richards only required the underwear of a lover to write a tune in their honour. Director Wes Anderson used the tune in The Royal Tenenbaums, as a tale of unfulfilled love dies before the eyes of the audience. But like Richards before them and several others after them, they’ll still have the memories to look back on. 

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