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Book review sidebar: “Life” by Keith Richards

In the review I posted a few days ago, I mentioned that the best part of “Life,” the autobiography of Keith Richards, is his description in musical terms of the creation of many Rolling Stones songs.

Even for a non-musician like me, these paragraphs were revealing. They have helped me listen to those Stones songs in a new way and enjoy them even more.

I decided to write this sidebar to that review in order to focus on another service that Richards provided, albeit indirectly.

Throughout the books, he mentions, to one extent or another, various musicians who influenced him and various Stones songs with which I was somewhat or totally unfamiliar.

For instance, early on, Richards is talking about various singers and groups he liked when he was 15. One is Johnny Restivo who was known for his song “The Shape I’m In.”

Because the Band has a song of the same title, I tracked down Restivo’s tune, and it turns out that he’s a Buddy Holly sound-alike, and his song shares only the title with the Robbie Robertson tune.

A pro

Then there’s Wizz Jones, an early folkie who was someone Richards and the Stones, just getting started, looked up to:

Wizz Jones used to drop in, with a Jesus haircut and a beard. Great folk picker, great guitar picker, who’s still playing — I see ads for his gigs and he looks similar, though the beard’s gone. We barely met, but Wizz Jones to me then was like…Wizzzz. I mean, this guy played in clubs, he was on the folk circuit. He got paid! He played pro and we were just playing in the toilet.

I found covers by Jones of the songs “Cocaine” and “The First Girl I Loved” (also covered by Judy Collins as “The First Boy I Loved), and they’re delightfully fresh and vulnerable, even today.

A gift from the Beatles

When Richards began describing Stones songs, I learned that, in 1963, John Lennon and Paul McCartney gave “I Wanna Be Your Man” to the group. The Beatles had already recorded it for their next album but weren’t going to release it as a single. So the Stones did.

As you’d expect, they don’t sound like the Mop-tops. It’s a Stones song, for sure, although maybe a bit uncomfortably so.

In fact, the first single released by the Stones was also a cover, “Come On” by Chuck Berry. It’s simplistic and bouncy and a bit infectious.


An inadvertent cover that the Stones made was “Anybody Seen My Baby?” Written by Mick Jagger, the song had been recorded and was on the “Bridges to Babylon.”

A week before the release of the album, Richards says:

My daughter Angela and her friend were at Redlands and I was playing the record and they start singling this totally different song over it. They were hearing K.D. Lang’s “Constant Craving.”

It appears, Richards says, that Jagger must have heard the Lang song and incorporated it into “Anybody Seen My Baby?” without realizing it. The upshot was that Jagger and Richards ended up sharing writing credit with Lang and her co-writer Ben Mink.


“Life” also tipped me off to a beautiful Jagger-Richards ballad “Coming Down Again” as well as others with Richards on lead vocal, including “How Can I Stop,” “Thief in the Night” and his surprisingly effective version of Ned Washington-Hoagy Carmichael tune “The Nearness of You.”

In fact, Richards writes that he got a call from Carmichael who liked that version a great deal. Which led me to find Carmichael’s own rendition, very similar, as well as a variety of other interpretations by Dr. John, Willie Nelson, Norah Jones and Faron Young.


Ultimately, though, for all their ballads and blues and folk songs, the Stones are rockers, and I was delighted to find several up-tempo rock ‘n’ roll numbers I’d somehow missed: “Flip the Switch,” “Rip This Joint,” “You Got Me Rocking,” “Rocks Off,” and “Start Me Up.”

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