Rolling Stones

Keith Richards left Mick Jagger out of his favourite singers of all-time list

In 2008, Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards offered a list of his favourite singers. Modestly, he put himself in last place, knowing he didn’t stand up against the likes of Aretha Franklin, Jimmy Cliff and Buddy Holly. Conspicuously absent from the list, however, was Mick Jagger, his co-writer and lifelong friend. 

Now, we’re not here to wag fingers, so we’re guessing it was meant in jest. Jagger has his fair share of fans, from Simon le Bon to David Bowie, so he’s not doing too badly for himself. 

However, let’s entertain the idea that Richards is indeed criticising Jagger on some level. It may have something to do with the way Jagger chooses rigorous rehearsal over creative spontaneity, it might be the way he insists on hitting every vowel (“YOU CAAN’T ALWAYS..”), or it might simply be the disease Richards describes as ‘lead singer syndrome’. Personally, I don’t know why he didn’t choose ‘disease’, but that’s probably because he doesn’t want to be associated with filthy, filthy drugs. 

Explaining what he meant by ‘lead singer syndrome’, Richards gave a detailed answer that was rife with colour and candour. Ultimately, he shows deep admiration for his longtime teammate and partner: “For a frontman, so to speak, it’s important that he feels like totally confident, you know, he has a band behind him that’s not going to fall apart if he tries anything new,” he said. “To be ludicrous, if you like, we’ll be there. At the same time, the band might not feel the same way, and I was lead singer sometimes,” Richards laughed. “But it’s all tossed up in the air, and every gig is different, so I never got bored doing this stuff.”

His 2010 memoir, Life, is littered with scandal, everyone more revealing than the last. Richards doesn’t hold back on his anger, whether it was Bill Wyman’s decision to leave The Rolling Stones to open a restaurant, or Mick Taylor’s reticence to push himself that further as a guitar player. Interestingly, Charlie Watts comes across best out of the lot, and it’s impossible to imagine any other drummer filling in the role as he did. The technique didn’t drive The Stones, it was patience and unflappable good humour. 

So, maybe that’s why Jagger doesn’t make the top 20 list, largely because he didn’t have the patience or technique of some of the other members. Instead, he’s a born raconteur, regaling audiences with bawdy moves and scintillating falsettos. 

On a personal note, I find it hard to take Keith Richards’ opinion on Mick Jagger seriously. He’s the man who wrote ‘Shine A Light’, the singer who hit those grizzly low notes on ‘Winter’, and he’s the man who made himself look ridiculous in the ‘Dancing In The Streets’ video, for the merriment of the world. Anyone who would appear in this clip is worthy of respect, and secretly, I think Keith Richards would agree with our opinion of him.

Keith Richards’ 20 favourite singers:

  1. Aretha Franklin
  2. Jimmy Cliff
  3. Sam Cooke
  4. Buddy Holly
  5. George Jones
  6. Willie Nelson
  7. Toots Hibbert
  8. Aaron Neville
  9. Muddy Waters
  10. Gram Parsons
  11. Ronnie Spector
  12. Mavis Staples
  13. Otis Redding
  14. Smokey Robinson
  15. Tom Waits
  16. Little Richard
  17. Warren Zevon
  18. Bonnie Raitt
  19. Elvis Presley
  20. Keith Richards

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