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Thursday, June 1, 2023

The Rolling Stones song Keith Richards wrote for his dog

By the late 1960s, The Rolling Stones had well and truly unshackled themselves from early rhythm and blues covers and sought fresh ideas for their songwriting. As Brian Jones’ influence on the band’s direction dwindled amid a worsening relationship with drugs and alcohol, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards inched forth as the group’s creative leaders. 

The songwriting partnership mostly saw Richards on the chart-busting guitar hooks and Jagger on lyrical duties. With the success of Beggars Banquet in 1968 and Let It Bleed the following year, the Stones reached full momentum heading towards their masterpiece albums, Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main St in the early 1970s.

Thanks to the ’60s rock revolution and the sprawling abstractions of the hippie psyche, songwriting inspiration could come from just about anywhere by this point. Through the 1950s and into the early Beatles albums, the pursuit of love took the limelight, but by the late 1960s, songs about yellow submarines or Keith Richards’ gardener were just as acceptable. 

Of course, not all songs became distracted by meaningless focal points. Thanks to the sterling work of Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan, politically driven rock music was also a prevalent force on the radio. For example, the lightbulb for the Stones’ ‘Street Fighting Man’ was lit in Jagger’s mind after he attended a London protest against the American war in Vietnam.

Over the 1970s, The Rolling Stones lost some of their creative impetus leaving the punk era to take the reins. Following the success of 1978’s Some Girls, the Stones’ foray into the disco world, they returned in 1980 with Emotional Rescue. The album arrived at a time when relations between Jagger and Richards weren’t at their best, inspiring the latter to write some rather telling lyrics. 

Emotional Rescue bowed out to ‘All About You’, the album’s only song with Richards on lead vocals. Many fans at the time understandably interpreted it as an attack on Jagger. The lyrics begin: “Well if you call this a life/ Why must I spend mine with you?/ If the show must go on/ Let it go on without you/ So sick and tired hanging around with jerks like you.”

Discussing this interpretation in a 2019 conversation with Mojo, Richards said: “It was a song of love, discarded love,” he said. “I never really thought about it in terms of how it was going to be interpreted – ‘oh, that’s obviously him writing about him!’ I’m just writing another film noir love song… I know that when I was singing ‘All About You’, I was certainly not thinking about Mick. But relationships in the band being the way they were at the time, these feelings are transferable. And once it was pointed out to me, I said, ‘Yeah! Maybe I do mean that!’ We are not in control of our unconscious.”

While ‘All About You’ was left open to interpretation, in a 1981 interview cited in the book Old Gods Almost Dead: The 40-Year Odyssey of the Rolling Stones, Richards said the song was inspired by his “constantly farting Dalmatian”.

I can understand Richards becoming “sick and tired hanging around” with a particularly gassy dog, but later lines like “Tell me those lies, let me think they’re true” and “So how come I’m still in love with you?” cast some doubt on the claim.

Listen to Keith Richards’ ‘All About You’ below.

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