It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll is the 12th British and 14th American studio album by The Rolling Stones, released in 1974. It was the last Rolling Stones album for guitarist Mick Taylor and the songwriting and recording of the album’s title track had a connection to Taylor’s eventual replacement, Ronnie Wood. It also marked the 10th anniversary since the band’s debut album. The album has a firmer rock sound than the band’s previous album, the more funk- and soul-inspired Goats Head Soup. The album reached #1 in the US and #2 in the UK.
Work began on It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll following the Rolling Stones’ fall 1973 European tour. Production began in November at Munich, Germany’s Musicland Studios. According to guitarist Keith Richards, “We were really hot (off the road) and ready just to play some new material.” The recording sessions were attended by Belgian painter Guy Peellaert, who Mick Jagger invited to do the album cover after seeing his work in the book Rock Dreams, which featured illustrations of various rock musicians such as the Stones. Peellaert eventually painted the band as “rock deities”, descending a temple staircase, surrounded by young girls and women worshipping them in Grecian clothing. The artist refused to sign a deal of exclusivity, and in 1974 provided another album art, David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs.
The album was at first developed as a half-live, half-studio production with one side of the album featuring live performances from the Stones’ European tour while the other side was to be composed of newly recorded cover versions of the band’s favourite R&B songs. Covers recorded included a take of Dobie Gray’s “Drift Away”, Shirley & Company’s “Shame, Shame, Shame”, and The Temptations’ “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg”. Soon the band began working off riffs by Richards and new ideas by Mick Jagger and the original concept was scrapped in favour of an album with all-new material. The cover of “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” was the only recording to make the cut, while the “Drift Away” cover is a popular bootleg.
It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll marked the Stones’ first effort in the producer’s chair since Their Satanic Majesties Request, and the first for Jagger and Richards under their pseudonym “The Glimmer Twins”. On the choice to produce, Richards said at the time:
“I think we’d come to a point with Jimmy (Miller) where the contribution level had dropped because it’d got to be a habit, a way of life, for Jimmy to do one Stones album a year. He’d got over the initial sort of excitement which you can feel on Beggars Banquet and Let It Bleed. Also, Mick and I felt that we wanted to try and do it ourselves because we really felt we knew much more about techniques and recording and had our own ideas of how we wanted things to go. Goats Head Soup hadn’t turned out as we wanted to – not blaming Jimmy or anything like that… But it was obvious that it was time for a change in that particular part of the process of making records.”
Starting with this release, all future Rolling Stones albums would either be produced by them or in collaboration with an outside producer.
Most of the album’s backing tracks were recorded first at Musicland; solo vocals were recorded later by Jagger, about whom Richards would say, “he often comes up with his best stuff alone in the studio with just an engineer.”
The song “Luxury” showed the band’s growing interest in reggae music, while “Till the Next Goodbye” and “If You Really Want to Be My Friend” continued their immersion in ballads. Seven of the album’s ten songs crack the four-minute mark, a feature that would come to be disparaged during the rising punk rock scene of the late 1970s.
Ronnie Wood, a longtime acquaintance of the band, began to get closer to the Rolling Stones during these sessions after he invited Mick Taylor to play on his debut album, I’ve Got My Own Album to Do. Taylor spent some time recording and hanging out at Wood’s house The Wick. By chance, Richards was asked one night by Wood’s wife at the time, Krissy, to join them at the guitarist’s home. While there, Richards recorded some tracks with Wood and quickly developed a close friendship, with Richards going as far as moving into Wood’s guest room. Jagger soon entered the mix and it was here that the album’s lead single and title track, “It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll (But I Like It)”, was first recorded. Wood worked closely on the track with Jagger, who subsequently took the song and title for their album. The released version of this song features Wood on twelve-string acoustic guitar.
It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll was Mick Taylor’s last album with the Rolling Stones, and he played on just seven of the ten tracks (he did not play on tracks 2, 3, and 6). Due to Taylor’s absence, Richards is responsible for the brief lead guitar break on “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg”, the distorted electric guitar on the title track which includes the solo, and played both rhythm and lead guitar tracks on the “Luxury” studio recording. However, on the occasional live performances of “Luxury” during the Tour of the Americas ’75, lead guitar was provided by Ron Wood. Even though Mick Taylor is present on “Short and Curlies”, his slide guitar playing panned onto the right channel/speaker is mostly buried underneath Richards’ own lead guitar throughout most of the track which is panned to the left channel/speaker.
Similar to receiving no writing credits on the Stones’ previous album, Goats Head Soup, Taylor reportedly had made songwriting contributions to “Till the Next Goodbye” and “Time Waits for No One”, but on the album jacket, all original songs were credited to Jagger/Richards. Taylor said in 1997:
“I did have a falling out with Mick Jagger over some songs I felt I should have been credited with co-writing on It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll. We were quite close friends and co-operated quite closely on getting that album made. By that time Mick and Keith weren’t really working together as a team so I’d spend a lot of time in the studio.”
Taylor’s statement contradicts Jagger’s earlier comment concerning the album. Jagger stated in a 1995 Rolling Stone interview about “Time Waits for No One” that Taylor “maybe threw in a couple of chords”.
Alongside the usual outside contributors, namely Billy Preston, Nicky Hopkins and unofficial member Ian Stewart, Elton John sideman Ray Cooper acted as percussionist for the album. Several songs were finished songs and overdubs and mixing were performed at Jagger’s home, Stargroves, in the early summer of 1974.
In July, the lead single, “It’s Only Rock ’n Roll (But I Like It)”, was released, and despite the familiar sound, it surprised many by failing to reach the top 10 in the US (although it did reach the top 10 in the UK). With its sing-along chorus, it has become a staple at Rolling Stones concerts. The B-side “Through the Lonely Nights” dates back to the previous year’s Goats Head Soup sessions. A cover of “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg”, originally a 1966 hit by The Temptations, was released as the second single in the US only, where it also became a top 20 hit. Its parent album appeared in October with brisk initial sales, reaching number two in the UK (breaking a string of number-one albums that stretched back to 1969’s Let It Bleed) and number one in the US, where it eventually went platinum.
Reviews were largely positive, with Jon Landau calling It’s Only Rock ’n Roll “one of the most intriguing and mysterious, as well as the darkest, of all Rolling Stones records.” However rock critic Lester Bangs disparaged the album in The Village Voice, much like Goats Head Soup, saying, “The Stones have become oblique in their old age, which is just another word for perverse except that perverse is the corniest concept extant as they realized at inception… Soup was friendly and safe. I want the edge and this album doesn’t reassure me that I’ll get it, what a curious situation to be stuck in, but maybe that’s the beauty of the Stones, hah, hah, kid? This album is false. Numb. But it cuts like a dull blade. Are they doing the cutting, or are we?”
Author James Hector added that It’s Only Rock ’n Roll was a definitive turning point for the band. “The album marked the band’s decisive entry into a comfortable living as rock’s elder statesmen. From this point on, their youth culture importance vanished, and there would be few musical surprises in the future.” Hector concluded with “On It’s Only Rock ’n Roll, the band had become what they imagined their mass audience desired them to be. They were wrong.”
Instead of immediately touring to promote the album, the band decided to head back into the Munich studios to record the next album, to Mick Taylor’s disappointment and subsequent resignation from the band. A tour didn’t happen until the following summer in the US, the ‘Tour of the Americas ’75’, with future member Ronnie Wood taking Taylor’s place on guitar.
The title track became a permanent staple of the band’s live setlist, but apart from some performances of “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” and “If You Can’t Rock Me” on the Licks Tour, none of the other tracks have been performed since 1977. “Till The Next Goodbye”, “Time Waits For No-One”, “If You Really Want To Be My Friend” and “Short and Curlies” have never been played live.
In order to promote the album, music videos were filmed for several of the songs. The most commonly seen video from the album was the video for “It’s Only Rock’n’Roll (But I Like It)”, featuring the band (in sailor suits) playing in a tent, which gradually fills with soap bubbles (Taylor is featured in the video but did not actually play on the recorded cut). Videos were also filmed for “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” and “Till The Next Goodbye”.
Mick Jagger (vocals; guitar on 04. + 10.)
Keith Richards (guitar, background vocals; bass on 01.)
Mick Taylor (guitar, slide-guitar, synthesizer on 05., congas on 07., bass on 10.)
Charlie Watts (drums)
Bill Wyman (bass, synthesizer on 10.)
Ray Cooper (percussion)
Nicky Hopkins (piano on 04. – 06., 08. + 10.)
Charlie Jolly (tabla on 10.)
Ed Leach (cowbell on 02.)
Blue Magic (background vocals on 08.)
Billy Preston (piano on 01., 02., 10., clavinet on 02., organ on 08.)
Ian Stewart (piano on 03., 07. + 09.)
Basic track on “It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll (But I Like It)”:
David Bowie (background vocals)
Kenney Jones (drums)
Willie Weeks (bass)
Ronnie Wood (guitar, background vocals)
01. If You Can’t Rock Me (Jagger/Richards) 3.48
02. Ain’t Too Proud To Beg (Whitfield/Holland) 3.30
03. It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll (But I Like It) (Inspiration by Ronnie Wood) (Jagger/Richards) 5.07
04. Till The Next Goodbye (Jagger/Richards) 4.39
05. Time Waits For No One (Jagger/Richards) 6.48
06. Luxury (Jagger/Richards) 5,03
07. Dance Little Sister (Jagger/Richards) 4.12
08. If You Really Want To Be My Friend (Jagger/Richards) 6.19
09. Short And Curlies (Jagger/Richards) 2.45
10. Fingerprint File (Jagger/Richards) 7.01