It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll is the twelfth British and fourteenth 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. 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 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 favor 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.
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). Similar to receiving no writing credits on the Stone’s 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. Alongside the usual outside contributors, namely Billy Preston, Nicky Hopkins and unofficial member Ian Stewart, 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?”
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.
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”.
Two different versions of “Luxury” exist. A shorter version of 4:30 is included on the early CD version from 1986, while the version of 5:01 was originally released on vinyl in Europe, and on the 1994 and 2009 CD remasters. The difference is the shorter version starts the fadeout 30 seconds earlier, and thereby missing the short guitar solo at the end.
One of the Rolling Stones’ largest fan clubs goes by the name “It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll”, though its members typically refer to it as “IORR”.
In 1994, It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll was remastered and reissued by Virgin Records, in 2009 by Universal Music, and once more in 2011 by Universal Music Enterprises in a Japanese only SHM-SACD version.
All songs by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, except where noted.
|1.||“If You Can’t Rock Me”||3:46|
|2.||“Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” (Norman Whitfield/Eddie Holland)||3:30|
|3.||“It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll (But I Like It)” (Inspiration by Ronnie Wood)||5:07|
|4.||“Till the Next Goodbye”||4:37|
|5.||“Time Waits for No One”||6:37|
|7.||“Dance Little Sister”||4:11|
|8.||“If You Really Want to Be My Friend”||6:16|
|9.||“Short and Curlies”||2:43|