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Don’t Forget the Songs-365: Mach Dos: Day 174
Mon. July 1, 2012

“As Tears Go By”
The Rolling Stones
1965

“♫ I sit and
watch as tears
go by
♫”

In this celebratory year of the 50th Anniversary of The Rolling Stones, we look back at that day in 1964 when The Glimmer Twins, Mick and Keith, made rock history by composing their first original song— “As Tears Go By.” Legend has it that The Stones manager, at that time, Andrew Loog Oldham had locked Mick and Keith in the kitchen, ordering them not come out until they had written an original song with the specific instructions of—“I want a song with brick walls all around it, high windows and no sex.”

It makes you think, what if Oldham wasn’t brave enough to force Jagger and Richards to compose their own original song? Would Mick and Keith ever have written anything as timeless as “Gimme Shelter” or “Wild Horses” without first penning the song that was originally entitled—“As Time Goes By” but Oldham tweaked the title, because it was too similar to the standard from the Bogart classic film— Casablanca, to “As Tears Go By” and cleverly gave himself co-writing credit.

Keith Richards recalled the moment he and Mick came up with “As Tears Go By” in his already vintage tome Life, as he enlightened us when he wrote —“we weren’t trying to write a commercial pop song. It was just what came out. I knew what Andrew wanted; don’t come out with a blues, don’t do some parody or copy, come out with something of your own. A good pop song is not that easy to write. It was a shock, this fresh world of writing our own material, this discovery that I had a gift had no idea existed. It was Blake-like, a revelation, an epiphany.”

Drummer Charlie Watts also talked about the importance of Mick and Keith composing of “As Tears Go By” when he said in According to The Rolling Stones—“From my point of view Andrew was the one who pushed Mick and Keith into writing songs. He made Mick and Keith start writing “As Tears Go By.” Mick immediately went into an early English style—that music was the very, very beginning of flower power.”

Powerful stuff, life changing and revolutionary, yet somehow, most critics point to “Satisfaction” as Stones breakout hit but if it wasn’t for “As Tears Go By” would the Stones have progressed into their well-earned moniker as The World’s Greatest Rock ‘n Roll Band? One of my favorite, post modern day Rock ‘n Roll scribes, Mark Spitz explained the importance of Mick and Keith’s composing “As Tears Go By” in his most excellent Mick biography, Jagger, when he wrote —”“As Tears Go By” is the moment it all begins; a point of serendipity, the instant the Stones delineated themselves not just songwriters, not merely rebels but romantic figures, never again to be easily dismissed as thugs. Here, Mick Jagger, already a sex object, became a poet.”

So true and “As Tears Go By,” with no surprise to many Stones faithful fans, was originally written for—“a woman” because as Spitz wrote—“Sometimes the best art comes from the need to impress girls.” Take it from this poet, Spitz is so right, all great art comes from the creator trying to impress the fairer sex. In this case, the “girl” Jagger attempted to woo was none other than Marianne Faithfull. Faithfull herself was the first artists to record Mick & Keith’s inaugural song “As Tears Go By” would soon become Mick’s future paramour.

“[As Tears Go By] was one of the first things I ever wrote. I see songwriting as having to do with experience, and the more you’ve experienced, the better it is. But it has to be tempered, and you just must let your imagination run.” Jagger reminisced with Rolling Stone editor Jann S. Wenner when he further explained—“It’s a very melancholy song for a 21-year-old to write. It’s very dumb and naive, but it’s got a very sad sort of thing about it, almost like an older person might write. You know, it’s like a metaphor for being old.”

I always wanted to know how Mick composed his songs. I love it when songwriters discuss the creation of their craft, especially from this man who would go on to write a plethora of future hits like “Paint it Black” and “Let’s Spend The Night Together;” Jagger talked to Wenner about his songwriting process for “As Tears Go By” when he explained— “You can’t just experience something and leave it at that. You’ve got to try and embroider, like, any land of writing. And that’s the fun part of it. You have this one experience looking out of a window, seeing children. Well, you might not have felt anything, but then you just let your mind drift and dream, and you imagine an older person doing that. You put yourself in their point of view, and you start to write […] all this is a very subconscious thing. Out of that comes a mature thought, out of a young person. You use your own experience, and then you spice it up with your friends’ observations and your imagination.”

As you can see, “As Tears Go By” was more than just the first original song ever composed by Jagger/Richards, Mick and Keith would never have become The Glimmer Twins if it wasn’t for this classic that former manager Andrew Loog Oldham literally forced them to compose by locking them in the kitchen; talk about a recipe for success? If only more modern day managers followed Oldham lead’s maybe we’d have more exemplary songwriters like Mick and Keith Richards.

I like to think Keith and Mick were destined to be one of the songwriting partners in the same league as Lennon & McCartney. The Beatles were the touchstone and with “As Tears Go By” The Stones finally made into the big leagues. You see with one lovely song composed in dirty kitchen went from being just another stylized UK blues band into a rock band with classical substance.

Not one of my favorites but, as we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of our beloved Rolling Stones, I appreciate the historical significance of the moment when Mick and Keith, not only wrote their first famous hits song, but created a legacy that still clings to our heart strings; echoing the beautiful melancholy that comes to light— reminding me of the overcast eternal dreams- evoking the London skies of “As Tears Go By.”

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