“He doesn’t do Zoom”: Mick Jagger reflects on how his songwriting partnership with Keith Richards has changed and discusses Paul McCartney’s bass playing on new Rolling Stones album Hackney Diamonds

Mick Jagger and Keith Richards
(Image credit: Getty Images)

With the release of new album Hackney Diamonds just a few weeks away, the Rolling Stones PR machine is gathering no moss.

The latest piece of promo sees frontman Mick Jagger being interviewed by CBC News and pondering a variety of subjects, including his creative partnership with Keith Richards, what it was like to have Paul McCartney playing bass on the new record, and finishing songs that feature the drumming of the late Charlie Watts.

The Jagger/Richards songwriting axis is the one that the Stones legacy has been built on, of course, and it feels somewhat remarkable that, after all these years, it still actually exists. However, as Jagger explains, the dynamic has certainly changed.

“It’s so different now because we used to live in the same apartment when we started off writing songs together,” he confirms. “I wouldn’t even play guitar half the time - I’d just be writing the toplines for Keith’s chord sequences. And he would sometimes suggest melodies and I would come up with all the words… but that’s a long time ago and things evolve and change.”

Discussing how the partnership works now, Jagger says: “I like to write songs on my own. I don’t live on the same continent as Keith; he doesn’t do Zoom so I can’t write on Zoom with him. But still when we got together in Jamaica and started jamming these things around, it’s the same as we always have been.”

One of the most eagerly-awaited songs on Hackney Diamonds is Bite My Head Off, a song that features none other than Paul McCartney on bass. As interviewer Tom Power says, this collaboration will be laced with meaning for many fans, but although Jagger understands this, he also suggests that the recording session itself was pretty chilled.

“It was all in the room together,” he reveals. “I’m playing guitar, Keith’s playing guitar, Paul’s playing bass, Ronnie [Wood]’s playing guitar. It seemed so natural. Paul was so natural and relaxed and he enjoyed it, and we knocked it out really quick.”

Has Jagger always been pals with Paul, though? When Power suggests that John Lennon was the Beatle that Mick was tightest with the star is happy to acknowledge this, but also suggests that this didn’t come at the expense of friendship with McCartney.

“John was a great close friend of mine,” Jagger recalls, “and he was very acerbic and funny and witty and intelligent and everything, but I also knew Paul who was a different kind of personality. I’ve always been friends with him, and we don’t see each other that much but we do sort of text each other… so we do sort of keep in touch.”

Another Hackney Diamonds highlight for Stones fans will be hearing the drumming of Charlie Watts, who features on two of the 12 songs. Explaining how these were selected, Jagger says: “Over the last five years we’d done quite a bit of recording, but it had been a bit sporadic and there was a lot of unfinished material. So when we were putting this together we said ‘which ones do we think would fit on this record that Charlie’s on?’ and we finished those. And so there are these two tracks we picked with Charlie on.”

Whether Watts will also feature on the next Stones album - “we’re two thirds through the next one,” claims Jagger - remains to be seen, but he’s clear on how the Stones have managed to keep going for so many years.

“By staying abreast of what’s going on,” he believes. “You have to understand how things work in the current world. The record business being a business of technology, it never stays the same, ever.”

Hackney Diamonds will be released on 20 October. Angry, the first single from the album, is out now.

Ben Rogerson

I’m the Deputy Editor of MusicRadar, having worked on the site since its launch in 2007. I previously spent eight years working on our sister magazine, Computer Music. I’ve been playing the piano, gigging in bands and failing to finish tracks at home for more than 30 years, 24 of which I’ve also spent writing about music and the ever-changing technology used to make it.