Why didn’t Mick Jagger or Keith Richards have successful solo careers?

JOHN K writes ...

Most of the Stones’ best songs are real collaborations between Mick and Keith as songwriters. Often Keith came up with the musical core and the main idea for the lyric. But Mick would “flesh” out Keith’s lyric idea in a very brilliant way! So when they go solo, they have weaker songs. Especially Mick.

You could argue that if the Stones songs that Keith sang lead on (and wrote often on his own) had not been released by the Stones but on a solo record, it would have been spectacular. Songs like “You got the silver”, “Coming down again”, “Happy”, “Before they make me run”. So in a way, a Keith solo album is concealed in the catalog of the Stones.

DAN D writes ...

Mick tried to have a solo career; Keith just recorded a few solo albums while waiting for Mick to put the band back together.

Jagger failed because a) he was tool old when he started. He was past 40 when he released his first solo album, too old to capture the attention of younger listeners, b) he was very cautious, just releasing dance pop and power ballads, c) most solo stars connect with their audience in some personal way, but he is very private, ironic, distant, and d) the albums just weren’t very good.

Had he started his solo career earlier, maybe in 1974 when Mick Taylor left the Stones and Keith was a wreck, he might have succeeded. Possibly he could have had a David Bowie-like career. Then again, Bowie was more adventurous and connected in a personal way to his audience.

As for Keith, best he could have hoped for was a Tom Waits type career, maybe making an album in Nashville here, recording in Austin there, doing a jazz standard record. But he wasn’t organized enough in his personal life and needs the machinery of the Rolling Stones behind him.

STEVEN D writes ...

My answer might be similar to others, but here’s my theory.

When you think about the music of The Rolling Stones, depth, richness and meaningful lyrics don’t exactly come to mind. They’re a bit of a garage band or, at least, they have the sound of a garage band. In other words, people didn’t fall in love listening to Stones’ music. When they play live it’s a little bit sloppy and rowdy sounding with Keith hitting half the notes and chords… which is exactly what we want when we see them live. We want the party!

What I think people really love about The Rolling Stones has very little or nothing to do with their music (it’s certainly essential) and more to do with their persona. They defined the rock and roll band. Keith defined what it means to be a “rock star”… sex, drugs, rock and roll, etc. Mick was the typical jet-setting, wealthy, living large, married 87 times, best-ever-front-man a band could want to have.

My wife and I went to see them last year (2021) as they were finishing up the remaining dates of their “No Filter” tour that had been previously cancelled due to COVID.

We didn’t go see them because we were hoping they’d play our favorite song… we went to see them because they are truly living, rock and roll legends, still playing together 60 years after their founding. They are a bucket list item. There aren’t many other bands that are “bucket list” worthy for most people. I know people who go to see The Rolling Stones who come right out and say they hate Stones music but can’t imagine passing up the opportunity to see them live.

More to the point of the question, when Keith and Mick go out and do solo projects, it’s just them doing Stones music just without the rest of the band. It’s not like Mick’s songwriting changes or improves or Keith starts pulling out rich, melodic sounds from his guitar that’s different from what you hear with the Stones. On their own, they’re just not that interesting.

I don’t know that I’d pay to see Mick or Keith perform live, on their own, or buy their solo albums. I’d wait for the next Stones tour and see them all together because, in my opinion that is who they are, who they always will be and precisely how they should keep it.

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