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Keith Richards Singing Rolling Stones’ ‘Wild Horses’ & ‘Gimme Shelter’


The Rolling Stones have earned renown as one of the most captivating live acts in history. Their vitality defies their years, and their charismatic stage presence stands as a testament to their nearly six decades of dominance in the industry. Yet, it is frequently overlooked that the band's contributions in the studio are equally significant.


Under the leadership of Jagger and Richards, the band became renowned for their innovative studio techniques. While counterparts like Pink Floyd and The Beatles were known for their meticulous manipulation of tapes and loops, the Stones embraced a more spontaneous approach, unafraid to pursue inspiration wherever it might lead them. It was this infectious energy that transformed mere demos into chart-topping gold records.



Their creative process often involved last-minute alterations, with Keith Richards frequently outmatching even the studio engineers—sometimes staying awake for days on end in pursuit of perfection. He was often the driving force behind these daring experiments, bringing them to fruition in the studio. Below, we present two such experiments in the form of classic demos of Stones songs 'Wild Horses' and 'Gimme Shelter'.



They're a touch more intriguing for one simple reason: they showcase Keith Richards stepping into the spotlight as the lead vocalist.

While the guitarist may have shaped the band's identity with his signature sleazy riffs and gritty demeanor, hearing him sing on these iconic singles feels somewhat unusual. It's not that Richards possesses a subpar voice—his solo albums are a testament to that fact alone. However, these songs are so deeply associated with his partner's distinctive vocal style that hearing Richards take the lead has a knack for unsettling your senses.



‘Gimme Shelter’ is one of the defining songs of the band. Not only because the track has a deeply tragic side involving both Altamont and the sensational Merry Clayton but because it represented the end of the sixties free-spirited love-in. With that, hearing Richards version of the vocal can feel a bit pallid in comparison.



On ‘Wild Horses’ however, a song which Richards felt very close to, the guitarist’s demo of the song is emboldened by the tenderness Richards’ vocal has in spades. Taken from Sticky Fingers, Richards later said that the song is a quintessential Stones track: “Everyone always says this was written about Marianne but I don’t think it was; that was all well over by then. But I was definitely very inside this piece emotionally.”


Richards added: “If there is a classic way of Mick and me working together this is it. I had the riff and chorus line, Mick got stuck into the verses. Just like ‘Satisfaction’, ‘Wild Horses’ was about the usual thing of not wanting to be on the road, being a million miles from where you want to be.”



It is precisely this emotion that Richards infuses into his demo. Born from feelings of solitude and yearning, Richards strums his guitar like a wandering troubadour and pours his heart into the lyrics. While subsequent renditions of the song may feature more polished vocalists (such as Debbie Harry's rendition), nothing quite compares to the raw authenticity that the guitarist brings to the table.

 




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