The Rolling Stones' Keith Richards on writing songs in his autobiography Life (Back Bay Books). He talks about being forced to be tuned to the world to find material, and how it made him feel like a bit of a Peeping Tom - something most writers would find familiar.
"One hit requires another, very quickly, or you fast start to lose altitude. At that time you were expected to churn them out. 'Satisfaction' is suddenly number one all over the world, and Mick and I are looking at each other, saying, 'This is nice.' Then bang bang bang at the door, 'Where's the follow-up? We need it in four weeks.' And we were on the road doing two shows a day. You needed a new single every two months; you had to have another one all ready to shoot. And you needed a new sound. If we'd come along with another fuzz riff after 'Satisfaction,' we'd have been dead in the water, repeating with the law of diminishing returns. Many a band has faltered and foundered on that rock. 'Get Off of My Cloud' was a reaction to the record companies' demands for more -- leave me alone -- and it was an attack from another direction. And it flew as well.
"So we're the song factory. We start to think like songwriters, and once you get that habit, it stays with you all your life. It motors along in your subconscious, in the way you listen. Our songs were taking on some kind of edge in the lyrics, or at least they were beginning to sound like the image projected onto us. Cynical, nasty, skeptical, rude. We seemed to be ahead in this respect at the time. There was trouble in America; all these young American kids, they were being drafted to Vietnam. Which is why you have 'Satisfaction' in Apocalypse Now. Because the nutters took us with them. The lyrics and the mood of the songs fitted with the kids' disenchantment with the grown-up world of America, and for a while we seemed to be the only provider, the soundtrack for the rumbling of rebellion, touching on those social nerves. I wouldn't say we were the first, but a lot of that mood had an English idiom, through our songs, despite their being highly American influenced. We were taking the piss in the old English tradition. ...
"And because you've been playing every day, sometimes two or three shows a day, ideas are flowing. One thing feeds the other. You might be having a swim or screwing the old lady, but somewhere in the back of the mind, you're thinking about this chord sequence or something related to a song. No matter what the hell's going on. You might be getting shot at, and you'll still be 'Oh! That's the bridge!' And there's nothing you can do; you don't realize it's happening. It's totally subconscious, unconscious or whatever. The radar is on whether you know it or not. You cannot switch it off. You hear this piece of conversation from across the room, 'I just can't stand you anymore'... That's a song. It just flows in. And also the other thing about being a songwriter, when you realize you are one, is that to provide ammo, you start to become an observer, you start to distance yourself. You're constantly on the alert. That faculty gets trained in you over the years, observing people, how they react to one another. Which, in a way, makes you weirdly distant. You shouldn't really be doing it. It's a little of Peeping Tom to be a songwriter. You start looking round, and everything's a subject for a song. The banal phrase, which is the one that makes it. And you say, I can't believe nobody hooked up on that one before! Luckily there are more phrases than songwriters, just about."
Author: Keith Richards Title: Life Publisher: Back Bay Books Date: Copyright 2010 by Mindless Records, LLC Pages: 179-183