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Rolling Stones songs: As Tears Go By
*Click for MORE ROLLING STONES SONGS 1962-PRESENT
My riches can’t buy everything/ I want to hear the children sing…
Written by: Jagger/Richards
Recorded: Regent IBC Studios, London, England, Oct. 26 1965
*Data taken from Martin Elliott’s book THE ROLLING STONES COMPLETE RECORDING SESSIONS 1962-2012
This was one of the first songs written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. The Stones manager, Andrew Oldham, gave it to a singer he also managed named Marianne Faithfull, who released it in 1964. It was going to be the B-side of her first single, but the record company decided to make it the A-side and it became her first hit. The Stones recorded it a year later. Faithfull became Mick Jagger’s girlfriend in 1966. Their tumultuous relationship ended 3 years later. In that time, she helped write “Sister Morphine” and gave Jagger the book that inspired “Sympathy For The Devil.”
In a 1992 interview with Guitar Player magazine, Keith Richards said: “suddenly, ‘Oh, we’re songwriters,’ with the most totally anti-Stones sort of song you could think of at the time, while we’re trying to make a good version of (Muddy Waters’) ‘Still A Fool.’ When you start writing, it doesn’t matter where the first one comes from. You’ve got to start somewhere, right? So Andrew locked Mick and myself into a kitchen in this horrible little apartment we had…
…He said, ‘You ain’t comin’ out,’ and there was no way out. We were in the kitchen with some food and a couple of guitars, but we couldn’t get to the john, so we had to come out with a song. In his own little way, that’s where Andrew made his great contribution to the Stones. That was such a flatulent idea, a fart of an idea, that suddenly you’re gonna lock two guys in a room, and they’re going to become songwriters…
…Forget about it. And it worked. In that little kitchen Mick and I got hung up about writing songs, and it still took us another six months before we had another hit with Gene Pitney, ‘That Girl Belongs To Yesterday.’ We were writing these terrible Pop songs that were becoming Top-10 hits. I thought, ‘What are we doing here playing the f–king blues, and writing these horrible Pop songs and getting very successful?’ They had nothing to do with us, except we wrote ’em…
…And it took us a while to come up with ‘The Last Time.’ That was the first one we came up with where Mick and I said, ‘This is one we can lay on the guys.’ At the time we were already borrowing songs from the Beatles – ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’ – because we were really hard up for singles. So they gave us a hand. In retrospect, during the ’60s the Stones and the Beatles were almost the same band, because we were the only ones in that position.”
The original title was “As Time Goes By.” It was changed to avoid confusion with the song from Casablanca.
Mick Jagger (1995): “I wrote the lyrics, and Keith wrote the melody. It’s a very melancholy song for a 21-year-old to write: The evening of the day, watching children play – 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: You’re watching children playing and realizing you’re not a child. It’s a relatively mature song considering the rest of the output at the time. And we didn’t think of doing it, because the Rolling Stones were a butch Blues group. But Marianne Faithfull’s version was already a big, proven hit song… It was one of the first things I ever wrote.”
When Mick and Keith wrote this, The Stones were still playing mostly Blues covers at their shows. This did not fit their raucous image, but it established The Stones as a band that could pull off the occasional ballad.
Jagger sang and Keith Richards played acoustic guitar over a string arrangement. No other Stones performed on the song.
The strings were arranged by Mike Leander, who did The Beatles “She’s Leaving Home.”
This was released as a single in the US because ballads were popular there at the time. The release in England was delayed 6 months because they did not want to compete with “Yesterday” by The Beatles. When they finally did release it there, it was as the B-side of “19th Nervous Breakdown.”
Mick Jagger told The Independent in 2001: “I sang about children then. I wrote that song when I was 20. It was reflective – though they weren’t my children at that point (laughs).”
Along with “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and “19th Nervous Breakdown,” this was one of three songs The Stones performed on their February 13, 1966 Ed Sullivan Show appearance, which was the first time they appeared in color on a US broadcast.
In 2006 in Milan, the Rolling Stones played this live as “Con Le Mie Lacrime.”
Marianne Faithfull’s version of “As Tears Go By” reached number #9 on the UK singles chart in 1964 and #22 on the Hot 100, launching her career as a major singer.
Faithfull was damning about “As Tears Go By,” describing it as “a marketable portrait of me… a commercial fantasy that pushes the right buttons.” Despite this, she recorded it three times: as a 1964 single, for 1987’s Strange Weather, and again on 2018’s Negative Capability.
From the The Rolling Stones – All the Songs book:
Keith Richards: “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 really that easy to write. It was a shock, this
fresh world of writing our own material, this discovery that I had a gift I
had no idea existed. It was Blake-like, a revelation, an epiphany.”
Paradoxically, one of the very first songs penned by the Rolling Stones
was a romantic ballad, light-years away from anything the Dartford duo
would subsequently write. The narrator of this melancholy-filled number is
moved by the sight of children playing, by their smiling faces—the simple
things of life that are worth more than all the riches in the world. Behind all
this there is great sadness, as the title suggests. For the taciturn Charlie
Watts, “… that music was the very, very beginning of flower power.”
Mick Jagger recalls: “I wrote the lyrics, and Keith wrote the melody. But in some
rock, you know, there’s no melody until the singer starts to sing it.
Sometimes there’s a definite melody, but quite often it’s your job as the
singer to invent the melody. I start with one melody, and I make it another
melody, over the same chord sequence.” The music may well have been
written by Keith Richards, but the gifted songwriter Lionel Bart remembers
“… helping out with the lyrics of ‘As Tears Go By’ with Mick, and on
‘Satisfaction.’” Fact or fantasy?
After listening carefully to “As Tears Go By,” originally titled “As Time
Goes By,” Andrew Loog Oldham liked it but did not regard it as an
appropriate song for the Rolling Stones. He therefore offered it to a young
singer named Marianne Faithfull, whom he had just met. She had not yet
recorded anything, but Oldham saw in her a talent waiting to be discovered.
“As Tears Go By,” which was thus favored over a song by the same Lionel
Bart (“I Don’t Know How”), was released as a single in June 1964 (with
“Greensleeves” as its B-side) and climbed to a very respectable ninth place
in the UK charts on September 16, 1964, before reaching number 6 on the
Billboard chart on January 29, 1966. Marianne Faithfull’s career was
launched… Amusingly, Faithfull would later explain that she felt “‘As
Tears Go By’ was like a Françoise Hardy song,” adding that “Maybe that’s
what Mick picked up from me when we met.”5
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Categories: Can You Hear the Music?