Rolling Stones songs: The Last Time
*Click for MORE ROLLING STONES SONGS 1962-PRESENT
Well I told you once and I told you twice/ That someone will have to pay the price…
Written by: Jagger/Richard
Recorded: De Lane Lea Studios, Kingsway, London, England, Jan. 11-12; RCA Studios, Hollywood, USA, Jan. 17-18, Feb. 18 1965
Guest musicians: Jack Nitzsche (tambourine)
*Data taken from Martin Elliott’s book THE ROLLING STONES COMPLETE RECORDING SESSIONS 1962-2012
This was inspired by a 1955 gospel song called “This May Be The Last Time” by The Staple Singers. The Stones changed the meaning of the song, making it into a stern message to a girl. The Staples version had a more uplifting message and was much more spiritual.
Many gospel fans felt The Stones ripped it off, since The Staple Singers never got any royalties from it. Since it is a traditional song (meaning no one owns the rights to it), many artists have recorded it, but The Stones were a very high-profile band that had success reworking songs by black artists into hits. Many people believe The Stones should have compensated The Staple Singers because it was based on their version of the song.
In the 2003 book According to the Rolling Stones, Keith Richards wrote: “We didn’t find it difficult to write pop songs, but it was VERY difficult – and I think Mick will agree – to write one for the Stones. It seemed to us it took months and months and in the end we came up with The Last Time, which was basically re-adapting a traditional gospel song that had been sung by the Staple Singers, but luckily the song itself goes back into the mists of time. I think I was trying to learn it on the guitar just to get the chords, sitting there playing along with the record, no gigs, nothing else to do…
…At least we put our own stamp on it, as the Staple Singers had done, and as many other people have before and since: they’re still singing it in churches today. It gave us something to build on to create the first song that we felt we could decently present to the band to play… The Last Time was kind of a bridge into thinking about writing for the Stones. It gave us a level of confidence; a pathway of how to do it. And once we had done that we were in the game. There was no mercy, because then we had to come up with the next one. We had entered a race without even knowing it.”
This song did have some clear antecedents in black American music, in particular the 1964 James Brown single “Maybe the Last Time,” which was itself based on ideas found in a traditional gospel song that had been recorded, but not written, by the Staple Singers. Some have accused the Stones of literally stealing from their black heroes, but “The Last Time” is clearly different from and more rock-oriented than the tracks recorded by James Brown and the Staple Singers, although there are some similarities in approach and the use of the title lyric.
The Stones recorded this in Los Angeles on a one day tour stopover on their way to Australia. The Stones were on a grueling American tour, but in order to capitalize on their success they wanted to keep cranking out singles, especially in England because they were not there. As a result, they frequently recorded in between American shows.
Phil Spector assisted with the production. You can hear his “Wall Of Sound” approach on the recording.
The opening guitar riff repeats throughout the song. This was an innovative device for a pop song at the time.
A 1997 song called “Bitter Sweet Symphony” by The Verve sampled an obscure orchestral version of this track recorded by The Andrew Oldham Orchestra in 1966. Oldham was the Rolling Stones manager, and taking a cue from Beatles producer George Martin, he released an album called The Rolling Stones Songbook which contained this track and other instrumental versions of the group’s hits.
The Verve got the rights to the sample itself from Decca Records, but they didn’t get the publishing rights to “The Last Time” until just before the song was released. The Stones’ former manager Allen Klein, who owned these rights, was able to hold up release until The Verve signed away 100% of the publishing for the song, giving him extensive royalties, as “Bittersweet Symphony” was a radio hit and even used in a Nike commercial.
This was the first song Mick Jagger and Keith Richards wrote that was an A-side single. The Stones played a lot of covers before they learned to write songs.
The Who recorded this in 1967 as a show of support when The Stones were being held in England on drug charges.
From the The Rolling Stones – All the Songs book:
“The Last Time” is the first out-and-out rock ’n’ roll composition by Mick
Jagger and Keith Richards to be used as the A-side of a single. Keith
Richards: “It took us eight, nine months before we came up with ‘The Last
Time,’ which is the first one that we felt we could give to the rest of the
guys without being sent out the room. If I’d gone to the Rolling Stones with
‘As Tears Go By,’ it would have been ‘Get out and don’t come back.’”
Mick and Keith wrote “The Last Time” in their London flat at 10a Holly
Hill in the tranquil district of Hampstead at the end of 1964. The refrain was
inspired by the Staple Singers’ version of the gospel number “This May Be
the Last Time,” recorded for Vee-Jay in 1955. Keith Richards explains: “I
think I was trying to learn it on guitar just to get the chords, sitting there
playing along with the record.” And by dint of working away at it, he
eventually came up with a song that was completely different from the
original gospel number—other than the title and a good portion of the
words, that is. “Mick and I played around with it for days because we
weren’t happy with the first title we thought up, which was The Last
Time,” confided Keith Richards, not without a touch of humor, to Beat
Instrumental (April 1965). In the end, after failing to come up with
anything better, they retained it. Most of the song, however, is pure Rolling
Stones. It even contains the first riff that truly bears the stamp of the
London group! The words, meanwhile, are addressed to a young woman
who has evidently been giving her boyfriend a hard time, with the result
that he has decided to leave. “The Last Time” was released as a single in the
United Kingdom on February 26, 1965. By March 4 it had climbed to
number 1, where it remained for three of its thirteen-week stay in the charts.
This was the third consecutive number 1 by the group in its home country,
but the first to be credited to Jagger-Richards.
“The Last Time” is not just another Rolling Stones song. It marked a
decisive moment in their career. Jagger and Richards had finally established
themselves as songwriters capable of getting to the top of the charts. “It
gave us a level of confidence; a pathway of how to do it,” admits Keith
Richards, “and once we had done that, we were in the game.” Over the
course of the following months, they demonstrated this confidence time and
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