Rolling Stones songs: Waiting On A Friend
*Click for MORE ROLLING STONES SONGS 1962-PRESENT
A smile relieves a heart that grieves/ Remember what I said…
Also known as: Waiting For A Friend, Waiting On My Friend
Written by: Jagger/Richard
Recorded: Dynamic Sounds Studios, Kingston, Jamaica, Nov. 25-Dec. 21 1972; EMI Pathé Marconi Studios, Paris, France, June 10-Oct. 19 1979; Electric Ladyland Studios, NYC, USA, Oct. 11-Nov. 12 1980 and April-June 1981
Guest musicians: Nicky Hopkins (piano), Sonny Rollins (sax)
*Data taken from Martin Elliott’s book THE ROLLING STONES COMPLETE RECORDING SESSIONS 1962-2012
This is a rare mature reflection from The Stones, as Mick Jagger sings about the values of friendship as opposed to women. Then again, it might be about drugs. Keith Richards was a heroin user at the time, and the song could be a euphemism for waiting on the “connection” – the man with the drugs. Should Keith (or in this case, Mick, as he is singing in the video) get questioned by the police, his response would be, “I’m just waiting on a friend.”
Originally recorded in 1972 at the sessions for their album Goats Head Soup, “Waiting On A Friend” didn’t make the cut but was repackaged and released on Tattoo You nine years later. Released as a single, it did very well in America thanks to the advent of MTV; the network launched in 1981 and was thrilled to have a new video by a rock band of The Stones’ stature.
There are no musician credits on Tattoo You, but it’s clear that Mick Taylor contributed on guitar, which he was not compensated for. Taylor left The Stones in 1974.
Think this is about waiting for a woman? Think again. Mick Jagger said in 1983: “Just let me be cynical for a moment. First of all, it’s really NOT about waiting on a woman friend. It’s just about a FRIEND; it doesn’t matter if it’s a man or a woman. I can see people saying, Oh, we’re all much older now, Mick’s writing this much more compassionate stuff, must be about a real person. But that’s only in their perception of it.”
The Stones hired jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins to play on the Tattoo You album. He played on this as well as the tracks “Neighbours” and “Slave.”
The music video is very literal: Mick Jagger is standing in a doorway, waiting for his friend (Keith Richards) to come by. Then they go to a bar and meet up with the rest of the band. Directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg, who did their Rock and Roll Circus special in 1968, it did very well on MTV despite the very simple concept; the network launched a few months before the song was released as a single, and they were desperate for big-name rock acts.
The video was filmed in New York City; the building where they are waiting also shows up on the cover of Led Zeppelin’s album Physical Graffiti.
This also features Nicky Hopkins on piano, Jimmy Miller on percussion and Kasper Winding on tambourine. Winding was a Danish session drummer who played on the Tattoo You sessions.
Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day says this is the song he wants played at his funeral. “It’s one of the best songs they’ve ever written,” he told Entertainment Weekly. When you’re up in heaven, or wherever you’re at, you’re just waiting for friends to come along.”
From the The Rolling Stones – All the Songs book:
Keith Richards: “‘Waiting on a Friend’ is one of those songs that you
write sometimes, and when you hear it back you say, ‘What was that really
about?’ At one level it’s just a nice song and I don’t think there’s ever any
Mick Jagger takes a markedly different view. For him, “Waiting on a
Friend,” which dates from the Goats Head Soup sessions, is a reflection on
friendship, as he explains in the booklet to the compilation Jump Back: “We
all liked it at the time but we didn’t have any lyrics, so there we were. As
well as the vocal, we stuck on that amazing sax solo at the end by Sonny
Rollins. The lyric I added is very gentle and loving, about friendships in the
band.” The refrain says it all: I’m not waiting on a lady/I’m just waiting
on a friend. Just like Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s video, in fact, which shows
Mick Jagger and Keith Richards meeting up outside a New York City
apartment building and going to a bar where Bill Wyman, Charlie Watts,
and Ron Wood have already congregated.
“Waiting on a Friend” was the A-side of the second single from Tattoo
You. Released on November 27 and 30, 1981 (coupled with “Little T&A”),
it reached number 13 in the United States and the Netherlands, but only
made it to number 50 in the United Kingdom
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