Nightly Song
Musings on Songs that Strike a Chord Tonight

Waiting on a Friend – The Rolling Stones

Waiting on a Friend

Performed by the Rolling Stones. Written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. You can hear the studio version and see time-period video here. You can buy the song from iTunes here and buy the album Tattoo You here.

What a perfect, hip-swaying, Reggae mellow ode to friendship.  No snarling here, no sex or drugs, just a Caribbean breeze of a summer song with Mick singing about the virtues of a friendship.  Bill Wyman’s soulful bass and Charlie Watt’s subtle drumming set the foundation, but the real musical touches come from the guests: Nicky Hopkins lightly tripping on the piano and Sonny Rollins adding the sax solos that shimmy and shine in perfect keeping with the song’s laid back groove. The sax solos and Mick’s soft “do-do-dos” end the song as if the friends of the title have caught up and they’re lounging with their feet up watching some island sunset. 

The warmth and openness of the song separate it from much of the Stones catalogue:

Don’t need a whore,
I don’t need no booze,
Don’t need a virgin priest,
But I need someone I can cry to,
I need someone to protect

If Mick didn’t sing with such ease and comfort you’d almost think the song a joke, but Jagger makes you believe his heart is in this one. Maybe he’s all grown up as the final lines suggests:

Making love and breaking hearts,
It is a game for youth,
But I’m not waiting on a lady,
I’m just waiting on a friend.

The Stones first began recording this song during the Goats Head Sup sessions in Jamaica (surprise) in 1973 and revived it during the 1981 sessions for the Tattoo You album.  With a rhythm so irresistible, there’s no wonder the song kept coming back. Jagger says he only had to add some lyrics to pull it all together. While they did add Sonny Rollins’ sax solos in the latter sessions, the band kept Mick Taylor’s guitar work from the earlier recordings.  Jagger commented on the song in the liner notes to a later compilation album, “We all liked it at the time but it didn’t have any lyrics, so there we were… The lyric I added is very gentle and loving, about friendships in the band.”

The Video for “Waiting on a Friend”

Always loved this video both for the New York setting and the sheer fun of seeing the Stones goofing around. It opens with Mick hanging on the front steps of a building on St. Mark’s Place (same building that Led Zeppelin used on the cover of Physical Graffiti) with several Rastas, one of whom is Peter Tosh. (Jagger and Tosh recorded a single, “(You Got to) Walk and Don’t Look Back.”) Mick is resplendent as only he could be in his white pants, madras shirt and floppy hat, keeping the beat by tapping his fingers on the door way and maintaining a lookout for his friend. And who should amble by? None other than a disheveled Keith Richards, smoking a cigarette, scarf draped around his neck. Mick watches some girls pass when Keith comes up and greets him with a hug and you want to believe that through it all these two really are friends, that they are the same two who first hit it off in a fabled encounter on a train station platform when Mick saw this guy hauling around a stack of blues albums. Keith meet Mick and so it goes.

After hanging on the steps for a few minutes, the two friends amble down the street that feels like early 1980’s New York pre-East Village gentrification, dirty, full of character. They duck into St. Mark’s Bar and Grill, a long gone neighborhood watering hole. And whom do they see sitting on the bar stools, but the rest of the Stones; cue hugs all around. Ronny Woods and Keith Richards look like twin fixtures who could live in the place to avoid the sunlight. The video reminds us how long these guys had been together and that was only 1981. They’re a motley crew, sharing beers, Mick shaking and mouthing (lipping?) the words of the song till they make their way to the back of the bar where, lo and behold, instruments await, and they finish out the song.  What great fun.

Michael Lindsay-Hogg directed the video (he also directed the 1968 film, The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus) and it saw lots of play on MTV.

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