One of the most influential musicians in history, guitarist Keith Richards helped The Rolling Stones to become one of the best-selling bands of all time with more than 200 million records sold worldwide. Responsible for many lyrics and great guitar riffs of their catalogue, Richards talked many times about how he composes songs and gave some tips on how the process of writing a song should be. Rock and Roll Garage selected 3 tips he gave over the years for writing songs.
Some of his most famous compositions that Richards helped The Rolling Stones to compose are ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” “Satisfaction,” “Ruby Tuesday,” “Start Me Up” and “Happy”.
3 tips from The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards for writing songs
It doesn’t matter where you are
Legendary Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards often answers fans questions on his website and Youtube channel in an section called “Ask Keith“. Back in 2016, the musician talked if the location you’re at when you are trying to write a song matters. He said (Transcribed by Rock and Roll Garage): “I think when you are writing songs it doesn’t matter where you are. Probably in some of the most boring places in the world is where you’re going to write a good song, because you’ve got nothing else to do.”
“I think that writing songs has little to do with places and spaces.” Then the musician points to his head and heart, saying that: “And it doesn’t matter where you are if going to write a song. Songs are written not mechanically. Not in rooms. They are are written inside (points to his head). So it wouldn’t matter where”.
There are no rules
Even though many musicians say that there is some kind of formula to follow when you are trying to compose a track, according to Keith there are no rules in the making of a song. He told Rolling Stone back in 2020: “When you’re writing songs, there are no fucking rules. In fact, you’re looking to break them. You’re looking to sort of find the next missing chord. You’re looking to find the next best way to express things. Writing songs is not about the lyrics one side and music on another.”
“It’s about the two coming together. You can be a great poet and you might write some lovely music. But the art and the beauty of writing songs is to pull those two together, where they seem to love each other. That’s writing songs.”
He also said that he only think about “hooks and bridges” only when “they get in the way”.
The greatest guitar riffs are not planned
According to Richards the greatest guitar riffs are not planned, they just come out of the blue at any moment. This is the story of almost all the greatest guitar riffs of Rock and Roll as many musicians told over the decades. The “Satisfaction” riff, for example, came to Richards mind when he was sleeping. When he woke up, he quickly recorded the idea that was later used by The Stones.
During the same interview with Rolling Stone, the musician explained what makes a great riff, saying: “It should be spontaneous. Absolutely the guy that’s actually doing it (shouldn’t) know where it comes from. It just appears at your fingertips. Is coming out of the instrument.”
“That is a great riff. Totally unthought about, unstructured, no rules, no nothing. It’s just, one minute it ain’t there, and the next minute, there it is.” The musician finished the video singing the “Satisfaction” riff.