A birthday visit through the Stones singer’s side hustles
July 26th marks Mick Jagger’s 80th birthday. Let’s celebrate by looking at one of the least-celebrated sections of his gargantuan legacy.
Jagger’s certainly not the first musical giant of his generation to reach octogenarian status. Both surviving Beatles got there before him, just for starters. But he’s arguably the definitive boomer Rock Star, so in his case the transition seems even more significant. How, then, might we best honor this milestone?
You could occupy multiple forests with the paper that’s been devoted to documenting Jagger’s work with the Rolling Stones. So instead, let’s look back at some of his most compelling extracurricular activities. After all, when you’ve got Mick Jagger guesting on your record, that makes a major statement about your own position in the musical pecking order. Here then, is a highlight reel full of artists Mick deemed worthy to receive some of his mighty mojo. (PS – Before you ask, “Dancing in the Street” isn’t here because that was an official Jagger/Bowie duo release and therefore not technically a Mick guest appearance.)
“You’re So Vain” – Carly Simon (1972)
This may be Mick’s most famous guest appearance, even though it’s limited to backing vocals. Carly Simon’s notoriously saber-toothed takedown of an unnamed paramour inspired water-cooler conversations all the way into the ‘80s at least, trying to determine the identity of the egomaniacal subject. (Warren Beatty was always a popular guess). So Jagger was probably relieved just to be on the right side of Simon’s ire. Does he stand out? Even amid the high-sheen production, when he goes into his falsetto echoing her “so vain,” he might as well be pressing his thumb on an inkpad and offering up his prints.
AUDIO: Carly Simon “You’re So Vain”
“[You Gotta Walk] Don’t Look Back” – Peter Tosh (1978)
The Stones were all about roots reggae hero Peter Tosh. He opened for them on tour. Bush Doctor was executive-produced by Keith and Mick and was the second of several Tosh albums released on Rolling Stones Records. Richards turns up on two tracks, and Jagger joins the ex-Wailer on this one. The Smokey Robinson-penned tune was a minor hit for The Temptations in the ‘60s, but the Motown stroll adapted surprisingly well to a reggae groove, giving Tosh an international chart-climber. And the simpatico between him and Mick oozes out of their vocal blend.
AUDIO: Peter Tosh “[You Gotta Walk] Don’t Look Back”
“State of Shock” – The Jacksons (1984)
In 1984, this Michael Jackson composition originally intended for Thriller gave The Jacksons their last big hit. It surely didn’t hurt that Michael had a pretty heavy-duty vocal partner on the track. With its slamming blend of rock and R&B, it could have stood up just fine alongside the likes of “Beat It” if it hadn’t gotten edged off the aforementioned mega-Platinum album. Facing off with a presence like Michael at the mic, Jagger brings his A game.
AUDIO: The Jacksons feat. Mick Jagger “State of Shock”
“Long Black Veil” – The Chieftains (1995)
For their Long Black Veil album, Irish folk godfathers The Chieftains drafted top-tier guest singers including Van Morrison, Sting, Sinead O’Connor and Tom Jones. For the title track (which, curiously, was an American country song), they needed somebody who could really deliver. Doomy balladry might not initially seem to be in Mick’s wheelhouse until you remember how he knocked tunes like “Sister Morphine” and “Dead Flowers” out of the park. Spoiler: He turns a similar trick this time around.
AUDIO: The Chieftains “The Long Black Veil”
“Nothing but the Wheel” – Peter Wolf (2002)
For the first several years of his career as frontman for the J. Geils Band, Peter Wolf was widely hailed as the American answer to Mick Jagger. So it’s a kick to hear the battle of the intercontinental Micks when Jagger joins Wolf on this melancholy country rocker from the Wolfman’s ‘02 solo album. May the best man emerge, er, Micktorious.
AUDIO: Peter Wolf “Nothing but the Wheel”
“Bramble Rose” – Don Henley (2015)
On what remains his most recent solo album even eight years later,
Don Henley lined up a heavy cast of country singers to help lend Cass County that twang thang. Dolly Parton, Merle Haggard, Alison Krauss, Lucinda Williams, and Miranda Lambert are just a few, so it says something that Mick is the album’s only non-country guest vocalist. And when he and Lambert lean into the tear-tugging ballad “Bramble Rose” it’s immediately obvious that Jagger belongs there.
AUDIO: Don Henley “Bramble Rose”
“Dead Flowers” – Jerry Lee Lewis (2010)
As it happens, Merle Haggard also turns up on Jerry Lee Lewis’s all-star outing Mean Old Man, along with a load of other legends. And Mick not only gets to sing with The Killer, Lewis does him the additional honor of covering one of his songs. Don’t forget, Jerry Lee has recorded more country than rock ‘n’ roll over the years, so “Dead Flowers” is right in his sweet spot. And Jagger’s harmonizing helps send the whole thing to honky-tonk heaven.
AUDIO: Jerry Lee Lewis “Dead Flowers”
“You Did the Crime” – Buddy Guy (2018)
When the Stones were starting out, Chicago blues influenced them more than just about anything. So Mick must have been stoked when he was invited to join one of that genre’s giants for a tune. Having been half of a legendary duo with harmonica hero Junior Wells, Guy is used to some serious harp playing, and it was surely even more of an honor for Jagger to help out here by blowing some of the bluesiest harmonica licks of his long career.
AUDIO: Buddy Guy feat. Mick Jagger “You Did The Crime”
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