5 Killer Stones Songs Sung by Keith Richards

We’ll admit that the title of this article is having a little fun at the expense of Keith Richards and his gravelly vocal stylings. But the truth is that Richards is an extremely effective vocalist who always cuts to the heart of the emotion in each song that he sings. The fact that he’s usually singing lead on songs that he also wrote for The Rolling Stones probably helps in that respect. There haven’t been a ton of Keef lead vocals over the years, but, like these five tracks, the songs he does sing on usually hit home in a major way.

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1. ”Thru and Thru” (from the album Voodoo Lounge, 1994)

Because of his reputation as rock’s favorite roué, it might be hard to imagine Richards as a balladeer. In actuality, he’s been a fantastic writer of the slow ones throughout his career; for example, he’s the one responsible for “Ruby Tuesday” (although he let Mick Jagger sing that one). And he sings the ballads darn well, too, including on this beauty from Voodoo Lounge that once earned a prime spot in an episode of The Sopranos.

Richards disarms listeners here with his unorthodox phrasing, as he tells a significant other he’s always ready for her call at any time of day. He drops an f-bomb as well, because, hey, it is still Keith Richards. But the overall feel is sweet and soulful on this one.

2. “Slipping Away” (from the album Steel Wheels, 1989)

There was a stretch there where it was pretty much guaranteed that Richards was going to get the last word on a Stones album by singing a slow one on the last song. “Slipping Away” might be the ultimate album-closer perpetrated by Richards, as it puts a bow on the Stones’ fine 1989 comeback album, Steel Wheels.

This is a song best appreciated by those of a certain age, those who have gone through hard life experiences and might not feel they’re still at their best. Although Richards certainly does a great job on lead, the high point of the track is when Mick Jagger makes an appearance to harmonize on the urgent bridge, which is in sharp contrast to the resigned sorrow found on the rest of the track.

3. “All About You” (from the album Emotional Rescue, 1980)

It’s no secret that there’s been plenty of tension over the years between Richards and Jagger, with the height of the animosity coming in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. If you had any doubt about that, check out the closing track on Emotional Rescue, which allowed Richards to vent his frustrations (in a not-very-thinly-veiled fashion) at his creative partner.

Credit to Jagger for stepping back and allowing it to happen, although he’s nowhere to be found on the track. (Keith would get harsh again with Mick on the ‘80s solo track “You Don’t Move Me.”) On “All About You,” Richards certainly gets in his digs, calling Mick every name in the book. But the prevailing emotion he expresses isn’t anger so much as disappointment, even at himself, as the closing line makes clear: So how come I’m still in love with you?

4. “Before They Make Me Run” (from the album Some Girls, 1978)

Richards had less to do with Some Girls, the Stones’ smash 1978 album, than perhaps any other Stones record. He was too busy dealing with legal and personal problems to give his usual input, which allowed Jagger to push the record in a more urban direction than Keith might have preferred.

[RELATED: 5 Legendary Keith Richards Live Performances]

As if to make his presence be known, however, Richards did rise to the occasion with one of his best turns as a frontman in “Before They Make Me Run.” In it, he has some fun by referencing his outlaw image: Booze and pills and powders, you can choose your medicine, Richards sings. Ultimately, as Keith has always been able to do, he makes an inconspicuous getaway: I’m going to walk before they make me run.

5. “Happy” (from the album Exile on Main St., 1972)

There was no such thing as a formal studio session for the album Exile on Main St., with recording taking place at Richards’ villa in France with whomever happened to be awake and cogent enough to contribute to whatever song was brought to the table. In the case of “Happy,” Richards wrote it up and then hours later completed it by playing most of the instruments (and singing), while producer Jimmy Miller filled in on drums.

Overdubs from Jagger on backing vocals and from the brass section of Bobby Keys and Jim Price would follow, but this is Richards’ show. He makes the point that nothing—not alcohol, nor money, nor material comforts—satisfies him in the same manner as love. This has become a Richards staple at Stones concerts, and for very good reason.

Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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