“Ruby Tuesday,” The Rolling Stones

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Rolling Stones
“Ruby Tuesday” defies expectations in a couple of ways. First of all, it’s a tender ballad courtesy of The Rolling Stones, so you might expect it to be a Mick Jagger creation. You’d be wrong though: As Mick told Jann Wenner in 1995: “It’s just a nice melody, really. And a lovely lyric. Neither of which I wrote, but I always enjoy singing it.”

Keith Richards actually did most of the work on the song, writing the lyrics after coming up with the music with the help of Brian Jones. That music is the second reason that “Ruby Tuesday” is such a surprise. Melodic ingenuity was supposed to be the domain of the Stones’ chief rival, The Beatles. Yet this song, which was a #1 hit here in the U.S. in 1967, has a downright gorgeous tune, aided by Jones lovely work on the recorder, proving that those things that we all had to play in grade school music could indeed have a purpose.

Richards claimed at different times that the lyrics were based on a groupie and on his mid-60’s girlfriend Linda Keith. Given his reputation, you can understand how Keith’s recollections might be fuzzy, but it’s impossible to deny he came up with a first-rate song. And he wisely left it in Jagger’s hands to deliver a moving vocal.

Even though the girl has left the narrator behind, his admiration for her elusiveness shines through. Richards manages to paint a portrait of his wayward muse in just a few short strokes. The very first couplet lays out her worldview: “She will never say where she came from/Yesterday don’t matter if it’s gone.”

As the song progresses, the case Ruby makes for her peripatetic behavior becomes more and more compelling. “She just can’t be chained/To a life where nothing’s gained/And nothing’s lost,” Jagger sings. Indeed, if we are “dying all the time” and time is running out on all of us, maybe this girl’s way of living, spurning all attachments and moving from one paramour to the next, isn’t all that reckless after all.

In the end, the narrator can’t hold her back any more than he could hold back the wind, so he bids her a fond farewell: “Goodbye Ruby Tuesday/Who could hang a name on you/When you change with every new day/Still I’m gonna miss you.” Through the tears, he can see clearly now that he never could have kept her, but it hurts just the same.

Such sentiments aren’t often expressed so eloquently in rock music, let alone by a band and songwriter more known for bluesy abandon. To sum up the unexpected beauty of “Ruby Tuesday,” perhaps it’s best to quote Keith Richards’ idol Chuck Berry: It goes to show you never can tell.



“Ruby Tuesday”

She would never say where she came from
Yesterday don’t matter if it’s gone
While the sun is bright
Or in the darkest night
No one knows
She comes and goes

Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday
Who could hang a name on you?
When you change with every new day
Still I’m gonna miss you

Don’t question why she needs to be so free
She’ll tell you it’s the only way to be
She just can’t be chained
To a life where nothing’s gained
And nothing’s lost
At such a cost

Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday
Who could hang a name on you?
When you change with every new day
Still I’m gonna miss you

There’s no time to lose, I heard her say
Catch your dreams before they slip away
Dying all the time
Lose your dreams
And you will lose your mind
Ain’t life unkind?

Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday
Who could hang a name on you?
When you change with every new day
Still I’m gonna miss you

Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday
Who could hang a name on you?
When you change with every new day
Still I’m gonna miss you

Written by Jagger/Richards

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