The Meaning Behind “Fool to Cry” by The Rolling Stones and the Backstory of the Guitarist Who’s Auditioning on the Track

Most rock and roll fans can reel off the names of the biggest hits by The Rolling Stones, since those songs are part of the firmament of the genre. But what about “Fool to Cry”? The Stones released the ballad as a single from their 1976 album Black and Blue, and it hit the Top 10 on both sides of the Atlantic. Yet it doesn’t get mentioned much when people talk about the Stones’ catalog.

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Well, we’re here to tell you that maybe it should be, because “Fool to Cry” represents the band in a softer, sensitive, soulful mode. Let’s look back at the origins and meaning of this somewhat forgotten classic.

Guitarist Needed

In December 1974, guitarist Mick Taylor left The Rolling Stones. Taylor felt his contributions to some Stones songs were unappreciated and uncredited, and he also was looking to step out on his own. Keith Richards insisted that the band’s music was incomplete without the element of interweaving twin guitars, something he had practiced with Taylor and Brian Jones before him. That meant they’d need to recruit somebody new.

Frontman Mick Jagger and Richards came up with the novel idea of using the band’s next album as a way to audition potential replacements for Taylor. History tells us that Ronnie Wood would get the job, and he makes appearances on a few tracks for the album in question, eventually titled Black and Blue when released in 1976. (Wood even ended up on the album’s back cover.) Harvey Mandel, formerly of Canned Heat, also played on some tracks.

Wayne Perkins might have been the unlikeliest of the trio of guest guitarists on Black and Blue. For one, he was from Alabama and not from Great Britain. (Richards later admitted that was the major stumbling block to him getting the job.) He also didn’t have experience in top bands. But he was an ace session player, and he came recommended for the job by none other than Eric Clapton.

That’s Perkins providing the watery fills, along with Richards, in all the open spaces of “Fool to Cry.” He gets more of a spotlight as he wails his way through the song’s outro. Jagger plays the electric piano that sets the tone for the song, while session legend Nicky Hopkins is all over the track on piano and synths. Throw in Jagger’s copious use of his falsetto, and you can see how the song captures a little bit of the Philly Soul magic that was all over the airwaves around that time.

As for the subject matter, it’s a bit off the beaten path for a Stones song in that it depicts the narrator as a father first and a lover second. In 1993, Jagger, in typically frank fashion, described “Fool to Cry” like this: “This dates from the period when I had a young child, my daughter Jade, around a lot, calling me ‘daddy’ and all that. It’s another of our heartmelting ballads, a bit long and waffly at the end maybe, but I like it.”

The Meaning of “Fool to Cry”

“Fool to Cry” describes the plight of a guy who feels overburdened by the world. Those closest to him try to come to his rescue and convince him of what he has going for him. First up is his young daughter, who can sense something’s amiss when she sits on his knee. And she says, Daddy, what’s wrong, Jagger tenderly sings.

In the second verse, we’re introduced to his girlfriend, who lives on the poor side of town. That could be a reference to the old Johnny Rivers hit, or maybe a sly callback the Stones’ own “Back Street Girl.” Even after they make love so fine, his sadness is still palpable. The final verse brings his friends into the picture, but their advice also falls on deaf ears: I make out like I don’t understand them.

The consensus advice from all these sources: Ooh, Daddy, you’re a fool to cry. The power of “Fool to Cry,” what with its lush soulful music and Jagger’s emotional performance, makes it so that we side with him. It’s OK to let the tears fall when need be, especially with this underrated Stones hit as the soulful soundtrack.

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Photo by Graham Wood/Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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