The reason why Keith Richards and Mick Jagger gave away a top 10 hit

It was a landmark moment when The Rolling Stones landed their first top ten hit with a 1964 cover of Buddy Holly’s ‘Not Fade Away’. However, they could have achieved this breakthrough success with original material if the songwriting duo of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards hadn’t given away ‘That Girl Belongs to Yesterday’ the same year. At the time, the pair were still finding their feet with lyric writing, often opting for a more lovelorn pop sound before eventually perfecting their explosive blend of blues and rock, and felt it wasn’t in keeping with the image they wanted to create for themselves.

‘That Girl Belongs to Yesterday’ was an example of how different their earlier sound was, given the song was swiftly taken by doo-wop-inspired singer Gene Pitney. That he and the Stones would ever cross paths was unlikely on its own, but the Stones’ manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, had been doing some publicity for him in the UK. At this point, Pitney was the far bigger star, but when he heard a song Jagger and Richards had been toying with, he got an early glimpse of the creative chemistry that would propel them to international fame.

Taking the song was quite risky, given that far more experienced collaborators surrounded Pitney. Still, it had far more commercial potential for him than it did the Stones, so he tinkered with the material and got a single out of it. Originally named ‘My Only Girl’, Pitney rehashed the title, fine-tuned the arrangement, and released it in 1964.

Pitney, who had spent time with Phil Spector in some of the Stones’ earliest-ever London sessions, added a distinctly Spector-sounding swell of instruments. His pre-existing American audience didn’t take to the song that well, but it broke the top ten in Britain, peaking at number seven on the charts. If anything, this was more of a landmark moment for Jagger and Richards than him, it being the first song of theirs to climb that high on the charts, predating any original Stones material.

Emboldened by the song’s success, the band came into their own, relying less on covers as the Jagger-Richards synergy grew stronger. As Richards recalled in his autobiography, at first: “You tend to write stuff that’s totally different from the stuff you’re actually playing. It takes a while.”

Before the landmark arrival of ‘The Last Time’, he touched on the different songwriting approaches they’d trialled in the early days. “Before that, we’d written ‘That Girl Belongs to Yesterday,’ which Gene Pitney had a hit with, and ‘As Tears Go By,’ which Marianne [Faithfull] had a top ten with,” he said. “It took us a year or so to find our way through all that and find songs that we could feel comfortable about recording ourselves.”

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