The Rolling Stones song Keith Richards always tries to equal

Certain riffs feel like second nature for an artist like Keith Richards. Throughout his time with The Rolling Stones, Richards has compiled some of the most celebrated musical passages of all time into every single project, whether it’s the single-note attitude of ‘Satisfaction’ or the haunting reverb on the song ‘Gimme Shelter’. Although Richards was more than happy to play whatever riff came to him then, he still considers one song the gold standard for what he set out to do.

Then again, Richards didn’t become one of the biggest rock stars in the world without a bit of help from the ones that came before him. Throughout his time with The Stones, Richards has always counted Chuck Berry among his most significant influences, saying his tone inspired him to play in that aggressive style.

It always comes back to the blues whenever talking about the real power behind the band. Even when working in a rock context, Richards was always indebted to acts like Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson, taking the building blocks of songs of heartache and channelling them into ballads like ‘Wild Horses’ as well as his own blues shuffles like ‘Street Fighting Man’.

As the 1970s were ending, though, Richards had to play catchup with the newer rockers on the scene. Compared to the lavish sounds of progressive rock and the hard rock boom after the 1960s, the world of punk and disco had turned rock and roll on its head, bringing different takes on the traditional sounds of pop music.

Not wanting to be outdone, Richards and Mick Jagger forged a new sound for the album Some Girls, bringing together different genres under one roof, whether it was the punk fury of ‘Respectable’, the disco of ‘Miss You’ or the country twang in ‘Far Away Eyes’. While Jagger would consider the album a particular favourite in The Stones’ oeuvre, Richards thought one song from the record couldn’t be topped.

Blending their signature sound with a country flair, ‘Beast of Burden’ would become one of the most celebrated cuts from this era of the band. While the lyrics have remained controversial to this day, Richards thought it was the closest the band ever got to distil their signature sound into a song.

When talking about the legacy of ‘Beast of Burden’, Richards would later say, “I wish I could write another one just as good, you know? That’s my aim. But it’s a beautiful song. It just has all of the feel, and, you know, what I aim for is to write great soul ballads. And that’s getting close”. While The Stones have primarily been known as a blues band throughout their tenure, this song shows how much they have taken from the world of R&B.

Compared to the tired love ballads across the rest of their discography, ‘Beast of Burden’ is the sound of the band cutting loose with a soulful song, sounding like it could have come out of an artist like Ray Charles from years before. Although the song may have a melodic foundation that reeks of Motown, the delivery is something only Jagger and Richards could pull off.

Playing in his signature open tuning, the trademark sheen of Richards’s chords radiates off the song, giving a particular shine to the track while still sounding grimy. While Richards could have settled on writing tracks like ‘Brown Sugar’ for the rest of his life, the goal is now to try to write a song that exemplifies his band as well as this.

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