How the Rolling Stones Rediscovered Their Core With ‘A Bigger Bang’
Left alone, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards found their musical partnership once more – the thing that had originally sparked the Rolling Stones to greatness. And in so doing, they produced one of their best modern-era recordings.
For years before the release of A Bigger Bang on Sept. 5, 2005, Jagger and Richards would arrive in the studio with separate song ideas, having begun the creative process from miles away. Co-founding drummer Charlie Watts' throat cancer diagnosis changed all of that.
"There's suddenly Mick and I looking at each other and going, 'Possibly we're the only two left of the originals," Richards told Billboard in 2005. "[But] you don't talk about that s---, you know?"
Jagger and Richards reconnected, writing and performing the rough drafts for A Bigger Bang alone. Both Jagger and Richards added bass; Jagger even played some drums. The only rule they had: Keep it simple. When it was over, they'd come up with a nervy set of songs, with none of the gloss that marred later-period Rolling Stones albums – and much of the feeling that powered the best ones.
"Certainly to me, and I think to Mick, too, the closer we work, the better it gets," Richards told CBS. "And we’d gotten so used to, after Exile [On Main Street], of having to get used to writing songs 3,000 miles apart. We sorta figured that was the modus operandi from now on, but this one proved us wrong."
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Watts eventually returned, and his smartly reworked rhythm tracks largely completed the album. Ron Wood added some slide, but the music remained stripped down, and far more in keeping with, say 1978's Some Girls – or even retro-focused contemporary artists like the Black Keys or the White Stripes – than then-recent Stones experiments in modernism like Bridges to Babylon.
Outside performers were kept to a minimum. Darryl Jones, the Rolling Stones' regular working bassist, appeared on most of the tracks, but initial contributions from Jagger and Richards remain on six others. Even Wood only sat in for 10 of the 16 songs on A Bigger Bang.
Along the way, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Charlie Watts once again found the center of their partnership and, thus, the center of the Rolling Stones. "There's no hiding place if there's only three of you in the room," Jagger told Billboard. Richards simply called A Bigger Bang the return of "raw Stones." And a welcome return, it was.