It's an ego thing, the urge for band members who aren't singers to want to sing. Doesn't matter what kind of music you play -- classic rock, indie rock, pop; for as long as there have been bands, bass players, drummers and guitarists have wanted to step up to the mic. Keith Richards first started singing lead on Rolling Stones songs right around the time their albums started getting great in the late '60s. Ever since, his raspy, cigarette-stained voice has pretty much shown up on at least one song per Stones album. None of his cuts top the very best Mick Jagger-sung tunes on those albums, but several come close on our list of the Top 10 Keith Richards Rolling Stones Songs. (Note: We left off the great 'Salt of the Earth' from 'Beggars Banquet,' which includes an opening verse by Richards, since Jagger sings the rest of it.)
"Thief in the Night"From: 'Bridges to Babylon' (1997)
By the time Bridges to Babylon was released in 1997, Richards had already released a pair of solo albums, 1988's great Talk Is Cheap and 1992's not-so-great Main Offender. "Thief in the Night" sounds more like a solo cut than a Stones song. Its slow, almost hook-free melody builds mood with slinky guitar fills and a crawling, shuffling beat.
"Thru and Thru"From: 'Voodoo Lounge' (1994)
Richards' bluesy Voodoo Lounge ballad takes a little time to find its groove, but once the trashcan drums stumble in after the two-minute mark, "Thru and Thru" earns its six-minute running time. Like a few of the other later cuts on our list of the Top 10 Keith Richards Rolling Stones Songs, it's more of a solo track than a Stones tune. But at least it breaks up the monotony of some of those albums.
"Slipping Away"From: 'Steel Wheels' (1989)
Like many of Richards' later album cuts, "Slipping Away" is more ballad than rocker. But unlike some of those later songs, it relies on melody rather than mood. And you can actually hear other Stones playing along with him (Jagger takes over singing on the bridge), which is always a bonus when it comes to these sort of things.
"Coming Down Again"From: 'Goats Head Soup' (1973)
Richards shares lead vocals with Jagger on this moving ballad about Richards' relationship with Anita Pallenberg. It features one of his best, and most restrained, performances, and his subtle wah-wah guitar work on the song helps build the tone without getting in the way of it. Surprising, seeing that most of the album is a careless mess of neglect and apathy.
"Wanna Hold You"From: 'Undercover' (1983)
Richards' contribution to the underrated Undercover album is a typically guitar-fueled Chuck Berry-style rocker about a poor rock 'n' roll boy offering all his lovin' to some girl. The lyrics might seem kinda odd coming from Richards, who was beyond multimillionaire status in 1983, but his greasy guitar licks and slurred vocals make it sound like he might not be too far from sliding into debt.
"Memory Motel"From: 'Black and Blue' (1976)
This seven-minute highlight from one of the band's laziest albums is one of only two cuts on our list of the Top 10 Keith Richards Rolling Stones Songs where the guitarist shares lead vocals with Jagger (see No. 7). If that isn't notable enough, Richards doesn't even play guitar on "Memory Motel." Either way, the ballad is one of the band's best, and Richards sounds great.
"Little T&A"From: 'Tattoo You' (1981)
This single – Richards' sassy tribute to women across the globe – pretty much sums up the Stones' wild ride in the '60s and '70s. Over another one of Richards' Chuck Berry-inspired riffs, he runs down the good (and some bad) times he's had with one night stands over the years. There might be a trace of regret in there somewhere, but somehow we doubt it.
"You Got the Silver"From: 'Let It Bleed' (1969)
Richards' first solo lead vocal (he and Jagger shared the mic on a couple of previous songs) is, appropriately, a rural blues tune that he totally nails. It's also the last song the Stones recorded with Brian Jones. Jagger also cut a version of "You Got the Silver" for Let It Bleed that was considered for the album before Richards' grittier take ended up on it. It was the right decision.
"Before They Make Me Run"From: 'Some Girls' (1978)
In 1977, Richards was busted for heroin possession in Toronto. A year later he recorded a song about his pending trial for one of the Stones' best albums. It's one of Richards' all-time greatest solo cuts, a stinging throwback rocker with a wonderfully tossed-off vocal that's just as exhausted by the whole ordeal as it is eager to put it all behind.
"Happy"From: 'Exile on Main St.' (1972)
One of the few Stones singles to feature Richards on lead vocal (see No. 4 on our list of the Top 10 Keith Richards Rolling Stones Songs), "Happy" is the only one to reach the Top 40 (it made it to No. 22). It's a highlight of the band's best album, a riff-propelled rocker that peeks through the LP's drug-fueled haze. It's also a celebration of his savage lifestyle: "Never wanted to be like papa," he sings, "working for the boss every night and day." Songs like this guaranteed he never would.