Everything about The Rolling Stones’ music seems to be second nature to Keith Richards. While he may have started by following in the footsteps of artists like Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy, Richards’ unique voice on guitar was about taking the building blocks of rock and roll and turning them into something nasty like on tracks like ‘Gimme Shelter’ and ‘Satisfaction’. Despite not being all that flashy, Richards’ laid-back approach to every Stones record wasn’t something that came naturally.
When looking through the group’s back catalogue, most of their celebrated material came from every member experimenting with what could be done with the rock formula. Although they were known to borrow a few tricks from their rivals in The Beatles, there were just as many times where Richards would find his voice, like the strange blend of acoustic and electric guitar running throughout ‘Jumpin Jack Flash’.
While Richards was more than happy to play the role of the enigmatic guitar hero, he would occasionally step behind the mic if the time called for it. Having duetted with Mick Jagger on a handful of occasions on tracks like ‘Something Happened To Me Yesterday’, Richards became more comfortable taking on his material in the group’s later years, putting together tracks like ‘Salt of the Earth’ and ‘Happy’ on his own with help from Jagger here and there.
By the time the band reached the end of the 1970s, they knew they had to switch things up from their usual formula. Although the sounds of electric blues would never go out of style, the next phase of The Stones would see them taking cues from the modern sounds of dance music. Throughout the recording of Some Girls, every song felt like a different creative endeavour, from the disco-tinged ‘Miss You’ to the punk energy of ‘Respectable’.
Halfway through the record, ‘Before They Make Me Run’ shows Richards at his most vulnerable, talking about not cowering to pressure and never backing down from any challenge that lies before him. Even though the song may have him singing with conviction, that same energy was hard to come by in the studio then.
When talking about tracking the song, Richards would recall how demanding it was trying to get the final version of the track on tape, saying, “I was in the studio, without leaving, for five days… I had an engineer called Dave Jordan, and I had another engineer and one of them would flop under the desk and have a few hours’ kip, and I’d put the other one in and keep going. We all had black eyes by the time it was finished… That’s probably the longest I’ve done. There have been others that were close – ‘Can’t Be Seen’ was one – but ‘Before They Make Me Run’ was the marathon”.
Despite the long hours it took to finish the track, Richards came up with one of his greatest solo tunes in The Stones’ catalogue, taking the basis of his usual sound and putting a punk-infused spin to it. Even though Jagger could have made a great tune out of ‘Before They Make Me Run’, it’s easier to believe the lyrics when they’re coming out of Richards’s mouth.