“It’s Only Rock’n’Roll (But I Like It)” is one of the most iconic Rolling Stones songs. It’s also a song with a tangled web of a history, having first been recorded on July 24, 1973, not in a traditional studio but at The Wick, Ronnie Wood’s home in Richmond.
According to Bill Wyman, who admittedly wasn’t there, “On Tuesday 24 July, Mick and Keith went to Ronnie Wood’s house, the Wick in Richmond, and recorded a version of ‘It’s Only Rock’n’Roll (But I Like It),’ with Ronnie, Kenney Jones, and Ian McLagan.” Ronnie, Jones, and McLagan were all in The Faces with Rod Stewart. Other reports have David Bowie at Ronnie’s house, but that Keith was not there.
Whatever the truth, sometime later in the year Willie Weeks, an American session musician who worked with both George Harrison and David Bowie around this time, added bass to the song. In April 1974, the basic track that was recorded at Ronnie’s house was used to finish the song, with Ian Stewart adding his distinctive piano to the track.
According to Mick, “The idea of the song has to do with our public persona at the time. I was getting a bit tired of people having a go, all that, ‘oh, it’s not as good as their last one’ business. The single sleeve had a picture of me with a pen digging into me as if it were a sword. It was a light-hearted, anti-journalistic sort of thing.”
“It’s Only Rock’n’Roll (But I Like It)” was released as a single on July 26, 1974, three months before the album of the (nearly) same name came out. But the record company at the time was not sure it was a single. According to Keith, there was opposition to it, but as he said at the time, “That song is a classic. The title alone is a classic and that’s the whole thing about it.”
It went top 20 in both America and the UK and has been played at just about every live show ever since. The single was promoted with a video directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg that features the band in sailor suits, playing in a tent that gradually filled with bubbles. The froth was detergent and the reason they wore the sailor suits was that none of them wanted to ruin their own clothes. According to Keith, “Poor old Charlie nearly drowned… because we forgot he was sitting down.”