25 Years Ago: Mick Jagger Goes Solo Again on ‘Wandering Spirit’
On his previous two efforts -- 1985's She's the Boss and 1987's Primitive Cool -- Jagger was seemingly too concerned with reaching a wider, pop-loving audience. Perhaps this was to prove he didn't need longtime Stones partner Keith Richards, with whom he was feuding with quite publicly at the time.
But after the pair mended fences to release 1989's Steel Wheels and mount a year-long Stones tour, Jagger was free to express himself without any such pressure. As he put it, “I was very relaxed about this record. No overall atmosphere of hostility. The rest of the Stones had all made solo LPs. Charlie [Watts] made his Charlie Parker album. Keith made his second solo album and Ronnie [Wood] made a record. Even Bill [Wyman] made a record. In the process of writing my record there were a couple of songs where I said, 'That’s going to sound great with the Stones,' so I won’t use it."
Even though Wandering Spirit found Jagger abandoning the slick keyboard-tinged sounds of his previous records for a raw, guitar-based palette, he doesn't consider it a straight-up rock album. "If you look at it, there are only maybe three rock songs on it in the traditional form," he said. "The rest is R&B, or country, or gospel influenced, or rockabilly, or whatever."
The album showcases Jagger's abilities in those genres quite nicely, from the covers of R&B classics such as "Think" (made famous by James Brown) and Bill Withers' "Use Me" and to the country-leaning "Hang On to Me Tonight" and the gospel-inspired chorus of the title track. It also finds him stubbornly (and quite successfully) sticking to his love of dance-rock with the album's lead single, "Sweet Thing."
The only way the album could be considered a failure was if Jagger's primary goal was to once again avoid clashing with his lead collaborator, in this case producer Rick Rubin. The pair apparently bumped heads more than once during the recording process. As Rubin told the Los Angeles Times, "At one point while we were making the record, Mick pulled me out of the control room and talked to me in the hallway ... one of the things he told me in that conversation was I was worse than Keith. I took that as a compliment. That was the nature of the relationship, and I definitely think good things came out of it."
Interestingly, there was reportedly another, completely different album created during this time period. Jagger recorded 13 tracks of blues classics with a group known as the Red Devils in a marathon one-day recording session in May 1992. So far only one song from those sessions, "Checking Up on My Baby," was released, as part of Jagger's 2007 The Very Best Of collection.
Years after it was recorded, Rubin was still lobbying publicly for the full record, apparently named King King, to be released: "It's incredible, [but] it's up to Mick. He's the artist ... he gets to do what he wants to do. But it's great, and I hope it comes out."