Album: Between The Buttons
. . .
On the shortlist of Prettiest Songs Ever Recorded, British Invasion Division, “Ruby Tuesday” was yet another quantum leap in ballad-making. It was also written almost entirely by Keith Richards, though it was based upon something Brian Jones came up with, though typically, Jones was cut out of the songwriting credits — just as Bill Wyman and Mick Taylor would be cut out in the future — as the “Jagger/Richards” imprimatur on Stones originals was just the law now.
Unlike their previous ballads, though, Charlie Watts would play an important part in the final product, playing what I would argue is the most important part in the entire song. Because of course I would argue that.
She would never say where she came from
Yesterday don’t matter if it’s gone
While the sun is bright
Or in the darkest night
No one knows
She comes and goes
“Ruby Tuesday” is about Keith’s ex-girlfriend, Linda Keith, who had just left him. (And who would end up with Jimi Hendrix for awhile, which I guess is a step up, or at least sideways.) It’s also another song that’s far away from what you’d expect from the Stones: once again, there’s very little guitar — just a peek of acoustic — the basic framework on the verses resting on Jack Nitzche’s piano, a double bass that Keith strummed while Bill found the notes, and of course, Brian Jones haunting and lovely recorder.
I can’t even imagine how frustrating it must have been to work with Brian Jones at this point in time: if you look at the album cover of Between The Buttons, he’s not even really there, and yet he could still pick up any instrument and find a way to add an unique texture to any song.
And “Ruby Tuesday” was a gumbo of texture: beyond the piano, bass and recorder, there’s also the small matter of the Charlie Watts drum hook on the chorus: a simple rat-a-tat-a-rat-a-tat-a that introduces it, and punctuates each and every line.
Goodbye Ruby Tuesday
Who could hang a name on you?
When you change with every new day
Still I’m going to miss you
In fact, you might be so distracted by the drums, you might miss the absolutely lovely harmonies Keith is providing on that chorus. I know that over the years, his voice started “deteriorating” into the hoarse croak we all still love, but his singing all through “Ruby Tuesday” is just gorgeous, and even more assured than Mick’s honestly.
Don’t question why she needs to be so free
She’ll tell you it’s the only way to be
She just can’t be chained
To a life where nothing’s gained
And nothing’s lost
At such a cost
Unlike Mick (or Bill, for that matter), Keith is basically a serial monogamist, and maybe even a bit of a romantic, so it kinda makes sense that it wasn’t a “go fuck yourself, you stupid girl” kind of song, but sad, wistful, and completely acknowledging and respecting her agency.
“There’s no time to lose,” I heard her say
“Catch your dreams before they slip away
Dying all the time
Lose your dreams and you
Will lose your mind
Ain’t life unkind?”
Whew. That’s some pretty heavy shit right there. Check out Keith on “dreams.” And — maybe because they weren’t his words — Mick completely sells it, eschewing his usual distance and irony for a sincerity that helped people relate to the song. Because, honestly, after they set up the initial template, “Ruby Tuesday” doesn’t really change much, just alternating the verses and choruses, doubling the chorus after the final verse, which allows Charlie to get one last bit of simple genius in.
On the middle drumroll of the final chorus, instead of hitting his snare as he had for every single one previously, he does it on his tom, and it’s a very small, and — to me, at least — incredibly staggering thing. One last hook. Another reason to listen to the full song again and again.
Which people did: “Ruby Tuesday” was famously released as a double A side with “Let’s Spend The Night Together,” and because radio programmers are always gonna prefer a sad ballad over a driving fucksong, “Ruby Tuesday” was a massive massive hit everywhere. In the U.K., it — like its vinyl companion — topped out at #3, but here in the U.S., it was their fourth number one.
Oh, and one more weird thing about “Ruby Tuesday:” the ending, where Brian’s recorder brings the song home, is a perfect set-up to the opening choir of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” something I learned when I made my earliest Stones compilation tapes.
“Ruby Tuesday” performed on the Ed Sullivan Show, 1967
“Ruby Tuesday” live in Tokyo, 1990
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