It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll continued the commercial if not the overwhelming critical success of The Rolling Stones. The album, mostly recorded in Germany, was the first to be produced by the glimmer twins, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards and would be a more up-tempo album than Goats Head Soup, but it would ultimately be somewhat uneven and not measure up to their best work.
In retrospect the most depressing aspect of It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll was that it would be Mick Taylor’s last with the group. His treatment by Keith Richards and the lack of writing credits on several songs that he helped create had left him dissatisfied. He also continued to work on a salary and did not receive a percentage. Finally, it may have been The Rolling Stones decision to not tour in support of this album that pushed Taylor over the edge. Mick Taylor was more comfortable on the road and certainly more in control, and the prospect of returning so quickly to the studio may have been too much to handle.
Rolling Stones fans still lament the fact that Mick Taylor ever left the group. He was the lead guitarist on The Rolling Stones best work and some of the best rock ‘n’ roll albums ever created. Mick Taylor was also the best guitarist to ever prowl a stage or studio for the Stones. He had an intuitive ability to listen to the basic rhythms of a song and to fill in the melody with his bluesy guitar. Taylor would never duplicate his work or success with the Rolling Stones as a solo artist.
Ironically, it may be that the Stones were the best situation for his talent. In the final analysis, however, his greatest contribution to The Rolling Stones sound was to force Keith Richards to play at a higher level. While this would create a great deal of animosity on the part of Richards, he would always have an edge to his work with Taylor around. That edge would be mostly lost when his friend Ron Wood was playing next to him.
It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll starts off well enough if not brilliantly. “If You Can’t Rock Me” has Mick Taylor playing and Charlie Watts banging away on this rocking song that still appears in the Rolling Stones live act from time to time. I have always thought that the old Temptations song, “Ain’t To Proud To Beg,” was an odd choice for this album and an odder choice still as a single release. While Mick Jagger gives a competent vocal, the Motown original is still superior. The title song “It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll (But I Like It)” was also released as a single and reached number ten. This song was a rousing rocker with a slick sound and while catchy it was the beginning of a new modern, and sometimes self-serving, sound for The Rolling Stones.
I consider “Time Waits For No One” as the centerpiece of the album. It is also the last great creative opus by Mick Taylor. His long, brilliant guitar solo takes off against Nicky Hopkins piano playing and leaves the millions of Rolling Stones fans wanting more.
“Dance Little Sister” is a bare bones rocker featuring Mick Taylor’s slide guitar technique. “Luxury” was a failed Jamaican ska type song. “Fingerprint File” was a disjointed Mick Jagger effort with a decent vocal but poor song structure. “Short and Curlies,” from the Goats Head Soup sessions, and “If You Really Want To Be My Friend” can be classified as average, at best, filler songs.
The passage of time has shown It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll to be a competent album but not a great one. It would become their fourth consecutive number one album release in the United States, showing that they had reached a point where anything carrying their name would sell well. However, society and music were changing and the Rolling Stones were beginning to change and adapt their sound.