Photo: Paul MacManus

Fave Five: Mike Scott of the Waterboys on Keith Richards

The Waterboys ambitious new double-album culls a lot of inspirations, but Mike Scott is happy to expound upon one of the key ones: Keith Richards and his most badass moments.
The Waterboys
Out of All This Blue

In many ways, the Waterboys remain one of the greatest cult bands of our time, with Scotsman Mike Scott developing a sound that helped bridge Celtic folk idioms into a modern rock context, his songs never anything if not wholly accessible. With over three decades of seminal songs under his belt, Scott has managed to evolve and develop his sound to keep up with the times, but never without that unmistakable Waterboys edge.

So for Out of All This Blue, his first album in two years, Scott made it a double-disc effort, covering a panoply of genres while still rooting each song in a distinct, memorable hook. It’s an overambitious effort, but one that leads to his highest UK chart ranking since 1993’s Dream Harder, proving that while people will always have the Waterboys in their nostalgic hearts, the music he’s working on now remains as potent as ever.

To celebrate the occasion, Scott tackled his Fave Five for PopMatters, but instead of gunning for his top five favorite albums of all time, he went with something a little bit more specific. “I wrote ‘Mister Charisma’ on the new Waterboys album, Out Of All This Blue, about my favorite musician Keith Richards,” he tells us. “I greatly admire who Keith has become over the years as a man and a spirit. But my song says ‘Please, mate, can you make the news these days with a killer riff or a beautiful song rather than by slagging Sgt. Pepper or coming up with newsworthy trivia?’ And here, from the days of his high greatness are my favorite five Keith Richards moments.”

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1. Busts Greatest Move Ever in Video for “Jumping Jack Flash”

May 1968. The Stones film a promo for their new single “Jumping Jack Flash”. Mick wears war paint, Brian’s face is pancake green, Charlie’s bored and Bill’s mysterious. Meanwhile, Keef has discovered the all-time greatest rock’n’roll facial expression, a puckered-lip pout that transmits defiance, hedonism and the way his guitar riff sounds all at once. The camera catches it four, maybe five times and you can imagine the director shouting “Yeah, that face, get that!”

For the first minute and a half, the film is all close shots, claustrophobic, thrilling. Then the focus widens and we see Mick is dancing in front of the band. Behind him, while he sings “And I frowned” in the third line of the third verse, Keef busts the greatest rock move ever. It has four components: he yanks his arm back while striking a guitar chord; he ducks; he turns to his left, and he throws that puckered-lip pout again. In a single second, he defines rock’n’roll for all time as a sound, a dance, and an attitude.

2. Nails the Apocalypse at 2:18-2:40 of “Gimme Shelter”

Keef’s guitar-led intro to this famous Stones song builds a tension that is sustained and built on through the first two verses and choruses, conjuring the sense of a coming storm, an end of days. At 2:01 the song hits an instrumental. Mick’s harmonica howls while the tension, the moment before the storm breaks, holds over a single rolling chord. Then at 2:18 the clouds open, the chords descend and Keef delivers 22 seconds of understated-yet-apocalyptic lead guitar in which the silences he leaves say as much as the killer riffs he plays.

3. Stands Up to the British Establishment in the Court Dock

In court on hugely-publicised drug possession charges in 1967, Keith was questioned in high patronizing fashion by the prosecuting counsel whether he considered it “normal” for a “young woman” to be dressed in “nothing but a rug.” Marianne Faithfull had been found in those circumstances in Keith’s house. His devastating and courageous reply: “We are not old men. We are not worried about petty morals.”

4. The Last Moments of The Guitar Solo on “Wild Horses”

Keith’s lead guitar accompaniment to Mick Jagger’s vocal on Wild Horses is a masterpiece of empathy. If guitar playing can be compassionate, this is it. He backs his singer every step of the way, then takes a short solo from 3:04 to 3:17 that simply holds the line for Jagger till his vocal returns. But at 4:41 he finally expresses himself fully in a 28-second break of unsurpassed beauty.

The passage climaxes in a last exquisite rise from 5:06-5:09 that perfectly and selflessly sets up the return of the chorus. Keef sings his ass off in the final chorus, as he has done throughout the song, but when the final chords come, he leaves the melodic expression to Jim Dickenson’s piano. He knows, master that he is, that he said it all in the solo and need play no more.

5. The Intro of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”

I rest my case.