Thirty years ago, in the fall of 1988, Keith Richards released his debut solo album, Talk is Cheap. Under any circumstances, the first out-on-his-own record released by the lead guitarist in one of the biggest and most important rock ‘n’ roll bands in the history of the of the form was likely to draw enthusiastic attention, but Richards got even more press — perhaps not through calculation, admittedly — by leaning into the very public melodrama then defining his relationship with Rolling Stones bandmate Mick Jagger. The pair were feuding, largely due to Jagger prioritizing his own fledgling solo career over the group that made him famous and was still fully capable of raking in millions at the drop of a tour schedule.
“You Don’t Move Me” is the track commonly cited as direct put-down of Jagger, but the whole album comes across as a surly rebuke. By his own account, when Richards finally relented to working on a solo album, he opted against raiding unused material he’d developed for the Stones and instead started from scratch, co-writing new songs with drummer Steve Jordan, who also served as producer. The track listing has ample evidence of the preoccupation Richards surely had with the fractured professional relationship: “Struggle,” “I Could Have Stood You Up,” “Make No Mistake,” “How I Wish.” Calling the album Talk is Cheap even feels like a snarl directed at Jagger.
The album’s lead single, “Take It So Hard,” is an extension of that heart-hardened sentiment. Built on a classic Richards guitar riff, it has a quick familiarity, but felt just tough enough, raw enough, new enough to make it feel like a suitable addition to a college radio playlist. As someone who was new to the left of the dial at the time of the album’s release, I appreciated having something right there in the new music rotation that spoke to my rock ‘n’ roll radio upbringing, providing me a sort of air lock as I transitioned to the wilder — and better — stuff on the shelf. That’s not to imply the track was merely compromise. Back then, it sounded damn good. It still does.
Talk is Cheap was far more well-regarded than Jagger’s solo albums, which may have reminded the famed singer of the value delivered by his longtime collaborator. Lessons learned, the Rolling Stones were recording together again by the spring, and the resulting album, Steel Wheels, arrived in the summer of 1989, less than one year after Talk is Cheap.
Listen or download —> Keith Richards, “Take It So Hard”
(Disclaimer: I believe Talk is Cheap is unavailable as a physical object that can be purchased from your favorite local, independently owned record store in a manner that compensates both the original artist and the proprietor of said business. I’m sharing this under the legal principle of fair use. I don’t intend to impede commerce. In fact, I mean to encourage it. Go buy some music from that record store. Richards gets plenty of money from old Stones records if you’d like to help him shore up his recent financial losses in the New York real estate market. Or buy something else, but get new music. It’s good for your soul. Also, I must note that I will gladly and promptly remove this file from my little corner of the digital world if asked to do so by any individual or entity with due authority to make such a request.)