Mick Jagger: Why he likes hard work and thinks his parents' generation were the real rebels

The Rolling Stones star prepares for the launch of his solo album

Which hard-working, spiritual singer has a solo album out next week with one song in praise of the work ethic and two others about religion? The answer isn't difficult, as his picture adorns this page, but it's still a little surprising. So when I talk to Mick Jagger over a drink in Soho, I ask him if the man who has been the byword for the sneering, rebellious rock star for more than 40 years has been misjudged.

He smiles, and it's still the case that when Jagger smiles it at first creases, splits and then lights up his face and almost the entire room. Then just as suddenly he looks deadly serious. "I was always brought up to be very hard-working. And after listening to Gordon Brown's speech this week I thought I was back in those days. All that stuff about the moral compass. But, yes, I suppose I do believe in the work ethic."

Which would explain the song's uncomplicated title, "Let's Work", and the lyric "Ain't gonna cry for you if you're lazy." A whole generation of Sixties parents might need to have second thoughts about their hate figure.

And what about religion and the song "Joy" on which he duets with Bono? "It has religious overtones, which is why I asked Bono to sing. He sings religious songs, doesn't he? I'm very ambivalent about religion. When you write songs you think it's going to be about one thing and something else creeps in, and you make that the theme."

We are both sitting on sofas, and he lies back on his, perhaps to contemplate heaven as he works life out. "Like most English people I'm not a great believer. I've read Richard Dawkins' book and it's very persuasive. I'm more in awe of the universe and that's not really a belief in God. It's a belief in something. I don't have belief in the Holy Book. I don't think many English people do.

"My parents' generation weren't religious either. They were the rebels."

Wait a minute. Is the symbol of Sixties rebellion now saying that the real rebels were that staid, conformist Forties generation? "Well, my grandparents were born at the end of the 19th century, which was when Britain was a nation of believers, and their children rebelled against that. The religious part of rebelling had already been done by our parents. We didn't have to bother about that."

Does he then agree that the standard public perception of him might be a little awry? "People are very complex, aren't they? I recently did an interview with a German journalist and all he wanted to talk about was style. I don't really think of myself as that, but he thought of me as a clothes horse. I felt like a Duke of Windsor figure. But I did it. I don't want to push it all on to Charlie. I don't know how people think of me. One doesn't want to think of that. You will go nutty."

That brief affectionate allusion to the nattily dressed drummer of The Rolling Stones leads me to cut a deal with Jagger. That's not easily done. He is one canny businessman, as his organisation of the Stones' tours (with a map in his dressing room showing at precisely which city the tour goes into profit), his relatively new career in film production (upcoming: The Women, with Meg Ryan) and many other ventures demonstrate. But though we've agreed to talk about his new collection of the best of his solo work, I say that I want to throw in three Rolling Stones question, the first of which I've never heard him address before.

He sighs to that same heaven he was spiritually contemplating a few moments before. "Oh, I hate this. I reserve my right to remain silent." Fortunately, he doesn't.

Does he think that Brian Jones was unlawfully killed? His firm "No" is stretched over four syllables, making me think that he has been keen to put an end to 38 years of conspiracy theories, articles and books about his erstwhile bandmate's drowning in a swimming pool. "I know of no evidence to suggest that it was anything but an accident. It might make a good book, but I have seen no evidence whatsoever."

OK. Would he agree that his one moment of utter naivety was to allow the Hells Angels to be security at the Altamont concert, where a fan was stabbed to death? "Actually, there have been several naive moments. But that certainly ranks as one, yes."

And, less contentiously, but at least it will forestall a year's worth of "last time" stories, will the Stones ever tour again? "I don't see why not. I can't see into the future, but at the moment I don't see why touring again should be a problem."

In the interim, there is this solo album, 17 of the best tracks from his four solo albums. It's an excellent collection, which certainly makes one reappraise Jagger's solo career. The sound is perhaps inevitably a Rolling Stones sound, even if those themes of hard work and spiritual yearning might not sit so comfortably on Stones' albums. And if the sound is a Stones one, these tracks are arguably rather better than some of the material on recent Stones' albums, if Jagger doesn't think that too double-edged a compliment.

That leads me to ask about something that has long puzzled me. Why don't or can't the great Sixties songwriters write comparable work now? Could he come up with "Honky Tonk Women" today?

"I don't know that I agree with you," Jagger says. "I think that if you didn't know when certain songs had come out you might be hard pushed to say. The factors that often lead us to judge songs to be great involve the performance and how many people cover them, things like that."

There's some vintage Jagger on the new collection, not least "Memo from Turner", with a young Ry Cooder on slide guitar, the song Jagger penned for the 1970 gangster movie Performance in which he starred alongside James Fox, and regarding which, in a telling sign of those times, Rolling Stone magazine tenderly counselled its readers: "Don't see it on acid."

The film seems never to have lost its cult status. "No," agrees Jagger. "I saw it last week in a list of the top 10 British films of all time, which was stronging it a bit. When it came out everyone said it was crap, and the studio wanted to dump it. There was a lot of stuff in there that people thought was too graphic. James found it disturbing to be in, and it was disturbing for the time. But I loved that it used documentary footage. I found that fascinating. You get the real London, not the London of Alfred Hitchcock films."

The few previously unreleased tracks on the new album include a startlingly good Rick Rubin-produced song, "Charmed Life", featuring Jagger's daughter Karis on backing vocals, and "Too Many Cooks", which will have a special resonance for rock historians, as it was produced in 1973 by John Lennon. Jagger always had a special relationship with his supposed rival.

"I was friends with all four of them in different ways, but I got on with John perhaps the easiest. We had a lot in common. He had two different sides to him: a very acerbic side – I don't want to say a Scouse thing, but it was distrust of pretentiousness, and also quick-witted and funny – and the other facet of his personality was this sort of universalist, the give peace a chance, this naive idealism that obviously struck a chord with people. And it could be difficult to reconcile those two sides.

"He was in the studio with me for this track during what was called his Lost Weekend. He'd had an argument with Yoko, but then he made up with her and went back."

During the five years that Lennon barely left his apartment before his death, Jagger spoke out publicly that others could bake the bread and change the nappies: John should be out making music.

"Yes, I did say that and I still think I was right," says Jagger. "There's a balance for creative people between domesticity and being out there. I think you have to be out there, being creative."

Jagger himself was most recently creative in the Stones' gigs at London's 02 Centre. We discuss how the idea behind the 02 was to house a super-casino until the Government eventually vetoed the idea. "I disliked the idea of having these new casinos in Britain," says Jagger. "I said to a member of the Labour government, 'Have you ever been inside a casino?' Of course, he hadn't. They're not very nice.

"But," he adds, "I don't want to sound puritanical..."

It's OK. No one's going to rewrite social history quite that much.

'The Very Best of Mick Jagger' is out on 2 October on Atlantic/Rhino Records

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone