‘Ruby Tuesday’ by The Rolling Stones is one of their most enduring hits. A mellow song in comparison to much of the swaggering rock ‘n’ roll they released in the 1960s, it sees the band get introspective. The fourth US number one for the group, the ballad was included on the US version of 1967’s Between the Buttons but omitted from the UK edition.
The song is thought to have been written about, or at least in part, to Linda Keith, Richards’ girlfriend during the mid-1960s. Famously, Keith left Richards for Jimi Hendrix after discovering the guitar hero in a New York club in May 1966. In addition to this, in a 1971 interview with Rolling Stone, Richards said that he wrote the song in a Los Angeles hotel room in early 1966 about a groupie.
In the 1983 book, According to the Rolling Stones, Richards explained in his typically cryptic fashion: “It was probably written about Linda Keith not being there (laughs). I don’t know, she had pissed off somewhere. It was very mournful, very, VERY Ruby Tuesday and it was a Tuesday”.
At another point, Richards said of the song: “That’s one of those things – some chick you’ve broken up with. And all you’ve got left is the piano and the guitar and a pair of panties. And it’s goodbye, you know. And so it just comes out of that. And after that, you just build on it. It’s one of those songs that are easiest to write because you’re really right there and you really sort of mean it. And for a songwriter, hey break his heart and he’ll come up with a good song.”
Aside from being fuelled by heartbreak and romantic desire, the song is also notable for its music. Brian Jones played the recorder during the sessions, and although it sounds like the ethereal, metallic noise of the flute, it was actually a recorder doctored in post-production.
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Furthermore, the drone in the background is Bill Wyman plucking the notes on a double bass while Richards played it with a bow. The track also features sometime collaborator Jack Nitzsche on the piano. Notably, Between the Buttons was the album where the band started to properly experiment with instrumentation and dynamics.
The Stones’ classic ballad was released as part of a double A-side with the raucous ‘Let’s Spend The Night Together’. Due to the overt sexual connotations of its twin, ‘Ruby Tuesday’ ended up receiving considerably more airplay in the US, culminating in it being the more successful out of the two songs.
In 1995, Jagger weighed in on the track. He told Jann Wenner: “‘Ruby Tuesday’ is good. I think that’s a wonderful song. It’s just a nice melody, really. And a lovely lyric. Neither of which I wrote, but I always enjoy singing it.”
A lament to love lost, there’s something in ‘Ruby Tuesday’ for all of us. It has that universal appeal that its sexually charged sister, ‘Let’s Spend The Night Together’, did not. Regardless of how humble Richards has been at times about the inspiration of the material, his point about a songwriter being heartbroken and the inspiration it can feed into is something we’ve seen time and time again across music’s long and winding history.
Listen to ‘Ruby Tuesday’ below.