The Rolling Stones Release a Timely Track, “Living in a Ghost Town”: Their First New Music in Eight Years

If there were ever a time to rush a pan­dem­ic-themed project to mar­ket, this is it. The move can seem well-inten­tioned, gen­er­ous, or cyn­i­cal, depend­ing on the artist and the audi­ence. The Rolling Stones proofed them­selves against the lat­ter crit­i­cism ages ago by build­ing cyn­i­cism into their brand. They know what their audi­ence wants, and they con­sis­tent­ly deliv­er, decade after decade, play­ing the hits. When vague social com­men­tary slips into a Stones tune, it vibrates at the same fre­quen­cy as their trade­mark sleaze.

But why would we expect rel­e­vance from a band that hasn’t released any new music in eight years? “On their most recent tour,” writes Alex­is Petri­dies at The Guardian, “which began in 2017 and would still be on course were it not for the coro­n­avirus pandemic—the most up-the-minute addi­tion to their setlist was 25 years old.” Who indeed “would have thought that the Rolling Stones would be ear­ly to mar­ket with a Covid-19-themed song?” They cer­tain­ly don’t need the mon­ey.

In fact, the band wrote and began record­ing the song in Feb­ru­ary 2019. “It wasn’t writ­ten for now,” Mick Jag­ger told Zane Lowe in an Apple Music inter­view. “But it was writ­ten about being in a place which was full of life, and then now (is) all bereft of life, so to speak. And when I went back to what I’d writ­ten orig­i­nal­ly lyri­cal­ly, it was all full of… well, I didn’t use them in the lyrics, it was all full of plague terms and things like that.” Jag­ger and Richards decid­ed they had to release the song, part of a col­lec­tion of new mate­r­i­al the band was work­ing on. Or as Richards put it in a state­ment:

So, let’s cut a long sto­ry short. We cut this track well over a year ago in L.A. for part of a new album, an ongo­ing thing, and then s— hit the fan. Mick and I decid­ed this one real­ly need­ed to go to work right now and so here you have it.

Richards sounds almost apolo­getic about the rushed ver­sion you hear above, which they fin­ished remote­ly after the lock­downs began, but in his inter­view with Lowe, he says he’s pleased. “We sort of did it from out­er space. But I actu­al­ly liked the way it turned out.” The track has a tight, bluesy, stripped-down dub groove. Shots of Sir Mick read­ing lyrics from his iPad, in what is pre­sum­ably his home stu­dio, add a Zoom meet­ing-like vibe to the video. “We’ve worked on it in iso­la­tion,” Jag­ger says.

He also admits he rewrote the lyrics, “but didn’t have to rewrite very much, to be hon­est. It’s very much how I orig­i­nal­ly did it. I was just jam­ming. I was just play­ing a gui­tar and just wrote it like that. I don’t know what frame of mind I must’ve been in. I mean, it was semi-humor­ous, then it got less humor­ous….” I think we’ve all said some­thing like that, many times, over the last few years. The Stones were in the right place and right time to play out the end of the 1960s, when things got decid­ed­ly less humor­ous. But who would have guessed they’d show up over fifty years lat­er to sound­track our cur­rent 21st cen­tu­ry tragedy?

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch the Rolling Stones Play “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” While Social Dis­tanc­ing in Quar­an­tine

Revis­it the Infa­mous Rolling Stones Free Fes­ti­val at Alta­mont: The Ill-Fat­ed Con­cert Took Place 50 Years Ago

A Big 44-Hour Chrono­log­i­cal Playlist of Rolling Stones Albums: Stream 613 Tracks

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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