While the Rolling Stones roll inexorably on, the group's central spoke is extending himself a bit. On Tuesday, Mick Jagger will release a solo album, "She's the Boss." Surprisingly, it's the first that he has made in the 23 years he's been with the Stones. And the funny thing, according to Jagger, is that no one ever asked him to.
"I'm a real lazy person. I was happy just chugging along with the Stones," he said recently from Paris, where he is already at work on the new Stones album. "But I felt at this point I should really break the pattern a little bit and have some fun outside the band. And I was the only one that hadn't done that, so I thought I'd better get on with it."
He doesn't mention that none of the other solo Stones projects sold very well.
Although longtime compadre Keith Richards cowrote one of the album's nine songs, "She's the Boss" is mostly Mick, with help from the kind of hired guns you'd expect to find riding with rock's most notorious outlaw. Old friends Jeff Beck and Pete Townshend lead a squadron of guitarists filling in for Richards. Herbie Hancock lends his hip-hop keyboards. Reggae superstars Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare anchor the rhythm section.
The album was coproduced by Bill Laswell, bassist for the vanguard fusion group Material, and by Nile Rodgers, guitarist for Chic and one of the hottest producers in the world right now (David Bowie's "Let's Dance," Duran Duran, Madonna, the Honeydrippers).
"I wanted to try and work with a lot of different people," Jagger says. "So the sound is going to be quite a lot different."
The difference may be that while the Stones sound is classic '60s-style raunch and roll, "She's the Boss" is more the polished affair, with its foot squarely set on the dance floor of the '80s. It's a departure, albeit not a tremendous one, a sharp-edged updating of the urban contemporary sound. Still, there's no doubt as to who the vocalist is, and the album's subject matter certainly reflects Jagger's ongoing preoccupation with raunchy, ribald women (which makes his henpecked husband routine in the title song a bit incongruous, Jerry Hall or not).
Though Jagger won't admit it, there's a lot riding on this album. Besides being Jagger's solo debut, it is also the first Rolling Stones product delivered to CBS Records, which last year signed the band to a worldwide contract for $28 million.
Jagger wrote the songs for "She's the Boss" in less than a month, but in advance of the recording sessions. With the Stones, that process has usually been played out in the studio, as it is at the moment in Paris. Jagger has denied that the rest of the group was furious about his doing a solo album, though he did say they hadn't really heard it, either. "We didn't actually have any copies of the record," Jagger said.
The results of the Paris sessions will be heard sometime in late spring or early summer, and Jagger sounded upbeat about the "reunion." "It feels very nice, going in to work with the band again. It feels normal and relaxed and easy. Things seem to be going very well, and the band's sounding very good."
As for a tour, Jagger says, "Yeah, it's in the planning stage. Obviously we haven't got any dates right now, but we are planning to tour this year," probably in the fall.
In the meantime, Jagger will be popping up on video with increasing regularity, the results of a million-dollar promotional film he recently shot in Brazil.
"It's something I've wanted to do since the late '60s," Jagger says of long-form video. "Usually, when you do videos, you'll finish the record and say, 'This is the single, let's run off and do a script for the video.' I wanted to try a 60-minute film to go around the whole album, so we would have some themes and wouldn't be extemporizing everything."
According to Jagger, the hourlong video features six full-length songs from the album, "with the rest in there somewhere. Basically, it's about this shallow, heavy-drinking rock singer who goes to Rio to make a very grand video and how his world kind of falls to pieces all around him."
One scene that may offer a sense of de'ja vu for fans who remember the Stones dressed up as women involves Jagger stomping off the set with three women who turn out to be transvestites. They beat him up and throw him on a traveling meat wagon. "But it's still funny and most of the stuff is on a lighthearted level," Jagger says. "The guy goes to make a video, has a row with his old lady and gets beat up, and ends up in the interior of Brazil."
Jagger said that in the publishing world, his autobiography has gone on the back burner. He recently fired his collaborator, John Ryle, deputy literary editor of The Sunday Times of London, and there were reports that his first draft had been rejected as being too boring. Since the American rights to the book were reportedly sold for $1 million, the prospect of a boring Jagger bio must have sent chills down several publishers' spines.
"The first draft wasn't rejected," Jagger says testily. "I could have made a lot of money just by giving it in. And the British publishers, Weidenfeld and Nicolson have no right of rejection. Actually, it was the third draft. To my own satisfaction, I think I finished half of it really well, mainly the childhood stuff, the adolescence. I thought that was pretty good. I never really worked on some of the other stuff. There's a lot of bases to cover and I don't just want to repeat all the stories that journalists have slapped together 20 times over."
Which is, of course, what most people are probably going to want to read, rather than memories of Sunday outings at the zoo. Surely there's some desire to set the record straight? "In certain areas," Jagger says unspecifically, "but that's not my primary goal."
His mate of the past seven years, Texas model Jerry Hall, may end up beating him to the presses with her book, "Jerry Hall's Tall Tales," described as a girl's guide to snaring rich rock 'n' roll stars. Which is exactly what she did, even if there is no nuptial knot in sight. There is 10-month-old Elizabeth Scarlett, Jagger's third daughter (Jade and Karis, from his relationships with ex-wife Bianca and American singer Marsha Hunt, are both 13 and attend private schools in England).
"It's real nice," Jagger says of his most recent fatherhood. "You learn from your first children and your second batch can obviously be different. And you're much more mature than when you had the first children. It's a wonderful experience."
Of course, he is now 41, with his last birthday passing unnoticed, a decided contrast to the fanfare of his turning 40. "You'll have to wait till I'm 50 for the next celebration," he says.
And by then, Mick Jagger reckons, he may well be a grandfather. "Don't let it affect you too much," he chortles, ringing off from Paris to get back to the work of being a Rolling Stone.