The Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards is the owner of the most acidic tongue in rock ‘n’ roll. Nobody is safe from receiving a verbal battering from Richards, and even his own bandmates have felt the power of his fierce wrath.
With Richards, it’s important not to overanalyse the intent of his remarks. Most of the time, his jibes are off the cuff, and he’s not put an ounce of thought into the words he lets fall out of his mouth. There’s usually no calculated outcome in order to seek press coverage, and Richards is merely being his natural self.
On occasion, Richards’ free-spirited mouth has landed him in hot water, but it has never led to a change in his ways. For over half a century, the guitarist has operated solely by his own rules, and after serving him so well for this long, there’s no way the guitarist plans to alter his methods anytime soon.
Once, Richards was forced to apologise to Mick Jagger in order to keep the future of The Rolling Stones alive, but that was an anomaly. For the rest of the insults on this list, Richards stands firm and holds no regret for how his victims have interpreted his remarks.
Keith Richards’ best insults
Prince and The Rolling Stones share a troubled history. In 1981, the ‘Purple One’ was on support duty for the British band in Los Angeles when their audience reacted badly and started to sabotage the musician’s set. Mick Jagger personally intervened to ensure Prince fulfilled the rest of his dates supporting the group, but Richards was less hospitable than his bandmate.
“An overrated midget, Prince has to find out what it means to be a prince. That’s the trouble with conferring a title on yourself before you’ve proved it,” Richards cruelly said shortly after the event. “His attitude when he opened for us was insulting to our audience. You don’t try to knock off the headline like that when you’re playing a Stones crowd. He’s a prince who thinks he’s a king already. Good luck to him,” he then added.
Eight years later, Richards told the Los Angeles Times: “To me, Prince is like The Monkees. I think he’s very clever at manipulating the music business and the entertainment business.”
Richards first threw shade at Elton John when Rolling Stone interviewed him in 1988. The guitarist was asked to provide his thoughts on an array of contemporary pop songs, including Elton’s ‘I Don’t Wanna Go On With You Like That’. On the track, he commented: “Reg, give me a Rubens, and I’ll say something nice. Reg Dwight. Lovely bloke, but posing”.
Following the death of Princess Diana, Elton reworked ‘Candle In The Wind’ as a tribute to the late royal, which also riled up Richards.“Yeah, it did jar a bit, songs for dead blondes,” he told EW in 1997. “But he was a personal friend, after all. I’d find it difficult to ride on the back of something like that myself, but Reg is showbiz”.
The Bee Gees
As pure pop writers, The Bee Gees were undeniably talented technicians and a mini hit factory. For a period, everything the Gibb brothers touched turned to gold, but Keith Richards was less than pleased with their craft and patronisingly viewed them as children.
Richards viciously told Rolling Stone in 1969: “Well, they’re in their own little fantasy world. You only have to read what they talk about in interviews… how many suits they’ve got and that kind of crap. It’s all kid stuff, isn’t it?”
Undeniably, The Rolling Stones have influenced an immeasurable number of bands. For the most part, Richards is proud of their impact on others. However, one group the guitarist doesn’t want to be classified as an influence by is Metallica.
“Millions are in love with Metallica and Black Sabbath. I just thought they were great jokes,” he told the New York Daily News in 2015. Richards savagely continued: “I don’t know where Metallica’s inspiration comes from, but if it’s from me, then I fucked up.”
For this verbal assault, Richards tag teamed with Jagger, who was equally as vitriolic. The pair appeared in a documentary, which never aired. Richards called Oasis “crap”, and Mick Jagger added: “You can’t dance to it, the new album’s impossible,” regarding Oasis’ material. Richards stuck the boot in further and said: “These guys are just obnoxious. Grow up and then come back and see if you can hang.”
Over the years, Richards has softened to the Gallagher brothers as people, even if he still doesn’t dig their music. The Rolling Stones guitarist even spent New Year’s Eve with Noel Gallagher in the Carribbean, where they bonded over their hate for frontmen.
David Bowie is one of the few figures in the history of music who are above criticism. There’s no subjectiveness involved in appreciating his artistry, which is objectively magnificent, but Keith Richards’ memo got lost in the post.
In a 2008 interview, Richards claimed ‘Changes’ was the only song from Hunky Dory that he could remember. He commented: “It’s all pose. It’s all fucking posing. It’s nothing to do with music. He knows it too.” The Rolling Stone cold-bloodedly added: “I can’t think of anything else he’s done that would make my hair stand up.”
If I were to write up every offensive remark Keith Richards has made about Mick Jagger, I’d be here all night. Instead, I’m inclined to take a highlights approach to his insults towards Mick and celebrate his most biting comment about The Rolling Stones singer.
In his autobiography, Life, he bizarrely chose to ridicule the size of Jagger’s manhood. “The idea of status quo to Anita, in those days, was verboten. Everything must change. And we’re not married, we’re free, whatever. You’re free as long as you let me know what’s going on,” Richards wrote. “Anyway, she had no fun with his tiny todger. I know he’s got an enormous pair of balls, but it doesn’t quite fill the gap, does it?”
In 2012, Richards uncharacteristically apologised in a documentary celebrating the band’s 50th anniversary: “[Mick] and I have had conversations over the last year of a kind we have not had for an extremely long time, and that has been incredibly important to me.”
The Grateful Dead
The Grateful Dead are more than a band, they are a family, and you need to be a brave soul to attack them. However, Richards never understood why there was such a clamour around the group and described their sound as “boring”. Of all the words to use against The Grateful Dead, “boring” is one of the last that’d come to mind, but Richards is a professional contrarian who thinks differently from the rest.
He once scathingly commented: “The Grateful Dead is where everybody got it wrong. Just poodling about for hours and hours. Jerry Garcia, boring shit, man. Sorry, Jerry.”