As the 1980s wore on, relations between Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were wearing perilously thin.
Jagger wanted the Rolling Stones to move in new and more contemporary musical directions, while Richards wanted to keep mining the band’s blues roots. Something had to give and when Jagger decided not to tour to support the Stone’s Dirty Work album (1986), and instead work on his own project, Richards was practically forced into taking the lead and work on his first solo album, Talk Is Cheap, released 3 October, 1988.
He was not a happy man. "It's kind of strange, because it was never on the cards for me," Richards said at the time. "It was not something I wanted to do. Also, in the back of my mind, doing a solo record meant a slight sense of failure."
Richard’s bitterness spilled over into song on the track You Don't Move Me where he sings: “You made the wrong motion, Drank the wrong potion, You lost the feeling, That’s so appealing…oh yeah, You don’t move me anymore.” In some ways it is the Rolling Stones’ How Do You Sleep moment. While John Lennon enlisted George Harrison to help twist the knife into Paul McCartney following the break up of the Beatles, Richards called up ex-Stones guitarist Mick Taylor to contribute to his debut work. "Half of me's saying I don't want to rub the guy's nose in it," Richards said, "but of course you're also human, so you stick the knife in and turn it one time. Anything Mick and I do, if we could keep it quiet, we would. But it eventually goes public."
On a much more positive note, what also later became public was that Richards was invigorated by his new role as frontman. "[Working on the album] was so hot, you could hardly believe it," he said years later. "It brought me back to life. I felt as if I'd just gotten out of jail."
One key element in this transformation was deciding to closely collaborate with Steve Jordan, with whom he had worked on the Stones’ previous album. Jordan not only co-produced Talk is Cheap but he co-wrote most of the songs and also contributed drum and bass to many tracks.
Richards also recurred to a host of other musicians, many of whom he had worked with while helping Chuck Berry celebrate his birthday, years previously. These included Bootsy Collins, Charley Drayton, Bernie Worrell, Waddy Wachtel, Ivan Neville and Patti Scialfa. While recording stretched across studios in Bermuda and Montserrat, most of the album was recorded in 10 days in August 1987 in Montreal.
The album kicks off with the funky sounding Big Enough, but really gets into its stride with the oustanding lead single Take It So Hard, on which Richards can be seen playing his Fender 1954 Telecaster on one live version. The first take apparently rocked. "It was just ridiculously good," guitarist Waddy Wachtel said later. "It was the second tune of the night, and it was this killer fucking take on our strongest tune. I went back to the house going, 'Have we conquered Everest already?’"
Richards then shows his rockabilly credentials and sense of humour on I Could Have Stood You Up, followed by some soothing soul and cool guitar licks on Make No Mistake. One critic described Richards singing voice as being about as “smooth as a tree bark”, but the fact is that he can sing and he can also happily hold court as the front man.
The reggae tinged Rockawhile keeps things interesting and the riff-master shows his chops again on Locked Away. More great licks follow on the rocking track that closes the album, It Means A Lot.
Reflecting on the album years later Richards said it had made him "a better Rolling Stone. I found that I can, if I have to, live without the Rolling Stones.” It is clear that Richards and Jagger need each other to create their best music, but the unwanted experience of going it alone brought Richards a degree of satisfaction that he might otherwise never have known.