Ok, we need to talk about something. Why in the hell did the Rolling Stones record a killer track with…JIMMY PAGE…in 1974 and sit on it until 2020? Fresh off of their record Goat’s Head Soup in 1973, The Stones recorded every rock fan’s dream single, Scarlet. They then promptly sat on it for 46 years. This is a banging track that has at least four or five rock icons all performing at their peak and it is possibly a top five Stones’ track to boot. So, the question remains: Why not release it until 2020?
The story behind the track is as interesting and complex as the track itself. So, let’s set the scene before unpacking why Scarlet is so amazing. As the story goes, Jimmy Miller, famed producer on most of the Stones biggest records, was having a studio session at Ronnie Wood’s house. You see, Wood had a studio that the band would use. At this time, Led Zeppelin was in between Houses of the Holy and Physical Graffiti, while selling out stadiums and being rock gods. Similarly, the Rolling Stones just put out Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main St., while also jockeying for position as rock gods themselves. Well, it just so happened that Led Zeppelin were finishing a studio session at Wood’s house when Keith Richards walks in to begin warming up for the Stones’ studio session. He and Jimmy Page started jamming and this mythical track was born.
Richards’ and Page’s jam session led to Mick and Keith writing Scarlet and bringing on Miller to produce the track. Miller was also involved with Traffic and Blind Faith, so he brought in Ric Grech, from Traffic and Blind Faith, to play bass on the track. There you have it: The Rolling Stones recording a track with Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin and Ric Grech, who himself was a member of two rock supergroups…all in Ronnie Wood’s house! Moreover, at this time all of these rockers were at the height of their careers and were international stars of unparalleled popularity. Scarlet could ultimately be the biggest rock and roll track ever recorded.
Not to mention, the song is a banger! There is a raw bluesy quality to it with some crunchy acoustic and electric guitar mixed with Mick’s gravely vocal. However, Page’s flourishes and guitar solos float above the crunch with a cosmic, slight reggae quality that he will later employ on In Through the Out Door in 1979. For me, the layered guitar tracks gives the track its true magic. For such loosely put together track, with artists who normally don’t play together, the track itself is very tight. Everyone is playing in sync and complimenting each other. Richards and Page do not compete for space, but act as two sides of a very rock and roll / drugged out coin. Furthermore, Mick seems really dialed in and his vocal moves between bluesy rock verses to a soaring pop chorus. This is an amazing rock track that showcases top rock performers at the top of their games.
Now, the central question is: Why didn’t they release it in 1974? This isn’t some rough demo that sounds like it was recorded in a toilet block. Scarlet is a tight and well produced track. Moreover, it’s not like it wouldn’t have sold. I mean, you have two of the biggest rock bands of the time, The Stones and Zeppelin, on the same track. The B side could have been Jimmy Miller reading his electric bill and it would have went platinum. Instead, they snuck it into the reissue of Goat’s Head Soup, which was released in October of 2020. Jagger has said that they never released it because it “didn’t sound like a Stones’ record.” I think that’s it. I think it was a fun jam, but The Stones wanted to release Stones’ records and figuring out all the behind the scenes contract nonsense with two different labels / managers would have been too much. At the time, Zeppelin was on Atlantic and they were riding that Zeppelin train for everything it was worth. This could have killed any joint single dead in the water.
Like they say, “the answer to all of your questions is money” and I think trying to figure out who got what credit and what money would have sent the managers / record labels off the deep end. This has not been confirmed, but I suspect the musicians wanted to put together a banging track, but the suits killed it from release. So, the master remained buried on a shelf somewhere waiting for its time in the sun. Why it is released now also relates to money. I mean, I would never think of buying a reissue of Goat’s Head Soup, but as soon as I saw Scarlet on it I ordered the vinyl. Putting all that aside, it is great for us, and rock history, this amazing track can now be enjoyed by everyone.
Listen to Scarlet