The Truth About Keith Richards And Paul McCartney's Relationship

According to the 1997 book "Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now," the former Beatle and veteran rocker Keith Richards couldn't seem more different in terms of both their appetites and their attitudes towards the music they make. Richards is a hard-partying, hedonistic ax-wielder who has stuck to his guns musically, while McCartney, though he dabbled in psychedelics in his '60s heyday, has remained sober and methodical in his workmanship, while the range of sounds he has explored over the decades is both eclectic and vast.

However, despite their differences, both Richards and McCartney have each kept rocking for more than half a century, and even now in the 2020s maintain popularity and stature enough to headline festivals, sell out arenas, and enjoy the patronage of millions of fans around the world who watch their every move and hang on their every word.

Emerging from the same swinging '60s music scene, the two figures have overlapped on numerous occasions. And though the legendary Rolling Stones-Beatles rivalry is one of the most famous in rock music — for generations, music fans have argued passionately about which of the British bands is truly the greatest of all time — the idea that the two bands felt a true animosity among themselves is something of a myth, as interactions between Richards and McCartney through the years show.

The Beatles: Rolling Stones fans

According to "The Beatles Anthology," one of the earliest encounters between The Beatles and The Rolling Stones occurred in the early 1960s, when The Stones were playing at London's Crawdaddy Club. The Beatles were already making their name as a singles charting band, with their breakthrough single, "Love Me Do," gaining them considerable attention. The Stones, meanwhile, had yet to get a record contract, and were still making their name on the London club circuit.

To see the Fab Four arrive at their gig had quite an impression on The Stones. Per the same source, Mick Jagger coveted The Beatles' matching suede outfits, and knew at that moment his band would have to follow them toward rock stardom. Meanwhile, The Beatles respected The Stones' stage presence. Shortly after, Keith Richards and Mick Jagger were riding in a taxi towards their recording studio when they saw John Lennon and Paul McCartney walking down the street. They invited the Beatles songwriters to jump in, and asked if they had any songs for them.

The four went to the studio together, and there — before Richards and Jagger's very eyes — wrote them a song, "I Wanna Be Your Man," which would become The Stones' second U.K. single. Per "The Beatles Anthology," Lennon and McCartney made songwriting look so effortless that it gave Richards and Jagger the confidence to start penning tunes of their own. Though the press always intuited a rivalry between the bands, they would never actively compete, and would schedule their releases to fit with each other's schedules, as Richards has recalled (via YouTube).

Friendship on the beach

Despite the close working relationship The Beatles and The Rolling Stones enjoyed — highlighted by respectful nods to one another on the covers of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" and "Their Satanic Majesty's Request," respectfully — and from their crossing paths at various junctures, including singing on one another's recordings, it may be surprising to learn that Paul McCartney and Keith Richards were somewhat distant with one another in their early years.

Richards has shared his respect for The Beatles as a group in numerous interviews, while he has also highlighted his friendships with both John Lennon and George Harrison as being particularly close. But as Richards explains in his bestselling 2010 memoir "Life," he and McCartney had never been good friends, mainly because they had never had the time to get to know one another.

But all that changed in 2006, when Richards was recuperating from The Stones' "Bigger Bang" tour on the Turks and Caicos Islands, a British Overseas Territory in the Bahamas. Richards recalls that he was relaxing on the beach one day when, all of a sudden, McCartney appeared and began walking toward him. Though Richards was surprised to meet McCartney in so remote a location, the two veteran rockers cemented their friendship over the course of many days, Richards' companionship being a balm for McCartney after his split from his second wife, Heather Mills. According to Richards, he and McCartney even wrote a song together, the lyrics of which he kept pinned to his wall, though the collaboration was never completed.

Richards and McCartney's weird business idea

Paul McCartney's meetings with Keith Richards on the Turks and Caicos Islands apparently continued for many days, with the former Beatle visiting the Stones guitarist after his children had been put to bed to talk about the old days, life in general, and to engage in the perennial pastime of generations of rock fans: to compare The Beatles and The Rolling Stones musically, according to Richards' "Life."

McCartney later recalled that one of the subjects they discussed was The Beatles' vocal ability throughout the group: "I talked to Keith Richards a couple of years ago, and his take on it was: 'Man, you were lucky, you guys, you had four lead singers,' whereas The Rolling Stones only had one" (via NME). McCartney recalls that The Stones had a nickname for The Beatles in the early days: "the "four-headed monster."

But it appears the two '60s icons also playfully discussed the idea of branching out from rock 'n' roll into other sidelines, including a strange business idea involving inflatable dog houses, the interiors of which would be custom made to match the coats of their dog residents, per NME. However, "Richards-McCartney Kennels" never seemingly went past the planning stage. In "Life," Richards also recalls that he and McCartney joked about starting a business dealing in "sun-dried celebrity" feces, which goes some way to explaining why, in the end, the two decided to stick to music.

McCartney's Christmas gift to Keith

Though Richards and McCartney finally got to enjoy each other's friendship after half a century thanks to those long whimsical conversations on the Turks and Caicos Islands in 2006, no collaboration of any type emerged between the two men. McCartney continued to release his solo records (via Discogs), while Richards was working on three fronts: as a solo artist (he released his third solo studio album in 2015, per AllMusic), as a member of his side project X-Pensive Winos, and, of course, as a member of the obscenely long-running Rolling Stones, whose worldwide arena tours continue to attract millions of devoted rock fans even today – McCartney among them (via Complex).

But while a full Richards/McCartney collab is unlikely to be on the cards, it is heartwarming to hear that the former Beatle keeps in touch with Richards by sending him a rock 'n' roll gift each Christmas: a crate of beer. Speaking to USA Today, Richards claimed, "It's Old Stinkhorn — it's his own brew, I believe."

McCartney's comments caused a late beef

Though the rivalry between The Beatles and The Rolling Stones was always more friendly than the press would suggest, there have been a few sharp words from members of each band regarding their closest contemporaries throughout the decades, with the most vitriolic coming from John Lennon, who harshly criticized The Stones shortly after the break-up of The Beatles in 1970 (via Rolling Stone), and Mick Jagger, who in 1987 turns the heads of many Beatles fans when he claimed in an interview that he thought the Fab Four's splitting was "a good idea" at the time (via Variety).

Richards has occasionally been critical of The Beatles, most notably in a 2015 Esquire interview, describing The Fab Four's groundbreaking album "Sgt. Pepper" as "rubbish," though it seems he was also of this opinion regarding his own band's forays into psychedelia, preferring instead to keep his riffs rounded in the blues and classic rock sound that he's famous for.

But in 2020, it appeared that McCartney was the most likely to cause bad blood between the two bands, with a comment he gave during an interview with The New Yorker, describing The Stones as nothing more than a "blues cover band." Fans were quick to note the disrespectful tone of the comment. Still, months later Richards publicly addressed the supposed slight (via Variety), revealing that he had received a message immediately after McCartney's interview was published, with the former Beatle assuring his fellow rocker that his comments had been taken out of context, and that The Stones had accepted the explanation. "Hey, Paul's a great guy, man," Richards added.